Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 23, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 8

Pentecost 8, 2023
Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

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

As promised, today we have another parable from Jesus.  One way to read this parable goes like this: Christians are the wheat, and non-Christians are the weeds.  But they must be allowed to grow together until our loving God comes back and burns the non-Christians for eternity.  It will surprise no one to hear that this is not how I read this parable.

But I’d like us to look at this parable through the lenses of everybody’s favorite dinner conversation topics:  religion, and politics.  Or, more specifically, the purity tests used in religion and politics.  Because, like the workers in the field, we are all just itching to distinguish wheat from weed, and start tearing things out and burning them up.

Since I had to take three semesters of Church History in seminary—and I don’t want that to go to waste—I’m going subject you to a quick Church history purity tour.  But I’ll skip the first two semesters.  In fact, we’ll even skip past the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (which were all about trying to purify the Church) and we’ll start in the 1600s.  The English Puritans (notice the name) decided they could not live within an Anglican Church that allowed Catholics and Reformists to worship in the same room.  For the extremist Pilgrims (who insisted on total separation), this meant sailing to America and setting up the Plymouth Colony.

Other Puritans, who were willing to remain in the Anglican Church, set up the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  As you may know, a big part of their faith understanding was that good deeds showed that you were part of God’s people.  Those who differed in belief or behavior were banished to such far-flung places as Rhode Island or Pennsylvania.  Bad behavior meant you were a non-believer, which meant you did not belong in the Shining City on a Hill, the New Jerusalem.  And, in the case of Salem, sometimes they’d just burn you, rather than banish you.  The colony must remain pure, free from weeds.

Around that same time, a pastor in Germany named Philip Spener began preaching that faithful followers of Jesus must be perfectly holy, and living active lives of faith.  People flocked to hear him, but that meant some unholy people were flocking to hear him as well.  He came up with the idea of a church within the church.  He started a group he called Collegia pietatis, which is where we get “pietism.”  The basic idea was that small groups of the truly faithful would meet during the week in homes for pious Bible reading and mutual holy living.  This way, everyone would be sort of welcome on Sunday morning, but the truly “saved” could meet separately from the rabble of sinners . . . those pesky weeds that kept coming back.

Along comes John Wesley, an Anglican priest who came to the same conclusions as Philip Spener.  The church seemed to contain a whole lot of unconverted sinners, which held back true religion.  But Wesley still wanted to stay within the Anglican Church.  He began meeting in people’s homes on Wednesday nights, for pious fellowship and Godly conversation.  Wesley called this church within the church, “Methodism,” and had no intention of separating from the Anglican Church.  Obviously it didn’t work out that way, since you may have seen a Methodist Church here or there.  For those who caught on to Wesley’s vision, there were just too many lukewarm Christians in the Anglican Church, and the wheat must be free to grow without being held back by the weeds.

In the late 1800’s, a newly unified German government also encouraged the unification of the different church bodies.  Suddenly, Lutherans were about to be merged with Calvinists, which to purists on both sides was absurd.  Most German Lutheran congregations in the United States trace their roots back to a great migration during this time, out of a desire to maintain pure doctrine and a unified confession.  And some branches of Lutheranism still spend a great deal of energy keeping out the weeds of syncretism and unionism . . . which are technical terms that mean, People Who Don’t Believe What We Believe.  The wheat often abandons the field entirely and replants itself to grow free from weeds.

And then let’s just skip the fractious history of the Church in the United States and bring ourselves to the present day.  Does the Church still judge and separate to try to remain pure?  Obviously, the answer is yes.  Some church bodies tolerate diversity of thought more successfully than others, but there will always be separation over so-called “purity”—a self-selecting group that tries to be something other than Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

There is an old saying:  Baptists will tolerate any amount of schism to avoid heresy; and Episcopalians will tolerate and amount of heresy to avoid schism.  But that’s not as true as it once was.  For example, in 2008, the Anglican Church in North America was founded.  This denomination consists mostly of former Episcopalians who decided that the Episcopal Church was no longer right for them.  In their case, schism was preferable to heresy, and they formed a whole new church body rather than maintain a church within the church.  And these folks who left the Episcopal Church will tell you that it’s all about the authority of scripture.  But when it comes down to it, well it’s not that simple.  Because there’s a reason they’re clinging to the authority of scripture in this particular instance, and it is this:  
All are welcome . . . with exceptions.

