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Unity in Diversity: A Case Study: Roman Catholic-Lutheran Christians, Philippians 2:1-13
October 5, 2017, 9:33 am
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Philippians 2:1-13  

read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

“Be of the same mind, in full accord and of one mind.”

What is that? Certainly not the world we live in today.

In our home, we avoid the 24-hour news cycle. I take a deep breath before opening Facebook. I know not to bring up certain subjects around specific people.

As a whole American public, we are a people of division. Media amplifies the shouting of one side against another. We group together with our people- people who have the same experiences and opinions as us. By having our ideas always affirmed, we become even more sure that we’re right about everything. It’s us versus them. I’m right, you’re wrong. Fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you- when someone tries to challenge us.

When we read Paul’s encouragement to the early church, we discover that our situation today isn’t anything new. These very first converts, people who are hearing directly from those who actually met Jesus, full of the energy of the Spirit and zeal of new faith, even they struggle to be a unified community.

The early church was located at the crossroads of cultures. It was a place much like our nation today, where ideas from all over the world were shared along trade routes, people worshipped in many different ways and sought wisdom from varied philosophies, and class, gender, and citizenship divided people into drastically different lives.

The early church was an experiment in creating radically different community. It attempted unity in diversity. In faith it proclaimed that because of Jesus all are welcome- divisions are broken down. There is no more men here, women there, Greeks there, Jews here, slaves way over there, rich up close here. Christian community recognizes that we are all different, and yet the most powerful thing is that which holds us together: Jesus Christ, dying and rising to make us God’s own people.

Proclaiming community and living it are two very different things. The Church has struggled with unity for millennia.

At the end of October, we commemorate the Reformation. We mark October 31st as Reformation Day because 500 years ago, Martin Luther put forward 95 Theses, or points of debate, for religious scholars to explore. He hoped to see a renewal in his church, centered in returning to what is most central, Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for us. This movement was coopted. Reformation became a banner under which political powers sought to realign, and so what might have been a renewal movement was fanned into a schism- breaking the unified Western church into factions.

Reading what was written during that period, it’s pretty clear that the whole people of God were not “of the same mind.” They told lies about each other and exaggerated differences. They killed each other while believing they were doing God’s work. Over the centuries, the violence quieted down, but still divisions remain. Some of you here remember being taught that good Lutherans couldn’t befriend- and certainly should never marry- a Catholic.

What you may not have heard much about is what’s been going on in more recent years. The Church is moving towards living in to Paul’s vision of Christian community. I spent the beginning of last week learning about God’s work to draw together Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christians towards greater unity after 500 years of division. The Lutheran-Catholic story is a case study from which we might learn to heal divisions in our own lives and communities.

How do people of different opinion and experience, caked with the mud slung by generations, come together towards community?

Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

Reconciliation starts with setting aside being right.

A way to understand the Reformation might be to say that Martin Luther was looking for a dialog partner and the Roman Catholic Church of his day wasn’t ready for a conversation. A conversation requires people to suspend their own need to be right and respect their dialog partner enough to believe they might have something to offer. It’s necessary to believe the other might possess some kernel of the truth. This openness helps us to listen to the experience of the other, to be curious as to how ideas came to be.

 

 

We look to Jesus to learn how to enter conversation and build community. Paul calls us to reflect the mind of Jesus. In order to be united with us, to bring us into his community, Jesus left his home, his place of glory, to come into our human experience. He so entered in to what it is to be us that he even experienced our suffering and death. He did everything to bridge the gap between Creator and created. He set aside all privilege in order to raise us up.

Maybe you’ve heard that you should walk a mile in another’s shoes before making judgements about their life?

Jesus is the ultimate embodiment of walking in someone else’s shoes. Jesus spent his life walking with and alongside those he was determined to know and love. Jesus came in order to know you and love you.

It wasn’t enough for God to know us from a distance. It wasn’t enough to know us from the perspective of creator, subject of worship, recipient of prayer. Through Jesus, God knows us from our perspective. Jesus had a family, grieved at a friend’s death, was confronted with his own prejudice, struggled to be faithful to God’s purpose, was betrayed, abandoned, and killed. It would have been more comfortable to stay distant, but God wants to be in community with us, so in love, God has done everything to know us.

