Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

YEAR A 2017 pentecost 8

Pentecost 8, 2017
I Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 45-52

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So have you ever wondered what you did with your sunglasses?  Looked in all the usual places.  Looked in all the unusual places.  Yelled up the stairs to ask the kids.  Went back over every place you can think of.  And then decided to leave without them, get in your car, look in the review mirror and . . . yes, of course, they’re on your head, right where you left them.  Someplace where you couldn’t forget them when you needed them.  On your head.  Of course, you aren’t aware that they’re right where you need them, when you need them, because you’re just completely used to them being there.  The top of your head is a reasonable place to store sunglasses, but how embarrassing, right?

And you probably have this with all sorts of things.  Car keys in your pocket.  Cell phone in your hand.  Coffee sitting on the table in front of you.  And on and on.  In a way, it’s just that things are hiding right in plain sight.  Can’t find your car in the parking lot because you walked right past it.  We don’t notice things when we’re looking for them because they’re so familiar to us.  You hope that doesn’t happen with family members, but it may be what’s going on in my mother’s head when she runs through all my brother’s names before she gets to mine.  You know, we just get used to things and it’s hard to notice them.

But then there’s this part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System.  It does a lot of things for you, even if you’ve never even said thank you to it.  Sometimes the Reticular Activating System replaces something real with something that makes more sense.  A good example of that was at a chapel service when I was in college.  During a sermon, one of my professors meant to say one word, but said something totally inappropriate and similar sounding instead.  Nobody even flinched.  We didn’t notice the bizarre substitution (and neither did the woman preaching). 

Our psychology professor noticed though, and after chapel asked lots of us what the preacher had said in her sermon.  And we all said we had heard the intended word, rather than the completely inappropriate word she had actually spoken.  The psychology professor was overjoyed at this accidental example, because that same day we were discussing the Reticular Activating System.  The very brain part that had offered the more appropriate word for us.  Perfect timing!  The word spoken was replaced in our minds by the word intended, and nobody even noticed until someone pointed it out to us.

Another thing the Reticular Activating System does is block out useless information while keeping us alert to useful information.  So, for example, with a little practice, you can fall asleep quite easily living next to the train tracks, and can still notice if your infant daughter cries out in the night.  You can sleep in moving vehicles racing along, but wake up with the slightest decrease in speed.  You can block out a ton of chatter and chaos while walking through an airport, but immediately notice if your name is called over the PA system.  The Reticular Activating System blocks out the clutter, allowing you to focus on what’s important, or even necessary for survival.  (It might also be how my children can’t seem to hear me calling them from the kitchen, but can definitely hear me opening a package of cookies from a hundred yards away.)

We often don’t see something even when we’re looking for it, because it’s so familiar (like the sunglasses), and we often block out things that distract us from what we really think is important.  And then there’s also the kind of situation where we don’t recognize something that’s all around us, because . . . well, we’re soaking in it, and we’re too close to it.  This is kind of like if you were to ask a fish, “How’s the water today?”  And the fish would respond, “Water?  What water?”  If you can’t step outside the world you know, you can’t recognize it for what it is.  A fish does not know it is swimming in water, because . . . well . . . the fish is swimming in the water.

The Kingdom of heaven is like this, see?  It’s hidden and it’s in plain sight; it’s everywhere all around you; and it’s the biggest thing you’d trip over and not even notice it.  Back in Jesus’ day, they didn’t have sunglasses or car keys; they didn’t know what a Reticular Activating System is, or waste time thinking about what a fish might say about water.  But they did know about plants and bread and farming and treasure.

So Jesus says, the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  Everyone listening would know that a mustard seed is very small.  And they would also know that it grows into a big shrub, and that it’s kind of a weed, really.  But Jesus upgrades it into a tree, and says birds come and build nests in it!  It’s like claiming that a raspberry bush grows into a big strong oak tree.  The point is not that big things grow out of tiny things.  The point is that Jesus is upgrading a scrubby mustard shrub into a glorious tree of life.  That’s what the Kingdom is like.  What we call scraggly, God calls beautiful.  What we dismiss as a weed, Jesus compares to the most beautiful thing in all creation.  Strange, isn’t it?

