Sunday, November 29, 2020

Phil Kniss: Hope and power

Advent 1: HOPE
Daniel 6:6-27

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This morning no one can accuse me
of having an irrelevant sermon topic: “Hope and power.”

Right our nation, our political structures, indeed our culture,
is in a massive struggle over power.
The two major political parties in our country
are walking a knife’s edge
to determine who has just enough power
to make decisions to shape our common life.
Right now the fight is over who will own a tie-breaking vote.
In the Senate, the House, the White House, the court system,
every branch of government is trying to sort out who has the power.

At the same time, those outside the political power structures
are trying to make their voice heard.
They are using the power of the pen, the megaphone, the internet,
and in some extreme cases, lethal weapons.
In various ways, from top to bottom, from left to right,
we are in the middle of a wide-spread struggle for power.

And I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t struggle for power.
This is how oppressive systems break down—
when the cost of holding it all together
is greater than the cost of letting it fall.

So I’m simply naming what is.
This is where we are right now in our society,
and yes, in the church.
We are in a struggle for power.

And then the other word . . . hope.
Is that not relevant?
Who of you doesn’t struggle with maintaining hope.
We are still in the middle of a pandemic.
Daily deaths are going up instead of down.
The political chasm is getting wider and nastier,
with no reason to think that will soon change,
even with a new president in office.
Racial injustice is out in the wide open again,
and we see how little has changed.
Around the world dictatorships are getting stronger, not weaker.
The climate is changing faster than we thought.

All of this, at a time of extreme social isolation,
is causing irreparable harm to the mental health of all of us,
and especially the young and most vulnerable.

Sure, we know this will end someday.
We will move past this dark time in history.
But we don’t know what WE will be like on the other side of it.
We are grasping, blindly,
for hope that we are moving toward a better future.

So . . . hope and power.
These are twin concepts.
Joined at the hip.
They occupy the same space.

When I feel powerless,
I will tend toward hopelessness (and resignation).
On the other hand,
when I have some power, some self-determination,
or . . . when I know that the one with power
has my wellbeing at heart,
then I can find a reason to hope.

Which brings us to the prophet Daniel.
Daniel is a fascinating book in the biblical narrative arc.
It’s hard to pin down in terms of actual history and authorship,
and seems to be a two-part collection of various material.
The first half, chapters 1-6, is a series of so-called court tales,
stories about virtuous Hebrew characters
finding themselves in the courts of foreign kings,
and navigating life in a pagan empire.
The second half is a series of apocalyptic visions,
that read a lot like the book of Revelation.

Taken as a whole,
this book is an encouragement to God’s people,
to put their trust in God’s power,
and to find hope in seemingly hopeless situations
of persecution, of exile,
when everything is stacked against them.

The book of Daniel pokes holes in the power of kings and emperors,
who . . . when held up against moral power, or divine power,
they turn out to be tragically, and comically, weak.
So . . . relevant and contemporary, no?

Even when I was a little kid, age 6 or 8 or around there,
I remember being confused about King Darius’ power.
I listened to this story about Daniel and the Lions over and over
on a 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow and black cover,
called “Great Stories of the Bible.”
I know my brother Fred, if he’s listening, remembers it well.

Let me play a short sample from that record,
the part that really confused me as a kid . . . [play audio]

I heard that and wondered, how does a king, who makes a law,
not have the power to change the law to save a trusted friend?
Yet, the moment God delivers Daniel,
the king suddenly has the power again to un-make the law.
Didn’t make a lot of sense to me then, and still doesn’t.

But that’s really not our puzzle to solve.
This story shows how the power of God,
unmasks and shames the ego-driven power of human rulers.
It urges us to examine whose power we trust,
and where we place our hope.

Even though Daniel lived in the courts of the king,
even though he had the formal power
that went with being a king’s counselor,
even so, he did not ultimately trust that power.
That is not where he placed his hope.
He placed his hope in the God
to whom every human authority figure has to answer.

Granted, that might sound a little simplistic,
and it’s not always easy to distinguish and discern
between heavenly and earthly power.