When I was first ordained to the priesthood, I spent three years serving a church in Brunswick, OH.  The Diocese had just released a series of slogans like, “All are welcome: regardless.”  I got a couple of these signs and put one out on the church lawn.  The one that said, “All are welcome: regardless.”  Before long, a parishioner came to me and asked, “What do we mean by ‘regardless’.”  And I said, “We mean, regardless.”  And he asked, “Well what if a registered sex offender showed up on Sunday morning?  Would they be welcome?”  I said, “Yes; they’d be welcome.  They would not be welcome to teach Sunday School or lead VBS, but they would be welcome, yes.”  The point being, if we really believe All Are Welcome, we can’t paint over the word “regardless,” or add some kind of asterisk.

The purity tests are not just found in religion, though.  They’re everywhere, especially in our politics right now.  On one side, we have people being accused of being RINO’s, or Republicans in Name Only.  And on the other side, we have people being accused of being insufficiently progressive.  You have to prove you are worthy of remaining in the parties, true to the cause.  And if you don’t rise to the level of necessary purity and commitment, someone will demand your removal (sometimes called a primary); someone will call you a weed; someone will try to paint over the word “regardless.”

But let’s put partisanship aside, as people always say before saying something partisan.  There’s a bigger, more frightening thing that runs through communities and nations, which is tied to all this.  When the people in power in any country start referring to some citizens as weeds, it never ends well.  We have the extreme examples like the Jews under the Nazis, or the Tutsis in Rwanda, but we see smaller versions of this all the time.

The ones we deem weeds get renamed Illegals, or Marxists, or Fascists, or Antifascists, and then we start to hear the calls:  If someone would just step in and remove this menace to society, all would be well.  If someone would just take away the people I’m afraid of.   If someone could just save me from the people they told me were ruining our country.  All these weeds . . .  And they asked him, “Do you want us to go and gather them?”  Do you want us to pull them out and destroy them?  Do you want us to paint over the word “regardless?”

This is where we end up if we make this parable about people, and claim the authority to judge them good or bad.  People are not weeds.  People are made in the image of God.  All people.  So, let me suggest a more helpful way of thinking about the weeds growing among the wheat.  What if the weeds aren’t people?  What if instead the weeds are just evil and sin and division?  Like within all of us there are weeds but there is also wheat.  What if weeds are the imperfections in all of us, which will be burned away to make us as we are meant to be?  It’s not that some individuals are thrown into the fire; it’s that the sinful nature in all of us is thrown into the fire.

The desire to demonize others.  The hatred in our hearts.  The things done and left undone.  Jesus says, let those things grow alongside the goodness God has created in each of us.  We are not as God intended us to be, but we will be.  We are not perfect, but we will be. Jesus says, let the wheat and the weeds grow together, and then let God purify us over time, and at the end of time.  

And then, the point of this parable is this: let them stay.  Let all of them stay.  All are welcome, regardless.  And that is good news for you and for me.  Because whether we are conservative or liberal, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, someone wants to paint over our “regardless,” to keep us out.  No matter how kind you are, someone thinks you’re a weed.  No matter how well you follow the rules, somebody will say you are not good enough.  No matter how much God loves you, some of God’s followers will kick you to the curb in a heartbeat.  But we are all wheat, and we are all weeds.  Thank God that Jesus does not weed this garden!  Let them grow together, and let God decide what’s what.  Because all are welcome, regardless.  Everyone is welcome, regardless.  All are beloved of God, regardless.


Sunday, July 16, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2023
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.

So, every three years, we get a string of parables from Jesus over the summer.  And this is one of those years, where the parables are stacked up, Sunday after Sunday.  And as I often remind you, we need to be sure that we approach parables the right way.

Main Rule #1: the parables are not about you and me.  The parables of Jesus are always about Jesus and the kingdom of God.  They are not handy morality lessons from Poor Richard’s Almanac about how to live your life.  If you go looking to the parables for ethical guidelines, you are going to be disappointed . . . and you are also going to end up with some seriously whacked out theology.

This is especially true in a reading like the one we just heard.  In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus telling—and then explaining—the Parable of the Sower.  Although we want to think of this as Parable of the Soils, that is a mistake, for a lot of reasons.  The emphasis here is on the Sower and the seed, not on the soil.  Which leads us to ask, “Okay, who is the Sower, and what is the seed?”

