It’s hard to tell from our text in Genesis this morning, but we’ve arrived in the middle of a story. Abraham’s chief steward has made the 400 mile journey back to Haran, Abraham’s hometown, and is in the midst of explaining the purpose of his journey to Rebekah’s family.
Here’s the elephant in the room: There’s no way to avoid our text from Genesis this morning. If I focused on the two sentences from Matthew offered up to us by the lectionary committee, you would rightly guess that I’m avoiding Genesis—I might have added “like the plague” a few months ago, but that’s a bit too close to home. And so this story on the Binding of Isaac hangs in the air, and frankly I don’t like it.
It was all Sarah’s fault.
There is no other way to put this—if what the narrator of the book of Genesis says is accurate. It was Sarah’s idea that Hagar become her surrogate so that Abraham could have a male heir.
If you had asked me a month ago if things could get worse than they had been, I would have made some sort of joke about the apocalypse descending among us. Yes, it has been a rough few months for us, of course. The job I have been called to and loved has been completely upended. I’ve spent more hours at the grocery store gathering supplies for a ten day stretch than I could have ever imagined. My kids have had to deal with online school and cancelled events. The beginning of my course of study for a Doctor of Ministry degree has changed significantly.
I had hoped that this would be the last of my virtual sermons during our pandemic. That this next week would be spent trying to figure out the logistics of a single service with our Bishop coming to visit and a number of our teens getting confirmed. “Alleluia!” signs colored by our kids before Lent would be hung up all over, and Easter Flowers which had been on hold would fill this place. There’d be amazing music and hearty hugs and tremendous joy.
How are we supposed to understand God? How do we see God, especially in relation to us? Do we see God as kind and benevolent, or angry and harsh, or somewhere in between? How does the way we see the world and other people influence all of this?
If I asked you to name the fastest animal on earth, you would instinctively say, “the cheetah.” Indeed the cheetah holds the title of being the fastest land animal, clocking in speeds of up to an impressive 75 miles per hour. However the fastest member of the animal kingdom is actually the peregrine falcon which has a diving speed of over 200 miles per hour when it’s going after prey. Falcons soar up to a great height when out hunting, and then use the force of gravity as well as amazing aerodynamics to come barreling in on smaller birds, stunning them on impact. As the stunned bird falls to the ground, the peregrine spins around and catches it mid-air, taking it home for dinner.
I discovered hiking my senior year in college. A mentor and I went to Arethusa Falls near Crawford Notch up in the White Mountains. It was his idea, he had read about it in a Boston Globe article. One Saturday in the fall, we headed up to New Hampshire for the day, taking in the beauty of a glorious October day given to us by God. And I absolutely loved it. Both the nature part of it, hiking a moderate trail in the forest up to a 160 ft high waterfall, and the conversation part of it. I don’t remember exactly what we discussed that day, but I remember the connection of it, the gratefulness to share in that experience with someone who wanted only the best for me and my life.
Our gospel lesson begins with a very odd statement when you think about it. St. John the Evangelist writes, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…” What’s so very odd about it is that you could easily include this parenthetical in your reading: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples —who themselves were all Jews—had met were locked for fear of the Jews…” It’s not as if the followers of Jesus weren’t themselves Jewish—they were—or that Jesus himself wasn’t Jewish—he was. It’s that John generally sets up the Jews entirely as antagonists of Jesus, as the ones who don’t receive his teachings or who look for ways to catch Jesus in rhetorical traps when he meant the religious authorities. There are exceptions like Nicodemus who comes to Jesus to learn from him, but often the Jewish leaders see Jesus as a dissident, and so they seek to silence him in order not to disrupt their connection to the Roman Empire, and to maintain their own power.
On the very first Easter, scripture tells us, most of the disciples were holed up behind locked doors full of distress. A few days earlier they had seen Jesus be falsely accused and arrested. Then some stood in a nearby courtyard as the sham trial unfolded and Jesus was found guilty on trumped-up charges. But in that courtyard we saw how quickly Peter disowned even knowing Jesus, fearing for his life. Most of the others had scattered by now, but some followed along with the crowd trying to remain hidden and unknown. Soon enough word got around to all of them that Jesus had died, and had been quickly put in a tomb before sunset.