Proper 7, Year A, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of Real Housewives of the Old Testament!

Okay, so this piece of Genesis does not come out of Bravo’s studios, but it is quite dramatic. The lectionary—our Sunday readings—are going to stay in Genesis most of the summer. Because of when Pentecost fell this year, we have dropped smack dab in the middle of Abraham and Sarah’s story, so let me catch you up. Abraham and Sarah were called by God to follow him. He did not say where, he did not give them a road map or leave them GPS. And they did it! They picked up their household, all their stuff, and began a life of following God. God promised to make a nation out of them—that Sarah and Abraham would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.

There was one problem. Sarah and Abraham could not conceive a child. For years they followed God and God kept reiterating the promise, but it seemed totally laughable, especially since they were already in their 70s when God made his promises to them. So, Sarah hatched a plan. Deciding that clearly God had not thought everything through, she gave her handmaiden to her husband as an additional wife so they could conceive a child together. (What an anniversary present!) Abraham and Hagar had a little boy named Ishmael. Great, right? Well, no. As soon as Hagar conceived, she and Sarah began to fight. Eventually Hagar fled, but God told her to go back!

Years later, Sarah actually conceived and bore a child named Isaac. You would think that would solve everything, right? But no, Sarah sees Ishmael playing and laughing and cannot stand it. Ishmael represents a threat to Isaac’s inheritance, not to mention a reminder of her own poor decision making. Sarah asks Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out. When Abraham checks with God, God reassures Abraham they will be cared for. God has gone through a lot with Abraham and Sarah. His goal is to be in relationship with a people and to see the promises he’s made come to pass. The narrative should have been Sarah and Abraham waited patiently, finally had Isaac, boom! promise delivered. Instead Sarah disrupts the plan and Hagar and Ishmael become victims of her regret. And so, they disappear off stage, bread and water in hand.

In another story, that would be the last we heard from Hagar and Ishmael. They don’t fit in with the covenant God has promised Abraham. Why do we need to hear the rest of their story? God may have had a plan for Abraham and Sarah, but our God is a God of love. Hagar and Ishmael may not be part of the covenant, but God’s attachments flow beyond his initial promises. We get a heartbreaking scene where the pair are out of water, so Hagar leaves Ishmael under a tree and walks away so she doesn’t have to watch him die. She weeps and weeps to God and the text says, “And God heard the voice of the boy.” This may seems strange, since it is Hagar who is crying. But the name Ishmael actually means “God hears”. I’m sure when Abraham decided to name him God hears he was thinking of the glory of God’s promise to him, but it turns out that God hears suffering, too. God hears the cries of those who have been shut out, manipulated, abused. God hears the cries of people who are shoved to the sidelines God didn’t just offer comfort, God made a nation out of Ishmael. God saved their lives and lifted them back into society.

God hasn’t stopped hearing the cries of those who suffer. He knows what grieves your heart. He knows the ways you fear for those you love. He knows the ways you have been betrayed. He hears your cries. Too often, we think we have to bear our suffering alone. We come to church, dressed to the nines. We greet our friends with a smile and a platitude, even when our hearts are breaking. One of the gifts we can give to each other as the Body of Christ, is to listen to each other’s cries. But that means someone has to cry first!

One of my favorite books about the power of crying out to God is Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. In it, he tells the grueling story of his father’s alcoholism and suicide and the family’s subsequent silence on the matter. It is only when he begins telling the story of his father’s death, that he experiences true healing. As he reflects on his experience he writes,

I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about.

 

We become more human, and more connected to ourselves and each other, when we tell the truth about our lives. But telling the truth can be very counter cultural. I can’t stop thinking this week about that picture of Richard Martinez and Peter Rodger that was released last week. Richard Martinez was the father of a young man killed by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista a few weeks ago. Very soon after the shooting, he gave a very angry speech in which he held politicians responsible for policies that led to the shooting. For a few days his speech was admired as a remarkable outburst of articulate rage. Of course, since media cycles don’t like to admire anyone for too long, soon Martinez began getting criticized for not grieving appropriately, for seeking the limelight in a time where he should have been tucked away somewhere being appropriately sad. Instead of retreating and behaving in a way the world would think is appropriate, Richard Martinez had a private meeting with Peter Rodger, the father of the shooter. The two came out of the meeting vowing to fight for policies that help the mentally ill and stop the kind of gun violence we’ve seen too much of lately.

