Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, August 17, 2014: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 45:1-15  +  Psalm 133  +  Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32  +  Matthew 15:10-28

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A protester in the middle of a smoke bomb in Ferguson. Credit David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via Associated Press

Well, to begin, let me just say that there is so much going on in the passages we’ve just heard that there is no way to do justice to all of the many themes and theologies at work here. That’s true every Sunday, and it’s especially true this Sunday due to the fact that in addition to a story of reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, in addition to a meditation on God’s faithfulness to God’s promises in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in addition to Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman seeking healing for her daughter, we are also dealing with the texts that come to us from the front lines of history. Depending on how you use technology, this may be literally true for you as it is for me, since I get text messages from the New York Times whenever they push a breaking story alert. So I woke up this morning with texts telling me that while I was sleeping, law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri used a combination of smoke and tear gas to disperse demonstrators whose protests over the killing of teenager Michael Brown last weekend broke the newly imposed curfew.

Given that we’ve been intentionally following the stories from Genesis all summer long, and that we’re midway through a cycle of stories centered on Joseph, the dreamer, I’d thought there might be a way to frame what is happening in the world around us through the lens of Joseph’s estrangement from his family, who sold him into slavery but ended up at his mercy when famine struck and their own food stores were depleted.  Listening to Joseph’s reunion with his brothers, I was moved by the depth of emotion that Genesis conveys. “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it…” (Gen. 45:1-2)

Don’t you just feel like weeping?  

The image of a family divided by its own violent past, of brothers brought to the brink of ruin by their mistrust of one another, of the desire to be reunited almost perfectly balanced with the desire to be right, and vindicated. Joseph and his brothers — will they ever get over their tragic past, or will it define them for the rest of their lives?

_76259254_76257635Where to even begin? Is it Israelis and Palestinians struggling the share the same land, suffering the deadly effects of generations of violence that have made it almost impossible to maintain a ceasefire for a mere 72 hours?  Is it ISIS forces driving tens of thousands of Yazidis into the mountains of northern Iraq? Is it children and parents sitting in detention facilities in Texas and all along the border, awaiting deportation to places suffering famines of opportunity and failures at peace? Is it yet another young black man shot down in the streets, this time Ferguson, Missouri; last time in Sanford, Florida; and before that Queens, New York; Oakland, California; Staten Island, and the list goes on.

Don’t you just feel like weeping?

Joseph sends everyone away so that he can reveal himself to his brothers and they can be reconciled, but for all the tears and all the falling into one another’s arms, the reason I can’t stay with this story from Genesis on this morning has to do with the words that follow.  Joseph says,

“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … God send me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, to keep you alive for many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God…” (Gen. 45:4b-5,7-8a)

The author of this story in Genesis is sharing a story from the past with an audience caught in the grip of yet another period of captivity, not in Egypt but in Babylon. To those people, suffering a humiliating defeat by a foreign power, the voice of God speaks through scripture to reassure them that God is still present, even where the suffering of God’s people is most intense, and that God can still bring life and healing and reconciliation to the most desperate of circumstances.

That’s a message we need to hear and to remember, but I just can’t lift this story up as a template for understanding the moment in which we’re living.  Joseph may be able to say, “do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here…” but we do not get to let ourselves off the hook quite so easily.

In the gospel story from Matthew Jesus speaks with a candor that seems perfectly suited to our situation.  He says,

Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles … Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. (Matt. 15:10b-11,17-18)

What Jesus says angers the Pharisees and confuses the disciples, because what he’s saying is that we’re not made clean or kept clean by keeping the laws set up to separate us from what is regarded as filthy in this world.  He’s speaking narrowly about dietary restrictions here, since food laws were an important part of the religious customs of the community, but it quickly becomes apparent that this conversation about purity is about people as well.

Jesus leaves that place and heads to Tyre and Sidon, a district filled with people regarded as unclean because of their ethnic background, because of their proximity to Gentiles, because of their worship practices and a variety of other reasons. There were lots of reasons why these people weren’t well regarded, but a lot of it boils down to the fact that they were different. Jesus’ presence draws a woman whose daughter is oppressed by evil forces, and this woman begs for Jesus to help her.

At first Jesus keeps silent. Then his disciples ask him to get rid of her. Finally Jesus responds, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus implies that this new world, the reign of God of which he has been speaking, God’s in breaking reality, is only for some people, only for God’s elect, only for a few.

But this mother is not easily deterred. She kneels before Jesus just as the leper who sought healing knelt before him after he preached his sermon on the mountain, just as a ruler had come kneeling before Jesus pleading for his daughter.  She kneels as a sign that she recognizes God’s authority at work in him, but she persists in pleading for her child.

