St. Mary Nanoose Bay
June 21, 2020
Genesis 21:8-21, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
What do a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian have in common? - Abraham.
It’s not a joke. But probably something you need to know!
All Christians, Muslims and Jews trace their lineage back to Abraham. That’s why you might hear it said, “Christianity is one of the 3 Abrahamic religions,” - because we share the same ancestor. And today is Fathers’ Day so this is a perfect reading – about the Father of all fathers!
In today’s reading from Genesis we heard a troubling story. One that only through generations do we know, turns out right. It involves Abraham and the mothers of his two children: Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was Abraham’s wife who was barren. And Hagar is the maid whom Sarah gave to her husband Abraham in order to conceive his child so that he would have an heir. The issue of that union was Ishmael. When Abraham and Sarah were elderly, God made good on his promise that Abraham’s lineage would be as vast as the stars. Sarah miraculously conceived and Isaac was born. Sarah saw her life go from scarcity to abundance with the birth of her son, Isaac. But did that change her? It seems not. She became jealous and imagined herself threatened. She puts Abraham in a terrible position. She tells him to “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” Scripture tells us “the matter was very distressing to Abraham….”
Yes, I guess so! This father of two sons loves them both. Sarah’s demand must tear his heart in two. But God reassures Abraham that God will make the situation work. What a relief that message must have been! God tells Abraham, “As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”
Indeed, God does because Muslims track their lineage back to him.
So through Isaac, through our Hebrew Bible history, we Christians trace our lineage back to Abraham, and through Ishmael the Muslims trace their lineage back to the same Abraham.
You’d think that would make us one big happy family, wouldn’t you?!
Do you think that if more people knew that that Islam, Judaism and Christianity share the same ancestor, we might get along better?!
But people seem intent on fighting. Look what Jesus says in our reading today from Matthew. People will take his message of love and freedom and truth, and it will tear apart families, friendships, communities and countries. He says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Truth, especially truth to power, has wreaked havoc through the ages.
Jesus’ life and death showed his disciples, and us today, what happens. People too readily choose death over life; choose lives of deceit and pursue power and wealth over living lives of service. There is conflict in the world and Jesus’ presence brings conflict into the light. Perhaps we are especially aware of this now during this pandemic when all sorts of strife, which was always there, is coming into the light and begging to be addressed.
Yes, there is a longing in the world for the light of God, yet there is a strong pull to the opposite direction – to the dark. This is the reality. And Jesus urges us to wake up, choose life and the light, or fall into darkness, despair and conflict. Everyone makes their own choice. Are we prepared for what God might ask of us? Are we listening to our hearts? Or are we simply concerned with what’s easy and comfortable? We would love to change others, when the truth is, we can only change ourselves.
As Paul reminds us in today’s reading from the letter to the community in Rome – “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” In other words, do we keep on living and making choices that hurt ourselves and others when we’ve been baptized and made a vow to live differently? Do we use confession as a way to feel free to continue to sin? Is that the game?
A sword pointing at your chest puts things quickly into perspective. Do we make choices to live in the light? We know we will fall, fail, and stumble but are we determined to stay on the path and count on God’s grace to get up again and continue? Can we agree with Paul that “we know our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin?”
Our challenge is Sarah’s. To move beyond a sense of scarcity, threat and a lack of trust, to a sense of abundance and care for all.
And our challenge is Abraham’s. That all is in God’s hands. And God can take the most awful situation and bring good out of it.
The tricky part is not to test God; not to be apathetic in the face of wrong-doing and evil; complacent that God will take care of everything. We need to know when to speak up, speak truth to power, to come alongside those who are suffering. Not because we are convinced we can change the world, but because it is vital to our own characters that we have integrity, that we show we care. That we become the people we want others to be. For we have been promised: “if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
This pandemic is a time of transformation. Our world can no longer sustain our lifestyle; people are dying in the millions, so many are homeless/refugees, and our planet is suffocating.
Can we make the choice to die to our former way of life and see how Creation might be resurrected?
Are we willing to see what God can do if we are willing to change?
Are we willing to change in the way God would have us change, regardless of the price?
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Jesus challenges us. There are choices we make that serve life; and there are choices that don’t. Our only way forward is to follow the One who made choices that did not save him from pain or suffering, but that held the long view, the promise of a life deeply connected with love.
There will be time in the desert, many of you are experiencing this now, having to stay home without the kind of contact with others that grounds and feeds you. Jesus knows this pain. You are not alone.
So in this week’s reading from Matthew, Jesus moves from the call to lead and love, to the more stark realities of being a disciple. Jesus is likely trying to prepare his followers for the realities of being a disciple of his. This message is for us as well. We need to embrace, not sugar-coat reality, confront the darkness and make our choices. And acknowledge that conflict is part of the process; within, and without, us.
Not easy words. Not at all.
But Jesus reminds them and us - we mustn’t be afraid. Three times in the reading he says, “Do not fear,” or, “Do not be afraid.” He’s not fooling them into believing that life will be easy; no rather, he is reassuring them that even when the going gets tough, they have something/someONE who will see them through. He says if anyone “acknowledges him before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
In other words, when we stand firm in our faith, nothing can destroy our souls. And as we hear elsewhere in the gospel, nothing can separate us from God. God knows and holds each one of us each personally. Not one action escapes the knowledge for as Jesus says, “even the hairs of your head are counted.”
This kind of kind of love does not make us immune to suffering. It does mean we are not alone when we suffer. What is immune, Jesus says, is our souls when we live by the gospel truth and power.
People often don’t like this passage, but it’s true. We all know families and communities that have been split apart by people’s choices and determination to follow the gospel life.
Do not fear. It’s easy to say. But what I’ve learned is that it is exactly our places of fear that show us where we need to grow in faith. So instead of pushing fear away, we can use fear to guide us. We can practice trust in the small challenges of daily life. We can open our eyes to the multitude of ways God is present to us in the moments of our days. Instead of fighting back when we are confronted with conflict, it serves us to turn to God.
Say the name “Jesus.” Call on him. Acknowledge Jesus and Jesus will acknowledge you before God. Finding our life in Jesus takes courage, but we are also led by grace.
And for that we can be truly thankful.