Let it Go!

Genesis 21:8-21

Matthew 10:24-39

This morning’s passages are challenging and somewhat unsettling.  Two women caught up in protecting their sons, both powerless to change their perceived predicaments, totally dependent on Abraham’s response for their very survival.  Jesus seemingly telling his followers they must walk away from family and friends, give up their personal safety, even their lives, to be his disciples.

Neither passage bringing a warm fuzzy, let’s read it in our most difficult times, feeling.

Yet both speak to God’s faithfulness.  Of God offering hope in the midst of chaos.  Both call us to “Let it Go!” and to trust God

As we join Abraham and Sarah this week they are celebrating the weaning of Isaac.  Abraham is throwing a party recognizing this important step in his son’s life, something that was a custom in that culture.  I suspect Sarah may not have felt as much like celebrating.  Nursing her only son kept them connected in a unique way.  Now he can go places and do things without having her nearby.  He is starting that journey toward independence in a tangible, undeniable way.  It is a transition which seems to put Sarah on edge, eager to make sure she creates an environment that protects this child she waited so long to have.

She sees Isaac and Ishmael playing.  She sees the first-born of Abraham as a threat to her son.  It didn’t matter that Ishamel was the son of a slave, the culture of the day gave all of the inheritance and power to the first-born, and that was Ishamel.  If he was present, he would have significant control over the future of Isaac.  She seeks a solution to the problem she sees, interestingly enough a problem she created by not waiting for God’s time in the first place.  She seems to have lost sight of God’s faithfulness in giving her a son as promised.   Again she takes things into her own hands, focusing on the protection of her son even if it is at the expense of another son her husband also loves.

Again her plan involves Abraham.  The first time she encourages him to have a child with Hagar, seeing it as a way to fulfill God’s promise of fathering nations.  Now she demands that Abraham throw Hagar and his own son out to fend for themselves, unprotected and without community for support.  It was a request for all intents and purposes of a death sentence for them both.  In that moment Sarah is focused on one thing – protecting her child and in the limited perimeters of her perceptions of what that takes, she is blind to God’s proven faithfulness as well as to the implications to Abraham, to Hagar and Ishmael,.  She is unable to grasp that God has it under control, that she needs to let the fear and distrust go, that she needs to let go of Isaac’s future because it is in God’s hands anyway.

Can you imagine this conversation with Abraham?  Ismahel is a teenager by this time, they have had a number of years of father-son time: of sharing likes and dislikes, discussing ideas about sheep herding and the family business, of figuring out what brings joy and what brings heartache to the other, of building a deep father-son relationship.  A relationship that did not go away just because Isaac was born.  A relationship that was important to Abraham.  He was greatly distressed over this demand from Sarah.

Then God calls Abraham to Let them Go! – to trust God’s promises to protect Hagar and Ishmael, making him into a nation as well.  Abraham takes God at God’s work, so much so he not only sends them away in spite of his despair over that action, but he sends them with very little in the way of provisions.  He doesn’t load them up with what he thinks they will need he gives them a start and trusts God to handle the rest.   That may seem illogical, as if he wasn’t doing enough, yet Abraham had multiple experiences with God fulfilling promises in the midst of what seem to be impossible circumstances.  His relationship with God allowed him to let what he may have thought was best go, and to respond in the way God called him to respond.

Hagar, like Sarah, hadn’t caught on yet that God is faithful.  Once her supplies, as she understood her supplies to be, were gone, she was afraid and convinced both she and her son were about to die.  Leaning on her own understanding, and not on God’s faithfulness, she could not see what was already available to her to sustain life.  Once God opened her eyes, she could see the resources of life restoring water.  God’s faithfulness providing Ishmael with the ability to learn new ways of survival, becoming an archer and adapting to a new environment where the nations of his heirs would develop.

God was faithful to Isaac as well, fulfilling his promise to make him into a nation.

Difficult conditions exist throughout this story.  There are no quick fixes, magic wand kind of moments.  God’s faithfulness was experienced over time and required decisions to “Let Go” of personal agendas and limited understandings of what could be.

In the Matthew passage, Jesus is preparing his followers to be weaned from his physical presence.  To let go of the safety of talking to him directly, of being able to push for explanations about what he was teaching.

