God's Dress Rehearsal
"Abraham! Abraham! Take your son. Your only the son. The son you love and go up the mountain to sacrifice him." This is the beginning of one of the most if not the most repugnant stories in the Bible. What kind of a loving God would require this of someone? It is no wonder people prefer the New Testament to the Old Testament. We question Abraham's blind obedience to God. Never mind what kind of a God would ask this? What kind of parent would comply? We put people in jail for this type of behavior. We call it child abuse.
But Abraham sets off with Isaac and up the mountain they go. Isaac with the wood strapped to his back. Abraham walks along silently cursing God for asking him to do this. He momentarily brightens and thinks "God didn't let anything happen to Sarah when I pawned her off as my sister." It will be OK. He straightens up and walks along but then dark thoughts crowd in again. He thinks of Ishmael and Hagar being cast out to appease Sarah. Again Abraham curses God for this but then he remembers an angel saved them both. He reminds himself it will work out. After all he keeps telling Isaac that God will provide. Both he and the boy walk along and in one crazed moment Abraham peers over the cliff and thinks to himself, he will hurl Isaac down off the cliff and then he, Abraham, will jump after him. No. No. That is not a plan. So they keep trudging along.
They reach the top of the mountain and Abraham begins to lay the sticks on the altar. He ties Isaac to the woodpile and pushing his face away from his so he can't see the boys face, he pulls out the knife. An angel appears and tells Abraham to stop. Isaac is saved, but we are still left pondering this story. Again we question the characters. What kind of a God and what kind of a father would require and do such things? Some denominations tell us this is a story of ultimate faith in God. And indeed it is, but I think it is safe to say we don't worship a God that would toy with us like he did with Abraham and Isaac. We worship a God who loves us as we are.
It is easy to follow someone who has authority. I often wonder what I would do with faced with a life and death situation and an authority figure gave directions on what to do. If you will recall, on September 11th the workers in the building were told to go back to their desks that everything was under control. Some did and we know the tragic consequences. What would you do in such a situation? I don't think any of us knows until we are in that situation how we would act. Tragically, we have learned, blind obedience is not always the best decision. If you notice, we never hear about Isaac again and neither do we know if Sarah was aware of what was taking place. Abraham was not only tested by God but his relationship with his son, the son he loved is decimated. How did any of them go on? The toll of blind obedience.
"God! God! Take your son. Your only son. The son you love. Strap some wood on his back after being mocked and beaten have him climb to Golgotha and be crucified." For many years I have had the theory the Isaac and Abraham story is not about Isaac and Abraham but rather God testing himself. As he watches the scene play out between the two, does God wonder could I do that? Could I sacrifice my son? We have our answer. "God! God! Take your son. Your only son. The son you love. Sacrifice him for humanity." He did.
The hymn we just sang “The Summons” was written by John Bell who is a member of the Iona Community. See video link at end of blog.
Bell is a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister interested in congregational renewal. He serves the Iona Community which was founded in 1938 by George McLeod. McLeod witnessed the extreme poverty and hopelessness on docks of Glasgow during the Depression. He took a group of men to Iona to rebuild the monastic quarters of the medieval abbey. The men shared a common life of working and living together and through their relationships they began to once again find joy in life.
Their legacy continues to shape the Iona community today. Iona is not only a center for tourism and pilgrimage, it also serves the volunteers and staff of Iona Community. The Iona Community
The Iona Community, as a radical movement and organisation, is committed to living out the Christian faith in the areas of:
- Hospitality, diversity and inclusive community
- Worship, faith and spirituality
- Social justice and human rights
- Politics and campaigning
- Gender justice and human sexuality
- Environmental stewardship
- Peacemaking and non-violence
- Healing and reconciliation
- We actively and urgently seek to work in partnership with all people of goodwill who share our commitment to just and non-violent action, irrespective of nationality, religion or political creed.
