Saturday, June 28, 2008

Get To Work!

29 June 2008 * Genesis 22:1-14/Matthew 10:40-42

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

“Let’s put our clothes on and get to work!”

- The Right Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton

Friday was spent with our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, and yesterday was spent at the Consecration of Eugene Taylor Sutton as the XIVth Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland! In the course of these two days, a lot was said – all very positive and very hopeful.

At the very heart of the Consecration is the investiture of the new bishop – he is clothed in the vestments symbolic of his office: stole, mitre, chasuble, cope, ring, staff and Bible. As the Presiding Bishop remarked, “This service is always a bit like taking a bath or getting dressed in public!”

The recurring theme over the two days in the life of our diocese is summed up best in Bishop Sutton’s remarks at the Peace in the Washington National Cathedral, “Let’s all put our clothes on and get to work!” Those would be our Baptismal clothes which clothe us to join with Christ in his ministry of reconciliation. As we heard from Saint Paul yesterday, “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us!” II Cor 5:16-20

This is the good news with which we are entrusted, and this is in fact at the heart of our lessons for today. What God in Christ is asking in the Gospel from Matthew is quite simple: Is our mission here in the Diocese of Maryland and in this parish church of Saint Peter’s consistent with the mission of Jesus and with the kingdom of God? There is no more important question to be asked.

And as difficult as it may be to see in what is perhaps the single most difficult story in all of Holy Scripture, the story of the Binding of Isaac is asking essentially the same question. One immediately is struck by the fact that the text has little interest in the emotional side of Abraham and Sarah losing a son, “your son, your only son, whom you love.” Rather, the text is primarily concerned with one thing and one thing only: God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant that is to lead to the blessing of all the nations of the world!

That is, as we observed a couple of weeks ago, Isaac means “laughter” or “he who laughs,” and suddenly what is at stake is the death of Laughter – the laughter of all nations because from him was to spring the promise of redemption and salvation for all people. God had placed all his trust in Abraham and Sarah becoming the parents of a great nation, and that nation becoming a blessing for the whole world.

We naturally ask, just why would God test Abraham in what strikes us as such a horrific test of faithfulness? The answer lies, as always, in the back-story. The story begins, “After these things….” These things are a running tally of Abraham’s failures of trust in God and God’s promises. Twice Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister rather than his wife because he feared for their lives despite God’s promise that nothing would happen to them. Then there are those times Abraham and Sarah laugh at God’s promises that they would somehow give birth in the geriatric ward with Medicare picking up the bill! Because of their doubt Abraham and Sarah conspire a way around God’s promise by having Abraham rush God’s plan through his having a child with Hagar.

This all comes after twelve chapters of Genesis in which humanity is portrayed as steadily moving further and further away from God. So it is “After these things” that God tests Abraham to see if indeed he is to be entrusted with God’s plan for the salvation and redemption of the whole world. This was a unique test for a unique figure in history. A figure who was to give birth to those who would give birth to the Christ child. None of us wants the death of Laughter, but we often want the Laughter without the tears.

Such a text challenges and tests our faith as well. We tend to resist the notion that there exists an evil so deeply entrenched in this world that God must go to such dangerous and shocking measures of sacrifice to root it out. But then, our faith begins with a cross on Calvary. We want to overlook the truth of the matter, that our God’s grace often comes with blood on it. In Genesis and in Jesus, God himself “provides for the sacrifice.”

Jesus is making very much the same point in Matthew: unless you honor the prophets who criticize your social ills; unless you accept the righteous ones among you, who for Jesus often are identified as sinners; and unless you attend to the needs of the “little ones,” you will not be recognized as one of my ambassadors. Unless you are about the work of reconciliation, healing and building up the life of my Father’s kingdom, you will never be recognized as one of my disciples. Is our mission consistent with the mission of Jesus and with the kingdom of God?

This is what I believe our Bishop means when he asks us to “get our clothes on and get to work.” Or, as our Presiding Bishop put it, we are to become Healthy and Transformative congregations “so we can do what we are called to do: like lobby our state legislatures and lobby Congress to begin to enact Millennium Development Goals in our own desperately poor urban and rural districts.”

As Matthew’s Jesus says later on in chapter 25, if you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, welcome the strangers, you are welcoming, visiting, clothing and feeding me. I am the stranger, I am the hungry person, I am the little ones.

The XIVth Bishop of Maryland invites us all to get to work in this prayer he offered as a gift to each and every one of us: O Lord our God, look with favor on your pilgrim people in the Diocese of Maryland. Help our lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons to lead lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility, gentleness and patience. May our life together be infused by the grace of truth and the spirit of reconciliation; in times of celebration may we freely rejoice, and in times of distress may we listen to and forgive one another in love, always eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Open our hearts to receive the Living Christ in our midst; may we never tire to seek him in prayer and action, and in works of mercy and justice throughout the world. This we pray in the name of Jesus our Savior.

It is indeed time to put our clothes on and get to work! Amen.

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