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Pentecost 2 Proper 8 June 26, 2011

 Pentecost 2 Proper 8A June 26, 2011

Genesis 22: 1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6: 12-23
Matthew 10: 40-42

 Our first lesson this morning can be shocking, to say the least. Why would a loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son? Why would Abraham have to go through the torture of taking Isaac up the mountain to make this sacrifice? The poignant moment when Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” almost tears our hearts out. Abraham answers that God will provide the lamb. And just at the crucial moment when Abraham is reaching for the knife to kill his son, the angel of the Lord tells him to stop and Abraham sees a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. God has indeed provided, but what a wrenching story. One scholar says that, for those who want to scoff at Christianity, this is prime ammunition.

 The context for this story is that, at the time of Abraham, around 1600 B.C.E., the people of Canaan and surrounding areas were still making human sacrifices. In fact, they were sacrificing their children to their gods. This story, together with many words of the prophets, including Hosea, who wrote, speaking on behalf of God, “”For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6). God wants us to open our hearts and lives to transformation, God does not want us to be sacrificing animals, much less our own beloved children. But this was a new idea when this story was first written by the Elohist scholar around 750 B.C.E.

Jesus was very clear about the role of children. He welcomed and cherished children. He told us that we need to become like children, open, trusting, willing to allow him into our lives. Children are to be nurtured and protected.

In approaching our epistle for today, we are coming into the middle of  Paul’s letter to the Romans, In the ending to the preceding section, Paul has written,  “We know that Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Some of Paul’s language can cause problems for us. When he talks about presenting our members to sin as instruments of wickedness, scholars tell us he is talking about the commitments we make with our whole selves. Do we devote ourselves to climbing the ladder of success at any cost, or do we devote ourselves to helping others? Paul talks in terms of slavery, which his listeners would have underatood. But this tends to put us off.

What Paul is talking about is, what is the direction of our lives? What is governing our lives? Are we rooted and grounded in God? Do we accept God’s love for us, and do we share that love with others? The term ”righteousness” does not mean a holier than thou attitude. It means right relationship with God. If we are in right relationship with God, we are deeply aware of God’s love for us and for all people.

My definition of sin is separation from God and from other people and from our true self.  Paul is talking about sin as a way of life, not as distinct choices. Am I centered in God and God’s compassion? Or am I centered in something else? It could be money, power, acquiring things without regard for those in need. But it’s a whole approach to life, an approach that leads away from God and away from love and compassion for others. It is easy to get caught up in this, and Paul is telling us that, because of our baptism in Jesus, our lives can go in a new direction and we can grow closer and closer to God. Recently, my daughter asked me what my bucket list is, and I said I really hadn’t thought about it. After thinking for a while, I realized it is just that—to grow closer and closer to God and more and more compassionate to other people.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to go out into the world and spread the Good News. They were going to have to depend on people’s hospitality. They were going to have to travel light. And Jesus says that whoever welcomes one of them welcomes him.  Whoever gives a cup of water to someone gives it to him.

Here these twelve people were, being entrusted with this message, this good news, this way of life. And whenever someone welcomed them, they would go in to that home and share the love and joy of new life in Christ, and often those people would be baptized. And as the apostles went around the Mediterranean basin, that good news spread, and the communities of followers of the Way were formed and grew.

But it all depended on the gift of hospitality. Because of hospitality, a new family was formed, the family of followers of Jesus.

What does this mean for us? During our journey in faith, we may have to make sacrifices. Working with kids in an inner city doesn’t pay as much as some other things, but it may be what we are called to. Working with kids anywhere is a vocation  which is close to the heart of God. But we are not called to sacrifice our kids or our families.

Jesus has freed us from slavery to sin and brokenness and has welcomed us into a dimension of life we had not dreamed possible.  Because of our baptism, we are committed to his shalom; we are partners with him in bringing in his kingdom.

Hospitality is so important. When someone knocks on the door, we are called to welcome them as though they were our Lord.  God loves us and calls us to make the choice to love God in return and to love others as God loves them. God wants us to open our hearts to God’s love so that God can lead us into a new dimension of living and a new level of community, here and over all the earth.

And it’sall summed up in something as simple as welcoming folks and giving them something to eat and drink.

What does all this mean for us today? First, God created us good. Jesis told us that the Spirit is within us. We have the ability to choose to be creative or destructive; to be living or unloving, to be compassionate or uncaring. God wants us to choose to love God back and to love other people as God loves them. God wants us to open our hearts to God’s love so that God can lead us into a new dimension of living and a new level of community here and all over the earth.

And it’s all summed up in welcoming folks and giving them something to eat and drink.

                                                Amen

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