Next Jesus says something so ugly we can barely recognize him.  He says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:26)  There are so many explanations that have been offered that try to make sense of Jesus’ harsh words to a woman so clearly in need, and no one interpretation can say everything.  I’ll tell you what I think.  I think the writer of Matthew’s gospel is intentionally trying to shock us with a visceral dramatization of the principle Jesus has just presented in his teaching about what defiles.  

Under the law, under the cultural norms and expectations of his time, Jesus is perfectly justified in narrowing the focus of his concern to his own people, who he calls the “lost sheep of Israel.”  It’s like those who say we have to attend to our own house before we go messing around in other people’s affairs.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it reinforces false distinctions between “us” and “them.” Those false distinctions lead to jealousy, violence, enmity and war. They lead to slurs and racial stereotypes. They lead to religious crusades and ethnic cleansing. They lead to abuses of power and violence in our streets.  They lead to Joseph and his brothers weeping over the great distance between them and the tragedies of their past.

It’s a short walk from “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” which is why Jesus has just taught, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”

Then comes the miracle.  In fact, I would say that there is not one miracle in this story, but two.  The first miracle is less visible, but perhaps more significant.  In the face of rejection and humiliation, this Canaanite woman finds the strength to stay engaged in the struggle for healing and liberation.  She does not accept the label she is given, instead she uses it to redirect the conversation toward an even deeper reality.  She says, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And we’re reminded that after feeding the five thousand, there were still leftovers.

This Canaanite woman, who has called Jesus “Lord” and “Son of David” knows that in God’s economy there is always enough for everyone, but she also knows that religious folk and people with power sometimes need to be reminded to practice what they preach. So she persists in the face of discrimination, and I think that is the first miracle.

This Caananite woman could be anyone.  She could be the mother in Gaza or in Israel calling for an end to violence and a lasting peace so that her child can be released from the torment of growing up with one eye always toward the sky.  She could be the mother waiting with her children to be sent back to a life of violence and hunger when just beyond the walls of her detention center there are tables overflowing with food, and plenty of scraps and more to be shared. 9720539-largeShe could be the mother marching in the streets, scrubbing blood off the sidewalk, weeping for her son.  She could be your neighbor here in Logan Square, fighting for an affordable apartment in a zip code where condos sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, wondering if there isn’t still a crumb to be shared with her family as well.

Whoever she is, whoever he is, whoever they are, they’re pushing back against the conventional wisdom that says “me first” or “take care of your own” or “blood before water” or “to each their own” or “I got mine, you get yours” or “not in my backyard” or “not my problem.” They’re pushing back against easy religion that says that all you have to do is eat the right food, or wear the right clothes, or pray the right prayers, and they’re demanding that someone do something to create a future different from our past. To free our children from the demons that torment them.

In the face of a miracle of resistance, Jesus says “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”  Then comes the second miracle, and her child is finally healed.

Sisters and brothers, we have been estranged from our own families for far too long — for some of you, like Joseph, it is literally members of your immediate family with whom you can no longer speak, but for all of us it is estrangement from members of the human family into which we were born, invisible bonds made clearer by our baptisms that tie us not only to those who share our faith, but to those who challenge it.

As we come forward this morning with prayers for healing, I encourage you to be bold. Pray for a miracle, that you and the whole world around you might find the strength to persist in the face of silence and complacency.  With faith in the God who made us, and is always making us whole. Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, July 13, 2014: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 25:19-34  +  Psalm 119:105-112  +  Romans 8:1-11  +  Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

As we continue to work our way through the book of Genesis this summer, this morning’s tale begins with rather ominous words. We left off last week with Abraham’s servant being sent to find a wife for his son, Isaac. This week that wife, Rebekah, is pregnant — but it’s not an easy pregnancy. Genesis says, “The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘if it is to be this way, why do I live?’” (Gen. 25:22)

Suffering, and searching for answers, Rebekah turns to God in prayer. What she hears in response is hardly comforting however. God says,

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)

ShowImage.ashxAfter a week like this past one, every preacherly instinct in me wants to stop right there and share with you my heartbreak over all the places in the world where two nations have been so deeply divided that lives are being lost like water being poured out over sand. In Israel and Gaza, where tensions have been rising again since the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, bombs dropped by the Israeli Defense Forces over the last five days have injured over 850 Palestinians and killed at least 148, 70% of whom were civilians, many of them children.