And then there’s that yeast and dough thing.  We tend to miss something because we buy yeast in cute little sanitized packets.  The woman in this example of what the Kingdom is like takes a lump of rotting moldy stuff and hides it in the dough, which was the way they kept the yeast going then.  It’s a gross disgusting thing that gets mixed in to make the dough rise.  And she’s not making a single loaf of bread.  The measurements in Jesus’ example come out to like a hundred pounds of dough!  Enough to feed . . . well, a lot of people.  But what else about the dough?

I don’t know if you’ve ever baked bread, but there’s one thing about yeast mixed in with dough:  once it is there, it is there for good.  There’s no taking it out.  Ask the dough what it’s like to have yeast working in it, and the dough will say, “Yeast?  What yeast?”  Because before there is such a thing as dough, there is only flour and water and some other things that bakers know about.  The yeast is mixed in with the whole creation.  You can’t take it back out.  The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed in until all of it was leavened.  So, we might be tempted to ask Jesus, “when will the yeast be mixed in?  . . . . Yeast?  What yeast?”

And then the example of the pearl, and the treasure hidden in the field.  They sound awfully deceptive don’t they?  Like someone is pulling a fast one in order to get what they want, and tough luck for everyone else.  The Kingdom of heaven is like this:  our system of right and wrong do not enter into it.  Think about that for a moment.  The suggestion here is that God is willing to go against our rules of fair play in order to bring about the Kingdom.  To go against what we think is the “right” thing; to go against our system of justice and judgment and human decency.  God is not beyond doing questionable things in order to bring into reality the Kingdom of God.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  When we make claims about the righteousness of God, or say that some people are not good enough.  Not good enough for a God who finds something that belongs to someone else, and then buries it in a field, buys the WHOLE field, and then claims it as personal property?  What kind of God is that?  Maybe it’s a God we weren’t really looking for, because we walked right past that God looking for some ethical god we expected, huh?

And then we come to the example of the net.  Now you might have to re-think your vision of what a fishing net looks like.  This is not a net for landing a fish you have already hooked.  The net that fishermen in Jesus’ day used is what we call a dragnet.  (And don’t go getting distracted by Sergeant Joe Friday now.)  This is the way people fished back then.  They did no sorting in the boat; they simply hauled in everything that the net could catch and then sorted it out on shore.  Everything.  Fish they wanted to eat, and license plates, and old tires, and fish they didn’t want to eat, and empty wine bottles, and fish they might want to eat.  This is a style of capturing things that makes no distinction between good and bad, useful and worthless, edible and defiled.  The net goes in, scoops up every single possible thing, and it is ALL hauled into the boat, with not one second of thought to sorting or choosing.  The Kingdom of heaven is like this: “a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.”

A-ha!  You may be saying.  You see?  The good ones are kept and the bad ones are thrown away into a furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  Exactly right, careful listener.  But don’t miss that little phrase, “at the end of the age.”  Because here’s the thing:  We do not know what the end of the age will look like, or when it will come, or who is going to be there.  We don’t know what defines good and bad fish.  In fact, we don’t even know what is meant by “the fish.”  The end of the age will come, and there will be some sorting once the boat reaches the shore.  But in the meantime, there is just one big net, containing fish of every kind.   Every kind.  And one of these days, someone might happen to ask you, “Hey, how’s the net today?”  And, of course, you will naturally respond, “Net?  What net?”

We may not notice that we’re all in the same net, and we might not accept that what we call a scraggly weed, God calls a beautiful tree.  But bread?  Well, you know about bread.  The body of Christ, the bread of heaven, freely offered, for sustenance and strength, to everyone in the net, every kind of fish.  Even you and me.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

YEAR A 2017 pentecost 6

Pentecost 6, 2017
Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 When I was 18, for reasons I’d rather not disclose, I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle in Asheville North Carolina for a year.  Within the first couple of days, I was asking my Aunt Pat, “What on earth is this vine that is growing on everything?”  She told me it is called kudzu.  Which told me nothing.  But she told me horror stories of people abandoning their homes because this plant grows up to a foot a day, and they just couldn’t keep up.  I was fascinated by this stuff, so I did some research at the local library and by looking through old newspapers.  So, for those of you who haven’t done the research, I’ll fill you in.

