June 28 – Genesis 22:1-14 and Matthew 10:40-42
May 4, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
As of this writing, the orders of the days have been social/physical distancing for at least six feet between you and others who are not sheltered-in-place with you in your household, and for added measure of precaution, we in the United States are being called to wear protective face masks when we are out in public. None of us has a crystal ball of what one year from now or five years from now will be like. Somehow it feels like how we “welcome” one another will change. Absent a vaccine, we will always wonder whether the friend or stranger in the ballpark next to us is a carrier of COVID-19, whether a fellow parishioner might be infected, whether the one dining alone or the airline passenger across the aisle has the viral antibodies. I hope and pray, as I hope you do as well, that the manner in which we welcome one another won’t change our hearts of welcome, won’t alter the fact that we are to welcome friend and stranger. Alteration, of course, would be called for if your heart and mine are not tending to welcome others. In which case, a major alteration of the heart is called for. In whatever shape we come out of this COVID-19 tragedy, may our hearts, minds, and lives be forever changed for the better: loving God more and deeply, and loving each other more and deeply.
Genesis 22 and Matthew 10 are texts that describe the kind of distancing that the Lord practices in exhibiting God’s love: the Lord’s distancing is far enough/near enough to enable people to freely experience the risks of loving. That’s the key – the Lord’s relative distance (as we perceive it) is far enough or near enough to enable us, as people created with free agency who live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28) in God, to respond accordingly. The question is: how do we respond? Do we do so with trust, with love, with a welcoming spirit towards God’s movement in our lives, and with a welcoming spirit towards our neighbors?
The lection in Genesis 22 is a familiar text: God calls Abraham to bring Isaac to a mountain to sacrifice him. What is remarkable about how this text has been taught and preached over the years is what appears to be the seemingly effortless way Abraham responds in obedience: his straightaway response to take Isaac, accompanied by “two of his young men” with a donkey. We don’t know what Abraham’s struggle might have been, his pleading to God. We don’t know Isaac’s inner dialogue or his questions to his father about why they were journeying off. We don’t know about Sarah’s protests, let alone inquiry, about this father-son camping trip high up on a mountain. All we get is the narrative that God called, Abraham followed the order, Isaac asked one or two questions, an angel withheld Abraham from taking the decisive swipe with the knife, and the Lord applauding Abraham for his act of true faithfulness, an affirmation sealed with the naming of the place, Jehovah Jireh (meaning “The Lord will provide”).
The lection in Matthew 10 is pretty straightforward as well. Jesus tells his disciples, in apprenticing them for their lifelong calling to be his witnesses, to be messengers of good news, that they are to be attentive and thankful for all those who will welcome them. Assuredly, as the lection from last week promised, the disciples will encounter persecution and rejected; that is to be expected. But even as they will be rejected, there will be instances where people will welcome them. They are to pay attention to those occasional, sacred moments because as those individuals and households will welcome them – it’s not because of them per se that they will be welcomed, but as they are welcomed, it is the Lord and the heavenly Father who are being welcomed into the hearts and homes of the people.
Genesis 22 and Matthew 10 don’t give us specific details of what God is up to. We are given just enough to conclude, like Abraham, God will provide. Even Abraham must trust in the basic contours of God’s promises when he assures the two men before going up the mountain, “. . . we will worship, and then we will come back to you” and then to Isaac, Abraham somehow can say “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” We don’t know the details of what God is up to, but what we do know may be just enough to respond in kind: to love. Trust in love. Abraham knows of God’s love for him. Abraham knows of God’s love for Isaac. And Abraham knows of his own love for God. The disciples know Jesus’s love for them. And they know of their love for Jesus. What the disciples don’t know is what others love for them might be. But what they knew of how Jesus worked, that was enough for them to set on the call to go, to serve, to preach, to teach, to love.
Trust in love. With all the risks, with all the unanswered questions, with the lack of details and specificity. . .love and be loved. Because when we trust in love, what we are saying is we trust in God; because God is love.