God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?


Here you can...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15 -- God Calls Samuel (& Eli)



May the words of my mouth and the meditations…

This week, Samuel is the one who gets called.  We’ve had call stories all through this season so far.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, God’s people in the wilderness.  And our resounding theme has been trusting in God through it all.  

This week, looks like Samuel is the one who gets called.  (Samuel is the one who will grow up and anoint David the shepherd boy king.)  God calls Samuel at first glance, and yet I’d like to reflect on Eli’s call, and on God walking with us as we share leadership — as longtime, sometimes broken leaders step aside and new leaders are invited to come forward.

You have to have noticed our opening verses here today:  “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread….[and] Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down...”

See, the institution was languishing.  The sermons had become rather drab and monotonous.  The prophet’s visionary leadership had begun to fade.  Not to mention the corruption and controversy in his family.  His sons were stealing the offering and sleeping around, they were bringing absolute disgrace, not just on Eli, but on the whole people of Israel.  Eli didn’t like it, but he was ineffective at stopping it.  And something had to be done.  God is always doing a new thing.  

New leaders are always coming to the fore.  It’s exciting really, and it can be difficult sometimes to step aside, relinquish power, voice and control, and let others occupy our seats in the “room where it happens”.  Maybe you’ve had experiences like this...  

I was at Cal Lutheran, on Thursday and Friday.  I’m a Convocator for the university, along with about 60 others across the West.  Convocators are advocates and links between the church and the university.  Every year we gather in the fall, and it’s always so much fun to see and hear all the new things that are happening.  When I was there, now 20 years ago, I think I was a student leader, a voice for change.  But now...all I can do is cheer and give thanks.  

Now, stepping aside is rather forced when it comes to college, right? -- that graduation robe pretty much bumps you right out of the institution, and yet I definitely get the sense, and sometimes my classmates and I marvel at how, this school has changed so much since we were there.  I love that institution, and had nothing to do with it’s amazing progression in recent years.  It seems like a new building is being dedicated every year.  On Friday it was the new School for Arts — state of the art!  But I feel a little more like Eli — when it comes to Cal Lutheran — out of touch, dim visions, lying down.  All I really know is the way it used to be.  All I can do is cheer from the sidelines, and give thanks.  

See, there are two calls in our text today.  Samuel is called in the night.  And Eli is called too.

Samuel’s call and conversation with God actually leads him to challenge the institution, to Eli stepping down.  His mentor! Samuel has to speak a difficult, prophetic word to the prophet.  

And yet look at how Eli responds: “It is the Lord.  Let him do what seems good to him.”  Eli accepts God’s call to step down, enabling others rise in his place and take his chair.  

This is a compelling message for us:  Please understand, I’m not saying our leaders here at church need to step down (by any means)!  But it is a wonderful reminder of how church and world work well:  Leaders lead, and then when their time has come, they move aside and into the backdrop, into supportive, cheerleader roles from the sideline...and that’s so important too (R.Rierson): “Ok. Let God do what God will do next.”

God certainly walks with us as leaders in the church, in the university, in the wider community, in the nation, in the world come and go.  Some leaders and prophets are good for us, some are less than effective.  All get to a point where their vision is blurred, and all they can do is go lie down like Eli, broken and tired, crippled by controversy.  And yet, friends in Christ, God stays with us through all the foibles and flaws and changes.  AMEN?  

We are called in this day too.  Perhaps called to step up, perhaps called to step aside, maybe both.  But I know God is calling us to faithfulness always — faithfulness to each other, in love and cheerleading and support...and faithfulness to God.