There is one picture taken of them at this event where their arms are wrapped each other’s shoulders and they stare at the camera with a gaze that captures all their grief and all their defiance. They are letting their cries ring out, and why shouldn’t they? What happened to them was the most excruciating event that can happen to a parent. In telling each other their stories, in crying out to each other, I hope the slow road to healing began. And I hope God hears their cries, and begins to heal them, and our country.

I don’t know all of you, but I know many of you, and I promise you no one in this room lives a life without suffering. We’re pretty lucky, I know. Many of us have income and a roof over our heads and people who love us. But suffering comes in many forms—conflict with a loved one, illness or mental illness of a loved one, loneliness, financial strain, being a survivor of abuse, physical impairment. My dream is that one day instead of dressing all perfectly for church, we would just walk in the room wearing T-shirts that named our suffering. How freeing would it be to realize we were all in this together, broken and crying out to God? Because God does still hear our prayers, but since we are the body of Christ, he may be calling us to be part of his answer. In listening to one another with love and care, we can embody God’s love and care for us.

May we be Christ to one another, bearing one another’s sorrows as we do our best to continue the journey of faith Abraham and Sarah and Hagar began for us. Amen.

Lent 2, Year B, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

Our God brings something out of nothing.

Before the universe was created, there was nothing.  But God spoke a word and one Big Bang later, planets and suns and comets spun throughout the universe.

Before Adam and Eve got into mischief in the Garden, there were no humans.  But God breathed into some dirt and there they were.  Perfectly imperfect, walking with God in the garden.

Before there were Jews, before there were God’s people, before there was a law or a covenant, there was just Abraham and Sarah, elderly, childless, not looking for adventure.

God chooses them.  He appears to Abraham and tells him he will make a covenant with him and that Abraham will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. God says he will bless Sarah and that she will bear a child.

Sarah overhears and she laughs and laughs and laughs.

God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah are absurd.  They are in their nineties.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes Sarah’s womb not merely as barren, but as deathly.  There is nothing for God to work with.  No fertility, no life, no potential.

And yet, eventually, there is Isaac.  Despite all odds, life grows in that deathly womb and soon a very real, flesh and blood baby is born, continuing the family’s line.  Sarah’s laughter transforms from disbelief into delight.

Why is the Apostle Paul dredging up this old story in his letter to the Romans?  What does Abraham have to do with new life in Jesus?  Paul is addressing the community of Rome, which most likely included both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  He appears to be addressing some conflict around interpretation of the Jewish law.  Before Christ, righteousness was understood as adherence to the Jewish law.  We were made right by our obedience, by our own efforts.

Paul is making the claim here that our righteousness cannot come from our own efforts, because Abraham was made righteous for his faith in God’s promises, long before the law came into effect.  Paul is reminding his audience that God has been at work much longer than our imaginations can grasp.  God has been making something out of nothing for as long as God has been God.

And, while Paul describes Abraham as not weakening in faith, we laugh along with Sarah, because we know the story!  Abraham’s faith was weak and inconsistent.  He and Sarah could not believe she would become pregnant, so they arranged to have Abraham impregnate Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar.  Even Abraham’s faith was basically worthless.

And yet.

And yet, our God takes those pathetic scraps of faith and builds a little family.  Isaac goes on to marry Rebekah and have Jacob and Esau.  Jacob goes on to marry Rachel and Leah and they have twelve sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Abraham’s little family becomes a nation.  His scraps of faith become the foundation for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In the same way, the Apostle Paul argues, we are made righteous not by how well we follow the law, not because of how well we adhere to the tenets of Christianity, but we are made righteous because God chose to make something out of nothing.  When we rejected Jesus and crucified him, God chose to bring life out of death one more time.  We are made righteous, not because of what we can do, but because of who God is and how he has chosen to relate to us.

So, then, why do we make Lenten sacrifices?  Why do we obey the Ten Commandments?  Why do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  If our righteousness is all about what God has done and not what we do, what is the point of trying to live a holy life?  Paul will spend several chapters of Romans dealing with this question, but in short, Paul thinks a sinful life just isn’t an option once you have been baptized.  For Paul, when a person is baptized, he is buried with Christ in his death and then raised again into a new life by Christ’s resurrection.