We would do well to listen deeply enough to stand in another’s shoes- or at least next to them- and look around through their description, attempting to see the world as they see it, acknowledging that they might see and experience things differently than we do. In order to do that, we have to be willing to know that our assumptions might be wrong, we have to be open to being changed by that encounter.

Can you imagine the Church saying it was wrong? As an institution guarding the Truth- to be open to critique takes a lot.

Yet transformed by Jesus, the Church has been at work to discover the faithfulness in fellow Christians once declared heretics. Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christians have been engaged in dialogue for the past 50 years. We have come to recognize each other as faithful Christians, people Jesus loves, feeds, and forgives. In 1990s, a joint theological document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine Justification was signed and accepted by both churches. Recently, From Conflict to Communion and Declaration on the Way focus on our shared effort to remember the Reformation together, repent of the division, and give thanks for those things on which we have come to understand each other better.

In some cases, differences in words and practices clouded us from seeing that we both celebrate the same truth, and deep, respectful listening helped clear away the clouds so we could recognize Christ in each other. There are 32 statements of agreement, points on which there is no longer church-dividing disagreement. This work of reforming community was celebrated in a joint commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation last year. Catholics- including the Pope- and Lutherans worshipped side by side. At the same time, the relief and service organizations of each church, Lutheran World Federation World Service and Caritas Internationalis, declared that they would work together in a more coordinated effort, letting the needs of others break down their need for recognition of their own work, under their denominational brand name.

I give thanks that we have this example of working towards unity in the midst of so much division in our world.

One phrase from this work translates to all of our community restoring work: “The Holy Spirit bends the inflexible.” With God all things are possible- Catholics and Lutherans can worship together. We can be one congregation with many passions. Our neighborhood and city can be united around a common goal. Our nation can reclaim civility and grow in understanding.

Jesus humbled himself, sacrificed himself, for the sake of creating community. Where might Jesus be calling you to do the same? Is there a relationship you might be able to restore by saying those difficult words- “I was wrong?” Might there be an opportunity for you to set aside all your experiences that prove your opinion is correct and listen deeply enough to another to hear how their experiences have led them to their own opinions? Can you recognize something valid in another so that you can have real dialogue rather than calling each other names?

If we can be a church that’s about celebrating unity in the midst of diversity, we might have something the world would be interested in. If the gospel empowers us to care enough for others that we suspend our beliefs enough to honor them by listening- if knowing Jesus truly makes us people who love even those who aren’t just like us- we might just live into our dream of seeing this church grow.

Paul writes, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” We can’t create unity on our own. Thankfully, God isn’t leaving it all up to us. God is at work in you- giving you the desire and the ability to do God’s work of community building and reconciliation.

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Sermon Sept 24 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 20:1-16
October 5, 2017, 9:30 am
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Read the Bible  Focus on: Matthew 20:1-16

 

Grace and peace to you siblings in Christ,

It’s a joy to be worshipping with you this morning. If you’ll indulge your new pastor, please have a peek at the back of your bulletin.

Who are the lucky people who have a star sticker on the back of the bulletin?

Which of you have green stars? Excellent. God loves you- God has a special meal of love prepared for you right here today a little bit later.

Red stars? Great. God loves you- you’re invited to join this meal, too.

Anyone have a gold star? You are the winner! God loves you- you have a very special spot right down here- you’ll be right next to everyone else in the congregation-

Because God loves all of you- and has prepared a place for each one of you at this meal.

You are each special and beloved and valued- but I’m sorry to say, those of you with stars aren’t really getting anything more than God is giving to everyone else.

 

God loves all people because of who God is. God is a loving God, a merciful God, a God who comes to earth as a person, Jesus, to share our life and death so that nothing we experience would be outside of God. God chooses to judge the worth of each person by swapping out that person’s action with Jesus’ and weighing Jesus’ worth instead. God gifts us with Jesus’ worthiness- so we are each worthy of love, not because of our own doing or not doing, but simply because God chooses to make us worthy.