But it’s always worth asking the question . . .
“In whose power are we placing our hope?”

In the middle of another presidential transition,
we are, as always, liable to misplace our hope.
Being caught in the various power struggles going on right now,
we are in danger of letting our hope—
our deep, undergirding hope—
rest on which way the political winds are blowing.

Believe it! . . . or not . . .
the powers of this world still answer to a higher power.

God does not micro-manage human political systems
when they act like they’re in charge.
But God is nevertheless enthroned, and observant,
and working out God’s cosmic purpose
of justice and righteousness and peace and shalom.
And God invites us, like Daniel,
to play active roles as partners in that mission of shalom.
Those who work against God’s purposes,
no matter how much they bluster or bluff their way through now,
will someday answer for their deeds,
and will answer for their use of power.
And it might not look pretty.

In the Daniel story,
it’s not only the ones at the top being held accountable.
It’s Daniel’s peers, his rivals,
those middle-echelon power figures,
the satraps and administrators,
who have just enough power to want more,
and to misuse the power they have.
We are the ones most like them, if we’re honest.

And in the story,
they were the ones who ended up as dinner for the lions.

King Darius came out looking pretty good,
because he acknowledged his own limitations,
even if it was after the fact.
I don’t know where else in scripture
a pagan king sings a song of praise
about the kingdom of the living God
being greater than his own.
But here we have it.

All that aside, there is something to learn here about hope and power.

Let us not misuse our power, or misplace our hope.
We have the power to do good or ill to those around us,
and to the world.
And we are given access to even greater power,
as servants of the living God.
Knowing that should both
make us humble about our own power,
and give us an unshakable hope.

So let us together, confess our sin.
You will find the confession in the order of worship.
Please join by reading the bold print . . .
and in the moment of silence

one Merciful God, we humbly confess our sin of misplaced hope.
We fail to trust you fully.
We put our hope in things of our own making,
We put our hope in people or systems
we bend toward our advantage.
all Forgive us, Lord, help us place our hope fully and only in you.
one We confess that our misplaced hope leads to hopelessness.
We lose faith—in ourselves, in others, in you.
We believe the worst about ourselves, about others, about you,
We sink into the darkness 
and we cannot find our way back to your light.
all Forgive us, Lord, help us place our hope fully and only in you.
one Restore our hope, O God. 
Strengthen our weak knees. 
Lift up our eyes.
Show us your light and your salvation.
one Children of God, we are forgiven, we are loved.
The Lord is our light and our salvation – whom shall we fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of our lives – 
of whom shall we be afraid?
all We believe that we will see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.

—Phil Kniss, November 29, 2020

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Phil Kniss: The God who overdoes it

God’s New Covenant
Written on our hearts

Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 2728; 31:31-34

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The Bible is a story about a generous God.
Generous beyond our imagination.
A God who loves to overdo it,
when it comes to giving undeserved gifts and grace.
A God who is either loved or hated,
for being extravagant.

God overdoes it almost every week in our lectionary.
Remember Jonah two weeks ago?
He was so angry he wanted to die,
because God handed out undeserved grace to his enemies!
Remember the Hebrew slaves in Egypt?
It wasn’t enough for God to simply release them from captivity.
No, God arranged for their oppressors
to hand over all their gold and jewelry,
and beg them to leave.
Remember the widow of Zarephath?
She and her son were ready to lay down and die of starvation.
Then her oil jar and flour bucket refused to go empty,
and she kept feeding herself . . .
and her son . . . and the prophet of God
all the way through the famine.

It’s not enough that God does good.
God wastes goodness and blessing on us.
Lets it spill out everywhere on everyone,
like an overfilled milk bucket sloshing around,
without regard to its precious contents.
God is just, but is not judicious —
not very sensible and prudent and discreet about things.
God overdoes it.

There’s a disconnect between this picture of God,
and the austere Mennonite tradition that formed me,
and maybe some of you—
where we almost physically turn away
from talk about God’s abundance and generosity.
We are frugal and sensible people,
so obviously, God is too.

