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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 4 Proper 8A June 28, 2020

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 5:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading is shocking. Why would something like this even appear in the Bible? Here Abraham is, one hundred years old. He finally has a son, and now God asks him to do something unthinkable, horrible—to sacrifice his beloved son. Why would God ask such a thing? This is a passage that causes more questions than answers.

As we have so often observed, when studying the Bible, context is crucial. This passage concerning Abraham and Isaac was written by the Elohist writer, who was working around 750 years before the birth of Christ. The story of Abraham goes back to 1,600 B.C.E., almost 900 years earlier. When Abraham settled in Canaan, and even later, the Canaanites and other peoples were practicing rituals of sacrificing their children to their gods.

Walter Russell Bowie of Virginia Theological Seminary writes of Abraham: “Here was a great soul living in a crude age. He saw people around him offering up their children to show their faith and their obedience to false gods. In spite of the torment to his human love he could not help hearing an inward voice asking him why he should not do as much; and because that thought seemed to press upon his  conscience he thought it was the voice of God.”

Abraham thinks God is calling him to sacrifice his son. He packs everything needed for the sacrifice. When he and Isaac have to leave the two young men waiting, Abraham tells them to wait, saying, “We will go and worship and then we will come back to you.” “We will come back.” On the way, Isaac asks where the lamb is for a burnt offering and his father says, “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Abraham instructs his two young man  and answers Isaac’s question with tender love love and deep faith. On some deep level, Abraham trusts that God will provide. God will take care of this. And at the moment when the knife is raised and we are holding our breath, the angel speaks and Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket. Seeing is important here. We need to be alert and able to see God’s generous grace in operation. Abraham has shown the faith needed to offer everything, his whole future, to God. God has generously responded to Abraham’s faith.  God has also shown that God does not want people to sacrifice their children. 

Bowie writes, “The Old Testament is continually lifting the conception of God out of the irrationality and arbitrariness of pagan superstitions.” Bowie quotes the prophet Hosea, speaking for God, who tells us, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”  (Bowie, The Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 642-644.) 

God loves us, and our loving God calls us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. We are called to a journey of spiritual transformation.

In our epistle, Paul is talking about that process of transformation. We have been baptized into new life in Christ. There are many definitions of sin, but one of my favorites is that sin is separation from God, other people and our true selves. As followers of Jesus, we are growing closer to God. We are growing closer to each other, and we are growing into the true selves God calls us to be. We are following Jesus.

We are following our Good Shepherd, who knows our needs before we ask and who gives us all the gifts we need to carry out our ministry. We are following the Way of Love. We are following the way of life.

Our gospel for today is the end of Jesus’ teaching as he sends the disciples out into the world. Last week he talked about bringing not peace but a sword. In this passage, he is describing the strong bond between those who spread the message of God’s love and those who receive that message with open hearts and minds.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “A new family is created of those who faithfully carry out the mission and those who openly receive the mission, and a fellowship is established that includes the divine presence.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 287.)

Jesus sends the disciples out to share the good news of his love. When people respond, that love grows by leaps and bounds. New communities are formed and the good news spreads over the entire world.

This is good news of love, healing, and wholeness not hate, division, and brokenness. This is good news that is shared when someone gives another person a drink of cold water on a hot day in the desert,  in a city where the concrete reflects the heat, or in a  small village in Vermont when the temperature has been above ninety degrees for six days in a row. This is good news given in the sharing of boxes of food that will last a family several days and then they can come back for more. This is good news of someone listening with love and care as a person shares a problem that is tying them in knots.

At the core of it all is the love of God, who does not want us to sacrifice lambs or even pigeons, and certainly not human beings and certainly not children. God loves children and calls us to love and care for children. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” In his day, children were considered as chattel, property, but he made it clear that children are precious, beloved human beings.

Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the burnt offering was. His father listened carefully and lovingly to the question and offered his own best answer, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Isaac has complete trust in his father Abraham. Abraham has complete trust in God. May we have complete trust in God as we make our way through this stage of our journey in this pandemic. Like Abraham, may we look for signs of God’s grace and presence. And may we grow even stronger together as God’s beloved community as we respond in loving and creative ways. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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