Last week young men and women from ‘‘Iolani, graduated. All over the state at high schools have sent off with great ceremony, in their own modified ways thousands of graduates. Marking for them a rite of passage and a new chapter in their lives.
And then they go off to college or the workforce. Many of these graduates will head off to schools on the continent, East Coast, West Coast and places in the middle some large schools, others much smaller. There they go, on to new places and experiences that God only knows. Their lives are filled with expectant hope.
We often talk of hope as wishful thinking, “I hope it will rain” or “ I hope the quarantine will be lifted and I can travel to the mainland again. But Paul introduces a different context of hope in his letter to the Romans. For Paul, hope isn't wishful thinking but certainly on the about a future because it is grounded in God’s faithfulness. In other words, what God WILL do is grounded in what God HAS DONE.
Abraham's Story in Genesis is long but the fun short version is this:- God has promised Abraham in establishing a covenant, that he will be the father of nations. And despite the years, he and Sarah have not had any children. He is in his 90’s she in her 80’s well past the age when biology tells us we should be able to bear children. The travelers arrive and in according to the custom of the time, Abraham offered them the hospitality of his home.
The three that show up in Abraham’s neck of the woods, however, are no ordinary guests. And while the reader is aware of this—being told at the beginning of the narrative that “The Lord appeared to Abraham”—it is not clear that Abraham knows the identity of his guests. Finally, in verse 13, the strangers reveal that they have mysteriously “overheard” Sarah laughing to herself from inside the tent, even though from where they are standing, this would be humanly impossible.
But it is not until verse 14 with the comment, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” that whatever suspicions Abraham may have had about the identity of his guests are fully confirmed. These guests don’t operate by the rules of the natural world. What is humanly impossible, given Sarah’s stage in life, is possible with God. And that is the big take away from Genesis this morning. No matter the conditions we think exist in our present time the impossible can happen.
Else where in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that we will hear of wars and rumors of wars and to not be afraid, for God is present. the world in which we live has that and more. COVID 19 has seriously changed our world and the way in which we live. As if that alone is not enough, the events of last two weeks in North America have been a rude awakening. The mythology of America as the land of the free and the home of brave has been laid bare. Hawai‘i is no exception despite being the Aloha State that to deny that there isn’t racism in paradise would be a sin. The United States where, as it says in our founding documents says that all are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, has revealed its darker side. We see the politics of greed, practices of fear mongering, and empty promises to the poor resulting in the imbalances in health care, education, and employment.
Politicians, the police, all those in power, wear the clothes of Christian faith, they are like wolves dressed in the name of the Lord. They wave a Bible in the name of politics, try to seduce the flock because they say the things other wolves want to hear. The powerful say they want to make life better and more prosperous, behind their talk is a system that plunders the poor the indigenous, and the earth, treating women and children as objects; creating embedded systems that paint a white ceiling above the efforts of people of color.
In the 6th month of the third decade of the 21st century, the conditions compared to the ancient time of Jesus have changed only in the level of sophistication. For those early disciples, the times under Roman rule were no less oppressive. There were struggles for power- from the Romans and from the Jewish authorities. From the gospel stories of the poor, the outcast, and the women who crossed the path of the Jesus and the disciples we see their struggle for recognition and daily living.
I wonder if that was what it was like for these disciples being sent out by Jesus? Last week’s gospel was the great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations. Today the scene recorded in Matthew’s gospel, before the resurrection, makes it very clear that the places to which the disciples go are among the wolves that are not out among the Gentiles.
Here Jesus is saying that among the children of Israel, among the people of God, among our tribe, are those who are lost. The followers of Jesus bear witness to the risen Christ not to the strangers in a strange land but to our much closer relations.
As followers of Jesus, we are a peculiar people. Like Abraham who heard the voice of God, we too hear and obey God’s commands. Not everyone who hears them obeys but we can. Not everyone that suffers - endures, but we can. And not every one who endures has the character of Christ- but we can. We can endure with a character as Paul says, that produces hope because God’s love has been poured into us by the Holy Spirit.
And it is with that hope that we carry on. And like the disciples we have been summoned by God to work in the fields. The work is plentiful. The work is difficult. The work is necessary. In every city, In every village. We go among the sick and diseased, the harassed and the helpless never knowing who might be ready for a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
It is difficult to ignore that these are chaotic days. And in the chaos, it only takes a bit of silence to capture our attention. The Prince of Peace has come. And he is sending us into the chaos. And Jesus knows not every house will receive us. Go anyway. He says that there will be trials, and we will be brought before those in power so be wise while remaining calm. We can also expect that those who claim to be among our ranks will be the very ones who ignore God’s voice.
We will be hated. Not because of our race, our gender identity, our employment or political affiliation. We will be hated because you practice the self-denying, radical non-violence of a vulnerable God.
We follow the One whose steadfast love endures. Forever. Because Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners. And this, this is the chaotic world into which God continues to send Spirit-filled agents in the name of Jesus. If we do the transforming work that heals, restores, and reconciles, our labor will not be in vain. Amen.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.