Proper 6A, June 14, 2020
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
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The Rev. George C. Roberts preaching
Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
The incredulity of it all; that God could bless an aging woman and an old man, even now, with the child that they had hoped for, dreamed of, expected as part of God’s promise to Abraham and had, in the end, given up hope on? The tale of Abraham and Sarah is the story of hope long denied but, by the grace of God present in us and to us, is hope and love realized, in the end.
I think many of us are yearning for, more than ever, the hope born of God’s hearing us and answering us with His loving reply. We are in a national moment that some call a crisis, others a moment of protest, and others still a hopeful moment, a time when something fresh, different, and unexpected may happen. I would like to think that I am one of the latter people, a shameless optimist because I hope and trust in the power of God’s divine purpose revealed in Christ, a revelation that has transformed us and can change the world.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, spiritual director and writer, says in his book Falling Upward, we humans are living, essentially, in a “tragic life” filled with death, loss, addictions, betrayals, pain, disappointment, and yes, poverty and racism. Christ’s coming did not stop any of the things that most challenge us from happening. But Rohr continues musing that we, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly, also see the potential of God even in the midst of tragedy. Christians worship a God who, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and cried out that love, at the last, will always have the final word. The saving power of God’s love is something that we not only hold onto but that we actually place our trust and hope in. Yes, we are in a moment of angry protest, frustration, disbelief, and, in some places and ways, division, one so wide that it is hard for us to imagine anything bridging the chasm between us. But out of the ashes of riot, anger, brutality, injustice and indifference – because of God’s surprising and yet reliable blessings of love – we have the possibility, nay the reality of hope born in Jesus Christ.
The story of Abraham and Sarah provides us with a window into hope long denied but ultimately redeemed by God. Remember that Abram is the one who was living a prosperous life in his country of origin (modern Iraq?) when God said to him, “Go (come) to a land that I will show you. And I will make you prosperous and your descendants shall be like grains of sand on the beach, so numerous will they be.” So, Abram had obeyed, come to Canaan, and made a new life. But now, in spite of his faithfulness, the sun seemed to be setting on God’s promise in Abram to be fulfilled. Sarah his wife is past child-bearing years and, after all this time, they have no son to inherit and fulfill God’s promise. Today, into their disappointment, come three men who are generally considered to be angels. And one of them tells Abraham, with Sarah listening from the tent, you will have a son, in due season.
Sarah laughs to herself, like I might if some snake oil salesman came up to me and gave me a vial of liquid and said, “George, rub this on your head and your will grow a thick head of hair!” For Sarah, it is ludicrous, impossible that after all this time God will keep His promise. Too much time has passed; she and Abraham have waited too long….but, alas, in due season, as God himself has said, Sarah conceives a child they will name Isaac, laughter, and Isaac will have Esau and Jacob and from Jacob will come the tribes of Israel…The promise of God’s blessing, long dormant inside Abraham and Sarah, is unleashed on them and the world, for in Abraham, as God has said, all the nations of the will be blessed.
Abraham’s promise was to be a blessing to all people, not just Israel. I would like to imagine that promise of God, first given to Abraham, has been signed and sealed by the Body of Christ whose sacrificed gathers us all, all of us, to himself. Thus far, in so many ways, the reality of that promise of God’s blessing for all lies dormant, not yet realized or picked up from its resting place because we, as a people, have not yet fostered and nourished the promise. Note that black and brown people don’t want to have power over anyone else, simply an equal place at the table of God’s blessing, the place of God’s kingdom on earth that we are to build, by God’s grace, as it is in heaven. We live in the hope of God’s long-denied promise, realized for all of us as His children. Until such time that we can all learn to live into the promise of God – one of blessing for all – we will continue to live that tragic life of death Rohr speaks of; one in the sin of racial discord, denial of equal personhood, and a lack of justice. The tragic life goes far beyond race, too, and speaks to poverty, homelessness, and classism, among other things.
Paul claims that even in suffering, God gives us hope. And he says that “this hope does not disappoint us because God has poured His love into our hearts through the holy Spirit, which has been freely given to us ...” And Paul concludes by saying that God did not wait for us to live into the hope He commends to us, He died for us while we were still in our sin, even while we had not yet welcomed each other in the body of Christ as equal and beloved people of God. Christ begins the transformation in us even before we are ready to receive it. Yet, we must be ready to live, ultimately, into God’s blessing of love, hope, and equity if we are to share it.
We may feel we have come far, in relation to race and equity and in some ways, we have. Yet we continue to realize that we have so far to go. God’s promises are not predicated, it is important to add, on what we do or don’t do; God’s promises endure, no matter how we behave. And we could decide to give up, give ourselves over entirely to anger and revenge, or our old friend apathy, and not pick up God’s promise that we would all live together within the framework of God’s hope and love in Christ Jesus. The promise of God is before us, a Covenant we already lay claim to, as we pledge to respect the dignity of every human person. May the hope that has been poured into our hearts, as Paul said, through the Holy Spirit, liberate us to be willing to do the work, make the sacrifices, and obtain the promise of the abundant life for all of God’s children.