Sermon For November 30, 2014 ~ Advent 1

Genesis 15:1-6 & John 8:31-39

“While Shepherds Watched: The Shepherd Abraham”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

 

God Shows Abraham Stars, Julius Schnoor.

God Shows Abraham Stars, Julius Schnoor.

In whom do you trust? Today’s Advent word is “hope” and I would make the case that a fundamental quality of hope is trust. We cannot hope if we do not trust. The drama Kathy and Ken offered to us today showed us that to this shepherding matriarch and patriarch of the faith God provided both a hope and then a test of

Sarah and the Angels, Marc Chagall, 1960

Sarah and the Angels, Marc Chagall, 1960

their trust. The hope was that, though old and beyond childbearing years, they would parent a great legacy of peoples – as numerous as the stars. The test was the call for Abraham to sacrifice his and Sarah’s only born child, Isaac, to God. I tell you now, if every hope comes at this price – even if ultimately unredeemed – I’ll have nothing of it. I’d rather not hope if every time I do so I have to offer up that hope to God to be sacrificed.

 

John the Baptist also offered a hope: that the one who would come after him would redeem not only his people, but all people. But that hope required trust, and that trust would be put to

St John the Baptist Carravagio c. 1604 Oil on canvas, 172,5 x 104,5 cm Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

St John the Baptist
Carravagio
c. 1604
Oil on canvas, 172,5 x 104,5 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

the test also. John makes an intricate argument that the very people who count Abraham as their “father” have become a slave to sin and intend to deal death to both God’s messenger, John himself, as well as to the one who would be God’s Message to the world, Jesus. But in this latter instance there is no ram in the bush to prevent this son from an ultimate and gruesome death. Again, I wonder if the hope is worth the cost of putting trust to the test.

 

The parallels with what has been happening within our lives this past week are not lost on me. In whom do we trust? Where do we put our hopes? Do we trust the culture of violence that allows toys to be made to look like guns, one of the most violent and final death devices known to humanity? Do we trust the police who, though they may or may not be well trained, are human nonetheless with prejudices and fears and reactions like the rest of us? I would say that for many of us our trust in hope has been put to the test in a horrific way. Both the culture of violence that pervades our lives and our children’s lives has come up tragically short and our trust in the justice system that time and time again seems stacked against those who are Black, Hispanic, and are immigrants fails too many.

 

Does hope really require sacrifice? My God, how many of our children have to be sacrificed before our hope in peace and justice is realized? Suddenly I feel shoved back into my dilemma in Lent as to why a God, who is called Love and offers grace so abundantly, ends up looking like a bloodthirsty maniac? Well I turn to a colleague of mine, the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, who I

Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber

Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber

have introduced you to before. She’s the pastor of The Church Of All Saints And Sinners in Denver, Colorado. She was interviewed on Krista Tippit’s National Public Radio program “On Being” that aired this fall, and she talked about this very dilemma.

 

But so if you look at Jesus, to me the greatest revelation of who God was was actually at the cross. Because to me that’s not God’s little boy, like God is some sort of divine child abuser sending his son — and he only had one, you know — like, come on, give me a break, right? You know, God’s little boy and he only had one, and as this sort of divine child abuser, or as this cigar-chomping loan shark demanding his pound of flesh, you know, he’s sending his little boy to the — what hogwash, right? That actually is God on the cross, that’s God saying, I would rather die than be in the sin-accounting business that you’ve put me in.

 

That from the cross, you know, there’s all this stuff about the final judgment. You know what the final judgment is to me? It’s God dying on the cross and saying: forgive them; they know not what they’re doing. That’s an eternally valid statement to me. That is God’s judgment upon us. And so, to me, if God could bear that kind of suffering and only respond in forgiveness and love, that’s the God who is present in a devastating hurricane, in that room with an abused child. So to me, God has come into the world and is bearing that [suffering], not causing it. (1)

 

So here’s the hope, and here’s the trust, and here’s the test: Yes, God promises us the world, everything, life to be lived beyond our wildest imagination. And, yes, we have to trust that that this ultimate goodness is the essence of creation and the plan of salvation. But the test is that this created order was designed to work on it’s own, that is, we human beings are in charge of the course of human history.

 

So our children will die and the justice system will fail us, and all manner of evil and pain and heartache will befall us. But here is the ultimate hope and the ultimate trust and the ultimate test all rolled into one: God is NOT the cause of that suffering but is bearing that suffering with us. Rather God is willing to die on the cross with us – and on the streets… and on the playgrounds… and at the border crossings… rather than be in the sin-accounting business that we so often put God into.

 

Community-treeYou see, what we fail to realize is that GOD ALSO has hopes and trusts and is put to the test. God hopes in us to be the loving and grace-filled creatures we were created to be! But God did not create us as dolls to be manipulated, so God has to trust us to do the right thing. But we put God to the test when we sin, when we follow our baser motives and appeal to violence, hatred, stereotypes, and despair.

 

BirthOfJesus KoreanSo God did the unthinkable: God entered our very complex and confusing and sin-filled and pain-filled lives and became one of us. God chose to bear our suffering in the hopes that one day we would rise above the pain, respond only with forgiveness and love, and see that just as God bears our suffering, so should we bear one another’s suffering. Somewhere in that common bond we find incarnation: God becoming flesh. Somewhere in this sharing of the pain and the possibility is Emmanuel: God with us. Somewhere in this willingness to give up the sin-accounting business in order to live forgiveness and to be love we will get to know one another’s hopes, learn to trust one another, and withstand each other’s testing and then on that day it will be Christmas… we will know God-with-us.

 

Amen.

 

(1) On Being with Krista Tippet, Interview With Nadia Bolz-Weber — Seeing The Underside And Seeing God: Tattoos, Tradition, And Grace, October 23, 2014. Found online at: http://www.onbeing.org/program/nadia-bolz-weber/transcript/6963#main_content

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