Our theme through the fall has been trust in God.  In my September newsletter I summed up each lesson in an article I titled “In God we (try to) trust...again”...     
We started with the creation story: “Trust in God, who called you and all creation into being.”  Then that difficult text about Abraham and the binding of Isaac: “Trust in God, and remember it all belongs to God.” Then Jacob’s dream: “Trust in God, even and especially when you’ve messed up.”  Then Moses being called from the burning bush: “Trust in God, and go where God sends you, even when it’s dangerous”  Last week it was manna in the wilderness: Trust in God, you have enough.” 
I drag you through all that, yes, to review where we’ve been, but also to rehearse the sacred remembering again when we’re backed into a corner.  In one of my favorite Eucharistic Prayers before communion, we say, “God of weary years, God of our silent tears, you have brought us this far along the way.  in times of bitterness you did not abandon us but guided us into the path of love and light.”  God’s never abandoned us through this leader — this bishop, this pastor, this president, this pope, this council member, this chancellor, this governor, this mayor — through this leader to that.  God’s walked with us as we discern the call to step up and step aside, the call to acts primary visionary or support the vision of those who come after us, God’s always held us.  In times of bitterness, God did not abandon us, but guided us into the path of love and light.

“Ok.  Let God do what God will do next.”  In God we trust, or more honestly, in God we’re trying to trust...again.  In the meantime, all we can really do is give thanks, as one of my newly-favorite-bible-characters Eli did.  


God’s got us, still.  AMEN.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8 -- God Provides Manna



We need to laugh a bit, in these tragic days:  

It was the new, big Mel Brooks comedy in the late ‘80s, the slap-stick spoof on both Star Wars and Star Trek.  Know what movie I’m talking about?  Spaceballs.  I was in Jr. High and loved it!  We laughed so hard, and repeat some of those goofy Mel Brooks lines with my brothers...even today.

The scene that comes to mind this morning, is when Lonestar (a play on Han Solo) and his sidekick Barf (a half-man, half-dog play on Chewbacca) along with Princess Vespa (an obvious play on Princess Leia) have just crashed into a desert planet and have to hike miles through the sand to escape.  Lonestar turns to the group just before they set out and clearly states, “Now, take only what you need to survive.”  Cut to hours later and they’ve been hiking, dragging this giant case of princess luggage.  Lonestar finally stops and throws down the giant trunk he’s been carrying through the blazing heat: “What’s in this thing anyway?”  He opens it up and finds a giant beauty accessory.  “What’s this?” he says in disgust, “I said take only what you need to survive!”  Remember the line?  “It’s my industrial strength hair dryer, and I can’t live without it!”
--
“Take only what you need to survive,” is the same thing God says to the Israelites on their wilderness journey through the Sinai desert.

They have just escaped the wrath of Pharaoh in a violent scene, void of comedy.  They are now crossing the desert.  And starting to complain.  

Let’s not forget the incredibly long journey to their freedom.  Enslaved for years, calling out to God for liberation.  God send Moses and Aaron, remember?  
They go to the Pharaoh: nine horrible plagues, and each time Pharaoh, first says “go,” only to change his mind once the plague stops, and keep the Hebrew people enslaved.  

Finally the Passover event, and the Israelites are ordered to leave Egypt...but not without the monumental crossing of the Red Sea.  

Now here in our text, only a month and a half in (“15th day of the 2nd month”), and already they’re complaining.  God freed them after centuries, and only a couple days later, they start complaining all over again.  “If only, if only…” [pause] 

Ring a bell?   Every longed for something — a car, a job, a raise, a family, a house, an industrial strength hairdryer — complained about needing something so badly (“I can’t live without it”), and then once you finally get it, you’re complaining about something else?

Complaining is part of our nature, that’s why Luther’s Sm. Cat. explanation of “Give us this day our daily bread” says “we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.”  And of course he defines daily bread not just as food and drink, but also “clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

The Israelites cried out in complaint again, and God provided for them.  God says, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.” x2  I want to unpack this verse a bit: 
“Rain down bread from above.”  All week, I’ve heard and read that phrase:  The horrific raining down of bullets from above on the dear crowd in Las Vegas.  

A shooter rains down bullets of death and terror.  God rains down bread of life and hope.   What an absolute contrast.

