5A Pentecost, Proper 8 9 July 2017
Biblical texts can be very, very troubling and there are times you would like to pass over them. Maybe what is needed to change the lens through which we read them. We are all victims of the time and the place that formed us and seeing through the mists of both time and place requires the willingness to wrestle with the text and wrestle with God, like Jacob did.
We are delving into the story, or rather stories, that surround the lives of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac is the second runner up in the patriarch line, with his father and his son both carrying the greater burden of the promises that God makes. His father almost kills him in the name of God, he does not get to pick his own wife, he goes blind at a young age (for Biblical patriarchs), and his wife and son deceive him. Rebekah, amazingly, is given a choice about going back to be Isaac’s wife and takes a great deal of initiative in assuring that her (barely) younger son will get the blessing of this father.
Last week you heard the story of the binding of Isaac, one of the most troubling passages in the entire Hebrew scripture. If I believed that God would actually demand the sacrifice of a child, I would head out the preverbal church door. What are we to make of this? What did you think when you heard this? Could you imagine being asked to kill your own child? It is a passage I want to skip over because I cannot believe or accept it. It makes us ask the most basic question of faith; what is the character of your God. Would the God who walked with Abraham and Sarah and promised land and descendants to them and promised they would be a blessing to all people then demand the sacrifice of a child? I think not. Child sacrifice was practiced in more than one cul-ture, yet this passage says God will not tolerate the sacrifice of a hu-man being, particularly a vulnerable human being. God walks with us, even as God is God and we are not. Sacrifice of vulnerable human be-ings is condemned by God, for this is not the God of the Canaanites. Yet do we not still sacrifice the vulnerable on the altar of money and prosperity for some? Pay the lowest wage possible, downsize to im-prove the margin, ship raw goods abroad where you can pay even less and make more money, plant your single crop to the farthest margins so you can reap a bigger harvest, denying the need for diversity. Raise animals in crowed confinements so that the most money can be had. Humans and animals sacrificed the altar of the god called money. Not only are we told it is wrong to use people, we are told that radical welcome, radical hospitality is that which God desires. He or she who shows the most hospitality is the one most blessed.
My father told me a story about our family. My great grandparents moved to Calhoun County near Manson in 1872. All travel was by horse in those days and it was not unusual for people on horseback to stop and ask for water for their horses and themselves. My grandpar-ents and their neighbors obliged, for they knew that water was crucial for life and because they practiced in their own way a form of radical hospitality. One group of horsemen that stopped, took water and went on their way north paid them unusually well. It turned out the group in-cluded Cole Younger and they were on their way to a fatal encounter in Northfield, Minnesota. Others on their route north did not fare as well.
Rebekah showed no hesitation in offering not only Abraham’s’ servant water, but his camels as well. Would I have been willing to draw up bucket after bucket of water for all those camels? Maybe going so far as to say, “Here is the well and the bucket, you are welcome to water your camels.” But to do all of that work myself? Hospitality and right-eousness become one and the same. You are righteous when you do unto the least of these.
We have choices. Even Rebekah had a choice. She was asked if she wanted to go with Abraham’s servant to a strange land to be the wife of a man she had never met and whose name meant “laughter.” I think it was a courageous act and one that showed a willingness to trust God completely. Radical hospitality to a stranger and trust in God resulted in a marriage and blessing.
Jesus gave us choices as well. Sadly he says we listen neither to words of warning or words of joy; we can only focus on our own skewed view of the world. If it does not fit the way we want to see things, it must not be true. Defame the prophets, defame the Messiah. Open your ears and open your eyes. We are not here to talk about the color of the door or who will print the bulletins. It does not matter. We are here to dance and to mourn. When we try to pull our burdens alone, when we try to live as if we are responsible for the whole world, or the whole world is responsible of us, we fail utterly and completely to see what real life can be. A yoke puts us in tandem with someone or something. Taking the yoke of Jesus is to walk with Him at our side. Yes, it is to take on a burden, but think of how heavy is the burden when you try to carry it alone. And God knows we call have burdens perhaps things that so shame us we do not want to share that with anyone. When we take the yoke of Jesus upon us we can let go of the hurt and the shame. If we are someone who has it all then to take on that yoke is to have someone to teach and guide and share as we learn to practice hospi-tality live in to the beatitudes.
Maybe, just maybe, in the end it is all about a promise. The story of Abraham and Sarah is surely about a promise they never lived to see fully realized, nor did Isaac and Rebekah. Yet they believed and trusted God. Jesus also came to deliver a promise to us: the promise of salva-tion, of life, if we are willing to believe. All we have to do is take his yoke upon us and walk with him.