Here in the United States we have been watching conflicts along our own southern border worsen, as children from points across Central America make their way north, fleeing poverty and gang violence that are due in no small part to U.S. drug policy both at home and abroad. With President Obama calling for billions of dollars of emergency funds to help speed up deportations of these children, and angry Americans staging protests and blockading busses filled with detained children, things will likely get worse before they get any better.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided,” says God to Rebekah, reminding us that one of the functions of these stories from Genesis was to explain to the nation of Israel how it was related to neighboring peoples, and how those relationships fell apart. With people of every land and every age, we are left wondering the same thing.

The story continues with Rebekah giving birth to her twins, first to Esau, then Jacob. Jacob, the younger comes into the world grabbing at his elder brother’s heel, seeking to trip him up from the very beginning. Each boy is the favorite of one of his parents: Esau, a hunter and outdoorsman, is his father’s favorite; while Jacob, a quiet man who stayed close to home, has his mother’s favor. In a society in which power and inheritance flowed from father to son, it’s easy to see that Esau is being presented as the model of a man’s man. Furthermore, this family’s story has been dominated by the desire to establish a lineage that would fulfill God’s promise to make of them a great nation. Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, seems like just the man to carry the family name forward.

But that isn’t what happens. Instead the story goes that one day, after coming in from the field, a hungry Esau asks for a bowl of the stew Jacob had been cooking. We’re told that Esau was famished, but not starving. There is no famine in the land yet (though one is coming). Esau’s life is not in danger. He’s a skilled huntsman who could have caught his own meal if things were that bad. When Jacob holds back the bowl of lentils, demanding Esau’s birthright, it’s hard to imagine that his athletic, older brother couldn’t have simply taken it from him, as older brothers are often want to do. So when Esau says, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” I think we’re intended to hear his statement as hyperbole. These are brothers playing games with one another and, like so many family games, this one reveals the dynamics just under the surface.

Jacob wants his older brother’s birthright. You can imagine his resentment at being relegated to second place, coming into the world only minutes after Esau. He knows his father’s story, his grandfather’s story, his legacy and his family’s promised future. Those things matter to him. He wants to play a great part in their saga. Esau, on the other hand, seems indifferent to his inheritance, perhaps in the way that only the entitled can feel. It is his, he assumes forever, so it treats it lightly. He makes oaths he has no intention of keeping. He lives his life in the moment, assuming that what he needs will be provided for him.

These family dynamics are all too familiar, aren’t they? I suspect that if I asked you to turn to your neighbor — which I’m not going to do, but I keep bringing it up, so I think it may just happen some day, but not today.  I’m just warning you so that you’ll be prepared — I suspect that if I asked you to turn to your neighbor and share a story from your own family about sibling rivalries, or parents who played favorites and how that turned out, many of you would have stories to tell. Stories that have shaped how you see yourself in relation to the rest of your family. Stories that have formed you into the person you are today, even when your family is not around.

This particular story from Genesis doesn’t seem to condemn Jacob or Esau, Isaac or Rebekah, it simply describes them. It foreshadows events to come, when this family dynamic will play out once again as Jacob and his mother conspire to steal Esau’s blessing from Isaac as the head of the house lays upon his deathbed. But here we are presented with a snapshot, the kind of story members of a family might tell years later when they look back, trying to understand when it all began to fall apart.

sower_lmauldindsc_0775-760x800In the gospel reading for this morning we get the story of a very different kind of outdoorsman than Esau the hunter. Here Jesus shares a parable about a sower who goes out to plant his seeds, casting them rather indiscriminately onto the path, over rocky ground, among thorn bushes, and into good soil. Predictably, not all the seeds flourish. The seeds that fell on the path got eaten up by birds. The seed that fell on rocky ground grew fast and died fast, since it had weak roots. The seed that grew among the thorns got choked out. Only the seed that fell on good soil produced a harvest — but, oh, what a harvest! Enough grain to feed a multitude.

Jesus then explains his parable to those who’ve been following him. The seed is not God’s favor, nor God’s love. God may be like a parent, but in this story God is not picking favorites. Instead, the seed is “the word of the kingdom” or “the good news of the reign of God.” When that good news is announced, but we are unable to receive it, or can’t understand it, it does not take root. I suppose this could happen for any number of reasons. It may be that we are so preconditioned to look for another kind of kingdom, another kind of reign, that we can barely acknowledge our hope that the world as it is could be anything other than how we’ve always experienced it. The very idea is incomprehensible.