If we blather on too much about the abundance of God,
it might encourage us to live like
some of our worldly Christian neighbors,
who live lavish lives and are flashy and indulgent
and not-at-all sensible like us.

I actually appreciate this about my tradition.
Because I do think we find
deeper joy and closer communion with God
in lives that are simple and uncluttered
by possessions that tend to possess and entangle us.

But woe to us, if that frugality blinds us
from being flat-out overwhelmed
by our extravagant God who overdoes it all the time,
in grace and beauty and abundance.

God is prodigal, a word that means extravagantly wasteful.
Like the Father in that poorly-named parable of the prodigal son.
Yes, the son was wasteful,
with things he shouldn’t have been wasteful of,
but the Father, the God-figure in the story,
was extravagantly wasteful—
prodigal in love and mercy and forgiveness,
and caught flack for it, of course, from his other son.

Over and over our prodigal God stretches out, in love,
far beyond what God’s bargain with humans requires.
Lesser gods would walk away from the deal altogether.
Yet, after repeated and catastrophic failures on our part,
God just reaches farther for us.
God keeps restarting the missional project
of partnering with us humans for the sake of the world.

In today’s text from prophet Jeremiah, God does it again,
in an ultimate act of generosity—
offering to make a whole new covenant
unlike any that had gone before.
This covenant would be written not in legal code,
but on the hearts and minds of the people.
There would be a deeper divine-human communion
that surpassed anything known thus far,
and could not be undone.
There would be a deep knowing, we are told—
“from the least of them to the greatest”
and an everlasting bond
forged by complete and unconditional forgiveness:
“I will remember their sins no more.”

What God?—after repeatedly being spurned—
what God refuses to walk away,
but turns toward those who did the spurning,
offering an even greater gift?
What God does that?

This generous covenant on the heart
came to fulfillment in Jesus,
who embodied God’s extravagant grace and generosity.
In Jesus, God overdid it again,
coming to dwell fully among us
and participate fully in the human experience
including suffering and death.
In Jesus’ own words,
“this cup is the new covenant in my blood,
poured out for you.”

Furthermore, God’s radical generosity and abundance
is built into creation itself,
into the seasonal cycles of rest, planting, and harvest.

We remember, on this Thanksgiving Sunday,
that the earth—this planet loved by God—
is an expression of God’s abundance.
Against all odds,
against our continued mistreatment of it,
the earth is still extravagant—
still fruitful, and abundant, and beautiful, and resilient.

The planet mirrors this attribute of God—
of not giving up, not being put off its extravagant mission.

Our Jeremiah text is a great example.
I already reviewed the poetic section,
where God promised a new and everlasting covenant
written on the heart.
That’s especially remarkable, given the story part,
and thanks to Valerie, Gabe and Terry for reading it to us.

Remember the book-burning scene in that story,
where King Jehoiakim, God’s own anointed,
ripped up the words of the Lord
and threw them in the fire?

This was not a symbolic protest,
but destruction of costly property.

Long before the days of books and printing,
every manuscript was painstakingly written on expensive
hand-made parchment by highly-trained and patient scribes.
Any scroll was an object of inestimable value,
immense human time and love and skill
were poured into this artful labor.
But the words of Yahweh were so disrespected by the people,
that the king didn’t just throw the whole scroll in the fire—
he stretched out the pain . . . to make it last longer.
Every time the reader, Jehudi, finished reading
another few columns of text,
the king took a knife—a scribe’s knife, it says—
the tool of trade of the one who wrote it—
and cut off the strip of what was read, and threw it in the fire.
Every three or four columns, another cut to the heart.

So what did God do about such disrespect?
Did God take offense and walk away?
Did God tell Jeremiah, “I give up.
I’m going to start over with another people.”
No, God told Jeremiah, “Take another scroll” . . .
Take another valuable scroll!
Write it all down again.
Verbatim. Every single word that the king just burned.
Write it down again.

That’s why God’s promise in chapter 31 is all the more powerful.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel.
I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

This, dear sisters and brothers,
is the same God who sent Jesus to come and live with us,
and help carry our burden.

It’s this extravagantly generous God,
who overlooks our grievous offenses,
and says, here, let’s try again.
This time I give you myself.