My aunt claimed that the spread of kudzu was all because the Tennessee Valley Authority used it to prevent erosion.  However, that’s not really true.  It was first sold as an unusual houseplant, imported from Asia in the early 1900’s.  Then, it started to get used to prevent erosion in the 30’s, when erosion was the scariest thing in the country.  Eventually, it got planted along highways and in places where livestock couldn’t eat it, so as you drive down southern roads, you’d swear it was taking over the world.  But that’s because it tends to grow exactly where you tend to drive, and you get a distorted view of how invasive it really is.  Kudzu just happens to grow where it is most likely to get noticed, so it’s influence is magnified to those who see it.  But . . . there are all sorts of soils in the south where kudzu is not growing.

In today’s Gospel reading, from Matthew, we heard Jesus telling and then explaining what we call the Parable of the Sower.  For once, we call a parable by its proper name.  Though on reflection, we usually think of this as though it were called the Parable of the Soils.  And that is a mistake, for a lot of reasons.  The emphasis here is on the Sower and the seed.  Jesus himself calls it the Parable of the Sower.  Which leads us to ask, “Okay, who is the Sower, and what is the seed?”

Well, Jesus helpfully tells us what the seed is:  The Word of the kingdom of God.  The Word of God is not the Bible.  The Word of God is Jesus.  As John says, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Bible contains the Word of God, or describes the Word of God, but it is not the Word of God; Jesus is.

Now let’s take a side road for a moment to consider farming in first century Palestine.  When we think of farming, we usually think of digging trenches or holes in the ground, and then carefully planting the seeds and covering them back up.  What Jesus is describing in this parable is what is called “broadcasting.”  The idea of this kind of planting, or sowing, is that you just scatter the seeds all over the place, and count on some of them taking root.  It’s terribly inefficient and wasteful, unless you’ve got an endless supply of seeds.  In broadcasting, you scatter the seeds with reckless abandon, knowing that some amount of them will turn into the plants you’re hoping to see grow.  Not careful; not stingy; but rather, generous, and everywhere.

The seed sown by the Sower is generous and everywhere.  But the sticky problem still remains: What about the soil?  Many people will tell you, as I said earlier, that this is a parable about the soils.  But it is not.  It is the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus says so himself.  I know it’s awfully tempting to make it about the soils.  It’s especially tempting for those who feel that evangelism is all about saving souls from hell, or, in this case, saving soils from hell.  But you can tell that’s not the point of this parable because the soil just sits there, passively.  It is not transported to some heavenly kingdom because it was suitable earth for the seed.  It doesn’t decide to accept the seeds.  They just fall on it, along with all the other soil.

Plus, the soil does nothing to make itself suitable, does it?  Just as the other soil does nothing to make itself unsuitable.  And I’ve never seen the dirt in our garden reach up and take seeds back from the birds.  The soil does nothing.  And the Word of God falls on the soil, whether it is ready for it or not.  And the Word of God falls on all the soil.  It is present everywhere.  We can’t bring it to people, we can only announce its presence.  Though we might not want to admit it, when we send missionaries, or (at one time) colonize the heathens, we are not bringing Jesus to them, Jesus is already there.  Jesus has always already been there.  What we do is point to Jesus, and tell them he’s there, which is what preaching the gospel really is: Announcing the good news of God in Christ.

The thing that gets us into trouble with this parable is when we focus on the soil.  Like most stories about Jesus, turning them into stories about ourselves always ends badly.  And in this case, it’s very important not to focus on the soil because it leads us to conclude that some soil is good, and some soil is bad, and we all know which soil is which.  You can tell bad soil just like you can tell a bad apple.  The good soil goes to church and obeys the law.  (And imagining a clump of dirt putting on its finest clothes and coming to church shows us just how absurd that is.)  Soil is always passive.  It receives the seed from the Sower like rain from the sky, whether or not it wants to, and whether or not the seed takes root.

