My friends, it is good to be back with you again! Going away, having a vacation is always good, but as all of us would most certainly agree, after being gone for a while, it is always good to return home!—which actually is a very good thought as we contemplate the season of Lent—returning home to our loving God who has always been there for us.
Our trip through the Panama Canal was a great experience—the cruise gave us the opportunity through lectures and screen presentations to know in depth all the human suffering, skill and collaboration that went into making this engineering masterpiece!
Once through the canal; we had the opportunity to stop at several Central American and two Mexican ports along the way to our destination in San Diego—we even had the opportunity to get into the ocean twice, both the Atlantic and the Pacific!
I am always impressed with the simple fact that, “people are people” wherever one goes—most want a better life for themselves and their families and are willing to work to get it. I was especially touched by the young women, many still girls, selling their crafts and wares on the streets, many with a young child on their skirt tails and most with a baby wrapped in a pouch and tied around them.
I engaged one young woman who tried very hard to sell me some jewelry that I didn’t want, but as I talked with her and met her 9 month-old Daniel, asleep against her heart; I realized that he was who she was working for, so while I didn’t take her jewelry; I gave her the money for Daniel and the look on her face was one I will always remember—from one mother to another.
Our time away brought us into the holy season of Lent, a time, really, that calls each of us home, as I said above, home to a God who loves us more than we can imagine. Just as our hearts yearn to travel and see new places, have new adventures, those same hearts ultimately call us to return home. As Christians, as followers of our brother Jesus, “returning home” means choosing again to come to what is most important in our lives and living toward those goals. For many and perhaps, all of us, I know this includes living truthfully, generously, with mercy and compassion for those who have less, basically trying to become our best selves.
In this last week of our absence, this country suffered yet another great tragedy—the slaughter of 17 youth and teachers at a Parkland, Florida, high school. The real tragedy beyond the loss of young people intended to be part of our future is that it was totally preventable, but for the lack of will and intestinal fortitude of our leaders to do whatever it takes to make our country safer, because the majority of Americans want laws to make us safer .
One always runs the risk of “getting political,” stepping on toes,” “being judgmental,” making such statements, but gun violence in our country has come to be a national crisis—it is way beyond political—it has become, human and IT SHOULD BE! Countries around the world wonder at this great country of ours, allowing Americans to kill Americans—again and again, and do nothing about it!
As I said above, Lent calls us to strive to become our best selves—to speak truth to power, to stand up for what we believe in, what we get up for each day—hope, justice, and the opportunity to live in peace, for ourselves and others. Speaking truth to power is what I saw many young people doing this last week—not just asking for change, but demanding it from the so-called leaders. Jim Wallis of Sojourner Magazine said this week, “When the leaders refuse to lead, the children will do it!” So, what guidance do the Scriptures have for us today?
The first thing I can say is that as always; we are challenged. From Genesis, we have the story of God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac, one that most of us find hard to shallow as it is so inconsistent with the all-loving God of Jesus. Paul tells the Romans in no uncertain terms that if, “God is for us, who can be against!” And in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to transformation as he is transfigured before Peter, James and John.
I think when we come upon a Scripture text that is hard to explain or contradictory; we must always remember to first keep it in context, understanding that it was written for a certain group of people in a certain time and not necessarily intended to make sense to us in our time. That is the point behind remembering that “the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth.” As new knowledge comes to the fore, we must make use of it and judge wisely.
In this light and in my study of Scripture; I come upon writers and theologians of the likes of Sandra Schneiders, Richard Rohr, Ilia Delio, and John Shelby Spong who challenge the God of the First Testament to make sense in the light of Jesus’ Abba God. Many of these writers also speak about biblical translations and that sometimes in order to put forward a certain message, will change a word or two and that this changes the whole meaning. Again; we see the importance of going back to the original texts.
With this thought in mind, how would the story of Abraham and Isaac be different if in fact it was more of a conversation between God and Abraham on the question of faith, which, we are told, is the purpose of this story—how strong is Abraham’s faith, instead of how cruel of God to ask Abraham to give Isaac’s life as proof of his belief in God?
Let’s say God asks Abraham this question, “Abraham, you say you love me and believe that I would do anything for you, that I want only good and not bad for you—what would you do to prove your love for me? What is it in your life that means most to you? Your son? Would you give your son? I think we can see that this would change the scenario from a tyrannical being asking the unthinkable from a parent to a God who simply wants to know how much faith a person has. The Scriptures have been used through time to convey certain messages by the institutional Church, a fact that is good for us to remember.
We see in the end, don’t we, that in fact God is the loveable God that Jesus talks about by presenting Abraham, just in time, with the sacrificial lamb. But why, our sanity cries out, would a loving God even ask the question—even cause the loving parent to have to choose between the precious life of their child and their faith in God?
I could give you the rote answers—this was a culture that ritually killed their young and so they looked at it differently, perhaps, which, when you think of it makes a secure connection to the idea that Jesus was sent to “save us from our sins,” a notion that has totally been disregarded by all of the writers I mentioned above. If the case can be made for God being willing to sacrifice the Son, then if follows that we, God’s creatures should be willing to do the same. And again, remember the fact that this notion has been rejected by most theologians.
So, I will leave the Abraham/Isaac story for you to make what you will of it, but perhaps, this connection could be made to our present day national crisis of gun violence. As much as we can’t understand a God who would ask a parent to give up their only son to prove their belief in that God; I have to wonder why we as a nation are willing to sacrifice our most precious gifts, our children, our people, on the altar of the Second Amendment that has ceased to be meaningful in our day and time. I am wondering why all of us aren’t in the streets and in our state houses demanding change.
The school youth at Parkland High in Florida have begun a national movement that we can’t let die this time. Let each of us do all that we can to bring about change. There is an initiative started to get major credit card companies to block the purchase of dangerous, high-powered rifles when their cards are used—every bit helps! There will be a national match on Washington March 24th and other marches around the country in March—watch for these and participate in any way that you can to support the children who have become our leaders!
As Peter said when he witnessed the transfigured Christ, “It is wonderful to be here!” We have so much power, my friends, if we but use it! Amen? Amen!