The ball is now in our court, as to how we respond.
Even today, the gift is ours to respond to.
God is no less extravagant today.
Who are we to who hold back in austerity, or self-preservation,
or fear, or judgement, or unwillingness to risk?
Who are we not to just let go of ourselves,
in extravagant love and grace toward others,
including our political opposites,
including the cultural or religious “other”?

We worship the God came to us in Jesus,
who sat at a table with his disciples,
as he was walking into a deep and dark night of suffering—
said, here, let me give you some more of myself.
Over a cup of wine he told them,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which is poured out for you.”

What God?
What God does such a thing?

And yet, we repeatedly fail to recognize
the God of extravagance and abundance,
and instead get lost in diligence and duty and fear
and scarcity of grace.

Let us speak aloud our confession.
You will find the confession in your order of worship.
Please respond each time with the words in bold print.

one Every day, we miss noticing God’s extravagant gifts.
Every day, we walk by the color purple,
or green, or yellow, or blue, and we don't notice it.
all Forgive us, and open our eyes.
one Every day, we fail to hear the sound of laughter,
or footsteps, or birdsong, or weeping.
all Forgive us, and open our ears.
one Every day, God’s extravagant gifts surround us
and fill us and connect us with every one and every thing,
and we don’t take in that beautiful truth.
all Forgive us, and open our hearts.
one Come and hear what God has done:
Even when we don’t notice,
God’s extravagant gifts continue to surround us
and fill us and connect us with every one and every thing,
showering our lives with grace. Thanks be to God!

On this Sunday before Thanksgiving,
when we celebrate First Fruits generosity and God’s abundance,
we come to the table of plenty.

This posture of God’s abundance is nowhere more evident
than at the Lord’s Table, in our ritual of communion.
Simple elements, but representing a lavish gift.
This communion was established by Jesus
when he and his disciples ate their last Passover meal together.
As it says in Luke 22,
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it,
and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which is poured out for you.”

May God bless this bread and cup
to our physical and spiritual nourishment.
Let us celebrate God’s abundance together,
even as we are scattered far and wide.
Eat the bread and drink the cup at home,
while you meditate and listen to a song,
“Prayer of Praise,” the last hymn composed by John Horst,
paired with a text by Myron Augsburger,
and sung by Nathan May.

—Phil Kniss, November 22, 2020

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Moriah Hurst: Great God, forgive us

God’s Holy Calling 

Psalm 119; Luke 5:4b-10; Isaiah 6:1-8

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Great God forgive us – Is 6:1-8   and Luke 5:4b-10

Sometimes when people approach the Old Testament they think that it isn’t relevant and has little to say to our current context. Let’s think a little about this time we are in. Unless you have been hiding under a rock you know that we have just had an election.  Even if your party won we are still a country deeply divided. We struggle now just as we have throughout history with racism, classism, homophobia, ablism and sexism that intersect and allow people to label each other rather than work with the other.

Our world today with floods and storms, peace treaties needing to be honored, and the constant fear, inconvenience, and growing grief related to the coronavirus.

There are dates throughout history we can look back on where things spring to mind. Where were you on 9/11, or when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated – all of a sudden we are taken back to a time, a feeling, a deep remembering. Will 2020 be a year like that, a date that calls up a unique and impactful set of memories for each of us?

Our text today starts with one of these time markers “In the year that King Uzziah died”. When a king died and power changed hands there would have been upheaval and many unknowns as the authority shifted.

 “The first five chapters of Isaiah lay out the spiritual problem of the Judeans. They have forgotten and forsaken the Lord (1:4); their worship is futile (1:11-17); corruption marks their leadership (1:23). Greed has led to injustice (5:8). Isaiah 6:1 then describes the political crisis: the long-serving king who brought stability has died.” (

In the midst of this transition in political power, Isaiah has his vision.

An encounter in the Holy of Holies; the most sacred and set apart place in the temple. God is so big in this vision that Isaiah only sees God from the waist down. The bottom part of God’s clothes fill the temple. As if “God is too gigantic to be contained in the temple” (NRSV Study bible). Remember that looking at God face to face was thought by some that is might kill you, dangerous for unclean mortals. But even being in the presence of Gods legs here is overpowering enough.