Well, Jesus helpfully tells us:  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, or points to the Word of God, but the Bible is not the Word of God; Jesus is.

On to the parable.  When you and I 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.  But what Jesus is describing in this parable is what is called “broadcasting,” from which we get the word, “broadcasting.”  The idea of this kind of planting, or sowing, is that you just scatter the seeds all over the place, and you hope that some of them take 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, trusting that some 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?  Even though Jesus himself calls it the Parable of the Sower, our natural reaction is to concentrate on the soil.  Well, let’s go ahead and look at the soil.  Let’s see what happens when we think of ourselves as the soil, and then try to be good soil.

It’s 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, I guess saving soils from hell.  But 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 as its personal plant and seedling.  The seeds . . . just fall on the soil . . . All.  The.  Soil. 

Plus, the good soil does nothing to make itself suitable, does it?  Just as the other soils do nothing to make themselves 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, all the time.  We can’t bring it to people, we can only announce its presence.  “Look!  Seeds!”

Though we might not want to admit it, when we send out missionaries, we are not bringing Jesus to people; Jesus is already there.  Jesus has always already been there.  What we do is point to Jesus, and tell them he’s there:  "Look!  Seeds!”  Which is what preaching the gospel really is: Announcing the good news of God in Christ.

Soil is always passive.  It receives the seed from the Sower like rain from the sky, whether it wants to or not, and whether the seed takes root or not.  The soil does nothing to prepare itself, other than be soil.  And to keep going with the metaphor—as my wife can tell you—the circumstances of a soil’s life are what make it ready or not to receive seeds.  Soil that is mistreated, or poisoned, or pressed down, or abused . . . well of course it can’t receive the seeds!

But the most insidious thing about focusing on the soil (and assuming ourselves to be good soil), is that it impacts how we treat our neighbors.  And what I mean by that is, if we think of ourselves as the 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 among us.  We must be careful and stingy, lest the Word of God whither away in us.  As though there’s not enough Jesus to go around.  

But 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, as 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 find, with modern techniques and machinery, a good yield these days 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 powerful and overwhelming!

And here’s why that is so important to the soil:  Because it doesn’t matter 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.  It does not matter that some seed doesn’t succeed, because the seed that does take root produces an absurd and overwhelming abundance of grain.  God does not need Monsanto to carefully engineer a genetic powerhouse of insect-resistant mutations.  God only needs a tiny patch of dirt which receives the Word of God, these seeds that are 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.  It doesn’t thrive everywhere, but it thrives where it is needed.  The Word of God lives in the community around us, and we can see it in so many little things, every day.  When Jesus is present, you can’t miss him, with these absurd levels of abundance, flowing out into the world.

And you and I together, we get to spend our days pointing to God’s abundance and saying, “Look!  Seeds!”  Because we know that Jesus has been here with us all along, no matter what kind of soil we are at any given point.  And together we continue to point to Jesus in our Worship, our Hospitality, and our Outreach.  We are just pointing to Jesus.  No matter what mistakes we might make, no matter how many times we might get things wrong, no matter what our life experiences may have done to us, we just keep saying, “Look!  Seeds!”  Because the sower just keeps sowing, and sowing, and sowing, forever and forever.


Sunday, July 9, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 6

Pentecost 6, 2023
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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

I hold these truths to be self evident: Anyone to the left of me is a godless Marxist.  And anyone to the right of me is a fascist bigot.  I hope that’s helpful.  This is one of those laws that govern the known universe . . . as long as the universe consists of me.  And it does, doesn’t it?  I mean, to each of us?  I am the center, the middle, the via media.  My views are the correct views.

Of course, none of us ever says this kind of thing aloud because it’s immediately obvious to everyone else that you think the universe revolves around you.  And though we may each secretly think that anyone with different views are Marxists and fascists, we wouldn’t admit that we truly think this way, because—as I say—it shows that we think we alone have the correct answer.  And, if we alone truly did have the right answer to everything, that would be an incredibly heavy burden to bear, would it not?  To be the standard by which every thing and everyone is judged?  To be the one who is the final arbiter of whether someone else is right or wrong.  Who would want THAT responsibility?