That’s grace. God’s free gift. I’ve always celebrated that free-ness. Thank God- I don’t have to worry- I may have totally messed up- but God chooses to love this mess anyway.

It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered how terrifying this grace is.

 

I was serving a Lutheran church in rural North Dakota. To serve our town of fewer than 200 people, we had two churches. Right next door to our church was the United Methodist Church. In an effort to strengthen partnerships between the churches, we accepted an invitation to participate in their Bible study.

We opened Ephesians and began reading that God freely chose us to be beloved and holy- before the world was even created. It was all God’s choice- God’s grace- to love us before we could do anything to earn that love. I started gushing about how beautiful the passage was- how amazing that God’s love is so wide-

Only to be interrupted by, “You’re scaring me!”

My jaw hung in surprise. What on earth would be scary about God’s love?

God’s love is out of our control.

When everything else in our world is about earning and deserving- when we have so many ways of judging if someone is good enough- it is terrifying to think that on the scale of the big cosmic judgement, we don’t have any weight to throw around. God has already measured out God’s mercy. It’s overflowing. God has made you and me more than enough.

That flies in the face of our sense of justice. It undermines our American dream of earning our way to the top. It doesn’t make sense. That’s the feeling we get from Jesus’ parable in our Gospel today:

The landowner goes out to hire workers throughout the day, agreeing with the earliest workers that they would receive the usual wage, and simply telling the others they’d receive what was right. He chooses to pay them backwards, starting with those who worked the least amount of time, but giving all of them the same amount- the standard daily wage. When they are all given the same amount, those who had worked all day complain and resent those who came lately, because even though they worked harder and longer, they received nothing more.

We all but hear the workers shouting- that’s not fair!

Jesus teaches this parable to show us something about the kingdom of God. When Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven- Jesus is talking about the reign of God right here and now. This parable is about how God’s vision of how life is supposed to work collides with our vision of how life is supposed to work.

Right here and now there are two competing realities: the kingdom of this world, in which merit and work and being in the right group all count for something; and the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s surprising generosity is the only thing that matters. The parable is about our reaction to God and an invitation to learn from that reaction so that we can more closely imitate God’s intentions for us.

We learn that we like to categorize people. We want to judge our worth by measuring up against each other. When God decides to destroy our meritocracy and simply love each person the same- totally and abundantly- it makes us mad! At the very least, it’s confusing.

We’re here at church to learn to live into this alternative reality- the kingdom of heaven. In word and song, sacrament and service, bread broken and plates shared, we live into the kind of community God intends, in which all people are welcomed and valued, their various stories and experiences honored, but never used as the basis for their worth. Church is meant to be a place of practicing the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not always so easy. Too often church has been a place we want to act just like the kingdom of this world.

I’ve seen it especially when I talk about confirmation class requirements. Elders tell me stories of their confirmation, when the pastor would grill them with questions in front of the whole congregation. They’d tell me it made them so nervous that they’d be sick the night before. As soon as I open my mouth to say- wow, what a horrible experience- I’m so glad we do things differently today- I’m cut off by them saying- we need to make kids today work harder. They need to suffer like we did. Prove their worth like we did.

Here in this place, we don’t have to prove our worth. God’s already determined it.

 

If the stickers some people received didn’t win them a prize, what good are they? If it doesn’t make you any more special, then maybe it’s worthless.

The Bible study interrupter was scandalized by grace because she heard it making all her sacrifices, service, and church participation worthless. Why had she given up all the fun she could have had? If God’s acceptance isn’t based on what we do- why be good? It made her feel a fool, doing things for nothing.

No. Grace is only a disappointment when we are trapped by the need to prove ourselves. Your stickers are pretty and they served a point- and if anyone wants their own sticker, I’ll have more after worship. The works of faith the woman did served the community and encouraged others, they may not have changed her worth, but they helped others recognize their own.

The fear behind all this scrambling for recognition of our work centers on the question: “how do we know we are valued?”

We know we are valued because we hear and trust God’s promises. God spoke creation into being and spoke its blessing: it is good. We hold God to the commitment God has made to love us- to claim us. As a worshipping community, we amplify God’s promises, helping each other hear God speaking love to us. God makes a place for each one of us at this table and God provides the meal for you. We hear and taste and feel God’s valuing each one of us- and we learn to trust God’s judgement over all else.