The people rain down complaints of fear and hunger and anger and scarcity.  God rains down blessings of enough.

“I am going to rain down bread from heaven, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”

Our sin, as we look at this text today, is not “gathering just enough for today”.  Our sin is gathering more than we need.  That’s where we’re all broken, and have something to learn (especially in such a wealthy nation).  

The very interesting thing about manna, is that it spoils if you take more than you need.  This is a lesson — even with all that’s happening around us — in trusting God by taking only what you need.  

Pay attention to that urge to take more.  It’s everywhere.  The whole commercial industry is based on convincing us that we don’t have enough.  

But God rains down us enough.  Bread from heaven falls on our earth.  And we have enough too...as a people.  

“Why then are so many hungry?” we might ask.  Why then do so many not have adequate “clothing, shoes, house, produce, money, family, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like?”  We might ask.

I don’t believe that’s on God.  God has rained down enough.  God has rained down on this whole earth bread from heaven.  We’ve just been taking more than our share, and it’s spoiling.  

It’s a powerful image for us this week: manna that spoils.  I believe the shooter took “more than his share” in countless ways, leading up to last Sunday, and it spoiled in the most horrific form of violence.  There was a deep chasm in Stephen Paddock’s soul that he was stuffing with more than he needed.  I keep this quote by Richard Rohr on my desk top:  "When positive masculine energy is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men, and into that vacuum, demons pour."  I don’t know about the positive masculine energy that was modeled to this man.  But I do know there was a void, and demons surely poured into it, and God’s manna, which was showered on him and on everyone, rotted and festered and spoiled and consumed Stephen Paddock.

God rains down bread from heaven, and each day we are called to go out and gather enough for that day.

God blesses us, and our blessing now, is to enjoy God’s bread from heaven.  And save some for others.  Take only what you need to survive.  It’s worth doing an inventory this week, living into this text.  What do I need to survive, and what can I let go of — not as a grand gesture of martyrdom for all the world to see — but rather as a quiet, spiritual practice.  Downsize as a spiritual practice.  Lighten your load and your grip.  God’s given you enough.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s enough.  And that is such a gift.  That is grace enough for today. 

Dorothy Campbell, who died on Thursday, always showed such love in our midst, didn’t she?  I was always struck when she would come out of church, and I might be flustered or embarrassed or upset or distracted by something that happened in the service or was going on in the world — see me wanting to take more than my share? — and Dorothy would always come through the line, offering always a smile and always little kiss on the cheek, and simply say, “I love you, what a blessing this day is, I thank God, I thank God.”  

Enough.

--

Prayer for Las Vegas

Let us pray. 
O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, 
grant courage and hope. 
Where anxiety is infectious and widening, 
grant peace and reassurance. 
Where impossibilities close every door and window, 
grant imagination and resistance. 
Where distrust twists our thinking, 
grant healing and illumination. 
Where spirits are daunted and weakened, 
grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. 

God our deliver, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of our world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope that we embrace without terror the labor pangs of the new age. 

Christ our victim, whose beauty disfigured and whose body torn upon the cross; open wide your arms to embrace our tortured world, especially the victims who were injured and for the families mourn the deaths of the many who were killed in Las Vegas, Nevada, that we may not turn away our eyes, but abandon ourselves to your mercy. 

God whose Holy name defies our definition, but whose will is known in freeing the oppressed, make us to be one with all who cry for justice; that we who speak your praise may struggle for your truth. 

O God our disturber, whose speech is pregnant with power and whose word will be fulfilled; may we know ourselves unsatisfied with all that distorts your truth, and make our hearts attentive to your liberating voice. 

O God who brought us to birth, and in whose arms we die, we give thanks for those saints who moved, and breathed, and had their being among us and now find rest in you. 

O God you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

(prayer adapted from ELCA.org)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 1 -- God's Name is Revealed



Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, be with our mouths.  Amen.

