Seeing

A Sermon for Proper 8: Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

Some months ago, Angie and I cut the cord, the TV cord. We just were not watching live TV; we were streaming all sorts of stuff. We enjoy seeing our favorites shows a second and sometimes 3rd time. We watch these shows differently; we know what’s happening, which lets us hear with different ears. Recently we were watching a BBC murder mystery, and I heard a musical phrase that sounded like a musical phrase from one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan movies. Curious. We see with different eyes; as an example, the facial expressions of a character in the background, that gives you a clue to what’s happening; it was all there the first time, but our attention was else were because it’s how the scene was designed. It is a Yogi Berra said, “Deja-vu all over again.”

As I was reading this week’s lesson from Genesis, I could hear familiar phrases. In my imagination, I was seeing familiar scenes. I just knew we had been here before.

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is far more and far less than what we read into it. It is highly disturbing to many readers today, in a culture that is rightly concerned about child abuse. There are some commentators who think the story is an argument against similar ancient practices. However, one commentary says such a reading runs the risk of being too narrow (Harrelson).

So, what I want to do is walk through the story, pay attention to what is written, and what is not written, what context knowledge helps us understand, and what the déjà vu phrases are.

God calls Abraham and tells him

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you (Genesis 22:2).

Remember Genesis was written while Israel is in exile in Babylon, as was much of the first five books of the Old Testament. This means the readers know about Exodus and the events after Israel’s escape from Egypt including God’s demand that the firstborn of all humans or animals shall be God’s (Exod 13:1) as a remembrance of God’s actions; and how God also provides for their redemption, how they can be released or reclaimed (Fretheim). It is true Abraham doesn’t know this; however, the writers and the first audience do; and oh yes – so do we.

In what God tells Abraham is the phrase Take, go to the land of Moriah, that I shall show you (Genesis 22:2). It is very similar to Abraham’s call Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1). This Abraham does know, and after these 100 plus years, he will remember, because it is the beginning of his extraordinary journey with God. The meaning of ‘Moriah’ is connected to seeing (NISB). File that away.

The next verse begins Abraham rose early in the morning (Genesis 22:3) Wait didn’t we just hear that last week? We did. Sarah tells Abraham to throw Ishmael and Hagar out of the camp, which is the middle of the wilderness, and that ensures their death, which greatly distresses Abraham. However, God assures him Ishmael and Hagar will be okay. The very next verse begins So Abraham rose early in the morning (Genesis 21:14). If we are aware of the parallels between the beginning of Ishmael’s and Isaac’s story, surely Abraham is; after all, both are his sons.

On the third day of their journey to the mountain, Abraham sees the place far away and tells his young men Wait while the boy and I go to mountain and sacrifice, then we will come back. Another link to Ishmael is that Abraham refers to him as the boy the only way Ishmael is referred to in the story of his banishment. Yes, it puts distance between Abraham and Isaac, possibly a foreboding sign. At the same time Ishmael is safe, so perhaps it is a hopeful sign. And note the phrase ends then we will come back. “WE will come back.” not “I will come back.” There is no indication here that Abraham does not expect to return with Isaac. It is true he may have been hiding something from his servants, but he could have just said: “Wait here.” Also file away the meaning of ‘Moriah’ which is the place Abraham sees far away.

Isaac and Abraham walk for a time when Isaac observers that they have everything they need for a sacrifice except for a lamb. A couple of things. How old is Isaac? He is old enough to carry a load of firewood. He is old enough to be knowledgeable about sacrificial rituals. Is he as old as Ishmael, 16 or so? Or perhaps he is about 12 the same age when Jesus goes with his parents to the Temple for the first time. Or is he older? We can’t know, but it is curious; because even at 12 I suspect he could escape his 112-year-old father. I’m not even sure how old Abraham is n0w, could be 125 or older. Anyway, Isaac could get away when Abraham tries to tie him up when they get to where they are going (Gaventa and Petersen).

Another thing to know is when Isaac asks about the lamb Abraham answers God will provide. An avoidance? Possibly, except that ‘provide’ is literally “see about it” (Harrelson). This is the second of five times a form of “see” appears in this story. Seeing maybe a pivotal theme.