Today’s gradual hymn and the gospel call us to radical discipleship. Jesus is calling upon the disciples to follow him and radically change the world. He is not soft-selling them either. The Summons does not sugar coat what it means to be a true disciple-going to strange places; caring for all even those who do not like you; be vulnerable before God and finally love yourself as you are? Challenging words of us just as Jesus challenged the disciples in today’s lesson.
HIs language is radical-I come to bring not peace but a sword. Families will argue and rise up against one another. Not exactly the kind of language we want to hear from Jesus. Some listeners of the passage have difficulty with the Prince of Peace being less than peaceful. So let’s explore this thought. How does Jesus speaking this way make you think? Does it bother you? Does it repulse you? Give you hope for the forgotten and the lost?
Jesus in the first part of this reading prepares his followers go out and heal the sick and the lame; to cast out evil spirits and to bring peace to homes. He tells them is they are not accepted to leave the town. Nothing too controversial there. Now in the passage we are reading today, Jesus says that families will be torn apart and allegiances are going to be demanded. It is a wonder anyone stayed with him. This Jesus sounds scary and difficult. Maybe they are not ready or up to it. Imagine in a tribal community giving all up to follow a new tribe.
We here, well those of us who are not “cradle Episcopalians” understand what it is Jesus is talking about. If someone who grown up in a church, been faithful in attendance surrounded by family suddenly decides she is leaving her family church, we can well imagine family may be upset. Family religion is an identifier it is tribal-we go to this church and the world knows who you are and what you believe. It is natural for parents and grandparents to wonder what they have done that little Esmerelda would want to leave and go elsewhere.
Jesus says whoever loves father and mother more is not worthy of me. Perhaps what he is saying is if someone is willing to stay in place where they do not feel the presence of God then they are in church for the wrong reasons. The reason we go to church is to further our own relationship with God in a way which makes us happy and ready to serve the world.
Those who find their life may be those who are willing to make the difficult choice of finding a church which makes them feel complete. Perhaps this is your story or the story of someone you know. How many times have you walked into this sacred space and thought to yourself, “this is it, I am here and I feel at home.” How many of you have also stayed somewhere because you hope it will become better or different or you will become better or different? I would venture many of us have done such a thing. That is losing our life so to speak. But when we go where Jesus is felt among us we are losing one life to find a better one. When we find the place where we know we are to be what we have lost while significant is life giving.
John Bell’s fourth verse says Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. When we follow our hearts and listen for the voice of God then we know who we are truly following. It is not necessarily a life of ease but it is one of standing in the light proclaiming boldly who it is we follow no matter where it leads.
Who's on your Board of Directors?
In our gospel lesson for Sunday June 18th Jesus calls his disciples together and gives them their tasks. Two by two they are to go out and heal the sick, proclaim the good news, and to do it all without payment! They are to rely on the kindness of strangers. We can see Jesus as the CEO and the disciples as his Board of Directors. They are the ones who will follow the mission and vision Jesus sets before them.
If you notice Matthew lists who are the twelve Jesus has called upon. From experience we know if names are listed it must mean something. A closer read of the names shows that these twelve are not necessarily the best and the brightest. We have Judas who will betray him. Peter who will abandon him. James and John jockey for position in heaven. Simon the Cananaean was a zealot for the Jews so he would have been at odds with Matthew the tax collector an agent of the Roman government. It is a rather disparate group.
But out of this group Jesus finds something worthwhile in each of them. There is a reason they are on his Board of Directors. One of the reasons is he may have wanted to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. Or perhaps it is each one of them in his own way has a talent Jesus wishes to exploit. Finally, maybe they were all he could find who were willing to give up all and follow him.
Whatever the reason this group of men Jesus sent out to further the Kingdom of God. Which brings me to my question: Who's on your Board of Directors? Is it only those who agree with you? Is it only those you like? What Jesus demonstrates to us in this story is being able to lay aside personal grievances is going to lead us to furthering his mission here. Jesus doesn't ask us to like one another. He asks us to love one another. Liking is a different level of engagement than loving. Loving allows you to see the person has something to offer which will help you do what God has given you to do. So I ask, Who's on your Board of Directors?