Once again, God is moving from nothingness to somethingness, from death to life.  Sin is part of that nothing, deathly world. When we join into Christ’s resurrection through our baptism, we become part of the new something God has created.  We are part of a life that is full and rich. We are motivated to repent of our sin and work on an obedient life because we see that a life of obedience to God is filled with deep joy and wholeness that our old lives just cannot match.

But we all know our efforts at obedience are just as pathetic as Abraham’s faith.  We do our best, but all of us break God’s law no matter how wonderful our new life in Christ is.  The Apostle Paul may argue that sin isn’t even an option for us in our new lives with God but we argue back, “Oh yeah, watch this!” and then we overeat or get drunk or humiliate someone.

And this is why Paul’s original point is such good news for us! Our standing with God is not dependent on our behavior.  The possibilities of our lives are not limited by our own weaknesses.  God can bring something wonderful out of nothing.

The power of sin may still try to worm its way into our hearts, but in the cosmic battle, God has defeated sin through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author when I was a teenager.  One of her books takes its title from a wonderful William Langland quote  “but all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think, is no more to the mercy of God then a live coal dropped in the sea.”   All of our anger, all of our betrayals, all of our violence, all of our wars, all of our injustice—if you could quantify all of this some how and measure all our awfulness against God’s mercy, our sin would just be a blip.  Isn’t that amazing?

It’s hard to imagine the vastness of God’s mercy when we are in the thick of this very real, very sinful world.  We see the consequences of sin all around us every day.  Even if we are having a pretty good day, all we have to do is pick up the newspaper to see examples of greed, corruption, prejudice.  But if we put down the paper and pick up the book of Romans, we gain a new perspective.  We realize God’s story is much, much bigger than our story.

In God’s story, God makes us righteous, not because of our behavior, not because of our political beliefs, not because of the church we choose.  God makes us righteous because God is God and God chooses to enter a battle against sin and death. And folks, when God enters a battle, God always wins.

God makes us righteous because God wants to be in relationship with us and we cannot make ourselves righteous, no matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions.  God chooses us. God goes to battle for us.  God wins for us.  Not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

So, believe the impossible.  Believe that God can take your scraps of faith and turn them into an adventurous, holy life.  Believe that our measly little communities of faith have more power than the biggest army.  Believe that God can defeat all the evil powers in the world, no matter how vast or entrenched.  Believe God can bring something out of nothing.

In fact, nothing is God’s favorite material.

Thanks be to God.

Proper 8, Year A, 2008

What in the world is happening?  What was good is now evil.  What was clear is now blurry.  The stars might as well have fallen out of the sky.  The ocean might as well have reclaimed the land.  Everything is wrong and disoriented and awful.

God has asked Abraham to kill Isaac.

Not only has God asked Abraham to kill Isaac, when God gives Abraham the instructions to do so, God seems to have forgotten who Abraham is.  Robert Alter, an Old Testament Scholar, points out that we seem to be hearing one side of a two-sided conversation. The Hebrew reads, “Take pray, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac. . .”  And you can almost hear Abraham saying, “But I have two sons.  What about Ishmael? I love both of them.  Oh, you mean Isaac.”  From the very beginning of the conversation Abraham is disoriented, we the readers are disoriented, the whole world seems disoriented.

After all, we’ve just spent several weeks with Abraham and Sarah, a rare opportunity to spend more than one Sunday on any particular Biblical character.  We have journeyed with them.  We have joyfully and with trepidation followed behind them as they took the risk to follow God in the first place.  We have waited, and waited, and waited with them for the birth of their long-promised child, Isaac.  And when Sarah and Abraham were finally blessed with the squirming squealing newborn we laughed with them in astonishment that God’s blessing actually came true, despite the incredible odds against that blessing.

Now should be the time for celebration.  Now should be the time to raise Isaac into a responsible young man.  Now should be the time of passing the torch from one generation to the next.  Instead, God seems poised to rip the promise he has made right out of Abraham’s faithful hands. 

Strangely, Abraham does not even argue.  And Abraham knows how to argue with God.  In fact, in Chapter 19 of Genesis, Abraham goes head to head with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God wants to destroy the cities, but Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family live there.  Abraham bargains with God until God agrees that if even ten people in the city are righteous, he will not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  The argument finally resolves when God enables the righteous Lot and his family to escape, and then destroys the city.  Abraham may not have affected the ultimate outcome, but he did learn that he is allowed to argue with God.