And the most insidious thing about focusing on the soil (and assuming ourselves to be good soil), is that it impacts how we treat our neighbor.  And what I mean by that is, if we think of ourselves as good soil, where God’s Word is growing and taking root, we don’t want to be associating with the bad soil over there, the soil with all the weeds and the birds and the foot traffic.  We need to protect these precious little seedlings that are growing up in us.  We must be careful and stingy, lest the Word of God whither away in us.  Like there’s not enough Jesus to go around.

The Word of God is not precious and delicate; the Word of God is powerful and overwhelming.  How do I know?  Well, for one thing, Jesus says, the seeds that fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Now I’m no farmer, but as best I can tell, with modern techniques and machinery, a good yield is about 20 grains per stalk.  In Jesus’ time, a good yield would be about 3 grains per stalk.  Which means, a yield of 30, 60, or 100 is absurd!  That is just plain crazy talk.  And that is how we know that the Word of God is not precious and delicate; the Word of God is actually powerful and overwhelming.

And here’s why that is so important to the soil:  Because it doesn’t matter at all that 3/4 of the seed does not grow into plants.  It doesn’t matter that some seed lands on hard soil, or that some seed gets choked out by weeds, or that some seed gets eaten by birds.  (And seeds eaten by birds get another chance to grow, so haha on you, “evil one” who snatches them away.)  It does not matter that some seed doesn’t succeed, because the seed that takes root produces an absurd abundance of grain.  God does not need Monsanto to carefully engineer a genetic powerhouse of insect-resistant mutations; God only needs a little patch of dirt on which to scatter the Word of God, which is sown everywhere with wild abandon.

A little patch of dirt like St. Timothy’s Church in Massillon Ohio.  The Word of God is sown everywhere, but it doesn’t thrive everywhere.  But, like the kudzu I told you about in the beginning, it always grows where you can see it.  The Word of God lives in the community around us, and we can see it when we pass by.  When Jesus is present, you can’t miss him, with these absurd levels of abundance, flowing out into the world around us.

And this morning, you and I get to stretch out our hands at this Altar and let Jesus, the Word of God fall on us once again, into the palms of our hands.  And as we share in the Eucharistic feast with the saints of every time and place, may we be reminded of God’s generous abundance, and may we see that Jesus has been here all along.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jan Hus, 2017

Jan Hus, Prophetic Witness and Martyr, 1415
Job 22:21–30
Revelation 3:1–6
Matthew 23:34–39
Psalm 119:113–120

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

From Holy Women, Holy Men:  John Hus (1372-1415) was a Czech priest who became leader of the Czech reform movement, which called for a return to scripture and living out of the word of God in one’s life. As preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, he talked to the people in their native language. Hundreds gathered every day to hear his call for personal and institutional reform. Clerics he had offended had him exiled from Prague, but he continued his ministry through the written word. Hus took the radical step of appealing directly to Christ rather than to the hierarchy for the justification of his stance. 

When the Council of Constance opened in 1414, Hus traveled there
hoping to clear his name of charges of heresy. Hus had been given a pledge of safe conduct from the emperor, but his enemies persuaded council officials to imprison him on the grounds that “promises made to heretics need not be kept.” Although several leaders of the Council of Constance were in favor of moderate church reform, the council’s prime objective was the resolution of the Great Western Schism, which had produced three rival popes at the same time. The council therefore tried to secure a speedy recantation and submission from Hus. He maintained that the charges against him were false or twisted versions of his teachings, and he could not recant opinions he had never held. 

Faced with an ultimatum to recant or die, Hus chose the latter. As he approached the stake on July 6, 1415, he refused a last attempt to get him to recant and said: “The principal intention of my preaching and of all my other acts or writings was solely that I might turn men from sin. And in that truth of the Gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willing gladly to die today.”
His death did not end the movement, and the Czech reformation continued. Hus’ rousing assertion “Truth will conquer,” is the motto of the Czech Republic today.