This past week, my Dad was in Malta, the tiny island off the southern coast of Sicily, right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  He’s on another educational trip in Italy, this one called “Paul by Land and by Sea”.  The journey ends in Rome this week — they’re working their way north — and it started in Malta, that tiny island country.  

And one of the first sites Dad visited was called “The Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck”.   The holy shipwreck!  This comes from Acts Chapter 27, when Paul crashes into this island on his way to Rome, famously saying headed into danger: “Sisters and brothers, I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (vs.22)

We build and dedicate churches, commemorating all kinds of things — sightings, miracles, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus’ birth, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s conversion, the site of Lydia’s baptism, the Protestant Reformation — but these are all bright shiny moments in our biblical and church history.  
I am struck by a church commemorating a shipwreck.  

Anyone ever been in a shipwreck or had a boat sink?  I have not...exactly.  The closest I’ve been is when my little brothers and I “ran aground” — as the book of Acts would say — crashed our sturdy little, blow-up raft against the rocks in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, once on family vacation.  And that was terrifying!  (Got all scratched up on those mossy, sharp rocks...)  Sinking is no fun.

Building a church to praise God in exactly the spot where the ship went down, that’s interesting!  
--  
Moses has just crashed into the rocks too.  (Last week Jacob had also — remember?  He actually laid his head down on a rock.)  This week Moses too is in a state of shipwreck.  The lifeboat he’s been on: “run around”, smashed to pieces.  

See, Moses had been a lifeboat from the very beginning of his life: We’ve skipped over a so much here, but Moses, I’ll remind you was placed on a lifeboat of reeds when he was a baby to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh who had ordered that all Hebrew boys were to be drowned.  Population control, you see.  Remember that?  Then as the river he was floating down twisted around, so did the events, and it turned out that he was drawn out of the river by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him and raised him in the palace as her own son.  He’s always sailed on the life boat, but now it’s run aground.

And our story today picks up just after Moses has seen one of his own Hebrew people being abused by an Egyptian taskmaster.  Moses takes revenge and kills the Egyptian, runs for his life into the wilderness, and here he is in our reading today tending sheep.  It’s like getting a job waiting tables or pouring shots at Starbucks or somewhere else.  Just directionless, biding his time.  Tending sheep.  It’s not glamorous or romantic.  But we know that God reveals great things to those who are leading glamor-less, romantic-less lives, particularly those tending sheep…

This is where God calls Moses...from another shipwreck-esque image: a burning bush.  A shipwreck in the desert.  A burning bush, but wait a second, the bush was burning but not consumed.  Kind of like a shipwreck site with a beautiful church planted there.  You’d think death and destruction, but in fact, that’s precisely where God chooses to show forth...and speak.
Our title for our today is “God’s Name is Revealed”.  As new members join our congregation, as we continue our journey through the fall, as we enter now (already!) into October the month we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, as we trudge at times through our days looking for hope or joy or peace.  Perhaps we too have “run aground” in some way.  Used to be floating on a boat of life, but now, it’s about as glamorous as tending smelly, dumb sheep.

And yet this is precisely the moment at which God — doesn’t just show up, but — calls you.  Interesting that God’s revealing is directly tied to calling (for Luther: justification & vocation).   When God and Moses meet, Moses emerges from the desert-wilderness with a vocation.  When we meet God (as we do here each Sunday), we emerge from our desert-wildernesses with a vocation, a new calling.  And not a glamorous one either, I’ll remind you: a tough one.  God’s name revealed is synonymous with your calling and our liberation.
Mr. Ron’s contemporary song — paraphrasing — there’s so much pain, suffering, sadness, loss, hopelessness in our lives, world...God, why don’t you do anything about it! God:  “I have done something about it, I made you!”
I have done something about it Moses, I made you.  Our God is in relationship with our ancestors and with us.  God’s very name is tied with our creation and our call to be about the work of liberation.  To have been loved so deeply...will give us some protection forever.  God sends us, like Moses:  “Go and tell that bully Pharaoh that I am doing a new thing!”  

