Sunday, June 14, 2020
Co Creating a better world with God
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
We are entering the season of ordinary time, the season after Pentecost. Of course, there is nothing ordinary about this summer, rather it is a most unusual time. We are in a time of uncertainty and unrest. I had truly hoped that we would be starting to hold in-person services this week, but in the best interest of everyone given the sharp rise in cases over the past week, that is not to be. I know this is a huge disappointment for some, myself included but the vestry and I have the responsibility to do what is right for the majority of the parish. So we must wait. Wait, just like we read about in so many bible stories and today’s passage from Genesis is no exception.
Before I examine our passage from Genesis, I wanted to take a moment to preview some of the readings you will hear this summer. When we start the readings after Pentecost we pick up where we left off in the lectionary before Lent. For the period from now until Advent I have the choice or one of two tracks of readings. When General Convention agreed to move to the Revised Common Lectionary the choice or readings from Hebrew Scriptures was one of the main reasons. Track 2 is fairly close to what our old lectionary was. The Hebrew Scriptures were selected to go with the Gospel. Track 1 however is called the continuous reading track. It works its way through large sections of the Hebrew Scriptures in sequential order. So for most of the summer we will hear the end of the Abraham Saga and move into the story of Isaac and Jacob.
The storyteller in me has always been bothered that for years we had no chance to really explore the traditional stories of the patriarchs of Israel in a sequence that made sense unless it was during Sunday School. For we cannot truly understand the world of Jesus if we do not understand the rich history of the people of Israel. This track 1 series of readings will help us do that.
So now on to the story of Abraham and Sarah. There is a major break between the beginning of Genesis and the start of the Abraham saga. From the creation stories through Noah this has been God interacting with the whole world. These are all primeval stories of creation and how the world came to be the way it was. With Abraham we begin the stories of the patriarchs of Israel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Saul, Samuel, David and Solomon. This is the story of the unique covenant between God and the people who will become the Jews of Jesus’ time. Abraham is the first patriarch in God’s plan to reclaim and restore the world to its right state. They are on their way to be the people chosen by God to reveal God to the greater world. By the way that is what is meant by the chosen people, chosen to reveal God to the world.
As we pick up the story Abram and Sarai have left the area of modern-day Iran and Iraq and traveled all the way to Egypt and are now in the Sinai Peninsula. God has changed their names to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar has born a son to Abraham named Ishmael. Up until now Sarah has not had a child and both Abraham and Sarah have given up on the prospect even though God promised them a son. That is why Sarah sent Abraham into Hagar to bear him a son.
So they are camped by the oaks of Mamre and they have visitors. It is important to remember that there was one really important law in the desert. That was the law of hospitality. It was required to welcome a traveler and provide food and shelter because you never knew when you would need that same act in return. Our story today is interrupted by the Sodom and Gomorrah story and it is important to note that the sin there was that the cities failed in that obligation to provide hospitality to those same angels and in fact sought to abuse them. That however is a different sermon.
We don’t know if Abraham actually knew at first that they were angels, but he certainly was very deferential and went to extremes to offer them the best. Notice the adjectives that described the choicest flour and the calf, tender and good.
It is interesting to note that Walter Brueggemann mentions that this is not truly a story of faith but one of doubt. Both Abraham and Sarah doubt in fact Sarah laughs and when confronted she lies to the angels saying, “I did not laugh.” For she was afraid And the reply is, “oh yes you did laugh.” As an interesting side note the name Isaac is a play on the Hebrew word for laugh. Of course, this is one more story of a miraculous birth of a great leader of Israel.
Now I suspect you have heard the phrase if you want to make God laugh make plans, but I also believe it is true that God has the last laugh in some of our encounters. Have you ever had the feeling of God are you kidding me, don’t make me laugh when faced with one of those twists down the path of life? I certainly have in fact if you had asked me in the late 1980s what I would be doing after I retired from teaching, I would have told you that I would be teaching flying lessons at Cuyahoga County Airport in Cleveland! And here I stand in Katy Texas blessed to be your rector. But in 1989 I would have laughed and said, “You’ve got to be kidding God.”
20 years or so ago I heard a lecture by the Rev. Martin Smith, so long ago the only copy I have is a cassette tape! At the time Br. Martin was the abbot at St. John the Evangelist monastery in Cambridge Massachusetts. In that lecture he talks about our being co-creators with God of the world we live in. This thought changed my life. He said that in doing spiritual direction with people he found most people really wanted a peek in God’s holy filling cabinet to look at the file where God’s plan for them is all laid out. He said the problem with that is if you lcould look in that file, what you will find is that it stops today. That the plan for our life is a work in progress, something we create with God on a daily basis. God provides opportunities but we make our own decisions. Now I believe God has desires for us and places choices in our path that lead us to a place of deeper love and relationship with God, but the days are not specifically laid out.
So like Abraham and Sarah, like Jacob, and Joseph we all are constantly presented with opportunities some of which may seem absurd, but they are choices that we have to make. Today, right now is one of those times where I believe we have a unique opportunity to make some very important choices. Choices in how we respond to the pandemic and how we respond to the opportunity to examine racial issues in our country. Ultimately the choices we make now will have lasting impact. Will we miss this opportunity to live into our baptismal promises in how we care for and respect every human being? Will we read, study and pray over the gospels and Jesus’ lessons on how we are to live. We will listen to the prophets of old who called on the people of Israel to care for the poor the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the stranger. Will remember the words of Jesus who said, “What you do to the least of these you do to me?”
Wednesday at our vestry meeting Denise Trevino one of the members of the diocesan mission amplification team is going to meet with us. Her area is multi-cultural engagement. She is going to present a start on how we can engage more deeply with the community around the church and begin addressing some of those needs. We will continue that work at the July meeting with another member of the team Jason Evans who specialty is community engagement.
God is giving us the opportunity to create a better world, but God is not going to do it by himself. We are the co-creators with God of the world we live in. We are the ones who will put the plans into action. I pray that we make wise choices in the months and years to come for our future depends on the decisions we will make. We must choose prayerfully, wisely and in a way that allows us to share God’s love with our broken world.