But now, when his son’s life depends on it, Abraham does not argue.  Abraham is silent and obedient. Abraham splits wood, gathers a cleaver and some rope, calls to Isaac and begins the journey up the mountain.   They must have left early in the morning, maybe even before Sarah awoke.  I imagine she would have had a thing or two to say to Abraham if she knew what he was doing.

We are not given any information about Abraham’s thoughts or emotions during this test. We don’t know if he really believes he is going to have to kill Isaac or whether he trusts God to find another way.  All we know is that he makes the trip, reluctant step by reluctant step.  We know he piles the wood, binds his son’s arms and legs, and lifts his cleaver.

What we have here seems more like a script from a horror movie than a biblical passage.

When we talk about God in the Church, we have a tendency to focus on the love of Jesus or on the power of the Holy Spirit.  We talk about intimacy with God, tenderness, grace, acceptance.  We talk about God in ways that make us comfortable.  We think about God in ways that do not challenge the ways we live. Because God has been mediated through Jesus, we forget that God is a consuming fire.  We forget that God is powerful and that the sacrifice God wants is us, and as we say in the Eucharistic prayer, “our selves, our souls and bodies.”

But God is a consuming fire. God’s love is powerful and devouring.

And it is this love that motivates God to test Abraham.

God has taken a big risk with Abraham.  He has staked a future with Abraham and his offspring.  This did not work out well with Adam and Eve.  Even Noah dissolved into a drunken mess after awhile.  God is trying one more time and he wants to make sure he gets it right.  So, he tests Abraham.

God wants all of Abraham.  He wants all of Abraham’s passion and love and commitment.  He wants Abraham’s devotion so much, God is willing to see if he will sacrifice his very future, his beloved son, his promised blessing, to prove that devotion.

God tests Abraham to make sure he is the kind of man that will follow God in any situation.

And Abraham passes God’s test.

And we are left feeling ambivalent and uncomfortable because in passing God’s test, Abraham showed his willingness to commit a horrible act, an act so abusive and traumatizing that we cannot fully celebrate Abraham’s success. 

We do not know exactly how we are supposed to interpret this difficult passage. We do know that Abraham saw God in a new way after the test, and in fact the words see, eyes, and look are peppered throughout this passage.  Moriah even means “he sees”.  Abraham’s trip up the mountain was a transformative experience for him as well as for God.  Abraham learns that God will provide for him even in the moment of greatest need and God learns that Abraham will be faithful to Him even at great personal cost.  Yet still, we feel tension.

And perhaps we are meant to remain in that tension. Tension helps us not get too comfortable with God.  Tension prevents us from taking God’s will for us too lightly. Tension prevents us from us taking God’s sacrifice too lightly.

After all, Isaac’s horrible story sheds light on another Son who traveled up a hill, carrying the very wood on which he would be killed.

Perhaps this story helps us remember that other story, the story we honor with Easter bunnies, pastel dresses and decorated eggs.  This story helps us remember Jesus’ story was filled with fear and dread, too.

Perhaps Abraham’s story reminds us that though Abraham passed his test, as a human race we were unable to remain faithful to God.  But God was willing to make the same sacrifice he asked of Abraham.  And that sacrifice was brutal and cruel and bloody.  Perhaps, as we imagine the pain Abraham experienced, we are to discern a bit of what God experienced when his own Son was sacrificed.  God was willing to give us all of himself, so that we could be in relationship with Him.

In any case, this passage reminds us, as Charley told us last week, that grace is not cheap.  Discipleship is not easy.  A relationship with God demands that we give to God all that we consider most dear, even at great personal cost.

Amen.

Proper 5, Year A, 2008

Not very many heroes of epic novels or movies get to stay in one location.  Odysseus, Lawrence of Arabia, Huck Finn, Frodo, Marlow, Dante, Dorothy, Nemo, even the quirky family from Little Miss Sunshine!  All of these characters go on a journey.  Their journeys may be long or short, traumatic or hilarious, sacrificial or selfish.  For each character, the journey is an important, transformative experience, as important, if not more important, than the goal itself.

Journeys are important because they get us out of our normal rhythms.  When on a journey, you do not come home and crash in front of the TV every day, or have the same conversations with your same neighbors day after day.  When you’re on a journey, you don’t even have to show up for work in the morning.  There are no cubicles, reports, or emails on a journey.  A journey bursts us from the constraints of our routines and obligations and opens us to new experiences and new sense of our own identity.  During a journey we find out if we are flexible or rigid; adventurous or timid; brave or fearful. 