 

 

The more we live into the Kingdom of Heaven, with its strange lack of scales for measuring each person’s worth, the more it will become normal and the world’s scales strange. This sanctuary is a place where everyone is welcome and everyone is most especially loved. When you leave this place, you don’t leave the Kingdom of Heaven, you carry it with you.

As you go about your life this week, go about the work of freeing people from the burden of living up to standards of value. Help them to see that no matter what, God loves them. And when your life get hard, when you can’t do it all, when no prizes have been coming and the grades aren’t that great- remember that God loves you, too. You’ve been declared worthy and forgiven and a child of God- and even though you haven’t earned it, nothing’s going to take away this gift God has given to you. Thanks be to God.



Show me the way: Scripture of the Week Reflections July 3
July 3, 2017, 12:01 pm
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Genesis 24: 42“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! Jesus,Savior,Pilot Me


Read more of the text here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=366095659 or read all of Genesis 24.

In this passage, we hear Abraham’s servant speaking. He’s been sent back to the homeland to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. He doesn’t spare any details as he explains how he was sent, prayed for God to show him a sign, and came across Rebekah, who fulfilled the sign he had asked for. Even as Rebekah offered water as the servant had prayed, he continues to pray, asking God to show him if this is the right woman to be Isaac’s wife.

I can almost hear his heart nervously beating to his prayer: “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going!”

How often has my own prayer been a frazzled plea, “help me, God!” as I try to do something I’m  not sure I can, or try to make the right decision when a choice is before me.

(Maybe don’t) Ask my husband, and he’ll tell you that I’m the worst at making decisions. I get overwhelmed by all the choices at a restaurant. I would buy 4 dresses for a high school formal, and then return them all before settling on my final pick.

So, I’d love it if I could say God always make the big decisions easy- with a booming voice or an obvious sign. Too bad for me, I don’t really think God always works like that. I think God meets us in whatever path we take, rather than having set one right path that we had better not miss. But if there’s no one right path, how do we know which way to take?

There are prayer practices I find helpful in discernment. I talk to God about the choices before me. I journal. I talk to friends or my spiritual director. I live a day or longer as if I had made one selection, and notice how I am feeling and living. Then, I spend the same amount of time as if I had made the other selection. After considering in which commitment I felt most alive, I choose. Ignatian’s daily examen has been helpful. In this prayer, you replay your day, noticing where there was joy and wholeness, where there was struggle and you felt distant from God. It’s about noticing in order to align your life more fully to God’s purpose for all of creation. After giving thanks and asking for forgiveness, I place all of the past into God’s hands, and entrust my future to God as well.

I share this as an invitation for you to explore how you connect to God during times of transition, choices, and daily life. If you’d like some resources for prayer, I’d love to chat with you.

I’m not much for clichés, but “when one door closes, another door opens” makes sense to me in that God continues to open doors for us. God gives many opportunities to recognize God is with us and to follow God’s call into loving service for the sake of the world. There’s no one-time-you-missed-it-too-bad-so-sad with God. I have faith that there are many paths that can take us towards God’s desire for us. God is always at work to come to us and bring us into the Kingdom and the work of the Kingdom here and now.

 



Welcoming Jesus: Matthew 10: 40-42 A Sermon for Lectionary 13, 4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2017, 7:50 am
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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ,

I’ve been focusing on Genesis for my preaching these past weeks, but you may have noticed that we’ve been reading through the same section of Matthew. Jesus is teaching his disciples as he prepares to send them out.

He’s reminded them

of their mission field- the lost sheep of Israel,

the work they will be doing- proclaim the good news, heal the sick, raise the dead,

their packing list- not enough to last without help from others.

He’s prepared them for the fact that not everyone will welcome them and listen to what they say. Their family and friends might think they’re crazy and pull away.

He’s warned them that they might even be in danger because of their work.

 

Now the warnings are over, and the blessing is proclaimed.