They get to the place God has shown Abraham. Abraham builds the altar, lays out the wood, and then binds Isaac. This is where Isaac’s age raises the interesting question, of trust. Regardless of Abraham’s mixed past behaviors, in general, Abraham trusts God. He knows Ishmael flourishes after he abandons him and Hagar wilderness, in part with God’s assurance. He trusted God enough all those years ago to leave behind everything that provides security and meaning to go to an unknown place on the word of an unknown god. Basically, Abraham trusts God. Does Isaac trust God because Abraham does and therefore he does not resist being bound? Or is Isaac simply a willing sacrifice (Gaventa and Petersen)? Again, all we know is that Isaac is bound.

Abraham takes the knife to ‘kill’ Isaac. The word translated ‘kill’ is customarily used to indicate the slaughter of sacrificial animals (Harrelson) (Genesis 22:10), which keeps us in a holy state of mind unless of course, you are the sacrifice. God does not waste time immediately calling Abraham and commanding him not to harm the boy. Again, the impersonal language raises the possibility of a connection to Ishmael. Immediately Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket; which is exactly what happens with Hagar who does not see the well until she answers God’s call. The well was already there. The ram was already there. Neither could see clearly, and then they did. How many times have you been taking one path, until God/Jesus/Spirit showed you the true path? God/Jesus/Spirit helps us to see.

Our reading ends

 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided (NRSV) Genesis 22:14;

or

So Abraham called that place “The Lord will see”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14).

These are the last two references to ‘seeing.’

There are commentaries worth of discussion about what is going on between God, Abraham, and Isaac in these verses. I know, I’ve read a few. But what I’m drawn to this morning is seeing, specifically, divinely enabled seeing. We live in a world divided in many – many ways. Everywhere you look ~ or listen ~ multiple voices or visions are thrust in your direction. There is a vision of manifest destiny proclaiming our right to take what we want. God/Jesus/Spirit vision enables us to see the blessings that are already showered upon us; we don’t have to take, just accept (Lose). There is the latest NRA ad that proclaims I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place (Bertrand). It separates us into warring camps saying one is using violence against the other and implies that the NRA is the only safe place. The shooting in Little Rock doesn’t help. It frightens people, sets us to looking for safe places. It’s an example of how we use violence to settle casual disagreements. God/Jesus/Spirit enables us to see that whatever separates us from each other separates us from God and is, therefore, sin (Epperly). God/Jesus/Spirit empowers a radical welcoming that is part inclusion, part reciprocity, part hospitality, part doing for others and part including the stranger as neighbor (Blasdell). God/Jesus/Spirit sees. God/Jesus/Spirit provides.

All of us are challenged to discern what is false from what is divine. That discernment does not appear out of nowhere. For both Hagar and Abraham the ability to see, or hear, the truth comes from an abiding trust in God. For Isaac, and perhaps Ishmael, trust begins with witnessing Abraham trusting God all his young life.

So, this morning, I think we are left with two takeaways; if you want to see clearly begin looking by trusting in God/Jesus/Spirit to guide you. And oh, by the way, it may be a roundabout journey, how long has Abraham’s journey been? Secondly, if you want someone else to see clearly, witness your trust in God/Jesus/Spirit. Then trust God/Jesus/Spirit.

As we prepare to celebrate our political independence clear seeing for all will begin the process of healing divisions and nurturing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Amen

 


 

References

Bertrand, Natasha. “A chilling National Rifle Association ad gaining traction.” 29 6 2017. businessinsider.com. <businessinsider.com /national-rifle-association-ad-call-to-violence-2017-6>.

Blasdell, Machrina. “Whom Ought I Welcome?, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.” 2 7 2017. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Matthew 10:40-42. 2 7 2017.

Kiel, Micah. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 4 A: “Even”! 2 7 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 22:114. 2 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Every day, go.

A sermon for Easter

Acts 10:34-43, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

A couple of nights ago, they built a fire, it was cold. This morning, it is cold. So why are Mary and Mary going to Jesus tomb? Unlike other Gospel stories, in Matthew’s Jesus is already properly buried, more importantly, the tomb is sealed, and under guard; the frightened Jewish leaders really want to make sure this Jesus person, stays dead; makes you wonder, if they wonder if there is any chance, the tiniest chance, Jesus’ teachings are true. So, why did they go? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But then again.

Ah I see. ‘See’ has many meanings, one is the result of looking, all that amazing stuff that happens when light strikes the backs of our eyes and rods and cones do whatever it is they do and our brains make sense of it all and we see. Then again, ‘I see’ can express understanding or perception. In Greek the word translated ‘see’ can also carry the meaning ‘to consider’ and Melinda Quivik posits ‘to keep vigil.’ [i]

So, Mary and Mary could be going to: look at, to keep vigil, or seeking to perceive, and to understand. Just perhaps, like the Jewish leaders a couple of days ago, they too they wonder, though hopefully, if there is any chance Jesus’ teachings are true.It’s interesting that none of the men have such inquiring vision.