Then there is the the seed that falls on rocky ground. Quickly the plant shoots up, but just as quickly it withers. Jesus compares rocky ground to the person who is overjoyed to hear the proclamation of the gospel, who always knew that God meant the world to be different than this, who has longed to see God’s reign break through into present space and present time, here and now, but lacks that depth to sustain that hope when times get rough. Perhaps they’ve been waiting for a savior who would set the world aright without any call to conversion, without any demand of discipleship, without any cost. Or maybe they were longing for their own liberation, but less interested in the plight of their neighbor. Whatever the case, they are not able to sustain the life of faith, and so it withers before it can bloom.

Jesus describes a third maladaptive environment for the seed’s growth in our lives, when it falls among thorns. This, he says, “is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matt. 13:22). Rather than greeting the news of God’s reign with joy, this person rightly understands that the kingdom of God is not the kingdom of this world, and that those who benefit from things as they are will likely lose much that they’ve grown to love before they taste the sweetness of the life God intends for us. On balance they are happier with things as they are, even as they suspect that their own wealth bears a cost that others pay.

I suspect Esau was in this third category. He was an inheritor of the promises of God, but he knew that his gain came at his brother’s loss, and that inequality grew to choke the love out of their relationship until the chasm that separated them was as high as any wall and as wide as any river. There they were, two brothers, born from the same parents, created out of the same love, yet divided like nations fighting over a blessing big enough for them both.

And where is God in all of this? Where is God when siblings battle over their parents’ love? Where is God when children leave their families behind to seek safety and a future? Where is God when children are kidnapped and killed, when bombs fall from the sky on the guilty and the innocent alike?

God is like a sower, with an infinite supply of seed, not rationing it out, not apportioning it only to those who have lived lives free from condemnation, not picking favorites, but casting it profligately, carelessly, over all kinds of ground, over all kinds of people, knowing that in the beginning these earthlings, formed from the dust of the ground, bearing the breath of God in their lungs, were gazed upon and called good. Knowing that each of us, in season, will be good soil again. And on that day, the seed will take root and grow into a harvest great enough to feed and bless all our brothers and sisters, of every land and nation, until our checkpoints and our border patrols fall and we are all sitting at the family dinner table again at last.

Praying for that day. Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, July 6, 2014: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67  +  Psalm 45:10-17  +  Romans 7:15-25a  +  Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Illegal-Kids-Cross-US-BorderAn unknown man walks into your hometown and offers to take you away from your family, away from your country, to another land and another group of people. He discusses the offer with your parents, who seem willing to let you go but are willing to leave the decision to you. As you consider the possible futures that lay before you, you parents ask you “will you go with this man?” And, perhaps to your surprise, you hear yourself saying, “I will.”

What would have to be going on in your life, in your world, for such an offer from an unknown person to seem like the wiser course of action? What would it take for you to leave all that you have ever known and set out for a new nation, placing your life in someone else’s hands?

That is the essence of the story we hear from Genesis this morning. Having been tried and tested throughout his long life, Father Abraham has buried his wife, Sarah, and is nearing death. All that God had promised him has come to pass. Called to leave their own homeland behind, Abraham and Sarah have come into the land that was promised to them; they have borne a child, Isaac, against all odds; and now all that remains is for Abraham to be sure that Isaac has a wife so that their family line can continue and God’s promise to make them progenitors of a vast people more numerous than the stars in the sky can be fulfilled.

Having built a new life for himself in this new land, Abraham does not want to return to Haran, the land of his birth, to find Isaac a wife — and he doesn’t want Isaac to return there either. What would be the point of all that they’d sacrificed, all that they’d risked, if their son simply returned to the place they’d come from? At the same time, Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to marry one of the women in Canaan where they have made their home. Like many a first generation immigrant, Abraham is caught between identifying with the land of his birth, and the place he and his wife had come to call home.

So Abraham, who has slowly, finally, come to understand that God’s promises will be kept in God’s time, does what he has learned to do. He makes a plan and takes action, charging his chief servant to return to their homeland to find a wife for Isaac, but allowing that things may or may not turn out as planned. As Abraham sends his servant off on this mission he says,

“See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” (Gen. 24:7-8)

There’s something interesting about this story, something that makes it more approachable to ordinary people like you and me: God doesn’t speak. Over the long course of their relationship, God has spoken to Abraham, guiding and directing him. Now, nearing the end of his life, Abraham takes action without knowing precisely what God expects or desires. Standing at the threshold between life and death, having achieved great things but knowing that the future remains uncertain, Abraham does not hear a voice from God instructing him in what to do. Instead, he exercises discernment. He makes a choice, one that is obviously colored by his own experience, perhaps even his own prejudices, but one that also creates an opportunity for a future for his family.