Perhaps this is why, throughout God’s history with his people, as soon as he calls us, he sends us on a journey.

You might have noticed over the last few weeks, that in our lectionary we have begun hearing the stories of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  Genesis is full of stories of people on the move, doing God’s work.  Today, we hear the story of Abram, the father of  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  His faith in God would establish the three largest religions in history.

When I went back to Genesis to remind myself of Abram’s story, I had thought I would find out some backstory.  I wanted to know whether Abram and God had any previous encounters, whether they had several conversations before our passage today. Surely, God had been slowly preparing Abram for the life-changing encounter they have in today’s passage.

But it turns out that Genesis tells us nothing about Abram’s personal history with God.  The only information Genesis reveals about Abram before our passage today is that he was the son of Terah, a descendent of Noah and that Abram had a wife named Sarai and a nephew named Lot.

This lack of information makes Abram’s willingness to leave his home and journey off to the great unknown even more powerful.  Abram does not argue with God, he simply packs up his things and goes.  However, if you read the text carefully, you’ll learn that Abram does not follow God’s directions perfectly.  God tells Abram to leave his kindred behind, and instead Abram takes his nephew Lot with him.  Even now, we get a sense that Abram is not a complete pushover and that his relationship with God will not be a simple one.

This ambiguity-this not quite so obedient obedience-is a great introduction to Abram’s journey and the rest of Genesis, really.  God does not choose cookie cutter people to do his work.  You do not have to be sweet and passive and perfect to do God’s work.  In fact, I can’t think of one character in Genesis who is unblemished in some way.  To follow God, all you have to be willing to do is to hear God out and then take a risk.

And what a risk Abram took! 

Imagine-Abram had no context-no Bible stories, no history of God’s faithfulness on which to draw when he made the decision to follow God.  All he had was a family story about his great, great, great, great, great-grandfather Noah and how God preserved his family in the midst of an incredible flood.

But Abram is able to take this family history, and this incredible personal experience of God, and use them to give him the courage to break out of his routine, to burst out of the confines of how he perceived himself, his family and his culture and take a risk to go on what will be an incredible journey.

God promises Abram land and blessings, but for God, the land was not the point.  For God, I think, it was important to send Abram on a journey so that as Abram traveled, Abram could learn to trust God more and more.  I don’t want to spoil anything, since we’ll talk more about Abram’s journey the next couple of weeks, but Abram encounters all kinds of crazy challenges and abundant blessings as he journeys with God.  Abram learns about himself and what it means to have faith in God by journeying away from his ordinary, day-to-day, life.  Abram even gets a new name-Abraham-to mark God’s role in his life. 

What would God need to do to break us out of our routines?  I shudder to think how I would react if God told me to hand over my laptop, my closet full of clothes, and my nice rented house and go wander across the country.  I don’t think I would be as amenable as Abram.  I think I would ask lots of whiny questions, like:  How am I going to eat?  What do you want me to do?  What should I pack? Could I at least have a GPS?

God may not call us to literally leave home like he called Abram, but he still does call us to go on a journey of faith with him. Thinking of our lives as a journey rather than a series of responsibilities gives us a framework to understand our lives in a new way.  A relationship with God is never static.  As we experience each new day of our life, God calls us to journey along with him and to keep our eyes open for what he is doing in the world and how we might fit into that activity.  Occasionally, following God’s journey for us may lead us to do something radical-to travel somewhere we’ve never been, or to talk to someone who has nothing in common with us.  God’s journey may lead us to fight for the disenfranchised or to care for the poor.  God’s journey may lead us toward forgiving someone or even reconciling others in conflict.

Wherever our journey leads us, we can be sure that we will encounter many adventures along the way.  And those adventures will stretch us and shape us into the people God has dreamed we can be.  Thanks be to God.

Lent 2, Year B, 2006

Is there any story in the Bible more horrifying than the sacrifice of Isaac?  Why would God, who had given Isaac to Abraham in the first place, then turn around and ask Abraham to kill his own son?  Even at the end of the story, when God rescues Isaac by giving Abraham a ram as a replacement, we feel uneasy with God’s behavior.  It seems manipulative, even cruel.  The point of the story seems clear-God wanted to test Abraham.  But what kind of test makes a person choose between God and his son? 