That preparation includes calling them to be like him, to teach others what he has shared with them.  To not be afraid of challenges that come with being faithful to God, but to be afraid of things that encourage us to think we can do it on our own, to discount our need for God’s grace in our lives.

Letting go of our personal, limited agendas may seem counter to what we think is the safe, protected way to go, yet Jesus is clear that to follow his agenda means that often the world, our community, even our families won’t understand.

Living as Jesus calls us to live.  Setting our priorities and seeing our circumstances from a God view rather than a self-protection view moves us into uncomfortable places where we have to let go and trust God.

Both of these passages lead us through chaotic, messy life transitions which offer opportunities to see signs of God in what seems a no-win scenario.

Both give us insight into the realty that God is with us through all the times of our lives, even when we make questionable choices or face challenges due to decisions over which we have no control.  God is faithful to help us through, to provide people and messages which help us make increasingly better choices, to head in new directions when necessary to building the kingdom.

We all have a tendency to what to play it safe, to not share the gifts God gives us to build community.  It is scary to look outside what we understand to be true to embrace a bigger picture, to see God at work in things that challenge us.

We risk not being understood, loved, honored by a world that puts self-interest above God, when we trust in God’s ways and promises.

When we look at Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and listen to Jesus teach us how to get through challenges we face as disciples I think we see that:

“God is with us – inviting us to trust in God more than in ourselves.

God is with us, offering us grace so that we may have the faith to trust in God.

God is with us, allowing us to fall down and urging us to learn form iur mistakes so that we will not repeat them.

God is with us, sometimes saying and doing things that are confusing and difficult to hear, let alone, understand.

God is with us, watching over brothers and sisters in our own Christian faith and our brothers and sisters in nations born to the cousins of our faith.”*

When we “let go” of all the things that call us to trust in ourselves or others more than we trust in God – God is with us – guiding, directing, protecting, loving us – bringing us out of chaos into the kingdom community filled with grace and peace beyond anything we can imagine.

I encourage you to just “Let it Go.”

 

 

* Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries UMC June 25, 2017

 

Flawed and Faithful

Genesis 18:1-15

Everyone here likely has stories about their father.  Some which point out his super hero attributes, some which show why we do or don’t do certain things.  Some filled with joy and others filled with sorrow.  Some filled with humor, others sternly serious.

These are the stories which help shape who we are and in many ways impact how we live out our faith journeys.

We can find a number of stories about fathers in the scriptures.  Biblical fathers who also impact our faith journeys.  These stories reflect faithful, although flawed servants of God.[1]

Adam, who joins his wife Eve in disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, breaks trust with the Creator, is thrown out of the garden and becomes the father of Cain and Abel, who take sibling rivalry to the point of Cain killing his brother.  Yet both Adam and Cain, flawed as they were continued to serve God and went on to build a civilization.

God calls Abram out of the land in which he lives to go to a new land and to father a nation.  But Abram, now Abraham, isn’t a father, and as the years go by, his hope of becoming one fades.  He remains faithful to God’s direction in his life, but tries to find ways to make the promise come true on his own, laughing at the thought God could make it so he and Sarah could have a son.

Isaac has a story of his own.  One of his father’s faithfulness to God which put him on an altar of sacrifice.  A story of his father’s plan which found him a lovely and gracious wife in Rebecca.  Isaac is the only patriarch who is not described as having other wives or concubines, although she remains barren for a long time until the birth of their twin boys Jacob and Esau.  Then family drama emerges as Jacob steals Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Jacob ends up working fourteen years for his future father-in-law who switches brides on him at the end of the first seven, forcing the second seven.  He has twelve sons and one named daughter with his wives Leah and Rachel, the names of which the 12 tribes of Israel bear.  His son Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and ends up saving his entire family from a famine that threatens their existence.

Joseph, the father of Jesus brings us into the New Testament listening to the voice of God, protecting and raising the one who brings salvation to us all.

All of these fathers did their best to follow God, to love and raise their children with the strength, resources, and wisdom they had.  All of these fathers were faithful and flawed at the same time.  They all have stories which help us as we seek to be faithful to God and each other in the midst of at least a flaw or two.  Their stories help us see God working through the chaos that sometimes envelops our day to day lives.

We heard a fuller version of Abraham in this morning’s reading.

