Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 18, Proper 6, Guest Sermon by our Seminarian Jabe Ziino

Links to Scripture Lessons:

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God makes a promise, and Sarah laughs.
What will be your response, when God shows up uninvited to your house, tonight, for dinner? Or, I should say, when three random guys show up tonight, hungry and unwashed, and make an outrageous promise to you?

There’s a common idea that belief, faith in God, has gotten more difficult in recent years. Our expanding scientific knowledge sometimes seems to contradict what’s in the Bible. Who needs to have faith when we can know everything for certain?
IN our neighborhoods We value peaceful diversity of belief, living alongside people who have beliefs quite different from our own.
But this is not an easy goal to accomplish.
Another person’s belief can challenge our own, asking us to question our assumptions, and sometimes our faith.
These are real challenges.

So we often accept the idea that way back in the day, before things got so complicated, before we acquired all this sophistication and intelligence, faith in God was just easier. People were more simple-minded.

But in our reading from Genesis, we see that belief in God was not easy thousands of years ago, even for uneducated nomads in the Palestinian desert, the parents of our faith Abraham and Sarah.
God makes a promise to Sarah. And it is so hard to believe, that she laughs!!
I don’t think this is because she is a scoffing kind of a person.
Probably she is practical. She is a realist. Understandably she may be somewhat bitter and skeptical of promises and hope.
Her entire life she has hoped for a child.
She lives in a society in which a woman’s chief honor and duty is to bear children, and she has failed to do that.  
And now she is 90 years old. She spent her life traveling with her husband, herding animals hundreds of miles across the desert, under the burning sun and through the cold night, living in a tent. I wonder what she looked like.
They were prosperous. But by our standards today, they had a hard life. And after 90 years, Sarah’s been disappointed a lot. She’s wanted nothing more than to have her own child.
But at least she finally knows what to expect out of life. Sarah knows who she is, she knows what her skills are, and what her skills are not. She is resigned to reality.
Her life has been hard. But at least she’s found some comfort in knowing what to expect from herself and from life.

And then one day, three strangers come to her tent.
And they have a message not for the man Abraham, but for Sarah.
“Sarah, 90 years old, childless, you who could never be the kind of person your husband, your society wanted you to be-- you shall have a son.”

The promise is ridiculous. And Sarah laughs to herself.
“After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”
But when offered this pleasure, she can’t accept it.
It’s ridiculous. It can’t be true. Not for me.

God’s promise contradicts everything Sarah knows about the world, and about herself.
And God asks her to let it all go.

It is no wonder that she laughs, and then she is afraid, when she realizes the pleasure God is calling her to. God is asking her to forget who she is, and to start a new life.

God’s promise asks Sarah to step into darkness and nothingness.


Why does God appear in this strange manner, or maybe I should say, in such an ordinary manner? If God only wanted to deliver the message to Sarah as efficiently as possible, maximizing everyone’s productivity, then why didn’t God show up as a burning bush or with a multitude of angels?

Instead, God appears as three human strangers. They eat, and drink, they are dirty and need to wash up just like everyone else. It is only after Sarah laughs to herself at their message, that they reveal they know her innermost thoughts and thus reveal their divinity.
So she stops laughing and is afraid, she tries to take back her thoughts, but God calls her out. Embarrassed in front of the master of the Universe.

Now if God had shown up in a blaze of glory and brilliance, surely this awkwardness could have been avoided. Sarah would not have laughed-- she would have fallen down, blinded by God’s majesty, and received the message with awe and terror.

But is that really the best way to send a message? Is that the way we learn best? By being shouted and scared into submission?

As painful as it is, the best way to learn to be careful around fire, is to touch a hot stove and be burned!

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, encourages us to boast and celebrate in our sufferings.

knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because of the love we have been given.

Suffering produces endurance. Through the trials, the pains, the weights we carry in this life, we learn patience and endurance.
Endurance produces character. The word translated “character” here, is δοκιμη (dokime) in Paul’s Greek, which could literally be translated “testing,” or “the character of one who has been tested.”
So endurance helps us through δοκιμη, through testing. And our character is formed through our testing.

And testing produces hope.
Paul doesn’t say that victory or triumph over your test produces hope.
It’s not passing the test, getting an A, that produces hope.

Sarah had plenty of suffering. And her suffering produced great endurance. And her endurance produced testing, when God visited her. Her process of testing was frightening. and embarrassing. She didn’t pass the test; God didn’t give her a grade at the end. But Sarah passed through the test, and her testing produced character and hope.

Despite the fact that we make mistakes and often fail our tests.
Something happens in the process of testing, that produces hope.

(Don’t tell the New York Department of Education that testing produces hope.)

Anytime we go through a test, we put something at stake. We make ourselves vulnerable.
We are ready to learn something that we didn’t know before.
And we might lose something dear to us.

And when we make ourselves truly vulnerable, ready to let go of everything we hold on to, we have faith.
Faith is the secret strength in vulnerability.
Faith that despite the darkness and the many losses-- we are created and saved in a true love that cannot be lost.

As our brother Paul reminds us, we are not made righteous by winning, by passing the test. This is not a human test with right answers and wrong answers.

We are made righteous by faith.
We are tested so that we can learn ourselves in hope, and become ourselves in the process.

Physicists who study the nature of matter, quantum mechanics, identify in the tiniest particles a strange property, called quantum superposition. I’m not an expert, but I understand the essential idea to be, that a tiny particle like an electron cannot be described as occupying a single position or a single path, the way large objects do, the way this glass or this microphone exists here in this one location, until it moves along a single path to another location.

Rather, the electron exists as a composite of all the possible paths or positions it might take. It’s not just that we don’t know where the electron is, but that truly the election does not have a single position or path.
It is only when human observers test this electron, that it collapses from occupying all those possible states, and takes a single path to a single destination.

This is in contrast with the classical Newtonian view of matter, that if we know enough about an object right now, we can predict with certainty its future state.
Quantum physicists says, No. Until we actually test a particle, the best we can know is its possibilities.

It seems that God has built into the very fabric of our world, the reality that the process of being tested, makes us who we are.

As we learn from our Gospel reading, God has compassion for us. God sees we are like sheep without a shepherd. We are a full and ready harvest with few laborers to gather us.
So God, having compassion, sends to us those who can heal, cure our diseases, cast out demons, and bring the dead back to life. God sends to us those who proclaim the good news, “The Kingdom of heaven has come near.” And God also sends us to do all these things.

In compassion, God has visited us, more than once!
God came to visit Sarah and Abraham, and ate their food and washed up under the tree outside their tent.
God came to us again, to our towns, looking for welcoming hearts, and God gave us food and drink and washed our feet.
And God has promised to come again to visit us, and God us making us into who we are.

Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
And has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father

Unto him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen.

No comments: