Commentary for Pentecost IV, 28 June 2020
Texts for Pentecost IV are Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, and Matthew 10:40-42
By Father Doug Woods
Gracious God, as I speak, may only the truth be spoken and only the truth be heard. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I used to carpool with two other guys who worked where I did. We shared lots of professional interests, but religion was not one of them. Both of these guys grew up in the horrors of Second World War Europe, so you can imagine how they might have felt about God. Abandoned. So it seemed they’d given up on God. However, in both of their professional areas, they couldn’t avoid talking about religion (in an ACADEMIC sense), so they knew quite a bit ABOUT Christianity. They just didn’t believe IN it. (They were both super guys, by the way; I loved them not only as colleagues, but also as friends.)
So as we travelled to work, we talked about all kinds of things, and as I say, occasionally the conversation would come around to religion. They knew I was a believer, so they’d turn to me for “insider” information. Sometimes, I’d have to talk about what I actually believe. By the way, I have to tell you that I believe it’s wrong to force my faith down someone else’s throat, but when they bring up the topic—when they ask—then they’ve opened the door, and I’m happy to answer their questions. So we’d get onto the topic of Christianity, and eventually they’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s all about love.” And I’d say, “Yes, it’s easy to remember, but it’s hard to do.” In other words, we sometimes come into situations where our faith is TESTED. Maybe a good encapsulation is in the Lord’s Prayer: “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”
So we see testing in the reading from Genesis 22:1-14. God wants to be sure of how secure Abraham’s faith is—how committed he is to the Covenant relationship—so in a nutshell, he asks Abraham to offer up his SON as a sacrifice. Since it flies in the face of the very nature of God—God is love, and love doesn’t do that sort of thing—Abraham must have said, “If that’s really what God wants, then that’s what I’ll do.” As you probably already know, sacrifice in ancient Judaism involved various animals—lambs, kids, doves, and cattle—so this request was VERY ODD indeed! To sum it up, Abraham’s faith is solid. The apostle Paul summarizes it well, just two chapters earlier than today’s reading from his letter to the church in Rome: “For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” Romans 4:3. “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”
Psalm 13 shows a different kind of testing: time. “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Psalm 19.1-2. It’s like the kids in the car on the way to the cottage: “Are we there yet?” At the beginning of the trip, they have faith and patience—it’s a long trip—but as time wears on, both faith and patience begin to wear thin. They’re saying, “I know you said we were going to the cottage, but it’s taking a very long time. Are you sure what you said is true?” In our time and society, many people could be excused for beginning to doubt too: indigenous people, members of the black and Asian communities, women, the poor—and the list goes on and on. When will justice finally be done? When will our society change so as not to let such injustices happen? And in yet another way, it’s a testing for US: how long will we LET such injustices happen? “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”
Paul’s “speech” in today’s reading from Romans is ultimately about the conflict between the Law and faith. Trying to live a righteous life by means of the Law always ends up in failure because it assumes that WE have the resources to succeed. We don’t; we always mess up. We can’t win our salvation on our own. We need to rely on a force bigger than ourselves. We need to believe that it’s in the very nature of God to love us and help us. We need to have faith in God to save us. We need to love God—and that brings us right back to Abraham. “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.22-23. “Save us from the time of trial, and de-liver us from evil.”
The test in Matthew 10:40-42 is faith, itself. In a way, when I was carpooling with my friends, it felt as if they were saying, “How can you believe that? You’re an intelligent person. Surely, you can see that what you believe isn’t true.” I know they meant well, and they’d lived through horrors when they were young. I know they couldn’t help but believe that if there even is a God, that God had abandoned them. “If there really is a God, surely God wouldn’t let that sort of thing happen.” You’ve heard that, right? It would be a lot easier just not to have faith—or not to let on. People won’t love you back just because you have faith.
Part of our faith is that God loves every molecule of Creation. Part of love is expecting love in return. God treats us with love, and in a perfect world, we’d all treat God and God’s Creation with love. But that ignores one thing: the power of evil. I’m not being an alarmist, but I know that all we have to do is to look around ourselves to see the evil in our world. It comes sometimes from governments, from economic systems, from political systems, from ignorance (i.e., from failing to acknowledge the facts), from failing to act on what we know is right. So even if you have faith, life isn’t necessarily going to be a bed of roses—or maybe remember this: roses have thorns! “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”
But remember this. Our faith is between God and us, and God reckons it to us as righteousness. That’s all that matters.
Loving God, we thank you for your love. We know that you love everything about your Creation, and so you love us. We love you and your Creation too, but sometimes we don’t show it. Help us to live our lives in faith and love. We pray in the name of the one who is the face of your love, Jesus Christ. Amen