This theme is repeated throughout this story. The servant whom Abraham sent back to Haran comes to a well, and there he offers a prayer, a plea for God’s assistance. He says,

“Oh LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.” (Gen. 24:12-14)

Faced with a difficult challenge, Abraham’s servant turns to God in prayer and shows signs of discernment. His criteria may, initially, seem odd — a woman who will offer him a drink and water his camels — it’s not the sort of thing we might post in our own online profiles, but it shows that he is looking for a woman who demonstrates evidence of kindness, generosity and hospitality to strangers. These would be markers of a faithful woman who heeded God’s call to show hospitality to strangers, as Abraham and Sarah did when God came to them by the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18) to announce that they would have a son.

When just such a woman does show up in the form of Rebekah, whose gracious hospitality is almost comic in proportions as she fetches water for not only the servant but his ten thirsty camels as well, God still does not speak. Instead the scriptures say that Abraham’s servant “gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful” (Gen. 24:21). Like us, this servant of the LORD relies on prayer and then makes the best decision he can, trusting God to be faithful to God’s promises.

Having done his part, the final discernment is left to Rebekah, a woman whom the author of Genesis goes to great lengths to compare to Abraham himself. Like him, she is called out of their shared homeland, called to leave family and nation behind. Like him she offers hospitality to a stranger, in fulfillment of God’s commands. Like him she is offered a blessing that anticipates the she will become the mother of nations who will inherit a land of their own (Gen. 24:60). But all these things rest on her own decision, freely made, to step into this new reality, which she does — not because she hears the voice of God, but because she discerns something in the servant’s story that rings true, and leads her to step forward in faith.

“Faith,” said Martin Luther, “is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. That is what Abraham finally shows here at the end of his long life. No longer trying to force God’s hand with attempts to engineer his own future by means of his slave, Eliezer, or through his wife’s slave, Hagar; Abraham’s penultimate action is to chart a course forward that demonstrates a living, daring confidence that God will be whom God has been. It is living because it is happening in the present, influencing decision being made in real-time. It is daring because there is something of real value being risked — his family’s future.

This story about the passing of generations has so much to say to us, here, today.  As Abraham and Sarah give way to Isaac and Rebekah, we see how in each generation God’s call sounds remarkably similar, inviting us to leave the security of what we have known behind and to be willing to make big decisions, in the present, risking all that has been hard won, to ensure a future for our families.

Immigration Overload Hot SpotWe see it being played out on the border of our country every day, as young women and men leave their homes in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Mexico to create a new life for themselves in the United States, where others have gone before them fleeing the violence of their homelands. Perhaps no voice other than their own internal wisdom guiding them to step out in faith, with the living, daring confidence that God will guard and guide them to a better life than the one they’ve known.

We are living this faith right here in our own congregation, as the strategic listening team goes out like Abraham’s servant to watch and to listen for signs in the stories each of us is sharing about how this congregation offers welcome in the form of food and water, at the table and the font, and as we feed our neighbors knowing that when we welcome strangers into our homes we welcome God as well. We have received a great inheritance from those who have gone before us. Still, we know that in every generation we are called to demonstrate a living, daring faith in the grace of God — a faith that calls for discernment and decisions in the present moment that involve real risk.

You, too, are facing these decisions in your own lives. Whether you are young or you are old, whether you are raising children or burying spouses, you — like Abraham and Sarah, like Rebekah and Isaac — are living your lives by faith. Grounded in prayer, shaped by a tradition that has formed you for lives of kindness, generosity and hospitality, you meet the challenges of each day listening for the voice of God in the world and in your life. More often than not, however, you are required to exercise what wisdom you have gained by watching and listening for signs of God’s movement in the world without anything so clear as a voice from above.

What allows you to do this? I believe it is confidence in God’s grace. The apostle Paul, plagued by his own fears that his best choices were corruptible, and his own worst inclinations ever-present, nevertheless shows the same living, daring confidence in the grace of God that we see in Abraham, his servant, and Rebekah. He writes, “wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 6:24)

It is this grace that makes light the burdens of the decisions we are called to make each and every day. Like Abraham and Rebekah we are making decisions that will shape the course of our lives, and of the lives of generations to come. Rather than causing us to be timid, the grace of God calls us to be bold — not placing our trust in our own discernment, but in the power of God to work in us and through us for the healing of the nations and the entire world. Or, to quote Luther again,

“God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [sin boldly!], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however … are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”

Knowing, then, that God is at work in every generation, in me and in you, calling us to leave behind all that we’ve known to forge a new family, created by water shared and promises made, we are faced with the same question posed to Rebekah: “Will you follow this man?”

Amen.

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