2 Pentecost /Proper 6/Ordinary 11 Year A June 18, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Genesis 18: 1-15, 21: 1-7 + Psalm 100 + Romans 5: 1-8 +
Grace and peace to you from God who creates us, Jesus who saves us, and the Holy Spirit who strengthens us. Amen.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9: 36)
Harassed and helpless. I understand that feeling. Like sheep without a shepherd, I get that too.
It’s hard to consider the news headlines….attacks of hatred in so many places….wars that have waged for far too long….fire and flood and famine….
And maybe most dis-heartening of all…the amount of energy being expended to define and revile the other. Invisible walls, that can be just as hard to scale as walls we can touch, are built between people based on religion, political party, gender, sexuality, economic status, ethnicity, and race. So much effort is going into determining who is “right” and who is “wrong” that we’ve lost sight of basic virtues, like feeding the hungry and clothing those who are naked and finding a safe place for the unsheltered among us. We would rather argue about our rights than use that energy to serving those Jesus calls us to serve. Worse than that, we have forgotten that all of us, every one is made in the very image of God.
And it just plays out in the ugliest of ways as we point fingers at one another and call one another names.
Paul reminds us in the reading from Romans today of this basic truth, of this genesis of grace: Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, Paul writes, rarely will someone die for a righteous person although perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
Who would you die for? I would die for my beloveds, but beyond that, if I’m honest, it becomes a tougher question. And would I die for someone with whom I had no relationship? Would I die for the ungodly?
When the news broke this week of the shooting in Alexandria, my prayers joined yours for the well being of those affected. We pray for the recovery of Representative Steve Scalise. And we offer the gratitude of a nation for those who intervened while this attack was taking place, in particular for the heroism and courage shown by Crystal Griner and David Bailey of the Capitol Police Department. This kind of bravery is shown by first responders and by those who serve in the military every day. They deserve our thanks. And it again stirs up this question: would I die for someone? Would I offer my life for another person, especially if I had no relationship with them? Or even more to the point, would I be willing to die for them if I knew they disagreed with me on issues of fundamental importance to me? Crystal Griner is a black, gay woman and David Bailey is a black man from Brazil. They risked their lives defending at least one person who had publicly opposed their sexuality and their race. Would I, would we do the same?
The beauty and the great difficulty of grace is that it is entirely undeserved. Christ died for the ungodly. That’s so hard to take….we don’t want Christ to have died for Adolph Hitler or Ted Bundy or Adam Lanza or most recently James Hodgkinson. We want Christ to have died for Mother Theresa and our grandparents and our children and our first grade teacher. And us. Of course, for us.
Paul goes on to write that God’s love for us is proven in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. God’s love for us is proven in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. For us, the ungodly and the righteous. For us, the easy to love and the hard to take. Christ died for us. For us, with all of our complications and our complexities, Christ was willing to die. We are so used to hearing it in this context, that maybe it feels “normal.”
But what if we were out doing what we do in a normal day and Christ literally put himself between us and death? What if we witnessed it and understood that, if not for him, our lives for eternity, would be over? What if the story of our salvation was not a two thousand year old story but a two day old story? How would we feel then? Could we grasp the enormity of what Christ had done for us? Given his very life?
In these summer Sundays we are going to have the gift of reading the stories of the complicated characters in Genesis. We’ll hear the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, and many others. These are great stories! They would make a great Netflix original series. Because these people were not easy to love. They made terrible decisions and did questionable things. But they were God’s chosen people. Guided by God through the difficult places and the joyful places….just as we are.
Today we read the story of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars. That is hard to do when you are unable to conceive. There’s some missing backstory here, and it will be important as we delve deeper into their saga in the coming weeks.
Earlier in Genesis, God had promised that Abraham’s offspring would become a great nation. But the problem was that Abraham’s wife, Sarai, was barren. She could not have children. Eventually, Sarai gives her slave, Hagar, to Abraham and they have a child together, Ishmael. But God is more specific about the covenant with Abraham. Because the covenant is about Sarah’s children, not Hagar’s.
So, here we are in the story today. Abraham encounters three beings by the oaks of Mamre. Three, but Abraham refers to them as “My Lord”, so you can come to your own conclusion about who this was. And as they eat a meal that Abraham and Sarah prepare for them, they ask where Sarah is, because, God tells him, Sarah will have a son in due season.
Remember, Abraham is 99 by this point and Sarah is 90.
So, Sarah is eavesdropping on this conversation, and when she hears this…she laughs to herself. God wants to know why she laughed and she denies having done so, because who wouldn’t? Nobody wants to be caught laughing at God! And God reminds both Sarah and Abraham of just who they are dealing with by saying: “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”
And sure enough, she was pregnant and when her son was born, he was named Isaac, which means “the one who laughs.”
Sarah said “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
Today’s story from Genesis is beautiful and filled with promise keeping and laughter and a much longed for baby. At times like that, it is easy to believe that God is with us. It is easy to believe that there is nothing that is too wonderful for God. It is easy to believe that with God all things are possible.
But stay tuned….the stories get much more complicated in the weeks ahead! Yet, God remains the same. God remains the One in whom we put our trust even when the evidence around us would indicate that we have been forgotten. Because this is the God who is our shepherd when we feel harassed and helpless. This is the God who came to earth as one of us and was killed for his radical belief in the power of love to change the world. This is the God, whose love for us has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This is the God, who, although we were sinners, was willing to die for us.
Beloved community, this is the Good News, on this day and for all people. Thanks be to God and let the Church say…Amen.