When they arrive they are surprised. There is suddenly a brilliant flash of light, and an earthquake. It is so terrifying, the guards are frozen, unable to interfere with the women, which is why they are there; so much for  the best laid plans  of entrenched authorities in their efforts to thwart God’s works.

An angel, a divine messenger, who is described very much like Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, which Mary and Mary don’t know, but we, and Matthew’s readers  know, or should know, speaks: don’t be afraid, you are looking for Jesus, he isn’t here, go – and see; then go tell the disciples  to go to Galilee, Jesus is already in his way. In fear and joy, and in this case ‘fear’ is the scriptural meaning of awe; in fear and joy they go. Equally suddenly Jesus appears greets them, and Mary and Mary worship him; then Jesus repeats the angle’s instructions to tell the disciples to go to Galilee and he will meet them there.

 Some initial observations:

  • It is not wise to try to thwart God’s works.
  • The brilliant clothes of a divine messenger reaffirm Jesus identity as divine.
  • When you are in God’s, or Jesus’ presence the ground will shake,  if not literally then metaphorically, the foundations of your life will be shaken.
  • Worshiping Jesus supplants worshiping the emperor, or any other secular authority.
  • Courage is not the lack of fear, it is the ability to act any way.
  • The word ‘apostle’ means sent. In all four Gospels women are the first sent to share the good news, the gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection. Women are the first Apostles! Therefore women have an equal share in the church continuing Jesus’ ministry.  Not news for Episcopalians, but it is for others. It’s also scriptural referent for equality of genders, and yes that extends to pay; but I wander.

What caught me up this morning start’s in Bp. Benfield’s Easter message, a copy of which is on the table in the hall, he begins saying that Easter is not a historical event. He continues:

  [we] celebrate is what happened to the people who found the tomb empty. They started seeing the risen Christ in all sorts of places and faces… [ii]

 The second inspirational seed comes from Scott Hoezee  [iii]  as he explores the implication of Jesus message to the disciples to go,  in particular to Galilee. Why Galilee, why not some place in Jerusalem?

The disciples are already there, and it is a long trip, a couple of days, to Galilee. Moreover, Jerusalem is where the Temple, the home of God on earth, is. It is also the capital, the seat of all secular authority. Wouldn’t you start there? I would, most revolutionaries would. Then again Jesus is all about something else,  endless surprises. Hoezee continues noting: The first Easter began with a long journey. There is no reason our continuing Easter experiences won’t include journeys of some sort or another.

Easter is a morning of many surprises, two are paramount. The first is the angelic pronouncement of the empty tomb, Jesus – the Christ – is risen. The risen the living Christ, literally is transforming all creation, the entire cosmos. Note I said transforming, meaning the work is still on going, meaning we are works in process. I know that is good news, I don’t know about you, but my process is still in process.

The second is GO! Mary and Mary the least likely apostles are sent to share the good news, the Gospel, that Christ is risen. Even more of a surprise is that you too, not the most likely apostles, are sent to share the good news, the Gospel, that Christ is raised. I don’t know about you, but every time I realize this I get blinded by the light, and my whole world is shaken, because Easter is not a historical event,  it is an everyday event.

Every day our resurrected Christ meets us on whatever road we are on and sends us on to tell it out He is raised, and everything is being made anew. And that really is good news. Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

 

[i] 4/19/2014 Matthew 28:1-10 Commentary by Melinda Quivik – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL)

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1990 1/3

RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index

Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10

Melinda Quivik

[ii] Bp. Larry Benfield, Arkansas, 2014 Easter Message

[iii]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching

Tear down our own … get outside our …. to plant … build up the presence of the Kingdom of God

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Listen to my sermon here: http://www.saintstephensblytheville.org/sermons-2013.php

or read on …

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. All these rather terse instructions are okay, ~ for prophets. Not so for us, isn’t this why God calls others to be prophets? Terry thought so.

Decades ago, as a part of his seminary field work, Terry interns with a church that has a lunch ministry. Rotating with other churches in town, every Wednesday they feed the homeless & hungry. When it is the church’s turn, Terry gets an early start, opens doors, sets the heat and A/C properly, makes sure the kitchen, pantry etc. are all ready to go, and he helps the volunteers, on the serving line, washing dishes, emptying trash cans, doing whatever needs doing, he serves as a general all around go-fer. One day the soup kitchen director calls him over. She tells him: Get out from behind this counter go eat with our guest. In short ~ go be with God’s people.

