The Rev. Dr. Austin Leininger
Sermon of Proper 6
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
18 June 2017 (Father’s Day)
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Welcome to what, in Godly Play, is known as the Green Growing Season of the church year! Today we enter into the longest season of the church year as we begin the twenty-four week journey that spans the time between Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent. We’ve spent a wilderness season together in contemplation over Lent. We’ve made it through fifty days of exploring the Easter mystery, including the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Last week we celebrated the mystery of God’s dynamic Trinitarian presence in our lives and callings as individuals and as Christ’s Church continuing on as one body in carrying out Christ’s mission of love in our contemporary church and world. In the midst of our Easter season, we celebrated Mother’s day together last month. And today, as we enter into this next twenty-four week journey together, we celebrate Father’s Day as we join Abraham, the common father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, together with our Psalmist, Paul, and Jesus—each in the midst of their own journeys, and yet united in the same faith that draws us into this new season of growth and reflection.
It’s an interesting experience to be finally entering into a season with you all in which we are neither preparing for nor specifically exploring one of the two great mysteries that captivates our attention for nearly half of our church year—the incarnation and resurrection of Christ.
This season we’ll follow the journey of Abraham’s family, spending a couple weeks on each generation from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebecca to Jacob and Leah and Rachel to Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and from Moses and the liberation of Jacob’s family from Egypt to Joshua’s arrival in the promised land, and ending with the prophetess and judge Deborah as the nation of Israel becomes established as an independent political entity and people.
The point of these stories isn’t as a guide book on how to live a holy life or a compendium of answers to life’s questions, but as examples of flawed and sometimes unscrupulous humans in relationship with God. Over the course of their desert journey, Abraham twice allowed his wife Sarah to be married off to powerful local monarchs for safe passage through their lands. Jacob tricked his twin brother into selling him his birthright for a bowl of porridge. Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery out of jealousy of him. Sometimes humans simply do despicable things. Yet, without fail, God is there seeking for our return to wholeness. Whether we are those wounded by others or whether our choices are the cause of the wounding, God does not abandon us. God’s love and forgiveness remain as a constant invitation to turn away from the choices we make that draw us away from God and that harm others, as well as to reopen ourselves to life, love, and to wholeness in the wake of the near daily tragedies that draw us in on ourselves.
Particularly in this contemporary world of global media at our fingertips, the opportunities to draw in on ourselves out of fear of the world around us seem only to grow as the years progress. In the wake of this week’s exoneration of Jeronimo Yanez, the most recent officer acquitted of murder charges resulting from his 2016 firing on and killing of Philando Castille during a non- confrontational traffic stop in Minnesota, I find myself again with a pit in my stomach. As much as I seek to filter out the news that I don’t care to hear, stories like this I can’t ignore as the father of two biracial boys and a Latina daughter, all of whom will grow up in a world where their appearance may at the least gain them a lifetime of discrimination and at the dearest could cost them their very lives.
For as gentle and amazing a heart as Anthony has, I worry that an autistic meltdown at the wrong time and in the wrong place could be misperceived as an aggressive threat to an officer’s life. And for as meek and kind as Luke is, as smart as he is, as good as he is, I think of my friend Kobe who shares all of these same characteristics, who was raised in Palo Alto, and who has been routinely stopped by police his whole life for nothing more than being a black man in a rich neighborhood. I think of my friends Peter and Rhondesia who were stopped on the highway for a broken taillight that turns out wasn’t even broken, taken into different vehicles, and questioned for a half hour as they did nothing more than drive their biracial family through Georgia on their way to Florida. I think of my dear friends Ray, Camille, and their daughter, Callie who is one of Luke’s best friends from Fort Collins and who is being taught by Ray and Camille, professors who are the adult children of professors, how to navigate being stopped by police simply for being black.
It scares me, not because I have illusions of living in a world where all people are decent and kind and good, but because we live in a world that is just a bit too much like Jesus describes it in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, and it’s a world that my children will someday have to navigate without me and my tremendous privilege as an educated white male clergy person there to help protect them.