The Seraphs, holy creatures that flank God, cover themselves in honor and reverence of God – they cry out in praise. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

The picture that is presented in this vision is not a cuddly, loveable God but a God of vastness and grandeur. God’s very presence is awe-inspiring without God even saying a word.

When I was hiking in Tennessee a few weeks ago, we stood at the top of a mountain and looked out over the ranges that surrounded us. All I could keep saying was “wow, this is amazing”. It is in these moments where my breath is taken away by nature that I feel closest to understanding the kind of God that Isaiah encountered. But the God he saw also brought fear, the fear that comes from respect and knowing that this being is completely other to you and radiates power and majesty.

This isn’t the picture of God I normally focus on or teach to our young people. This picture of God demands our respect. At the sight of God and held in the shaking of the space that fills up with smoke, I can see Isaiah falling on his knees and calling out. I confess I might have turned around and run. But faced with the greatness of God, Isaiah sees himself for what he is, broken, unclean, lost and part of a people whose lips and lives are also unclean.

“We do not think that sin originates in our lips, but our words often betray our sinfulness.” (

I think of the words from Ps 19 - May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our rock and redeemer. What is inside of us pours out our mouths.

Isaiah proclaims “yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts”. He knows that it is not King Uzziah who was in charge, it is God. What an encounter to remind you where true power lies.

How often are we knocked over by our own guilt? We think we have not done enough, been good enough, we feel inadequate and ashamed. Isaiah is with us on his knees, seeing his worth before this stunning God.

“Paradoxically, it is when Isaiah admits his great distance from God that the way opens for him to receive forgiveness.

Because we are not left there doubled over and crying out. A way forward from our guilt is provided. One of the multi-winged Seraphs brings a live coal. I can imagine it glowing hot as the creature approaches. That burning coal is touched to Isaiah’s unclean mouth. The Seraph not only brings this searing coal but delivers the words that I long to hear along with Isaiah. “Now that this has touched you, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”. Isaiah’s fear that being part of an unfaithful people whose lips had spoken unclean words as well as acted in ways that went against God’s hopes and plans for the world, is cleansed by this act of purification. Do we worry that we are part of a people that has fallen so far away from God that we might not know how to even approach God? How would it feel for that guilt that we carry so heavy some days, to lift? What scar might that burning coal leave?

It is after this cleansing that we finally hear the voice of God. It is as if God is talking to God’s self and Isaiah is overhearing. “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” With renewed strength Isaiah steps forward, I can almost see him waving his hand in the air. Ooo Ooo pick me! “Here am I; send me”.

We shift to a more familiar picture. Jesus by the lakeshore calling disciples. The disciples too are amazed by the God who is revealed in Jesus. As they drag in a catch of fish so huge it could sink their boat, they realize that they are flawed standing before this man and they fall on their knees at Jesus' feet. Again from this place of knowing their own brokenness, Jesus reaches out and calls them. Don’t be afraid, work with me. Jesus calls them to fish for people and Isaiah is called to take hard and uncomfortable truths to an unhearing people. This is uncommon work. Yet using flawed and normal people seems to be the path God chooses over and over again. New Testament and Old Testament alike.

We, like Isaiah are in a time of political turmoil. Can we see past our fear and understand the intense and majestic power of God. God, who is the king. In the naming of what is holy are we confronted by the state of our world and our life and led to confession. God does not leave us in that fear but cleanses and gives a path forward.

Will we shoot up our hands saying pick me for this work of carrying uncomfortable truth. Of doing the uncommon work of fishing for people and calling an unhearing, unheeding nation back to God’s kingdom work? A work of receiving the outsider, feeding the hungry and calling other broken and forgiven normal people to follow in Jesus’ ways.

“God does not wait for us to "get clean" before appearing.

but this text reminds us that forgiveness is anything but ordinary.

Like Isaiah, we stand small and human before God, dependent on a gracious act for our restoration.

