Through dreams and visions, O God,
you broaden the horizon and hope of your people,
that they may discover the meaning of your covenant,
even in the midst of trial and exile.
Increase the number of those who believe in your word
so that all people may joyfully respond to your call
and share in your promises. Amen
RCL readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost may be found here.
Oh preachers! If the casting out of Ishmael last week weren’t enough, now we have the binding of Isaac! This story raises so many theological issues that it is actually a goldmine for preaching, yet we avoid it because those issues are so thorny. I just realized that I am on my third time through the lectionary and I’ve never touched it. This year may be the year for me. I am most interested in the notion that God is faithful to the promises God has made, but that the way they work out is often fraught with unforeseen challenges when we expect and desire it to be simple and straightforward. God promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would number as the stars, and eventually they did, but it was a circuitous path that led there. There are, of course, many other ways to hear that story; how do we deal with the whole notion of sacrifice? What can we say about the faith of one who would lay his son on an altar at God’s command? What does it tell us about God that this happened and that God intervened at the last possible moment? So many possibilities, none of them easy.
Perhaps you’ll choose the prophet Jeremiah instead. Jeremiah has been walking around wearing a wooden yoke as he warns the king and the people of Israel that they must submit to the rule of the Babylonians. Now comes along Hananiah who challenges Jeremiah, basically saying, “Don’t worry; in two year this will all be over.” Jeremiah calls him out as a false prophet, a tricky distinction even now. Who wouldn’t rather believe in the one with the more optimistic message? Do we fall prey to false prophets in our day? How do we know what to believe? How do we stay faithful to God and God’s will?
Our NT reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.Israel Kamudzandu over at WorkingPreacher notes that,”Theoretically, the apostle Paul makes readers ponder on the differences between religion and spirituality… Theologically, Paul teaches that believers must at some point grow from being religious to becoming spiritual for that is the work of grace and sanctification.” In this age of “spiritual but not religious” how does that notion work out? What is the difference between being religious and being spiritual? Are they necessarily related?
The pericope from Matthew’s gospel, on first reading, seems to be a simple and straightforward message on the importance of welcoming others into our midst, one that is certainly timely in our context. Both
power and deep compassion are conveyed when Jesus says, “…and whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” To take it one step farther, one might ponder what it means to welcome a prophet , and what a prophet’s reward might be. Is there a hint there about not just welcoming the prophet but also the prophet’s message? Hmm……This passage might also challenge us to consider just how welcoming we are to those who are not like us, and how others perceive our attempts to be welcoming. There is a great deal to chew on in those few short verses!
Where are you headed this week preachers? Are you up for the binding of Isaac? Perhaps hospitality is on your mind, or you are doing a summer sermon series. Wherever you are headed; even if (perhaps especially if) you’re not sure, join the conversation. It’s always fruitful.