6.10.2008

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116: 1 – 2; 12 – 19
Romans 5: 1 – 8
Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8 (9 – 23)


Have you ever been asked to do something you did not think you could do? Have you ever been given an assignment you felt was beyond you? Have you ever been told something would happen you were certain was impossible?

We see you nodding your head. We will wait while you tell your own story.

……

Thanks for sharing.

Called. It is a term that some people reserve for those who wear collars and robes and collect their paycheck from the church…people who have been specially prepared and sanctified by some human authority in some way. But throughout history and in every day life, God’s call is present in many, many lives.

Imagine it—an old man and an old woman told they are going to have a son…a son that, by the way, would be the first of an offspring that would outnumber the stars.

Or imagine this—a group of young, less than educated people (only men are named) being given the task to go out and “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

The lectionary readings this week give us a chance to reflect on God’s Divine Possibilities that meet / come up against Our Logical Impossibilities. These folks are all experiencing and responding to God calling them to some specific task in their lives. And they are not particularly well-prepared (and we would argue that just in being called, they are ordained by a higher power).

In the reading from Genesis, Abraham and Sarah (their names changed since we last saw them) are Old. The text tells us “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” It is likely, had the times allowed for more direct statements about men it would have also said “it had ceased to be with Abraham to go after the manner of women”. Nevertheless, the two of them conceiving a child was not an understandable, Logical Possibility. And when they were told by these mysterious travelers that diapers (for a baby) were in their future, they protested much. The reasons against it rolled off of their tongues. The flaws in the logic were easy to spot. Sarah even had the nerve to laugh…

Where do you think all of this protesting came from? Was it because they were against the idea of having a son? Or was it because they did not think they were prepared to do all it would take to have a son? What is the source of their disbelief? Are they afraid?

There is fascinating dialogue between God and Sarah and Abraham in this text. It is almost a giddy conversation…and we’re not quite sure whether the conversation is between Sarah and Abraham or Sarah and God. I didn’t laugh. Oh, you did laugh. Why did Sarah laugh? Sarah’s laughter is a gift that she shares with others after Isaac’s birth. Somewhere over time, her nervous laughter of disbelief became joyful laughter. Sometimes the unexpected and unbelievable and frightening ends in mirth.

An example of the Logical Impossibilities given to the Disciples come to us via Matthew. In the story we do not get to hear the response of the disciples when they are told how they will live out their call. They are simply given some tall orders:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

"Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.

Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

These are exciting and ambitious directions, and they are not the most soothing or encouraging words. I am sure these young people met this challenge with a lot of excitement and passion. But do you think they had any clue what they were setting out to do? Jesus was not mixing words. He told them up front the wonders and excitement they were in for and he told them the dangers that lay out in front of them.

But just like with Abraham and Sarah (who we are sure had seen how the lives of others changed when a baby was born), is there any way these followers could have had any idea of what they were agreeing to?

And what about the wide variety of feelings that show up when something has been begun that cannot be stopped? The moment of pregnancy and commission are in the line of moments that elicit the “You cannot un-ring the bell” type of observations. Sometimes it seems we find ourselves deeper in to something than we originally planned and we find we cannot go back.

Paul offers a little encouragement to those of us who are not always quick to embrace struggle and suffering. He reminds us that our connection to the awareness of suffering comes at a cost and at the same time it creates a new connection for us all. In a Buddhist-sort-of-way Paul draws a (quite logical) connection between suffering and experiencing the Peace of God. This passage continues a dialogue that Paul has been having with the Christian community in Rome about being in relationship with God because of faith and not because of specific actions. (Remember that Paul was a law-abiding Jewish leader whose attention to Torah was great. His “conversion” is an understanding that a person can be in relationship with God because of faith alone. The good work that people do is the OUTCOME of a relationship with God, not the cause of a relationship with God). Paul sort of illuminates Sarah’s laughter for us. In the end, her joyful response is because of her relationship with the LORD.

The psalm includes words of commitment in response to God’s goodness. This is a no-holds-barred vow, that especially focuses on the public nature of the response. The psalmist will pay vows to the Lord “in the presence of all people.” In our experience, it’s much easier to commit to something in private. But sharing it with the community puts some pressure on, doesn’t it?

God has probably placed a call on your life in some way, shape or form. Some of those calls are very specific or very public. Others are quieter. It is hard to respond to that call from our place of faith and belief or even our sense of duty, especially if it means committing in front of a crowd.
As a community, KC seems to be pretty uniquely comfortable talking about commitment. Where does that comfort come from?
What does it mean to be comfortable with commitment?
How does a community of faith equip its members to receive and respond to call?
How have you responded to “a call” that felt beyond your ability?
What holds you back from believing what you feel God is calling you toward?

Holy Spirit
Think through me
Until your ideas
Are my ideas.
-Amy Carmichael

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