Some years later Terry is serving on a board which sponsors a habitat house. Terry does fund raising, calls around for supply donations, recruits volunteers, makes presentations to any organization, any interested group, about the good Habitat for Humanity does. One day the construction director calls. They are in a real pinch, the family whose house they are currently building is a bit behind on the hours they are required to help. They are ready to be there this weekend and they can catch-up; actually get ahead. However, they are short volunteers, they only need one more, Terry is the last person the director can call, she asks: Please come work with the He’sus family! In other words, ~ come help God’s people.

More time passes, Terry is in a small group that meets weekly to discuss anything church. This week’s discussion about ministry has gotten kind of strange; they’ve gotten to talking about missionaries. Terry keeps hedging, he’s having spontaneous ideas, rapidly countered by huge Oh No! Impulses. Someone, who notices his discomfort, says, Relax Terry, if God’s calling you, you will want to go. Terry replies: You don’t understand; I don’t want to, want to go! No one has ever admitted to speaking, but the voice was clear, Yes you do. Briefly ~ go to God’s people.

More time passes and Terry has a chance to go on a trip to Africa. Not as missionary, just a visit to various ministries. His group visits a leper colony. The patients there live 3 or 4 to a thatched hut. They are invited into one hut. Terry speaks to 3 of the patients; the 4th speaks too softly to be heard. He waves for Terry to bend over he does. Suddenly patient sits up surrounds him in a bear hug. Terry shivers, as the patient lies back down and the open sores on his arms drag down the length Terry’s body. In a nutshell ~Be present to God’s people.

Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say. Pluck up, tear down, destroy, and over throw: your own inhibitions, your own fears, your distrust; trust me, then you are ready to build and to plant.

For 11 chapters Hebrews, has been building a long complex argument, to Christians, who are considering returning to Judaism, that Jesus is the far better choice. Today, Paul’s argument compares two mountains: Sinai, the mountain of the covenant, originally given to Abraham, then confirmed to Moses with Zion the mountain of Jesus’ cross, where the blood of Jesus speaks better than the blood of Able. Erik Heen writes: the whole passage point forward (13:12):
Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. [i]
You won’t be surprised to hear me say we can go, we can even speak as we proclaim the Kingdom of God in our worship and beyond, outside our walls. But isn’t this a bit offensive to family, friends and neighbors in our “I” whatever I want to believe culture to proclaim Jesus is the better way, to profess faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and awaited return as the Word of God? Probably. But isn’t it a greater offense to affront God by letting folks walk into judgment, to let folks walk into eternal divine absence? Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say.

Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow, are not typical healing words. Jesus calls a women bend over for many years. I’ve always assumed she suffers from some sort of medical condition, some sort of osteo-whatever. But, there are other views. Luke frequently describes the breakdown of the body with some sort of spiritual weakness. Satan is reeking havoc. On the other hand it is the Sabbath, and Jesus breaks all the rules to: either heal the woman of her infirmities or to drive Satan away. Either way it is breaking the rules. But Jesus’ says no, the Sabbath is all about enjoying God’s presence. The 613 rules and regulations designed to ensure you don’t do any real work, not only makes a donkey more important than this woman, they actually weigh folks down. Jesus steps outside the limitations of tradition, The purity code, and the Law. He shatters the status quo. Jesus will not tolerate a domesticated form of God’s Word. Which rules need to be plucked up, what walls are to be pulled down, what limitations need to be destroyed, which traditions need to be overthrown, so that the Word of God may have its way with us [ii] with all who come with in its embrace?

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow whatever stands between me and any of my people even yourselves.

Trust me, the fiery God of Sinai, the incarnate God of Zion, and you will plant you will build the presence of the Kingdom of God right here.

[i] Working Preacher, Hebrews. Heen
[ii] Sermons that Work, August 25, 2013, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek
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lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 14, Cycle C

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/08/09/
14-pentecost-pro per-16-c/, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek

This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Luke 13:10-17,  Scott Hoezee
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Scott Hoezee
Hebrews 12:18-29,  Stan Mast
Psalm 71:1-6, Doug Bratt

Working Preacher,      http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1753
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Alphonetta Wines
Hebrews 12:18-29, Erik Heen
Luke 13:10-17, Emerson Powery