This reign of cruelty and oppression, of ignorance and dehumanization is over.  We want freedom not only from chains, “not only from shackles and bars, but freedom from shortsightedness and callous disregard for the vulnerable and powerless” (today’s prayers).  Freedom from apathy.  Freedom from laziness, and selfishness.  You go tell that Pharaoh, that this God draws life precisely out of the places of death.  

This God — I AM WHO I AM — is calling you.  You are Moses!  You are here today at the burning bush, the site of the shipwreck.  So we can remove our shoes and come forward.  Receive God’s call here.  “I need you,” God says, to each one of us.  “I need you — not because of your past actions, but in spite of them — I need you to be about my work of liberation.  You go tell the Pharaoh, unchain my whole creation.”  

God’s name revealed EQUALS our call to go outward and cry out for justice and liberation.  Where is God calling you?

Moses, throws out some excuses: “Who am I that should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?  I can’t even talk good.”  And God’s only response is, “I will be with you, and I will provide for you.”

Where is God calling you?  Because this is the site of the shipwreck.  We are being sent out this day.  The church grows, precisely from the site of sunken ship, the hill with the cross on it, the place of the skull, the desert — all those places you would least expect God’s glory and grace to shine forth.

“Go,” Jesus says to you this day.  “I need even you.  Speak out.  Speak up.  Take your community of support and these tools you have with you.  I know you’re not perfect, but I love you anyway.  And I will always be with you.”   


Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, be with our mouths. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

September 24 -- Jacob's Dream



Jacob went to sleep in one place, and he woke up in a very different spot.  

He went to sleep not knowing — not having any idea — what was next for him.  He went to sleep afraid, alone and anxious.  He was running from his angry brother.  He had colluded with his clever mother, and tricked his blind father Isaac into giving him the birthright.  Jacob had stolen, lied, cheated and now is fleeing.  (We skipped over those verses.)   Jacob was living into his name — heel.  He was grabbing his twin brother’s heel at birth, and it sounds like he’s been tripping up Esau and others ever since... 

Now he’s a man on the run, but has to stop for the night.  He can’t go on any more.  He’s out of gas.   No idea what was next...but, man, did he have a rocky past!  Must have felt like he has no family at this point.  He hasn’t even wrestled with God yet (that great story comes in a few more chapters)!  It seems as though he’s far from everything and everyone.  “Now [he lays himself] down to sleep”...on a rock pillow! 

And that’s when he has this dream.  He goes to sleep in one place, and he wakes up in a very different spot.  When he goes to sleep on the rock, all is lost.  But when he wakes up he is suddenly aware that he is totally and completely in God’s presence!  

God is right there with him!  Has been all along!

What was it about that dream, that stairway to heaven, Jacob’s ladder?  It was like a vision of hope and peace and freedom for him. 

Not freedom to leave this earth and go up to heaven now, but rather the awareness of God’s greater presence, God’s messenger angels, moving both up and down: an free flow, a open connection, with heaven!  The freedom is in the knowing that the Divine is within our reach and easily accessible!  That’s what Jacob suddenly sees here!   

And the freedom of knowing that God’s right here, right next to us — did you catch that?  God wasn’t way up at the top of the ladder; God was standing right beside him here on the ground, planted in the earth!  