Jesus finishes his instruction with the passage we read today beginning, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

 

What Jesus is saying is really amazing. The disciple is the teacher. The Son is the Father. When someone opens to the door to you, disciples, that person is opening the door to me, Jesus. A person will know Jesus by knowing a disciple.

 

The disciples carry Jesus’ presence to the world. They’re not trailing behind Jesus, they are bringing him forward.

 

What a responsibility! And yet- it makes sense, what else would they- would we be doing? Disciples carry Jesus, bring Jesus, show Jesus, enact Jesus for the sake of the world- and that’s how the world will know Jesus.

 

In this chapter, Jesus is preparing his disciples, but he’s also preparing us. We, too, are called to be little Christs for the world. As baptized Christians, you are united with Jesus Christ, so that you can carry on his mission and bring him into all the places you go.

 

When I was a junior in high school, I travelled with my dad and a group of local Lutherans to Puerto Rico. We went down to join the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, working to repair homes after hurricane damage.

 

One hot, sunny morning, we were assigned to walk through the neighborhood and pick up trash. The neighborhood was a squatter’s village, none of the homes were legal, and there was no garbage service. Some houses were basically corrugated metal connected together. I had never seen anything like it.

 

It was hard to tell what was damaged from the storms and what was a result of poverty. You can imagine the hurricane did nothing to help the living conditions. After the hurricane, FEMA had drilled down tarps to cover roofs. It had been a quick fix, but didn’t take into account the long-term needs of the people. Lutheran Disaster Response stayed longer than any other agency, attempting to make a lasting impact for good. We had come at the end of their service, so that day, we weren’t needed for building and were sent through the neighborhood.

 

I remember walking down the dirt road in a haze of heat, and this man came running up to us. I had taken years of French… so it took a while to grasp what he was saying. We’re walking past his house and he wanted us to wait a moment. Not long after, he ran back out to us, carrying Styrofoam take out containers overflowing with freshly scrambled eggs and toasted bread.

 

Here was this man, who had what looked to me like so very little, but who recognized that the abundance of his life was found in sharing and gratitude. I may have thought I was there to serve. But he also had something to offer.

 

Sometimes Jesus looks like a man in a forgotten village with a big smile, a talent for cooking, and a gift for hospitality.

 

Hospitality is of central importance in Jesus’ culture, and its importance goes back for centuries. That’s why we read two weeks ago that Abraham welcomed in those three strangers and fed them the best food. By entertaining strangers, you might just be entertaining angels. In a culture in which there was no Super 8, people depended on the hospitality of others.

 

Hospitality is feeding and housing people. It’s helping them feel comfortable, making space that was yours also theirs. At its center, it’s an act of recognizing the worth of the other. It’s recognizing myself in the other- as if to say, “yes, you also are a human being” —and— it’s recognizing Jesus in the other.

 

We meet Jesus in other people.

 

I wonder if we might treat others differently if we saw them as beings who carry Jesus within them. When we look into a cashier’s eyes, we see Jesus. When we are cared for by a nurse, we are cared for by Jesus. When we hold the hand of someone telling their story of struggle, we hold the hand of Jesus. They are people Jesus has created, loved, forgiven, and chosen to dwell with and in.

 

I’ve travelled and been to enough yoga classes to know this sentiment is not unique. Namaste – the greeting at the end of class- is a blessing meaning I bow to the sacred in you.

 

It’s not unique to us Christians, but it’s important enough to be reclaimed. As a whole, I think Christianity has lost sight of the central tenet that we have an incarnate God. We have a God who created and then chose to land right in creation and dwell here among us. Throughout the Old Testament, we get a vision of a God who tents with God’s own people. When we get to the New Testament, we meet a God who leaves behind all the privileges of divinity in order to become one of us, so that we might be brought in to God.

 

Jesus chose to be among those the world saw as less than. He invited into his inner circle people others avoided. So, now, as we look for Jesus present and at work in the world, we need to look among those Jesus chooses to especially be among- the poor, the outcast, the judged, and the afraid.

 

Instead of having Christians known as judgmental, holier than thou, what if we were known as the people who saw the worth of every person? What if we gave people dignity?