(but) There is a price to be paid for singing "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty" in the face of an oppressive force that thinks otherwise.”


May we have wisdom to kneel with prophets and disciples in confession and then understand how our majestic God is calling us.

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Sunday, November 8, 2020

"Running from God” – two stories and a scandalizing look at the Book of Jonah

“Running from God” – two stories and a scandalizing look at the Book of Jonah
Jonah 1, 2, and 3; Luke 18:10-14

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Our sermon from the book of Jonah this week is comprised of two personal testimonies and an introduction to a short video on the Book of Jonah from the We do not own the rights to their Jonah video, but are sharing it here in hopes that you go to their website and view many of their freely available high-quality Bible book-based videos.

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Phil Kniss: Food for the grieving journey

“Life in the face of death”
All Saints Day
Exodus 32:1-14

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On All Saints Day we face head-on
something we’d rather turn away from—death itself.

Yes, All Saints Day has different meanings
in different Christian traditions.
But in most Western Protestant churches, it’s a remembrance day.
We don’t parse out the differences between
All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and All Hallows Eve.
We kind of lump them all together on November 1
(or the closest Sunday),
and use the day to remember, honor, and grieve,
those of our faith communities who have died,
who are now in the “great cloud of witnesses.”
We choose to revisit our loss and ponder our mortality.

Some of us might wish for a more pleasant theme—
seeing we’re in the middle of multiple deadly pandemics,
and our nation is on the midst of one of the most anxious,
and potentially even violent presidential elections
in our memory (Lord, have mercy).

Nevertheless, today we choose to enter into the shadows.
Yes, there is resurrection (thank God!!)—but this isn’t Easter.
Today we need to remember, and feel, the pain of death.

So, even though the Narrative Lectionary stays on track today,
we are given a story that will help us in this regard.

Elijah the Tishbite, prophet of God.

I mentioned last Sunday,
that once Israel chose to be ruled by Kings,
God had to grab another tool out of the heavenly toolbox—
the prophet of God, to keep the kings in line.

When we were still back in Genesis, I made the comment,
that the whole biblical narrative is
God running interference on God’s people.
The people veer off this way or that,
since God gave them free will.
And every time they drift into danger
of losing themselves or destroying themselves,
God runs interference, to steer them back on track.

Now that Israel is a monarchy,
and their Kings by and large,
are more power-hungry and narcissistic,
than they are humble servants of God,
God stays very busy running interference.
God calls prophets into duty again and again,
to bring evil kings back in line.

Some prophets had a harder job than others.
I would not have wanted the job of Elijah the Tishbite,
sent to be a moral compass for the likes of King Ahab.

Read the books of 1 and 2 Kings. You see a pattern.
Every king keeps getting worse.
Our story is from 1 Kings 17.
But in the chapter right before it says King Omri
did evil in the eyes of the Lord
and sinned more than all those before him.
Well, King Ahab was Omri’s son.
It says about Ahab,
“He not only considered it trivial
to commit the sins of the previous kings,
he began to serve Baal and worship him.
Ahab . . . did more to arouse the anger of the Lord,
the God of Israel,
than did all the kings of Israel before him.”

What does an angry God do? Send in Elijah the Tishbite!
The King received Elijah, who delivered this message—
not the greatest motivational speech ever—
“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve,
there will be neither dew nor rain
in the next few years except at my word.”
And he turned and walked out of the palace.

And then . . . take a look!
I never cease to be amazed
at some of the crucial details that get preserved in scripture.

When Elijah walks out on Ahab,
God tells him where to go hide from the King.
“Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine
east of the Jordan.
You will drink from the brook,
and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

Kerith Ravine is a name that is doubled, for emphasis.
Kerith means a cutting, or gorge, or torrent-bed.
And a Ravine is the same thing, a rainwater gully.
In Hebrew, the word is wadi.
Wadis are not spring-fed rivers,
they are channels in the desert.
They have water in them only in rainy season.
Most of time . . . they’re dry.
So Kerith Ravine is not just a ditch. It’s a ditch-y ditch.

