Sunday, June 28, 2020
Lectionary 13, Year A
Prayer of the Day
O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm (OT Semicontinuous)
Genesis 22:1-14 The testing of Abraham
Romans 6:12-23 No longer under law but under grace
Matthew 10:40-42 Welcome Christ in those he sends
Title: The Evolution of God
Perhaps you have noticed, or maybe not, but I am not one who likes to deconstruct a sermon in a sermon. I don’t like to comment on the sermon writing process in a sermon. I don’t even like to say the word sermon in a sermon. (So far, this has been torture for me.) I know some preachers who don’t share my aversion to saying the S word, which is fine for them, I am just speaking for myself.
However, I am making this exception, because, as of today, I will be greatly changing my preaching style in an effort to keep our worship space as safe as possible as we cautiously move back into in-person worship. And though I wrote about it in this past week’s eletter, I know that not everyone reads it. And, I also want to expand on what I wrote.
Sermons in the time of COVID19 will be more guided meditations than long narratives. Less speaking, more silence. More questions and invitations in hopes that the Spirit will stir in you as you reflect and explore in the silences.
In addition to the challenge of being a more engaged listener, I would also like to encourage you as a listener in this new normal to be present for a sermon with a journal on your lap. In the silences write reflections, write your thoughts, even if they are not directly related to the last question asked or meditation cue offered. Keep this journal from week to week. If you are planning to attend in person, keep your journal here in the sanctuary. (Am I being too old school, my vision is pen and paper. Perhaps you will use a tablet or a phone. If at home, maybe tying on your computer as you participate through the live stream. Whichever way works for you, at some time in the future, depending on how all this goes, it could be quite an asset, a gift even, to collect up some of the writings and have a record of the journeys that you are taking in the midst of the challenging times.
I cannot recommend this enough. First and foremost, I believe it will be very valuable to you. And it could be valuable to others. We are all witnesses. Sometimes our testimony is written.
So, if you have something to write with and on, or type into, grab it. If not, experience today’s first offering of this new…you know, sermon style, keeping notes in your head. Of course this also means getting comfortable with sharing silence together. Tap into your inner Quaker. Okay, end of explanation.
In our continuing saga of Abraham and Sarah. Long promised baby is born – that’s Isaac. Sarah’s fear and doubt in God’s abundance cause her to expel her slave Hagar with little regard for her and her son Ishmael. And now, with all they need for a “happily ever after” in place, Abraham hears God order him to offer up the blessed child as a human sacrifice.
Which part of the story do you find most disturbing? That God would make this demand? Or that Abraham would say yes, as it seems without any argument?
Perhaps I want to get God off the hook, not that the Creator of all things needs my help, but I sometimes think Abraham heard wrong. In the language of the 70’s, he was listening to old tapes. To the voices of the gods he left behind when, hearing God’s call to leave family and culture behind, he moved west. Those voices of the old gods who asked for human sacrifice. The culture of origin that engaged in such practices without question or hesitation. The old man flashed back to those old days, got nostalgic, and went into automatic pilot mode. Sacrifice the first born to show your faith that the gods would send more. Was God testing Abraham, as some like to subtitle this story? Or was Abraham testing God?
Do you feel like you have been tested by God? Or was it life testing you?
Have you ever tested God? How did God do?
Scripture can be approached in a variety of ways. One of them, I think a very helpful and faithful way, is to see scripture not as a history of God’s action in human history, but as humanity’s evolving understanding of God. If that, then Abraham starts us on this journey thinking that this God who calls him is just another one of those thirsty for human blood gods of his upbringing. But in this story, God shows to be a different God. God of life, not death. God who cherishes our lives and wants the fullness of them for us, not desiring destructive devotion. And so, this story is a first step in the evolution of God who lives and loves, redeems and sustains.
Has God evolved in your life? Was there an initial step when you began to see God differently, a time that, like Abraham with the raised up knife, you heard God’s voice saying “That’s not me”?
Was there a person who significantly helped you see God differently?
It is an excellent question to meditate on as we celebrate this Pride Sunday. Was there a moment when you took you identity off the table of sacrifice and heard God, perhaps for the first time, say “hold it close, love it, grow into it”? Or as an ally, was there a Spirit-led step to deeper awareness and understanding? Certainly, the understanding of God as evolved in the church, and we hope will keep evolving as we work towards an institutional deeper appreciation, valuing, and investment in all God’s children.
The big leap forward in the evolution of God is, of course, in the person of Jesus. The incarnate Word of God shows us a new face of God. In Jesus, the heart of God come to earth, we see a merciful, compassionate, intimate, friend and sibling. And Jesus takes it a step further when he tells his disciples that we serve God by serving one another. What happened to the demanding God so feared? The selfish God some insisted we satisfy in self-inflicting ways?
Do you see opportunities to serve God through what you do for those around you? Do you experience the presence of God when you are in those moments of service?
Maybe the biggest step we take in our evolving understanding of God is to see God in all things and in all people. Sounds like a faith journey to fill a lifetime. How does our life evolve when we live that? How does our world evolve?
The Rev. Mark Erson, Pastor