Friday, June 24, 2011

Proper 8A 11

          From Advent through Trinity Sunday the Bible readings focus our attention on the events of Jesus’ life; each Sunday has a theme. On the Sundays after Trinity we read through various books of the Bible in “course reading.” This summer the Old Testament readings follow Abraham and his descendants through the Passover. The Epistle readings are from the Epistle to the Romans from chapter 6 through chapter 13, and the Gospel readings from St. Matthew chapters 10 through 18.

Today’s readings are about temptation, sin, law and grace, and the rewards of discipleship. In Genesis 22 “God tested Abraham.” Abraham heard what he believed to be a command to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God had called Abraham from Haran, on the border of Turkey and Syria near where now refugees are huddled for fear of the Syrian army. God had promised childless Abraham and his wife Sarah that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky. (The promise was made 3 times – Genesis 15:5, 22:17, 26:4) But Isaac was the only son Abraham and Sarah had.

Sacrificing children was not uncommon among the other peoples of the area. First Kings 16:34 tells us that in the days of King Ahab of Israel Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho and laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub. They were buried alive in the foundations as a sign of the founder’s commitment to the city. In 2 Kings  3:27 we read that the King of Moab sacrificed his first born son as a burnt offering when he was attacked by the combined armies of Israel, Judah, and Moab. And at the Exodus all the first born sons in Egypt died while the angel of death “passed over” the children of Israel.

Killing children abhorrent. But it does happen. It is a major crime, but it was not so to Abraham. Abraham obeyed what he believed to be the God’s call just as he had obeyed God’s call to leave Haran and go to the place God had promised to show him. He came to the mountain God showed him with Isaac carrying the wood for the burnt offering. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son. But then the angel called to Abraham and the ram caught his horns in a thicket. Abraham’s descendants never again sacrificed their children. God never again tempted any one as he tempted Abraham. Abraham’s sacrifice of obedience was sufficient.

Christians see in Abraham’s obedience a foretelling of the obedience of Jesus that resulted in his death on the cross. Because Jesus was the only-begotten Son of God his sacrificial death has ransomed us from the power of sin and death forever. The temptation of Abraham was unique. The sacrifice of Jesus is unique. We offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in union with the saving sacrifice of Jesus.

     The Christians in Rome to whom St. Paul wrote were a mixed community. Some were still observing the 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses; others were gentile “god-fearers” attracted by the moral law but unable to keep the dietary laws or be circumcised; still others had come from a culture where all desires were indulged if there was money to do so. Today’s reading is part of an extended discussion of salvation and sanctification. Salvation is God’s gift to us in Jesus, sanctification is our response to God’s gift of salvation. The verses just before today’s reading are in the Easter Canticle “9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Salvation is death to sin. Sanctification is new life in Jesus Christ.

Most of us most of the time don’t think much about sin. Maybe we should. What chews on us is guilt and shame. From an early age people have an internal sense of right and wrong, some learned from parents and others; some innate. How many of us have heard our children say, “That’s not fair; that’s not right.” The sharp moral sense of a young adolescent is one of God’s gifts to us all. They can see black and white; as we grow older our eyes dim and we see more shades of grey. Our salvation in Jesus Christ offers us freedom from sin and from guilt and shame. Every day offers us the opportunity to repent and to begin again; every day the Holy Spirit of truth offers us opportunity to see truly the will of God; every day the Holy Spirit of power offers us the opportunity to do the will of God. Every evening offers the opportunity to measure our behavior by the plumb line of God’s will, to claim forgiveness in Jesus, sleep well, and begin again.

Finally the Gospel assures us of God’s continuing love and care. John Keble’s hymn, “New every morning”(number 10) sums it up:

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.

If, on our daily course, our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.

Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
As more of heaven in each we see;
Some softening gleam of love and prayer
Shall dawn on every cross and care.

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above,
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.


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