Sunday, June 14, 2020
Lectionary 11, Year A
Prayer of the Day
God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 The Lord appears to Abraham and Sarah
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Romans 5:1-8 While we were sinners, Christ died for us
Matthew 9:35–10:8 The sending of the Twelve
Title: Nurturing New Life
Experts say that babies are cute so that their parents will feed them and take care of them. There are certainly plenty of stories from other times and other cultures in which infanticide is not only practiced but accepted as a remedy for dealing with a baby that is less than cute, healthy, well put together, and perfect. But we love looking at those fresh-faces of infancy. When the cares of this world have yet to draw or chisel a line of worry or fret, when anxieties are as unknown to the new being as is what lies beyond her parents comforting embrace. That tender and new face that shines with all the hope and possibility. And it certainly is not just humans, pups, kittens, cubs, nestlings, kids, calves – whatever you call the baby version, in almost every species, regardless of how not pretty the adult version may be, it seems that the young have some degree of endearing cuteness about it.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why God is wise to use a baby as a sign of hope, a sign of impending deliverance, a sign of promises fulfilled, a sign of new life. Barren Rachel finally births Joseph, hopeless Hannah births Samuel, old Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoice at the birth of John – who would become the Baptizer, and, of course, unmarried and unknown Mary, living in a land oppressed by empire and temple, gives birth to Jesus – the one who would redeem not just his people, but the world.
This morning we hear of the first such incoming inspiring infants as we begin our semi-continuous reading of the stories of those first forebears of faith, as recorded in Genesis and Exodus. We’ll be reading of: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, Joseph and his Brothers, Moses, Aaron, Miriam and Joshua. So many stories of trust and doubt, leaps of faith and missteps of folly.
However, before the promise of a cute baby was made to Abraham and Sarah, there came a call. And it is always important to remember just how profound this call was to the couple. When God said leave behind family and friends, your people’s religion and culture, it wasn’t just a request to move down the street and start going to that synagogue where no one goes instead of that big temple where everyone goes. God calls them to go to a new land, an undeveloped wilderness beyond their understanding of what their world was. I don’t think it would be too farfetched to draw a modern parallel and say that it would be like God calling any one of us to leave this great city behind and go to Antarctica (or maybe even the moon) to start a whole new nation of people. And for all their missteps that followed, Abraham and Sarah are to be greatly celebrated for this one great leap of faith that started the whole thing moving.
But how that faith must have been fading as they got older and older and, not only was a new nation not popping up around them in that untamed land, but they didn’t even have a single child to provide them with hope that God’s described future was still a possibility. But as we heard in the first reading, God pays a visit to the elderly couple and insists that the promise of progeny was still not just on the table, but in the stars, as in – those countless stars represented their countless descendants.
And like any good person of faith, when Sarah hears what God is continuing to promise even though there was no sign of fulfillment in her, she laughed. However, she must have been laughing a whole lot harder when she looked into that adorable face of her newborn son, because she named him laughter – which is what Isaac means. And if faith had faltered in Sarah and Abraham, it was reborn in the cuteness of that baby. How could they ever doubt God again when fulfilled promises looked like that? Okay, there would be doubts, but there would also be lots of encouragement to keep on believing every time they looked at those baby pictures and watched the home movies of his first steps.
Perhaps some of us are taking in all the challenges of our current situation with all the dwindling hope of Abraham and Sarah. Okay, most of us are not looking for a child to come, but we are looking for some sign of hope that there will be blooms again in this wilderness of isolation and quarantine, that healing will come to this health crisis. Many in our country are beyond hoping, exhausted from waiting, for this country and this system of government to treat them with justice and equity. In so many eyes it continues to be a wilderness made lifeless by racism and homophobia, the landscape is eroded by mistreatment by law enforcement, sexism that stifles, abuse of the vulnerable such as our trans siblings, lack of hospitality for refugees and asylum seekers. Who can blame so many who are coldly laughing with childless Sarah at the promises that never have come to fruition? It must feel near impossible for the long-slighted and oppressed to imagine themselves as a fulfilled Sarah laughing with a bundle of new life in their arms. Who can blame them as the list of martyrs’ names grows longer? George, Breonna, Tamir, Eric, Rodney, Monika, Lexi, Tony, to name but a small few.
And so not babies, but movements are being born. Those seeking to light new fires of justice are not carrying infants but carry signs. And, forward we go.
But our hope rests far beyond what we ourselves can do. For that unexpected child of Mary, Jesus, our savior and redeemer, was, is, and will be forever the complete fulfillment of all that God has promised. Jesus brings the reign of God to earth. A reign filled with hope and peace through justice, mercy, grace, compassion, healing, and love. And through Jesus the Christ’s resurrection, that is ours in the waters of baptism, we are called to be the new birth of hope that the world is crying out for. Called to, like Jesus, bring the reign of God to earth by daily being born anew as new creations.
Is it possible for us to look into that face of our new birth and see something that is worthy of all our love, our care, and our nurturing? Through this gift of the Holy Spirit that dawns with each new day, can we see in our daily rebirth through grace, the newness of life, the untainted joy, the unbridled hope that beams in every birth? Can we look at this challenge to live with faith and not fear, with hope and not despair, with love and not dread?
We are called with Abraham and Sarah to build a new nation of God’s people in the midst of humanities wildernesses. We are called with the disciples to go out and change the world, bringing the reign of God, spreading the Good news of Jesus, sharing the power of the Holy Spirit that heals the sick, casts out demons (and in our context these demons are called racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, classism, elitism, ageism). We hold our new born selves in our hands, our beautiful, loved and cherished new born selves.
What will we do, blessed with God’s power and wisdom, to foster and encourage them in the name of hope for the world?
Overflowing with joy at this newborn hope, let us laugh with Sarah and all who have ever been blessed to look into the face of God’s gift of life, new life, eternal life.
The Rev. Mark Erson,