Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 8

Free to make choices

In the back of the Book of Common Prayer
there is a section titled “An Outline of Faith”
commonly called the Catechism.

It’s a section we don’t refer to very often
except during confirmation classes
or perhaps when our minds are wandering during worship
and we let our fingers do the walking through the nearest book at hand.

But in truth, the Catechism is an excellent place to go
when we are struggling with our faith
or as was my case this week,
struggling with a passage of scripture.

I will be honest and tell you that today’s reading in Genesis,
the story of Abraham going out to sacrifice—
to kill—his son Issac--
is a troubling one.

I have had more than one phone call
and multiple emails
from my clergy colleagues asking,
How are you going to preach about this!!???

This scripture is disturbing.
A father takes his son
and plans to kill him
because the father says that is what God is telling him to do.

If we read that in the NY Times instead of the Bible
we’d be right in line with everyone else to say
This Abraham fellow is nuts!
God does not tell us to go and kill our children.
Abraham needs to get some help!

Yet that is what we have in Genesis.
This passage of scripture disturbs me because I don’t think
we need any encouragement
to abuse children.
Far too much of that is already happening in our world today

And that is why I bring up the Catechism.

The very first section (you can turn to it on page 845 if you like)--
the very first section of the Catechism is about Human Nature.
Not about God.
Not about Jesus.
Not about the Holy Spirit.

But about Human Nature.
About us.

It affirms that we are part of God’s creation.
It affirms that we are all made in the image of God.
Those two things affirm that each and every one of us
is full of infinite possibility
to do wonderful things in this world.

The third thing affirmed in this section of the Catechism
is that we are free to make choices.
We are not puppets.
God does not pull our strings to make us do this or do that.
We are free to make choices.
As Episcopalians we do not believe
that we are just walking through a plan that has been mapped out for our lives.

We are free to make choices: to love or to hate,
to create or destroy,
to reason or to be unreasonable,
to live in harmony
or to create chaos in everything we touch.

We are free to make choices.
Each and every one of us.
Every day.

And the choices we make
powerfully affect our own life and the lives of others.

We are free to make a choice
on the tone of voice we use when we speak to others.
We are free to make a choice
on how we parent or grandparent.
We are free to make a choice
in taking time to pray or not.
We are free to make a choice
to tell the truth or to lie.
We are free to make a choice
to gossip behind people’s backs
or to cut that conversation off
as soon as it begins.
We are free to make choices.

And sometimes, my friends,
we make very, very good choices.
And sometimes, my friends,
we make very, very bad choices.

We tend to want to blame God
or somebody else for everything that doesn’t work to our benefit.
Someone very wise once said to me,
Remember, when you point your finger at someone,
There are three fingers pointing back at you.

In life there are some things that are not choices.
We don’t choose to be born into a family that is dysfunctional.
We don’t choose to have a certain disease.
We don’t choose to be hurt by prejudice or oppression.
But we do choose how we react and how we respond
to the myriad of situations
life brings our way.

Free to make choices.

Abraham believes God is testing him.
I think Abraham fails the test miserably.

God tells him to go and sacrifice his son Issac.
Abraham has a choice: he can say NO.
He can argue with God about sacrificing Issac
just as he argued with God a few chapters before
to save the righteous men amongst the Sodomites.

Yes, human sacrifice was part of the culture of that time.
But God has brought a new way, a new respect for life.
Abraham fails the test.
Abraham had the choice to say,
I will not do that.
My God does not ask for such a sacrifice.

I believe the answer God wants Abraham to offer is NO.
I will not sacrifice this gift you have given to Sarah and me.
I will not kill this child I love, this child you love.

But Abraham fails the test.
Abraham goes blindly to OBEY
yet God is calling for so much more.
God is calling Abraham to be guided by love—not obedience.

Yes, we are called to be obedient to God—
but we are also given the gift of reason
and killing a child is not reasonable.
It is not right.
It is not good.
In no way can that action
possibly reflect the love of God.

This is not a “tough love” choice for Abraham.
This is a choice to destroy what God has created.

It is interesting that from this point on in the book of Genesis,
God never speaks to Abraham again.
Nor does Issac, I might add.

I do not for a minute believe that God ever asks us
to act in ways that are cruel
or inhumane or even thoughtless
when it comes to the way we treat other human beings.

We make bad choices.
Sometimes we are fortunate and God rescues us
just as God rescues Issac on the mountain that day.
Sometimes we are almost miraculously rescued from a bad choice.

But sometimes, we and others suffer miserably from bad choices.

Our Catechism asks:
Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony from creation?
From the beginning,
human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.

Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
Because we rebel against God,
and we put ourselves in the place of God.

That is probably the biggest danger we face in our culture.
Putting ourselves in the place of God.
Putting our work, putting our money, putting our power, putting our fear,
in the place of God.

We think we are so smart, so wise, so advanced, so capable, so cool, so self-sufficient--
Why do we need God?
We can handle life just fine on our own.

We think we are so right.
We use our “rightness”
to diminish others that we see as “wrong”.
But ultimately our rightness diminishes our own humanity.

What help is there for us?
Our help is in God.

And the Catechism goes on
to tell us where and how we find that help.

And the scripture goes on
to tell us where and how we find that help in God.

And our lives go on
to show us where and how we find that help—over and over again.

We are free to make choices.
God’s dream is that we do not make those choices alone.

Our help is in God.

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