That’s when God speaks directly to Jacob for the first time in the biblical text.  It wasn’t a booming voice in the sky.  It was close whisper.  Words of promise, words of presence: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go...I will not leave you...”
— 
Jacob goes to sleep on a hard rock and wakes up in a cushion of grace.
— 
When we rest, sisters and brothers in Christ, God is working on us.  When we lay down.  When we stop running, and finally crash; when we get to that place of settling for just about anywhere to lay our head; when we’re at our wits end; when we hit rock bottom...as individuals, as congregations, as communities, as a nation, or even as a planet...when we hit rock bottom [pause] — that’s precisely when we may be most susceptible to God’s words AND GOD’S VERY PRESENCE comforting and assuring us.  Re-aligning us with God’s vision.  Jacob’s dream aligned him — realigned him — with the help of that rock pillow, Jacob’s dream aligned him with God’s vision.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God is right next to you too, ready to realign you with a divine vision — hope, peace, freedom, even joy.  

The 3rd verse of our HoD that we’re about to sing: 

May our dreams prove rich with promise; 
each endeavor well begun; 
Great Creator, give us guidance
till our goals and yours are one.

Our dreams and visions are aligned with God’s dreams and visions.  Think about what God’s dream is for you.  What is God’s dream for this congregation, this community, this nation, this world?  And how is God working through you — both in your hours at work and in your hours at rest — to align our dreams to God’s dream?  Are they the same.

Whether you know it, whether you believe it, whether you’re in touch with it — or not, we can echo Jacob’s wake-up song today: “Surely the Lord is in this place—I just had no idea!”

When we lie down, we lie down in Christ, and when we wake up, we wake up in Christ…in God’s presence and promise.  And this day, as in every day God is moving, the Holy Spirit is stirring in us, in our community, in our hearts — even in the midst of turmoil all around.  

You’d think this is the last place God would want to dwell, with all the destruction and cruelty we human beings, can inflict on one another, even those of us who fancy ourselves pretty good people.  Why would God want to stand beside us?!  Make promises to us?  Love us?  Forgive us? 
And yet, God does.  AMEN.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

September 17 -- Binding of Isaac



Let’s just come out and say it: at first glance, this is a MESSED UP text!  God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice/kill his only son Isaac as a burnt offering?!! 

It’s a little tempting to just skip this text, pretend like it’s not here in the Bible...and many times we do...but this actually has got some very important lessons and challenges for us -- we just need to say a few things first:

It needs to be said that we 21st c. Christians are always looking at Scripture through the lens of our own experience and culture -- we can’t help it.  And most of the time, frankly, that works just fine.  Lots of the stories in the Bible, we can relate to, as if they were happening in our day in age.  Many stories, we could create an almost-identical modern-day version, like a modern-day Prodigal Son story, for example.  

In this case, however, we have to try to get out of our own contextual trappings and contextual shortsightedness and imagine for a moment how very different the time, place, and customs really were.  This is always what we should consider with Bible, but it’s mandatory today.  In the binding of Isaac, we’re really forced to leave our contextual trappings.
“contextual trappings/contextual shortsightedness” -- 
What do you mean, Pastor? 
Well, how about this, for example: “What kind of a God would demand that a father who’s longed for a son, sacrifice that son?”  How many of you, like me, have that question hanging out there, as we read this story?  

Remember how different the times were: this was a time where many religions practiced child sacrifice.  It was common...people did it in order to appease the gods.  If you do this, then the gods will reward you.  We’d never do this today...but -- then again -- people  bargain with God today too: “God, I’ll do this...if you do…” (Then leave the church and maybe faith altogether if it doesn’t pan out.) 

This story starts to look like its headed that way as well, but then a surprising twist to an old story that always has the same ending: No!  Here, God/Yahweh/Elohim stops the child sacrifice tit-for-tat system.  God keeps promises, remember?  God promised to bring a great nation forth from Abraham and Sarah.  

So God -- in this ancient story -- stops the terror and violence.  For our time and place, it’s hard to see that, and this all sounds very troublesome, I know.  But for its time and place: radical.  “Stop!” the angel cries, “Do not hurt the boy.”  This is earth-shattering grace, something new, breaking out of something old!  

Probably not the best way, we’d image that today -- in fact, I’d never in a million years image it like this!  But what would it look like for you?  What would “earth-shattering grace, something new breaking out of something old” look like for you?  Ever experienced God’s faithfulness, when you had no idea how you were going to get out of a bad predicament?