 

So many churches advertise themselves as “welcoming,” but then have unadvertised qualifiers as to who exactly gets to be welcomed. It’s important that we welcome as Jesus welcome us- as we are, right now, with all our goodness and all our struggle. We’re called to give a class of water, to give love to others before they meet all our expectations. God has created us as diverse, fascinating people, with differences that are meant to be known and honored.

 

When you welcome another, you welcome Jesus. When you go out, you bring Jesus with you. Wherever you are, Jesus is with you, at work to restore the world.



Psalm 89: Scripture of the Week
June 26, 2017, 12:51 pm
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Maritime day

Psalm 89:1Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing;
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
Our eldest daughter is old enough to be reading, but perhaps not quite fast enough to read and sing every hymn during church. Still, when I was worshipping with her this spring, I would use my finger to track the words in the hymnal. I was hoping she’d become more engaged in worship and less… crazy.

After a particularly trying worship in the pews, I asked her why she wouldn’t follow along and sing. She looked at me and said, “Mom. I don’t need to read the words. I just open my mouth and my mouth knows what to sing.”

I’m not so sure a squirmy six year old is what the psalmist had in mind, but I guess it works. She’s caught on to the freedom of living in God’s love. She trusts that what will come out will be a response to God’s love; something appropriate to our worship. As adults, we can get a little too rigid, tied to the notes and the rules, as if that was what was most important. This psalm retells God’s promises to David as a reminder of God’s faithfulness for us. God’s faithfulness is the foundation of our praise- the foundation of our living. God’s faithfulness is all that matters. We respond as we can. Maybe that means we don’t sing in unison, or even sing the same words all the time. Instead, we live as a refrain to God’s song of unending love.

Jesus came for us to show God’s faithfulness has no bounds. Jesus died and was raised to show that there is no where God will not be for us. In baptism, God claimed you as God’s own child, promising to never abandon you, no matter how far you might go.

How will you remember God’s faithfulness this week? How might you live out your song of praise?

*God, we know no faithfulness like yours. Make us courageous and bold in living out your love and forgiveness. Take away all fear, so that we might sing with joy, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.*



Seeing, Hearing, Active God: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Genesis 21:8-21
June 26, 2017, 12:49 pm
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Genesis 21:8-21

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Last week, we remembered God is a promise keeper, fulfilling the promise to give children to Abraham and Sarah long after they had any reason to hope. Today we rediscover more about who our God is as we look at the other side of this family, focusing on Abraham’s son Ishmael and his mother Hagar.

Looking at this family from another angle, we reveal a reflection of who we are in our brokenness and sin. Last week, we celebrated the joy Sarah and Abraham had as they birthed their promised son. Today we confront the ways in which they were willing to destroy others’ lives in order to get what they were promised.

During those years of barrenness, Sarah took the life of her slave girl Hagar. She gave her slave to Abraham, so that she might use the body of this girl to conceive, carry, and birth a child for herself, a child to fulfill God’s promise.

When Hagar conceived Abraham’s son, Sarah went into a rage. She attacked Hagar, who carried all her hope and all her contempt. Hagar ran away.

In the wilderness, next to a stream, God sees Hagar, declaring:

Genesis 16:11 “‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

you shall call him Ishmael,

for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”

Hagar, having seen and heard God, returns to Sarah, and gives birth to her son.

Years later, Sarah herself conceives, carries, and births Abraham’s son Isaac. She no longer has need of Ishmael. This is where we pick up the story.

Matriarch Sarah saw slave Hagar’s son, Ishmael, playing- laughing- with her own son, Isaac. That they should see each other as brothers is too much for Sarah. She will not allow for any possibility that Isaac’s inheritance would be divided. Sarah demands that Abraham send them away, and he does.

As we prepare for the moment of God’s decisive action, Hagar and Ishmael have left on a desperate journey, cast out of their homes. Hagar has used all she has to protect her child, but there is nothing left. Nothing left for her to do but hide her child and hide her face as she waits for death to claim them.

Then- God hears them.

The pivotal verse of God’s action is Genesis 21: 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.

God heard them.