Growing up Lutheran, I learned a lot about Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  It was 500 years ago this October that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Lutherans will often mention Jan Hus as the direct predecessor of Martin Luther’s ideas, and both men’s rebellion against the abuses of the Church led them to the same sort of place: testifying before councils and having Papal Bulls written to condemn them.  However, Luther had a wealthy benefactor who rescued him from certain death, while Jan Hus’ benefactor abandoned him to torture and execution.

But while Luther is usually credited with creating all these radical ideas, they were not wholly original.  Jan Hus had said many of these same things 100 years before Luther.  And John Wycliffe was burned at the stake for saying many of the same things 30 years before that.  There are threads that connect Wycliffe to Hus to Luther to Thomas Cranmer to every Protestant Church member across the globe today.

But here is the astonishing thing about Jan Hus in my opinion:  Though John Wycliffe and Martin Luther were both willing to stand up for the things they wrote and said, claiming them as their own ideas, Jan Hus was actually put on trial for someone else’s ideas.  In the case they built against him, the writings and ideas presented were mostly those of John Wycliffe, not Jan Hus.  And yet, Jan Hus did not deny that they were true.  His challenge to the authorities of the council was this: Though I did not write and say these things, I will not deny that they are true, unless I can be shown through scripture that they are not true.

That is, he was willing to die for the truth that he himself did not proclaim.  He was willing to go to the stake to defend the writings of another reformer, who died 30 years before him.  In fact, he did not agree with much of the writings presented at his trial, but he refused to condemn them unless they could be proven false.

It is a remarkable thing to be willing to die for the truth as expressed by someone else.  In some ways, it is not too far from the phrase Evelyn Hall put in the mouth of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  When we clear away all the apocryphal stories about the Reformers and get down to what they were really after, they sought the truth, wherever that took them.  And in the life and death of Jan Hus, that meant seeking the truth, even when he did not agree with the truth.  Hear, once again, today’s Collect:

Faithful God, you gave Jan Hus the courage to confess your truth and recall your Church to the image of Christ: Enable us, inspired by his example, to bear witness against corruption and never cease to pray for our enemies, that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

YEAR A 2017 pentecost 4

Pentecost 4, 2017
Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So that was a very nice Gospel reading we just heard.  Welcome people and prophets.  Give a cup of water to little ones.  Nothing but hospitality and doing the right thing.  And we could focus on the Gospel reading this morning, as we so often do, and receive the reassurance of God’s love and unconditional welcome to all.  But there’s a problem with doing that today.  Or, not so much a problem, as there is a very large elephant in the room.  An elephant whose name is The Reading From Genesis.

Remember that one?  The first reading from today?  We call it “the binding of Isaac.”  It is a shocking story, to say the least.  But it is an important story for us, especially because Christians, Muslims, and Jews all consider this story important, since we are all part of what is called the Abrahamic Faith.  We can’t just pretend we didn’t hear what we heard this morning, and it is best to go back and look at it again, rather than sweep it under the rug.  So, all that said, let’s take a look . . .

The first thing we have to do is get the history right.  By that I mean, we need to look at what comes before today’s reading, in order to get the context.  Way back in the 12th chapter of Genesis, God called Abraham (then known as Abram) to begin the line of God’s chosen people.  And then later God says to Abraham, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.”

But remember just two weeks ago when we heard that Sarah laughed?  That was because Abraham and Sarah eventually grew to be very old, and still had no children.  When all seemed lost, God gave them a child at the age of about 100.  Sarah laughed because it was ridiculous to think that they could have children, and yet Isaac was born.  One child.  Not exactly as numerous as the grains of dust, but it’s a start, right?  And later, God tells Abraham that it is through Isaac that his offspring will be counted.  One child.  One chance to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

And then we come to today’s reading, when Abraham is told to take that same one child up the mountain and sacrifice him.  And, of course, we are shocked!  Shocked that he would be asked to do it, and shocked that he would be willing to do so.  But strange as it is to hear, child sacrifice was not uncommon in that time.  And this is another example where we have to guard against imposing our morals and values backwards into the stories of the Bible.  When we read the book of Genesis, we run into all sorts of things that seem unthinkable to us, things which were commonplace at the time the book was written.  That world is not our world.

