My Friends, about 20 or so of us gathered this morning for a Zoom Mass–it was very good to see those of you who could make it! I am sharing the homily here for your reflection. I wanted you all to be aware that we record each of the Zoom liturgies so that if any of you would like to view it, let me know and I can send you the link. And as always, please be in touch if I can help you in any way or if you would simply like to chat. 507-429-3616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe and well–peace and love, Pastor Kathy
My friends, this Sunday’s chosen readings contain two of my favorite lines from New Testament Scriptures. The first we read today in Paul’s letter to the Romans, beginning with the opening line, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The second comes from Mark’s gospel reading today out of the mouth of Peter. We have just read that Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah and in his unbridled enthusiasm, Peter says, “How wonderful it is for us to be here!”
With these two lines as back drops, I would like to begin this homily. The Genesis piece, read by Joan, is on face value, very difficult for many, if not all of us, to swallow. What kind of God could or would ask for such a sacrifice, such a show of filial support, we ask? And if this is what “faith” is all about, well I want nothing to do with that either!
I often speak to you my friends about reading Scripture passages and getting beneath the surface story, because that is where the “truth” or the piece that we are intended to get, really lies.
I believe the question on most modern-day minds, us included, is why, apparently, Abraham makes no argument with God about what God is asking. Remember, this son of Abraham and Sarah came late in life and was the only child this couple had. Anyone of us would, if asked to sacrifice a son, a daughter, a loved one, object—I am quite sure!
So, let’s go deeper. First off, we must remember the culture out of which this story came to get some clarity on the seeming “normalness” of Abraham’s response.
The fact that Abraham’s culture practiced the ritual killing of their young, might explain Abraham’s response, yet given the no-doubt preciousness of this lone child, again it is hard to believe Abraham’s response. And for the moms out there, is the question of whether Sarah knew what Abraham was up to on the day that he set off with their son, Isaac, alone. All good questions, but perhaps not the ones to be concerned with here.
An additional thought might be to ask why the Church hierarchy uses this reading that is so troubling to many of us, in light of Paul’s apparent belief that our God is good when he asks, “If God is for us,” and Paul believes that God is, does it matter, who else is against us? The traditional hierarchical belief within Christian churches that God sent Jesus, the only begotten, to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind, is apparently a strong matchup to God’s initial request of Abraham—thus a good reading during Lent.
But the truth is, we see that God is, somewhat of a good God in that first reading, by giving Abraham a reprieve in the end once God is sure of the faith that Abraham possesses. So, does that satisfy? Not really for me and probably not for you either.
So, let’s start again. Present day theologians, such as Sandra Schneiders, Richard Rohr, Ilia Delio and John Shelby Spong, to name but a few, don’t agree that Jesus came to die for our sins, or that God asked him to do that. This is “head” theology, instead of “heart” theology. Unfortunately, at times, the hierarchical Church decides what it wants to teach, and then goes backward and tries to make it so. Jesus came to show us how to live our ordinary lives, extraordinarily well—how to share the gifts of life with everyone, how to be just and merciful toward all—because we had forgotten that, and those who were into life “for power” and objected, killed him to silence his, most compelling message to the masses. That’s it really! And in that light, the Genesis, Abraham story makes no sense to us, especially when it is connected to a belief that God’s only reason for sending Jesus was that he would die to appease God’s anger with the rest of us.
Modern theologians such as those mentioned above, in their quest to fully understand Scripture and assist people over time to get closer to the mind of our God realize that through tradition, both spoken and written, a change of a word or two can make all the difference in better aligning meaning, past and present so that we can truly get our “hearts” and not just our “heads” around it.
Consider how it would be if the Genesis reading were more of a discussion between God and Abraham about faith, which we are told is the point of this story—something like this: “Abraham, you say that 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?” And just as in the story where God supplies another ritual sacrifice, God would say, “Of course, I wouldn’t ask this of you—the death of Isaac whom I love as much and more than you do.
Such an alteration in this story, a re-telling, really, helps us to square the “Abba God” of Jesus with the God of Abraham.
My friends, Jesus’ Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth, calling us to see and hear more clearly what is on the heart of our God, not to see our God, as we humans behave from time to time, miserly and tyrannical, but with largesse, always “having or backs” in today’s terminology.
So, as we move forward in this Lenten time, let’s hold on to the idea of how much our God loves us, wants good and not bad for us—proven so wonderfully in the person of Jesus, our brother and let us not lose sight of God’s expectation then, for us, that we every day strive to be our best, so as to make life good too for those we share this wonderful human experience with. Then we can say with Peter, “How wonderful it is for us to be here!” Amen? Amen!