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Slaves to Righteousness

Genesis 21:8-14;Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11;Matthew 10:28-39


June 28, 2020 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Everyone has a god. For some it is money, for others fame, for others just having a good old time. But the Bible is a book that thinks it has seen the God and once you have seen that, it is impossible to settle for less.

It wrote itself to tell anyone who asked what it saw...when it was and where…how the understanding rose up in the midst of humankind…what else was going on…

In other words…in so many different places…at so many different times…before so many different people…why dose the Good Book think it saw the God?

When the Bible opens in front of us, we are looking for the one true God. We get into the story and come to realize…now…and again that something like that also happened to us…or someone we know…some other day.

We go back and think about it…as we read the Bible story of the day. We see how it might have turned out differently for them …or for us…when that happened.

We skipped reading the story of Abraham taking his son up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac to God just because God asked.

He didn’t want to do it. He had waited for so long to have him. He has been with him such a little time. What is he going to tell Sarah, who has waited so long and been through so much with him?

But he heard the voice of God and he obeyed. It turns out that it was only a test and God tells him at the last minute to stop.

But God knew from that day forward that Abraham listened and heard and obeyed God’s voice. And all people who hear this story understand that God no longer wants a child sacrifice.

His god was not money or fame a good old time. His god was the God that could change the world if only he can find the grace to sit quietly and listen for the Word.

The truth is so much more wonderful than anything we could have planned…simpler and more surprising…once our expectations out of the way and hear it.

It is so hard to do when things are going well, but it’s the only thing you do when we are in trouble. I suspect Abraham faced that truth even more acutely than we have been facing it in this anomaly we are seeking a way through now.

But tragedy is in the eye of the beholder as much as beauty is. Abraham became a great man, the patriarch of three separate faith traditions…because he had great problems and faced them without complaining…in spite of his sorrow.

What Abraham did is what Paul exhorts us to do when he wrote us to keep our eye on the prize of the upward call of Jesus Christ. Paul was another great man…or a man who became great…in the Bible.

Like Abraham, his road was a steep and winding way. But he walked it without complaining or turning back. It was his greatness.

Today he tells us that when we offer ourselves to someone as obedient slaves, we are slaves of the one we obey. That takes me back to my first point that everyone offers themselves to a slave of something…but the challenge…the question we are asked in life…is who is our God? …whose slave will we be?

I think our church answered that question early in this crisis. We had been lucky enough to pay off our mortgage, but with a portion of that amount of money we funded a Special Ministries Reserve Account to reach out in ministry in times of need.

At the same time, our Missions Committee had been doing delightful fundraising events for us throughout the year for many years and they had set aside a sizeable sum.

When the virus became real and we began to shelter in place we didn’t know what the future held. We had never shut down businesses and schools and churches…or overwhelmed our hospitals…in our lifetime or our parents’ lifetimes.Looking into the future came up as blank as it ever had.

So what did we do? We sent support to ACES and Threads, Samaritan House, Sparrow’s Nest, the Food Bank, the laundromat voucher program, Heifer International, and the Mexican mission we have supported for so many years.

Helping someone else is a way to see more clearly what confronts us. We see we are not powerless.We learn that helping others gives us hope for our own selves.

But doubt and fear can find a way into our bravest acts…until we have no choice but to do the right thing…or have found ourselves in a position where all we could do was pray.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a young intellectual when the Czar was having trouble keeping civil order.The Czar became more rigid, arresting people for what they thought…not just what they did.

Dostoyevsky was sentenced to the gulag in Siberia but the train was stopped enroute and he was lined up to be shot. At the last minute … like with Abraham and Isaac…the sentence was commuted back to prison… by order of the Czar.

Having come so close to death, he could see life more clearly and more deeply than any other writer of his day or any day. He wrote about it to his brother:

“Brother, I’m not despondent and I haven’t lost heart. Life is everywhere, life is in us ourselves, not outside. There will be people by my side, and to be a human being among people and to remain one forever, no matter in what circumstances, not to grow despondent and not to lose heart – that is what life is all about, that’s its task. I have come to recognize that…”

We acted courageously early in the pandemic. We continue to act faithfully now. We are a church and we read stories of people who faced terrible circumstances…and lived out a great understanding of life in highly adverse circumstances…and we do the same.

We are in a predicament, to be sure, but we need to honor those who have gone before us and shown us the way…even as we lament our own poor choices.

I have been lucky enough to get to know my grandparents and their stories. Both of my parents were born in houses that didn’t have electricity.

My grandparents could remember days before running water…the first car the family had…and the 1918 influenza pandemic. One day you were fine with that virus, Grandma Hyer told me, and the next day you were dead.

Look at us and all the comforts and conveniences…miracles of their generation…we take for granted.

If the light doesn’t come on when we flip the switch in the morning, we think about calling our Congressman.

If somebody cuts us off in traffic we feel a spike in our adrenalin and want to do something about that. My great grandparents would have had to ask, “What’ traffic?”

We have done so much…and there is so much to do…and we are able to do it…and willing to do it…and we are about to do it.

John Wesley is famous for saying do all the good you can in all the ways you can, and so on. Today, Jesus tells us whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.

Your leaders have seen the challenges we face and have charted a reasonable way through it. This is not the time to say woe is us any more than our grandparents…or the greatest generation…said it.

This is the time to say we have work to do and a way to do it and friends to do it with. The more time and the more ways we can spend doing it, the better the world will be, the better our community will be and the greater we will become…as a people…and as a person.

We are all slaves to something. More than any other generation we have the power to choose whose slave we will be…and there is no kinder, gentler, more loving or more empowering master than righteousness.

So if we are to be slaves…

Let us be slaves to righteousness.

O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.