Well, surprisingly the answer is, all of us.  The left/right example is just one little instance of how we think in our daily lives.  Especially right now.   As Yeats said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”  We have all scurried to the edges, while still thinking we are personally in the place that is just right.  Essentially, we all want to be Goldylocks.  We each decide what is the right amount of everything; and anything outside that right amount is . . . well, wrong.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says,
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  

See?!?  Anyone who drinks more than I do is a drunk.  And anyone who drinks less than I do is a Purtian.  Jesus has no self-discipline, and John the Baptist is a weirdo.  Jesus asks, “To what will I compare this generation?”  Which is like Jesus’ saying, “What do you people want from me?”  We played the flute and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.  Well, you know why?  Because we were too busy judging you, that’s why.  How do you expect us to dance or weep when we’re constantly sizing up whether someone mows their lawn too often, or has too many dandelions?  We’re very busy over here, Jesus!  No time for dancing or mourning.

And here’s something else.  We consider it a sign of maturity to be able to judge right from wrong.  As we grow up we learn to tell what things are helpful and good, and which things are harmful and bad.  It’s an important part of life to be able to make good decisions, to benefit ourselves and those around us.  The trouble is, we use those skills of discernment to judge people as well.  It’s like an unfortunate consequence of the gift of discernment is that we apply it to everyone else . . . more than we apply it to ourselves.  

Sure, growing up means judging right from wrong for ourselves; but what a drag life becomes when we spend all day judging what’s right and wrong about everybody else.  I mean, there are 8 billion people walking around; if we’re going to judge them all based on our own personal standards we’re going to be very busy . . . heavy laden in fact . . . weary and carrying heavy burdens.

Speaking of which, Jesus says, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?  But what does it even mean?  We have come to Jesus, but we are not getting very much rest, quite frankly.  Taking Jesus' yoke upon us sounds like more work, no matter how easy it is; and taking Jesus’ burden might just be the thing that breaks our backs.  The last thing we need is more work, even if it’s for you, Jesus.

But let’s back up a minute and ask the obvious questions that pop up from these statements.  Burdened by what?  And, whose burden is not light?  And, come to think of it, what exactly is a yoke?  Good questions.  Glad you asked them.

So, I’ve told you this before, but it bears repeating.  Jesus’ disciples called him their Rabbi.  I’m sure you all have some idea of what a Rabbi is.  Essentially, a Jewish teacher, right?   And you know that the Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament; and you know that the Torah is the most sacred thing on earth for the Jewish people.  A Rabbi in Jesus’ time would interpret the Torah for their disciples.  Usually this interpretation meant adding things on, or carefully explaining to their disciples exactly what God meant by a particular rule or law.

Different Rabbis have different interpretations of the finer points of the Torah, sort of  like what we would call a “school of thought.”  You might prefer the teachings of one Rabbi over another, and so you would approach that Rabbi and ask to become their disciple.  And if the Rabbi said yes, you would then be expected to adhere to the Rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah.  And—here’s the important thing—as Rob Bell explains it, a  Rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah, their school of thought was called their yoke.  If you followed a particular Rabbi, you took their yoke upon you.

There were plenty of Rabbi’s around in Jesus’ day.  And any Jew who was serious about becoming a disciple would choose a Rabbi and take their yoke upon themselves.  Jesus says, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  The implication is, the easy yoke of Jesus is different from the alternatives, right?  In order for that statement to have any impact on those listening, it would mean that the yoke of the other Rabbis is difficult, and their burden is heavy. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

I am not going to go on and on about all the implications of this, but I do want to be sure to tell you one thing:  over the course of your life, many people will come to you claiming to be disciples of Jesus, but also trying to burden you with a heavy yoke.  A yoke with all sorts of preconditions, and legalisms, and laws, and rules, and on and on.  If the yoke someone is trying to present to you is heavy and burdensome, then it is not the yoke of Jesus.  They are trying to get you to take on a different yoke, and you don’t need those heavy burdens in your life.