When has this slave woman ever been heard? She’s been used by others for their own gains, forced to grow a child to carry another’s blessing, beaten and cast out when they’ve had enough of her. She has never been seen. Never been heard. Not by anyone.

Except by God.

God hears them, even as they are deserted and surrounded by death. God hears and answers, providing a path into life. God gives blessing and a future. Even as people of power reject them and ignore their needs, God cares for Hagar and Ishmael.

God gives: unexpectedly, abundantly, and to all. Sarah was afraid the inheritance was too small to be divided between both of Abraham’s sons. When God spoke to Hagar, God declared Ishmael will also be the beginning of a great nation, just as Isaac will be. Math with God is different than our own accounting. God acts in abundance when we see scarcity. The promise is always bigger than we think it will be.

When we feel a need to make the circle smaller, to tighten the boundaries defining who is included, and we begin to push people out, we forget this story. We forget who our God is, and what our God can- and does- do.

God sees you, all of you, and knows the struggles you are facing. God hears you, when you’ve been too ashamed to tell anyone. God loves you without the judgment and demands we so often put on the love we show to each other. God is acting for your wellbeing. God sent Jesus to reveal our brokenness- our need to have outsiders, forgotten people, people to carry our rage. Jesus opened the circle of God’s welcome, bringing into community those who had been cast out. This Jesus brings us all into a new life and a new way of being.

Our God is a hearing God, a seeing God, a God who acts. Baptized into Christ, we are called to be hearing, seeing, active people.

But this is not who I have been. Reading and praying this passage over the last week has made me think about all the ways I have closed my eyes and my ears, so that I don’t have to see- or hear- so that I don’t have to act.

A friend posted a photo and news article about drought in Somalia. View it here.Beautiful, horrifying photos that tell of a land experiencing a harsher, more arid climate, leading people to desperation, to violence, to starvation, and to dangerous paths of escape to new lands, where they will often be barred out or cast away.

I listened to the outcomes of recent trials of police officers involved in shooting deaths of black people. Following that, I listened to an interview of a teacher of conceal and carry classes. This teacher, who is a black man, teachers other people of color a certain way of organizing their license, registration, and insurance papers so that when pulled over, it’s all easy to access. I think of my own exploding glove compartment, and how I’ve never considered it might cause more than a rolled eye if I ever had to make someone wait for me to find my papers.

I paddled the Cloquet River yesterday to learn about water quality. As we stopped for lunch, and I raised my hand for my roast beef sandwich, someone teased, “way to eat high on the food chain.” I think that was meant as a rub from a vegan husband to his wife and I got caught in the middle of it holding the sandwich he thought was for her- but still- here we were, talking about the impacts of farms on the water quality in the lower half of the state… and I held a piece of that cycle in my hands.

These are all things I don’t have to pay attention to. Who I am – especially as a white, cis-gender, middle class, educated American citizen- has made it possible for me not to have to see- or hear- or know. This is what it means for me to have privilege and power. I’m not forced to see how other people are living as a result of my choices and my culture.  I find myself reflected in Sarah, who sees Hagar and her offspring as disposable means to obtain what she wants. Who am I casting off?

Our God doesn’t cast people off, but seeks them out; doesn’t ignore them, but truly sees them and hears what they need. Who I am- as a baptized child of God- is a harvester in God’s kingdom. God’s growing justice, love, inclusion, and healing.

If today you’ve been forgotten by the world, know that God has not forgotten you, but is coming to you to restore your life.

If today you’re content in your ignorance of other’s suffering, know that God is calling you to open your ears and eyes and schedule- there is work to be done and God wants you to have the joy of joining in.

God heard and answered both Sarah and Hagar’s cries. God makes God’s blessing big enough for all. You’ve been blessed to be a blessing.



Laughing at God: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2017, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

When’s the last time you had a good laugh?

 

Did you know laughter brings many benefits? I hadn’t really thought about it until reading an article about laughter therapy groups, in which people gather together and laugh. It might have started out as fake and forced, but there’s something so contagious about laughter, it became real. They were healthier for this time spent laughing.

 

People throughout many cultures laugh. What our laughter means can vary. In today’s Genesis reading, laughter expresses the human response to God’s promise and action.

