No laughing matter

No laughing matter

June 14, 2020                Genesis 18:1-15, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:4

No laughing matter

              Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we paused in awe of the One Holy God. Sinful human beings, are not able to fully comprehend the One single and spiritual Being, whom we call God. It is not possible to completely understand the eternal, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just and good Being who is the overflowing source of all good.

               Any and all efforts to pretend that we fully know the essence of God show our arrogance for God is not a human being. As we said last week, the appropriate response when we enter the presence of the Holy One is worship and a sense of overwhelming awe.

              But as is so often the case in theology, this awesome and Holy God, for some strange reason chose to reveal Godself to us. For some reason, God introduces Godself to us and because of God’s revelation and introduction, we are able to know God. We are able to see glimpses of who God is, how God acts, how God feels about human beings and God’s creation.

              As the Apostle Paul states in Romans (1:19-20), God reveals Godself to human beings in two ways: through God’s beautiful creation and through the Word of God, the Bible. We indeed see glimpses of God’s goodness and majesty in the beautiful book of God’s creation and of the universe. We see God’s goodness and splendor in creatures great and small. These creatures are like letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s power and divinity.

              And God reveals Godself to us through the Bible, the Word of God. And in God’s introduction to us, in the Bible, we see indications of who God is, how God operates, and how God feels about human beings. And the exciting and adventurous task of people of faith is to search and connect the dots that run through the Bible so that we can put our trust, faith, joy, hope and yes, our very lives in the hands of the Divine One.

              Today’s readings provide us with a wonderful example of how God works.

              Let’s start with the reading from Genesis 18:1-15. This narrative unit has been called an accomplish work of epic art! A closer analysis of the text reveals some difficulties: God appears to Abraham as one of three men but God is the One God acting. But we need to be careful not to be distracted by this fact. We should focus on the text’s double purpose: 

  1. Abraham’s hospitality to the strangers is extraordinary: the little water, little bread turn into three measures of choice flour, a calf, curds and milk. This is especially important for we, the readers, know that Abraham is hosting God but at that point Abraham did not. His extraordinary hospitality to strangers is a stark contrast to what the people of Sodom in the next paragraph and chapter did. The great sin of Sodom is that they violated Lot’s hospitality.

Abraham, the one with whom God made a covenant shows lavish hospitality to strangers. We who have been included in God’s covenant, should follow suit by showing generous hospitality too.

  • God tells Abraham, “your wife shall have a son.” The facts on the ground were this: Abraham and Sarah were advanced in age, it had ceased to be with Sarah “after the manner of women”. A nice way of saying she was too old to have children. No wonder Sarah, overhearing the conversation laughed a cynical laugh thinking: “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” God of course knows her thoughts and responds: “Is anything to wonderful for the Lord?”  Sarah, caught off guard, immediately denied: “I did not laugh!” But God responded: “Oh yes you did laugh.”

              In this beautiful narrative we find a very clear indication how God operates and we see how we as human beings typically respond to God’s promises. God, time and again, shows that whenever it seems as if there is a dead end, God intervenes, and opens up possibilities that go beyond our wildest dreams.

              When we experience the end of our rope, when we are ready to give up, throw in the towel, then God steps in and provide a window of opportunity that seems improbable. Let me remind you of how improbable God’s promise of a son was.        The Apostle Paul, the author of the book of Romans says that Abraham was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old). So, God provided a son to people who were about as good as dead. And Sarah’s cynical laugh turned into a shared laughter of joy when she called her newborn son Isaac (the root of the word means laugh).

              This is the same God who intervened when Israel were slaves in Egypt. They were brutally oppressed and liberation was an unlikely dream that was perhaps “as good as dead”. You know the outcome: Israel were liberated by a man who was deeply flawed, Moses.

              There are many more examples in the Bible of what happens when God intervenes in the life of people: Dead bones become alive, young shepherd boys conquer giants and become Kings, young prophets who struggle to speak stand up and oppose powerful leaders who tolerate injustices.

              The most powerful example of course is that when Jesus was crucified and he breathed his last breath, he was not as good as dead. He was dead, period. And for three days it seemed as if God, who had always been able to deliver on God’s promises, would be unable to do so this time. For three days the world and all creation held their breath. But then God, when it seemed like human history is at a dead end, a closed door, done and dusted, God not only opened a window; God broke open the tomb when God raised Jesus from the dead.