To follow Jesus means to rely on him.  To trust that God has done for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Jesus offers us a break from having to judge the world because—as we say in the Creed each week—he is the judge of the living and the dead.  You don’t need to carry the heavy burden of judging whether your neighbor is better or worse than you are.  You don’t need to take on a whole bunch of rules about behavior and good conduct.  You do not need another yoke; you only need the yoke of Jesus: learn from him.  You will find rest for your soul, because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I encourage you to focus your trust in Jesus to meet you in your troubles whatever they are, to carry your burdens however heavy they may be, and to give you the strength you need to face tomorrow, whatever that day might bring.  Because when you put your trust in Jesus, you will find rest for your soul.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 5

Pentecost 5, 2023
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.

Well, here I go again, preaching on the first reading.  But here’s something you might not know:  Every summer, we have to decide whether to follow tack 1 or track 2 for the first two readings.  We make the choice after Trinity Sunday, and then we have to stick with it.  I tell people I chose Track 1 this year because 2023 is an odd-numbered year.  But actually, it’s because I think the Track 1 readings are better.  So, now you know.  On to the scary story we heard . . .

We call this story, “The Binding of Isaac.”  It is one of the nine options for readings at the Easter Vigil, but I’ve never heard anyone actually use it.  Because . . . well, because it’s scary, that’s why!  You can’t just read this story  during a worship service and not say something about it.  And no priest in their right mind chooses to spend their Easter sermon talking about the time God told Abraham to kill his only son.

As we heard, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”  You notice how it’s all right in there:  Your only son, whom you love!  Let’s take a moment to remember how we got here.  At some point, God promised Abraham that his descendants would number as the grains of sand.  Two weeks ago, we heard that Sarah and Abraham are very old, when God gives them the miraculous birth of Isaac.  And last week, Sarah has Abraham send away Abraham’s other son, Ishmael.  And now here we are: The one and only chance to give Abraham the offspring who will number as the sands, being taken on a three-day journey to be offered up as a sacrifice.  The end of everything God has promised.  Something’s not right here, right?  I mean, a LOT of things are not right here!

But . . . we have to remember that child sacrifice was not unusual in the culture of the time.  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.  We need to set aside our natural horror and revulsion, because in the wider culture all around Abraham, the gods were always demanding things like child sacrifice.  To hear God requiring the same thing from Abraham probably seems expected to him, on some level.  All the other gods were making demands of brutal domination and cruelty; that was the sign of a good leader, to make people suffer and cower in fear.  It was a different time . . . sort of.

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, to sacrifice his only son,  and then the angel of the Lord calls out to stop him.  Phew!  The God of Abraham is different from those other gods.  Thank God!

Which is kind of the point of much of the first few books of what we call the Old Testament.  All those seemingly arcane laws and everything else show us that the God of Abraham is different from the other gods.  And God of Abraham’s people are different from the other people.  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 would have made God just like the other gods.  But the God of Abraham is different from those other gods.  The other gods still want sacrifice, but the God of Abraham wants salvation.

And so the child Isaac is spared, and a ram in a thicket takes his place.  But notice, Issac is not spared because of the ram.  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 still needed to sacrifice something, and God provides.  But God does not require the sacrifice; God desires mercy.  It is not about the death of the ram; it’s about the life of Isaac.  

And one thing this whole event gives to Abraham is a date to refer to.  A moment in time.  When his neighbors ask him, “How do you know that God desires mercy and not sacrifice?”  Abraham can say, “One day, God called to me and told me to take my only son, whom I love, and go up this mountain . . .”  He’s got a story to prove the point:  God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

And as Christians, we have a similar marker with Jesus.  Some Christians will tell you that Jesus needed to die because God needed a sacrifice.  The technical term for this view is Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  I know plenty of clergy who subscribe to this fancy-named Calvinist theory.  But I don’t believe it for a second.  God didn’t need a sacrifice, but we did.  Like Abraham, we need a date that we can point to and say, “That’s the day everything changed.  That’s the day when God did for us what we can’t do for ourselves.”  And that day for us is not Good Friday; that day is Easter.  That’s the day that matters for us.  The day that God raises Jesus from the dead is our Mount Moriah.  Our own story that proves: The Lord provides.

And even though the false god’s of this world still want sacrifice, the God of Abraham wants salvation.  Those false 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 false 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 cries out, “Stop!” and provides another way.  Even though we naturally think that what God desires are 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 Restoration.

We can trust that things really are going to be alright, because God will provide.  We might not see it right now, we might not believe it right now, but God always provides.  Because—like Abraham—we worship the God who wants mercy and redemption for all.