 

Throughout the summer, we’re going to be reading through the book of Genesis and following the families whose stories are recorded. This week, we meet Abraham and Sarah, sometimes called Abram and Sarai, who were promised a new land and many descendants.

 

In chapters 12, 15, and 17, God continually promises they will be the ancestors of a great nation that will possess a fertile land. God uses grand metaphors- your descendants shall be as innumerable as the dust of the earth and as numerous as the stars.

 

Abram and Sarai have conscripted a slave girl to bear a child for them, so in chapter 17, God gets more specific, renaming and promising blessing to Sarah, with whom Abraham will have a son. At this promise, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

 

It is too much to believe. One of my previous parishioners would often say, “I have to laugh or I’ll cry.” Is that what’s found in Abraham’s outburst?

 

In the next chapter, God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. As was expected in their culture, Abraham and Sarah treat them with great hospitality, offering water, refreshment, and rest. Sarah’s been pushed back to her place in the tent. While she’s preparing food, she’s trying to catch the words of these strange and unexpected visitors.

 

What she hears is ridiculous. One says he’ll come back later and by then, Sarah will have a son. It’s so ridiculous, it hurts. How often has she waited, thinking, maybe this time, only to learn a few days later, no, there will be no child this month. Maybe she’s screamed enough into the night that her voice is hoarse, and cried enough that her eyes are dry. She’s past the time of thinking her cries will change anything. All that’s left to come out is a scoffing grunt of a laugh. Ha.

 

 

From behind the tent flaps, Sarah is heard. God speaks up, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” God repeats the promise, “I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

Scripture doesn’t record what happens in those months. We know from what happens later that a child is forming within Sarah. Her laughter is preparing to change.

 

Was there a loosening in Sarah that freed hope? Was there a pure giggle still waiting in her heart? Laughter waiting to finally have reason to burst out? Joy germinating and growing alongside the child?

 

Laughter came when her son was born. Wonder and joy and life- so real and present- in her arms. What other response could there be but amazed laughter? A mother’s laughter transformed when it encounters the fulfilled promise of God.

 

The child is named Isaac, which means laughter. Both father and mother laughed at God’s promise of a future beyond their hope. Now their laughter bears witness to God’s faithfulness. God fulfilled God’s promises and gave new life when it was least expected.

 

Their laughter causes God to ask, “is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” As people of faith, we may answer, no, God can do all things, even as we know that good things do not always come. Gathered today, in this place and in worship centers throughout the world, are those who long for a child, a home, a safe community, an end to addiction, and healing. It might be especially cruel to read this on Father’s Day, as some wish their prayers for a child were answered, or remember in grief the death of a child or parent, or live with complicated and painful – or nonexistent – relationships with family. We might wonder why God does not give us what we want, what we need.

 

God is not Santa Claus, giving us based on a list of good and bad. God owes us nothing, and yet- sometimes, we get to glimpse a wonderful sign of the life God is bringing to us all. We’re in the midst of a process of salvation God is working, the dawn of a new day in which all will be made well. We’re not there yet.

 

This scripture isn’t so much about God giving us something we want as it is about who God is. It points us to a God who keep promises when it seems God has forgotten the promise. It describes a God who has power to give life when everyone knows it’s over. It encourages us to hear God’s promises in trust. God has promised a new creation, peace, life, abundant feasts where no one is hunger, and an end to violence, sin, and death.

 

In this time, we might as well laugh at God’s promises. It is so hard to keep up hope. How can we keep working for what seems impossible- what will never come?

 

We gather to be grounded in God’s promise. We pray for healing. We continue to do what we can to join in God’s work. We help each other wait with faith, reminding each other who our God is and what our God does.

 

God gives life. God brings joy when all is past hope. God does awesome things like resurrecting the dead and making holy the sinner. We read in Romans, “God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Sarah and Abraham receive the fulfillment of God’s promises after they laugh in God’s face.

We have the kind of God who does the ridiculous out of love for God’s creation. God is reckless and foolish, blessing more than our faith deserves. More than we could possibly believe.

 

God acts crazy because God loves you. That’s worth laughing about.