In the culture of Abraham’s time, the gods demanded lots of things that are unbelievable to us.  Being told to sacrifice a child shocks us, but would not be shocking to them.  The gods of Abraham’s neighbors demanded such things, and in Abraham’s mind, this made God just like the other gods.  But the God of Abraham is supposed to be different from those gods.  And we’ll come back to that in a moment.

So Abraham dutifully takes Isaac up the mountain.  We get the full description, from saddling the donkey and getting servants, to leaving the servants behind and going on ahead with Isaac and the stack of wood.  We can’t believe he’s really going to go through with this.  And Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  And Abraham tells him, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering.”  And then we get to the dramatic climax as Abraham raises the knife, and the angel of the Lord calls out to him.  Phew!

But now I want you to get out your bulletin for a moment and turn to the reading from Genesis.  Though we don’t have numbered verses, I can point you where I want you to look.  You see how from the opening sentence we have the word “God.”  This is the Hebrew word Elohim, which is like the generic word for god.  And about halfway through, we read “When they came to the place that God had shown him,” (again the word, Elohim.) But then, two sentences later, “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven.”  LORD is our translation for the Hebrew word, Yahweh.  Whenever you see the LORD in all capital letters like that in the scriptures, it is meant as the specific name for Yahweh.  This is the name God tells Moses when he asks God’s name.  Yahweh.  I am.  That other word, Elohim, that is the word God uses in the first commandment: Thou shall have no other gods before me.  Elohim could be any god; but Yahweh is the God of Abraham.

Now I don’t want to make too big a point of this, because we don’t know what the author actually intended in switching from Elohim to Yahweh.  But the case can be made that the distinction is intentional.  And it does make sense, since much of the first few books of the Old Testament are for the purpose of distinguishing Yahweh from the other gods.  All those dietary restrictions and moral codes serve to mark God and the Hebrew people as different from their neighbors.  As being set apart as a chosen people.

The gods of Abraham’s neighbors demanded sacrifice, and in Abraham’s mind, this made God just like the other gods.  But the God of Abraham is different from those gods.  The other gods still want sacrifice, but the God of Abraham, Yahweh wants salvation.

And so the child Isaac is spared, and a ram in a thicket takes his place.  Not because of the ram, notice.  No Isaac is saved because of God’s intervention.  The ram is not there because God needed a sacrifice.  My own guess is that Abraham needed to sacrifice something, and God provides.  But God does not desire sacrifice; God wants mercy.  It is not about the death of the ram; it’s about the life of Isaac.  Just as it is not so much the death of Jesus, but his resurrection from the dead that saves.  The LORD will provide.  And God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  God wants salvation, not death.

And even though the god’s of this world want sacrifice, the God of Abraham wants salvation.  The gods of selfish gain, and blind vengeance, and high moral principle want sacrifice.  The God of Abraham wants redemption.

And so the obvious question is, well, how do we satisfy a God who wants redemption and salvation?  It’s easy to satisfy the gods who want bloodshed and sacrifice.  We do it all the time, by throwing people under the bus, or dropping bombs on their cities.  But how do we conjure up mercy, and salvation?  And the answer is back there on that mountain: The Lord will provide.

Everything necessary for salvation is provided by God, not by us.  Our role is to listen and to trust, just as Abraham did.  Our part is to discern the voice of the gods of this world for what they are, and where they lead us, and to choose instead to follow the voice of the God of Abraham.  The one who says, “Stop," and provides another way.  Even though we can’t help but think God desires sacrifice and rejection, God shows us over and over that mercy and acceptance are the better way.  God’s story is about salvation and redemption, from the beginning of time until the day Jesus returns—Salvation and Redemption.

And as part of that redemption story, God calls us to this Altar today.  To the place where God feeds us and strengthens us for the journey ahead.  Today, you have come to the place where the LORD will provide, as God gives us the gifts of God, for the people of God.