It’s not often that as the lectionary cycles around, I end up writing on the same passages I wrote on three years ago. Or maybe it is more often than I realize and these texts just stand out more than some others. Either way, I’ve written on these passages before and you can see what I wrote for Revgals and on my own blog. If I am honest, I think the world needs that cup of cold, cleansing, refreshing water now more than ever. However, I will try to focus on other aspects of these familiar passages.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is not about child sacrifice or bad parenting or blind faith. This is a story about a man who loved God enough to offer the sacrifice that other gods required. It’s also about a God who loves humanity enough not to need the sacrifice of children. Abraham learned this lesson and the wise ones of old, wrote it down for us. And, yet, we still can’t figure out how to stop sacrificing our children in war, in street violence, in pandemic. We have not learned that all children belong to God and so we keep thinking it’s okay to sacrifice some of them. I wish we could learn something from the deadliness of this summer that would teach us a deeper lesson about God’s love so that we could stop the flow of innocent blood in our streets.
We can cry out and ask God “How long?” as the psalmist did. We can wait for God to respond as we have done forever. Or we can recognize that God deals “bountifully” with us and share that bounty with all whom we meet. We can stop believing that some people fall outside of God’s love or that there are sins we can engage in that keep us from the possibility of redemption. If we change our perspective, then we might be able to reach out in peace and let justice actually flow out of the hands of oppressors into the lives of desperate, worthy human beings.
Jeremiah reminds us that it is the prophet who prophecies peace who is the true prophet of God. Of course, it is dependent on that peace coming to fruition. And peace becomes a reality when we turn our hearts, hands, minds, voices, and feet to God’s holy ways. We have seen what human ways bring about – war, violence, racism, white supremacy, sacrificing children to the greedy gods of our own making. We have been shown another way and God has given us all we need to change our ways of destruction and death to God’s ways of love and life.
Psalm 89 reminds us that the way to live in this world is to trust God’s steadfast love, trust it and embody it. If we sing of God’s love with our whole lives, maybe the song spreads. If we sing of God’s steadfastness and faithfulness to the whole of Creation loud enough, long enough with all that we have and all that we are, perhaps change will come. Perhaps this song of Love can really be enough to repair the damage done by those who would keep us divided from and deadly to one another.
Just in case we aren’t clear yet, Paul reminds us in Romans that we are to present ourselves to God “as those who have been brought from death to life” as “instruments of righteousness.” It isn’t that we don’t sin anymore. It’s that we are not ruled by our sin and God doesn’t judge us by it. God judges us with Love, wrapping us in a blanket of grace. Somehow we don’t remember this blanket of grace very well. We are still using dogma, doctrine, and tradition for the litmus test of faith rather than offer grace and mercy to all in an effort to share the bounteous forgiveness God offers all who seek it. If we were all truly “slaves to righteousness” how might the world be different? Righteousness isn’t legalistic the way we have often made it. Righteousness is trusting that God’s Love and grace are enough to cover my sins and the sins of those around me. Righteousness calls me to embody God’s Love to the best of my ability in all circumstances for all people. It is up to God to judge where other folx are at. It is our job ask followers of Christ to live in a way that creates a thirst for God’s holy ways in the world around us. And then we are to meet that thirst without judgment. There is room under the blanket of grace for all.
And so we come full circle back to the Gospel text. We live in a thirsty world. The thirst for Love and peace and mercy comes in different forms. It comes in self-righteousness that claims a false independence and ultimately risks lives of others (think about those who refuse to wear masks during a pandemic.) It comes as fearful hatred for those perceived to be living outside of God’s reach (think LGBTQ+ folx and those who follow other religious traditions). It comes as violent rejection of “others” (think xenophobia, racism, and white supremacy). This thirst comes in so many forms that even the church, the body of Christ suffers this thirst. And, yet, we are called to carry life-giving water into the world so that this thirst can be washed away in Love, mercy, grace, forgiveness… and all the other abundant gifts God provides to move the whole of Creation from death to life.
So many powerful images in the texts this week. Where is the Spirit leading you?
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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