We find him suddenly recognizing three strangers coming to his home needing food and shelter.  Some identify the strangers as three angels, some as the Lord and two others, and one of the commentaries I read this week suggested it was the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who visited that day.   Regardless of the specific identity of these strangers in Abraham’s tent, they were not ordinary guests and their mission was not an ordinary task.[2]

Before knowing the message the three strangers brought, Abraham welcomed them in.  Not just with the minimum standards of hospitality for the day, but with much more than was expected.  He was generous in sharing of his food and humble in serving them himself.

We can look for God in the strangers who come into our lives, offering humble, service and hospitality.  That generosity is faithful to God’s call on our life and God is faithful in offering us hospitality through others when we need it.

Abraham and Sarah had moments of doubt regarding God’s promise to them.  The first time Abraham heard the news he fell on his face and laughed.  This time, it is Sarah who laughs, both thinking about all the things they believe make the promise impossible to fulfill.  Reassurance rather than rebuke is forthcoming, as God asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

When we hear God’s call on our lives, and are quick to laugh it away when it seems too impossible to be possible, these words shared with Father Abraham can remind us that God is faithful in God’s time and we need to follow faithfully and with patience.  Moments of doubt are to be expected, but God is faithful to stand by us providing us with the grace we need to move through the, emerging with stronger faith.

God can overcome all obstacles, even our impatience and drive to do things our way.  God’s grace is greater than our inability to perceive it.  These stories of fathers and families in the Bible show us over and over the faithfulness of God in the midst of what seems like chaos.  Even when we deny our doubts, God knows, and reminds us with a question:  “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”

 

Just as Abraham and Sarah had Isaac to remind them that the answer is that “there isn’t anything too difficult for the Lord,”  I suspect that somewhere  in the stories of our fathers ywe can find more than one which testifies  to how God fulfilled promises and formed a new personal history despite improbable and unbelievable circumstances.

The faithful fathers into whose lives we are granted a glimpse through scripture are not saints living lives which have reached perfection.  Their experiences are reflected in our experiences, complete with sometimes difficult family situations, displacement, disillusionment, frustration, times which seem to be hopeless, opportunities to welcome in the stranger and to look for God in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.

The stories in scripture show God working in a world just as messy and chaotic as ours is at times.  They show God working through the flaws of the faithful using ordinary people in ordinary circumstances to do extra-ordinary things to further the kingdom of God.

God is with us in our moments of greatest joy, and God is with us though the inevitable chaos and sorrow that life brings. God us with us in our friends and family, and God is with us in strangers who suddenly show up and bring us a word of hope and clarity in the midst of the jumbled, chaotic messes of life. God is with us in the familiar and God is with us in the unexpected.

These Biblical Fathers remind all of us that The good news is, no matter what we must face, we don’t face it alone. We face life together, in community with Christ, and in community with one another, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

God is with us.[3]

[1] TheRev. Joan G. LaBarr, Biblical fathers -faithful, flawed servants of God, umc.org

[2] Sermon Options June 18, 2017 Ministry Matters

[3] Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, Preaching notes June 18, 2017

Out of Chaos

Genesis 1:1-31

For the next few weeks we are looking at the theme “From Chaos to Community”, hearing again some of the stories in scripture which provide insight into how God builds community and how those insights can help us be in community in the midst of chaos.

This isn’t a series about us specifically. It is a series with applications which can help us as we face the sometimes messy situations in our lives and stay in relationship with God and each other.

In some ways, I think humans live in a constant state of some level of chaos.  It can be as routine as a “To do list,” which seems unending and as complex as working your way through personal health challenges while caring for others, keeping up with job and household responsibilities, facing strained relationships, and finding out you must move, all at the same time.

At various times of our lives we may face periods when everything seems to be coming apart at the seams.

Difficult situations to navigate.

Tragedy strikes.

A job is lost.

An accident intrudes abruptly.

Illness disrupts all aspects of our daily life.

A fire destroys.

Violence makes us a victim.

We lose someone important to us.

Just the changes of growing older can create uncertainty and strife.  From the security of the womb we are propelled into a journey that includes more than one bump or bruise along the way.  That takes us from being dependent on others for survival – to feeling independent – back to relying on others to keep us safe and secure.