Today we have what we consider a reasonably sophisticated understanding of God.  God is love. God is One God.  God reveals himself in the Trinity.  However, we must keep in mind that Abraham was basically the first monotheist.  Imagine a world where every tribe has a different God.  Religion is rooted in superstition rather than relationship.  Imagine a world where the gods do actually demand human sacrifice to appease their anger.  This is the kind of world in which Abraham lived.  Abraham’s world was chaotic, loose.  He was a nomad, whose safety and livelihood was dependent on the generosity of the gods. 

God’s desire with Abraham was to start a new kind of relationship between God and people.  No longer would a relationship to God be about superstition, instead it would be about trust and love.  God had to show Abraham that he was NOT the kind of God that demanded human sacrifice.  He taught the lesson in such a searing way, through the near sacrifice of Isaac, that there is no way we can forget the image of last minute rescue.

There is something about the terror in sacrifice of Isaac story that resonates with us.  If you are walking the Christian walk, you are going to experience pain.  If you are walking the Christian walk, you are going to experience great loss.  Because, as our Gospel reading reminds us today, Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake.  The imminent death of Isaac reminds us of our fear of obliteration.  We fear that if we get too close to God, if we follow his call on our lives too precisely, we may lose everything we value.

When I was a small child, I saw a NOVA special about the Sun.  It described the power of the Sun’s energy and how eventually because of changes in its energy, everything around it, even the earth, would be sucked into the Sun and be disintegrated.  Now, as a child, I did not understand the concept of millions of years and so thought this would happen any moment, and I was terrified. 

A close relationship with God can feel like this sometimes.  God is so big and so amorphous, it can feel risky to draw near to him, to invite him into our lives.

While Isaac’s survival is small comfort, if we look more closely at this idea of losing our lives, we may be able to gain some courage.

Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake.  This sounds suspiciously like the kind of obliteration we fear.  However, we know that Jesus never threatened the life of anyone. He drew people out and loved them and helped them to grow.  He took immature, impulsive Peter and believed in him so much he became a stable head of the church. 

What if Jesus doesn’t want us to lose our true lives, our true selves, but wants us to lose our false selves. 

What do I mean by a false self?  I mean the self that has been constructed from other’s expectations and your own fears.  I mean the self that was taught by your parents that it was not okay to cry or to be fat or to be smart or to be an artist or to be. . whatever it was that they didn’t want you to be.  I mean the self that you’ve constructed so that your friends won’t be threatened by you.  I mean the self you’ve constructed so that your coworkers think you are always competent and never afraid.  I mean the self that you present to your partner so he or she won’t stop loving you.  I mean the self that buys a house you can’t afford and three fancy cars so you appear prosperous to your neighbors, when you’re actually drowning in debt and terrified.

The Christian life involves a huge amount of risk, and the biggest risk is living an authentic life before God and before each other.  Jesus calls us to leave behind the world and what the world wants from us.  Jesus calls us, invites us to sit at his feet and learn from him about who we really are.   

And who are we?  Paul answers this in our Epistle reading today.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We are God’s beloved.  We are the people for whom God sent Christ.  God does not demand human sacrifice, God sacrifices himself for us.  God is big and amorphous and scary, but he was also human, and kind, and gentle.  Above all, God is full of intense, specific love.  God sees you, sees your true heart, sees beyond every false self you’ve constructed, and loves you. 

[At 11:00]

And, like Isaac, right at the moment when life feels the most terrifying, God will swoop in and save you.  He will give you friends when you are lonely, courage when you are terrified, and love when you feel your most un loveable.  All we need to do is to surrender to him-perhaps the most terrifying step of all.

[At the 9:00]

We celebrate four baptisms today.  At first when I read the readings, I was dismayed.  I didn’t want Hunter and Anna Marie to link this image of the sacrifice of Isaac with their own baptism.  I did not want their baptism to be something scary, but something exciting and life giving.  However, these lessons reminded us that baptism isn’t cute.

Baptism is not something we do for sentimental reasons. 

In Baptism we die with Christ and experience his resurrection.  

In Baptism we commit ourselves to following Christ, to giving up our lives to do his work in the world.  But, through Baptism and a life of following Jesus, we will become more and more our true selves, the people God made us to be.  We will discover we can love more deeply than we thought possible.  We will discover great vaults of courage and integrity.  We will discover closeness with God that is not threatening, bur reassuring and life giving.

These four children being baptized are on the beginning of an exciting journey, full of ups and downs, but always rooted in the security of God’s love for them.