              This is how God acts, this is who God is. God is able to give hope to the hopeless, joy to those who mourn, and new life to an old and decaying world. This of course does not mean that everything will always work out the way I want them to work out.

              I may still fall ill, our loved one may still lose his job or pass away, there will still be suffering and pain in the world and ultimately, we will all die. But faith enables us to see God’s work, God forcing open a window when the door is tightly shut. Faith enables us to hold unto God’s promise that when one door closes another life giving opportunity will present itself- even if this opportunity is to grow as person, or to experience God’s loving presence in the midst of suffering, or to be able to smile again after a terrible loss.

              The message of God who gives life to those who are as good as dead has powerful relevance for our world today. A recent article in the NY Times with the heading, “On the future Americans can agree, it does not look good.” The article describes the anxieties, hopelessness, and suffering due to a trifecta crisis: a pandemic, recession and racial injustices.

              The message of Genesis is this: God is able to bring about something new. God who promised and delivered on God’s promise to provide a child to a couple who was as good as dead, is still able to surprise us with God’s lavish and bountiful gifts of life, joy, hope, harmony and love!

              In Chapter 8 of Romans we have a hint why God intervenes in the lives of people and humankind: “God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love of us, justifies us through faith, and gives us peace with God through whom we have access to God’s grace. Because of Christ we can rely on God’s love when we suffer, “for suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

              This is how The Message translation says it: “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

              God, out of God’s deep and abundant love of us intervenes and gives us hope, new life, breaking old yokes and changing relationships. In short God brings new and abundant life when everything seems as good as dead.

              When we look at our world, we may become despondent when we see signs of death and decay, old, cold, brutal and harsh attitudes, intolerance and racism, hopeless poverty and violence.

              God is able to transform these and bring life from what is as good as dead. Let us not cynically laugh with despair and without hope – for faith is able to recognize the seed of new life and changed attitudes. The Bible is very clear that God, the Holy, the Awesome One, brings life to the dead, gives life to situations and people even when they are as good as dead!

              I am convinced that the pain and suffering our society is experiencing at the moment is the pain and suffering of new birth! God is at work and about to bring something new and good from all the terrible suffering that we are witnessing.

              From our NT reading we see one more piece of information on the modus operandi of the Holy God. Jesus, the Son of God, brings the Good News of the kingdom of God, curing people. We could say that Jesus is doing exactly what God has done in the past: bringing life to dead places and to people who are as good as dead. In the words of Matthew these people were harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. People who have lost their way.  “Here is God’s good news! Now, who will deliver it?

              And then Jesus calls the twelve to share the Good News of life and newness to the decaying world.  A huge task. Jesus gives the 12 power and authority to do this.

              But then Matthew zooms in on the twelve whose task it is to share the good news: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, another James, Thaddeus, another Simon and Judas Iscariot.

              I will not blame you if you were to say: “Wait a minute! These 12 should do this important job? Come on Jesus! You can do better than these losers!” Peter, the one who denied Jesus. Matthew the toll collector, who collaborated with the Romans. Judas Iscariot?  Well he did not last long! Andrew, Peter’s brother, another fisherman. John, the man with an explosive temper. Thaddeus, a nationalist, perhaps a violent one, who wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans and established a kingdom for the chosen people to dominate the world. This motley crew would be the first bearers of the Good news. Really?

              But this is how God works: God calls the youngest son, David to be king. God calls unreliable, uneducated people, people with many flaws and weaknesses to be witnesses.

              To this day God calls weak, people with flaws, who struggle with little faith, unreliable, and stubborn, people just like you and me, to share the good news with the world, to be co-workers of God to bring hope, life, joy and justice to the world. The Apostle Paul says: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world….  (1 Corinthians 1: 27-28)

              This is God whom we worship, an awesome and powerful God who transforms a decaying world and sinful people, who transforms people who are as good as dead into people who are alive and serving and bringing hope to the world.  God, who does not need the powerful to do powerful things. As a matter of fact, God calls the weak, insignificant and then makes them strong. It is God who turns cynical laughter into joyous laughter! Amen