A phone call from a friend that comes just when you’re on the brink?  A little note from a family member that stops you from doing something awful.  Nature, so often, is God’s angel for me.  “Stop!” nature has cried out to me -- a cool breeze, a butterfly, a ray of sun piercing through the clouds: these are among God’s angels for me, too.  “Do no harm,” creation has cried out to me.  “Look, God will provide.”  God will provide.  All is not lost.  This is not over.  Just when we’re on the brink of doing something awful, something new breaks out of something old.  And God will provide. 

But can we really trust that?  Can YOU really trust that?
Feel free to be honest to the struggle.  Here’s the other part of our story that’s so gripping: It’s a story about God, breaking old ways with new life and hope, through providence.  And it’s a story that calls us to reflect again on how much we really trust in God.  How much do you trust in God?  (put your contemporary lenses back on)  Enough to lift up and let go of that which is most important to you?  How much do we really trust in God?  Do our lives reflect that trust?  
I think we should stop calling that line in our budget “Benevolence” and start calling it “How much we trust in God”.  Benevolence is about what we’re donating out of the goodness of our hearts.  But what that $17,160 really is...is how much we trust in God.  What we write on our pledge cards later in October, that’s how much we trust in God...

During stewardship season, I’ve been known to say, “All that have and all that we are comes from God and belongs to God.”  And yet, we can hoard and hang onto things as if there’s no God at all, at the end of the day.  We can spout religious platitudes, practice religious rituals, but when it really comes down to it, there’s no way we’d trust God that much -- “all that we have, all that we are”?  What would Abraham say about that?

Could money be our first-born and only son?  Is money our Isaac?  Would you ever just take all your money as a demonstration of your trust in God...bind it and sacrifice it?  Build an altar, lift it up and let it go?  Give it away and figure, “God’s got me, so I trust that I’ll ultimately be just fine.  [pause]  I don’t understand it.  I don’t want to do it.  But I trust and give thanks that God’s truly got me.  I don’t know how, but I trust God.”  

Most of us really struggle with that.  I do.  This text -- despite it’s obvious modern-day problems -- calls us to think again and anew about how much we trust in God?  

Abraham and Sarah left it all, their crops, their comfort, their good life because God called them into something new.  I imagine they never dreamed they’d make it to Canaan, but they did.  God provided.  Never have a child, but they did.  GP.  Now this: Isaac.  

It was a different time and a different place.  But are we capable of such great sacrifice and trust? 

Bishop Andy -- I’ve share this before -- encourages us when it’s time to pledge each year (and he practices this himself, I should say): he tells you to go home, pray about what’s the absolute most you can give, what percentage of your income will you give back to God in this new year.  “Come up with that number, and then,” he says, “Bump it up one more percent, so that it hurts a little.”  Now we’re tapping into the binding of  Isaac.  Talk about hurting.  Abraham gave ‘til it hurt, he trusted ‘til it hurt...  

Where are you being called to make great sacrifices?  Pray on that this week.  

And remember, the good news here is on the bulletin cover:  God. Will. Provide.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to go around and hear each other’s stories about how God has provided in times we’ve made sacrifices or have been scared...especially financially.  (I know there are other ways to sacrifice, but really think money is the Isaac.)  

Here’s what I’d finally point out here in the text, just to conclude.   Abraham says “Here I am” 3x in this text.  He says it to God twice, and he says it to his son Isaac when he has a question.  In other words, Abraham shows up.  He doesn’t always understand how it’s all going to go, or what (the heck) God is up to...He simply says here I am.  And God he finds that in the end God provides what is needed.  And there’s enough there to remain in relationship -- with the world, with sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, parents and grandparents in our family and beyond.  There’s enough there to remain in relationship with God.  The covenant continues...for God provides.  AMEN.