The Kingdom Has Come Near
Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 14, 2020 – 2nd Sunday After Pentecost
It is good to be back together…or a bit closer to being back together. We have all agreed to a long list of conditions to have our reopening plan approved, but we have agreed to them to make this as safe a place as we can be…for everyone.
The world was a dangerous place for Abraham and Sarah, too. They were camped at a famous place in the desert, near the oaks of Mamre. They had no army. There were police they could call if they found themselves in trouble.
So their watchword was hospitality when strangers showed up. Three men could have taken anything they wanted and the best way to respond to the situation was to give them the best they had and make them feel at home.
The story starts by telling us that it was the Lord that had come to visit, but the writer knows how the encounter ended…while Abraham and Sarah did not. It is fair to say that they might have thought their visitors were bandits…or worse… as the story begins.
I am not suggesting that the young calf they prepared for a meal was meant as a ransom exchanged for their safety. But there is that possibility at the outset.
It reminds me of the stories my grandmother told me about the early 1900s out on the prairie. You did not lock your door because someone might come by when you weren’t there in bad need of shelter.
You always had food and left food, because the sojourner might need nourishment as well. After all… one day you might be the traveler in need of shelter and food.
And that is another possibility …that Abraham and Sarah were acting in accordance with the custom of the day…because they might be in need some day, too.
This is also quite like what we have done to prepare our church for worship today. We have made a concerted effort to make it as welcoming…and safe…as it can be under the circumstances.
We have prepared a feast of worship for all who come. Because one day we might be strangers in a strange land in need of an hour to gather our thoughts, get in touch with our feelings, and refresh our souls.
And we know that if we are traveling and it is a Sunday, there will be a church somewhere near us that will welcome us and provide us with the best they have to offer…and it will be enough.
They will be blessed as much as we will, because of the welcome they give, because sometimes people entertain angels unawares.
Indeed, Abraham and Sarah are mightily blessed, well into their old age, by the promise that they will give birth to an heir. Sarah laughs at this promise and is called to account for it, but their child comes and continues their line beyond their the arc of their years on earth.
We have just celebrated Trinity Sunday, I note, and here we have the Lord God appearing as travelers in the desert…three travelers, we are told. So another appearance of the Trinity commends itself to us today.
The Kingdom came near and new life entered into the story of an old couple in a way they could not have expected…in a way they had trouble believing…but there it was…and is.
Because of their hospitality they were blessed beyond their hopes, and so it is with us each Sunday. We are blessed with our hour of worship as much as we bless our Creator…Redeemer…Sustainer… more than we can bless them.
And that is the nature of a blessing. We cannot give what we do not have, and when we give it, we receive it.
In the Merchant of Venice, Portia pleads for mercy for Antonio, and her plea sounds a bit like the place our story takes us to this day:
The quality of mercy is not strained,” she reminds Shylock.
“It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes./'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes/The thronèd monarch better than his crown.”
Our mercy blesses us as much as those we give it to, freely. Our bitterness can come back to bite us as painfully as it can bite anyone else. Our meanness can inspire meanness in others as well.
We are going through a difficult time…we are all going through it. In fact we are going through three crises at once. The coronavirus presents the first, its impact on our economy presents the second, and now the death of a man at the hands of the police has thrust us into a quest for justice and peace.
It is a time filled with pain for all of us all around and the demands for justice are mixed with demands for vengeance. Great crowds have gathered to protest…but passion sometimes makes us blind and we make our situation worse.
The protests summon up our anger… while the gatherings give us all a reason to be concerned that a new spike of coronavirus infections will once again overwhelm our health care system …causing a second round of shutdowns… deepening our economic problems…and on and on it goes.
While I was watching protests this week and hearing other reports of brutality by law enforcement officers, I found myself in a surreal situation.
Amanda and Ollie were coming back from a visit to Billings and I had to call them to tell them to take the other way around the lake because Highway 35 was blocked off. A high speed chase in pursuit of a man who had just killed a woman put all nearby in peril.
Six police cars and at least one helicopter were involved, and I didn’t want them to wander unknowing into danger.
Two days later I read in the newspaper that the chase had ended in a shootout, and the man who created the reason for the chase and started the shooting was dead.
But I read on…and learned that one of the deputies involved in the shootout was the son of another law enforcement officer…who had died in a shootout with a suspect in a case in 1978…42 years before.
The deputy must have been a young man…maybe even a boy…back then. All of that must have washed over him on the highway south of Woods Bay last Tuesday when the shooting was over.
I put down my newspaper and turned the television back on. I watched the news that hour with my heart sad and my head spinning.
Who can deliver us from this spiral of anger and violence? Who is it who can save us from…ourselves?
A couple of possibilities occur to me. The virus may become so virulent that we are finally shocked to our senses. Violence could escalate to a point that we are shocked to our senses…humbled before God.
Neither of those possibilities will do us much good. Both of them will create more harm. There is another way out. It is the only way out. We will get there some way…some day…the sooner the better.
You have heard me say before that it seems to me that I do my best thinking when I have no good choices and have to try to pick the least bad alternative.
That is when I pause and sit apart from my situation and look at myself and honestly wonder what I will do. I become detached, like I am watching a movie of my life. I am no longer the only one in it…I am just an extra in a little story in a big, big world.
Then I can wonder what the right thing is. We are in one of those moments…as a nation…now. God knows how we got here. Only God knows how we might find our way.
We need to listen to each other… to hear each other. We need to listen to our own hearts and hear the still small voice that can love us back together…back to hope.
It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. We read those words today.
We also read that God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. A bad person did not die for a good world that day. A good person died for sinners…even sinners like us… even a sinner like me.
We all come to earth to die. In the midst of life we are in death, we read in the Book of Common Prayer. But while we are here, let us go forth to live…doing the best we can. May we do it, as a song says, pretty up and walking good.
There is a lot of good to be done in this world…and good people can do a lot of it…mediocre people can do much of it, too…and even bad people can do good if they turn their hearts to it…like Paul.
Sometimes they don’t even have to turn their hearts to it…like Jonah. We cannot escape the call that God has sent us with whispers in the streets…and shouts in our prayers … and crying in the night.
If we cannot do it…if we will not do it…who will? If people who love the Lord cannot not rush out to meet angels in disguise and prepare a young calf and some bread for them…who can?
The harvest the Lord has prepared for us is great indeed this year… and the workers are so very few. It still is as it was back in the days the Lord walked the lakeshore…looking for someone to help him with his work.
That is why he picked disciples to help him with the work. He did not choose the rich and famous…only the poor…and even some who were despised
He did not send them to the rich and powerful people of that day. He sent them to the alienated, the oppressed… to those who had no one to turn to but the Lord their God.
The kingdom of heaven has come near to us in this season. We all have the power to do some little thing…maybe a big thing …maybe because of who we are…maybe in spite of who we are.
So let us heal the sick, raise the dead and throw out demons…and let us begin with our own selves … our hurts…our own demons…our own community… our own nation. America needs us now…as much as we need her.
Let us do it simply because there is nothing else we can do…there are only difficult choices before us… let us ponder and pray…for our neighbor’s salvation…and our own …giving what we can without demanding any payment in return.
Winston Churchill said, “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing…once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”
Are we there yet?
The kingdom has come near.
Are we there yet?
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.