So . . . God the great provider,
as soon as Elijah proclaims, “There will NOT be rain, for years,”
sends Elijah to a ditch!
A wadi!
Go there, God says, and drink from the brook.
And to add to the unlikely story, ravens—
birds that normally scavenge, and take food from others—
are going to be Elijah’s food givers.

Well, that arrangement, as scripture notes,
didn’t last real long.
The wadi dried up. Surprise, surprise!

So here is God’s back-up plan to provide for Elijah.
Go to a widow in Zarephath,
and she will supply you with food.
A widow was like a human wadi, economically speaking.
She only had resources when it rained, as it were.
When good fortune, or good people, would send it her way.
Without property or inheritance to leverage,
it was just her own ingenuity and luck and good weather,
that she could feed her family.

So . . . weeks or months into a drought,
God sends Elijah to a widow, with a dependant son,
and Elijah asks her to feed him.
And even though she had only the dregs of the barrel remaining,
she fed him.
And, we’re told, her jars kept auto-refilling, with flour and oil.
She kept feeding him, and never ran out.

This is more than just another miracle story.
It’s not written to prove to modern rationalists
that God can conjure up flour and oil on the spot.
No, this is about God’s invitation to us,
to step into the shadows,
that we might know the grace and mercy of God;
to put ourselves in places of need, and dependence,
and grief, and despair, and to face even threat of death;
to go where we are called,
and obey God’s commands as if our lives depended on it.

The story goes on.
The widow must do precisely what Elijah does—
keep walking toward death, toward grief, toward need,
and trust that God’s impulse toward life will show up.
Her only son died.
Her emotional, social, and economic security, died.
But then, as we heard, life showed up.
One of a handful of resurrection stories in scripture,
again, this is not here to prove, or even suggest,
that God can, or will, raise the dead when needed.
This story, and others like it,
do not deny the pain and agony and inevitability of death
that we all face, in one way or another.
No, they are invitations to go where God is going—
toward life.
This is the trajectory of God’s activity in the world: toward life.

Death remains with us.
The finality, and unfairness, and raw pain of death remains.
But God’s love transcends all that.
God love and provision puts it all in perspective,
if we trust God enough to let ourselves sit in that state of need.

In a few moments, we will hear the names read aloud,
and see the faces,
of those at Park View who died in the last 12 months.
And we are all going to be hit, once again,
with a wide range of emotions—
from gratitude and love,
to deep sorrow and grief, and very possibly, anger.

This is hard stuff, there is no denying it.
Grieving is hard . . .
Living is hard . . . . . .
Being an American right now, is hard.
There is so much death all around us.

The invitation from God today
is to not lose ourselves in that,
but to name our hope in the God who is pointing us toward life,
the God who is leading us toward life,
and provides the food we need for this journey—
for the grieving journey, for
This. Grievous. Journey.
We are not alone.
Even beside a wadi, or at the mercy of ravens.
Even in a house of the poor and destitute.
We are not alone.

God is pointing toward life.

You remember some of the phrases we just sang moments ago,
in “Give thanks for life”?

“Mortal, we pass through beauty that decays . . .
thanks for the love by which our life is fed,
a love not changed by time or death or dread . . .
for hope, that like the grain
lying in darkness does its life retain,
in resurrection to grow green again, Alleluia!”

I invite us all now to a time of reflection,
of feeling, of sitting in the shadows,
and reaching for the light,
as we first listen to the reading of the names
of the 10 persons at Park View who have died
since our last All Saints Day.
I will read the names, and after each one a bell will toll,
and Pastor Paula will read a verse of scripture.

After all the names are read,
you are invited to light the candle or candles
you have prepared at home.

Light them, and allow yourself to feel the loss you are naming,
and to feel the hope you are enacting by lighting that candle.
While you light the candles,
the quartet will be singing “Go, silent friend.”
You may just listen, and meditate.
Or if you wish to sing along, the song in your bulletin.

And now, we remember with thanksgiving,
sisters and brothers from this congregation,
whom we have entrusted to God and who now rest from their labors.

—Phil Kniss, November 1, 2020

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