Our times of chaos are not unlike those who followed the Creator God of Genesis 1 who are described in our sacred texts.  Those are the stories that will inform and encourage us in the coming weeks as we hear again of how faithful men and women find themselves wrestling deeply with the reality of their humanity and the challenges it brings.

“Into each of these stories of jumbled, chaotic mess we will hear the voice of God speaking light and life and love and hope

Sometimes God’s words will bring comfort – God brings order to the chaos, Other times, God speaks demands that make us uncomfortable and raise difficult questions about the nature of our faith – questions for which we do not have easy answers.”[1]

As we begin, we go back to the beginning: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”[2]

As we heard in this morning’s paraphrase: “In the beginning there was God… and a mess.  And it was a real mess.”

It is a time of visible and tangible chaos.  Into the chaos comes community.

Genesis 1’s references to God include the wind or spirit of God over the water, as well as God’s talking to self, saying, “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” and God’s action: “God created humankind in his image in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

In Matthew Jesus is recorded as telling us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son  and of the Holy Spirit[3], and John 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The Word was with God in the beginning.  Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.”

From these and other passages, we get a sense of God in community with God, of God’s essence centered in community.  This essence enters the swirling darkness and creates order and community reflective of its communal nature.  The Trinity bringing order which reflects its very nature.

Creating new ways of relationship: light and darkness, land and water, fish and birds and animals with earth and humankind.  Humankind with creation and Creator God, the Word, and the Spirit – three-in-one Person, Holy Trinity.

Humans are brought into community with God and Creation:  Receiving resources, relationships, and responsibilities. Put in charge.

God continues to create and to call us into community.  Steadfastly giving us the resources, relationships, and responsibilities to fulfill that call.

This story of the beginning prepared Israel for life in spiritually chaotic neighborhoods like the land of promise and the Babylon into which she was exiled.  It prepares the church to stay faithful in a world that looks to many “things” as gods and has so many different ideas about God.  Genesis 1 and 2 teach us that God exists, and that God is a loving creator and caretaker, and we are made in God’s image.  “Being image bears of God is also at the heart of how we see other humans, which results in treating them with dignity, regardless of race, age, gender, social or economic status.”[4]

It is not easy to be in community with those very different from ourselves.  With those with whom we disagree or don’t understand, with those who annoy us, have harmed us, or seek to harm us.

It is not easy to be in community with others when our lives are upside down because of health, disappointment, betrayal of trust, and other disruptions in what we hope for.

It is not easy to be in community when we choose to try to do it alone.

It isn’t always easy, even when we are intimately in community with God through Jesus Christ empowered and revealed through the Holy Spirit.  But it is in that community that it becomes possible against everything of this world that tells us it isn’t.

The community that is the Trinity is a holy mystery.  We can try to explain it, but no explanation can fully grasp the substance of this reality.  We can claim it, illustrate it, reflect it in our relationships with others, but How three persons share the same essence and are one is something we must accept on faith.

As the video played during the scripture lesson this morning we moved away from the earth to the planets of our solar system to the Milky Way and other galaxies.  It is a view comprised of scientific discovery and the imagination of those who created the movie “Contact” in the 1970s.  It provides us with a visual image of the overwhelming majesty of God’s creation and the power it exhibits.  Not actual pictures of actual objects light years away, but a sense of the wonder of it all.

The Creation story doesn’t give us photos of the beginning of the earth and humankind.  No one was there capturing it as a “Kodak moment, ” or transcribing it into their electronic device as an eyewitness.   Genesis 1 does give us a visual image of how the community of creativeness, love, and faithfulness that is the Triune God is the community we are called to be with God, each other, and the world.

It does remind us that we serve an Awesome God who is above everything and everyone in power and majesty.

As we continue this series we will discover in new ways the truth that the presence of God is a constant in the lives of our forebearers in the faith, just as the presence of God is a constant in our own lives, through the good times and the bad.

My hope is we will experience the good news that God-in-Three persons is with us, speaking light, life, love and hope into the murky, jumbled, chaotic mess of the world as we continue through this series.[5]

[1] Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries From Chaos to Community: Creation.
[2] Genesis 1:1-2
[3] Matthew 28:19
[4] David Gland Feasting on the Word, p 31
[5] Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes From Chaos to Community Creation