Like Jesus sending his twelve apostles out in mission to proclaim, by word and action, the good news of God’s abundance and love, we are sent out with the call and exhortation to have compassion for all and in mission to all, but with forewarning that the world is not going to stop being what the world is.
What we’re up against, according to today’s gospel, is a world of indifference, a world of callousness, a world of selfishness, a world that seeks to wrest power from others and hoard it for selfish ambition and greed—a world where parents, children, and siblings would betray one another just to get ahead… a world where amazing people are stopped by authorities because our society is afraid of them… yet all of this world of oppression and hate is the same world that God’s love seeks to transform. Jesus has no illusions as he sends out his twelve into this world of wolves. “As agents of God’s transformation,” he warns them, and us with them, “it becomes you against all the forces of the world that strive counter to God’s love. Don’t be taken in by the lures and deceits of that world. God will be with you. The Spirit will guide you. Maintain your courage, maintain your love, maintain your innocence in authenticity and truth, support one another, but never walk blindly unaware of the world in which you walk.”
These are the words it has taken me a lifetime to learn the meaning of, and which only finally make sense after having children of my own. They are words of one who has been mentor, teacher, friend, and more to a group of ragtag fishermen who will be received by a hostile world to teach a message of a love so imminent and foreign that it will be perceived as a threat. It is a love that threatens to tear down boundaries, break down walls, draw people together who the world doesn’t want to see drawn together, and that affirms all those who love in God’s name, no matter what they look like, no matter what disabilities they may have, no matter who they love, no matter what bathroom they use, no matter what gender they may be, no matter what category the world seeks to place them in that makes them unworthy in the world’s eyes to proclaim God’s kingdom with voices of courage and conviction. It is a love that I can only hope I have taught well enough to my children that it may sustain them as they seek their way in a world that desperately needs their voices and yet will do everything it can to keep them from claiming the power to speak.
Paul seeks to reassure us that because our faith sustains us by both God’s presence in and amongst us and by our mutual support of one another, suffering the pains of living out God’s call to love prodigally in a world beset by the perceived scarcity of selfish ambition cultivates endurance in both faith and love, that it builds character, and paradoxically leads to hope rather than despair. He reminds us that Christ came amongst us to love us as God loves us, courageous enough in that love to die for it—not because we are perfect, not because we are righteous, but because just as God has loved us and sought relationship with us throughout all the generations of the world, God simply loves all of us that completely. And in this we return to the hope that springs from our faith in one who taught us to change the world one act of courage, one act of kindness, one act of defiance in the face of domination at a time.
This and each father’s day, I look to my children as well as looking to my own father figures as I seek to be the kind of parent and person God calls me to be. I have learned more from my children about courage, about perseverance, about love, about patience, and about changing the world one act at a time than I could ever have hoped to have learned without them in my life. And because of them, I have come more and more to see these same qualities in a now dear and beloved father I feared for the first thirty years of my life, and even in myself.
The world, it seems, has always been a scary place to live, to love, to raise a family, and to hope for the prosperity to sustain us. Following any one family long enough will offer us examples of both heroes and villains, choices both selfish and courageously selfless. But the choice we’re given isn’t what kind of world we live in or what family we’re born into. Rather what we’re given is the choice of how we react to and live in the world in which we find ourselves. Given the power and privilege of being born white and biologically male, I choose to use that power and privilege to give voice to the disempowered and underprivileged in the same faith-born hope Paul speaks of in today’s epistle, in the same call Christ gave to his disciples, and in the same prayer of promise from today’s Psalmist—that, for the sake of my children, my faith, my hope, my actions, my words, and my prayers may make awaken God’s abundance in the lives of those around me, and in some small way make a difference in this hungry and suffering world.
Our mission as agents of God’s abundance is to continue the work that Christ began and that he commissioned his followers to continue. Not just to the lost tribes of Israel, as we heard in today’s gospel, but, though the risen Christ’s great commission that we heard just last week, to all tribes and nations of the world.
In the words of our Psalmist echoed in Paul’s exultation in being justified by faith, “you have freed me from my bonds.” May we live, in the freedom of our faith, as agents of God’s change working together to make a difference in this world of wolves, and may we find hope, encouragement, and solidarity in each other’s presence along the way.