Second Sunday in Lent; March 17, 2019, Year C
Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 13.31-35
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from our mothering God, who gathers the world under the shelter of her wings.
Amen.When I was young I was taught a song called “Father Abraham.” Perhaps you know it. You can sing along with me if you do:
Father Abraham had many kids, many kids had Father Abraham.
I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord!
It was a fun and silly song because it had actions, and as each verse went by we would sing it faster and faster. By the end, all who were singing were out of breath and laughing.
What once seemed to be a silly song, now speaks a profound truth into our world more than ever. Father Abraham had many kids … I am one of them and so are you.
Abraham did have children, and not all by the same woman. The Jewish and Christian traditions lifts up Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, as their father of faith. The Muslim tradition lifts up Abraham and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, as their father of faith. Sarah was Abraham’s wife. Hagar was their slave.
When we meet Abram (later called Abraham) in our Old Testament reading this morning, he is childless. God’s promise of many descendants with his wife, Sarah, has yet to be fulfilled. Abraham is getting nervous and impatient. He and his wife Sarah are old. Sarah, in fact, is past child-bearing years.
So, Abraham bugs God about this unfilled promise: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless …”
God sets Abraham in the night sky and says: “Look up. Count the stars if you can count them. So shall your descendants be.”
And in a great act of faith, even though he was eighty-six years old, Scripture tells us that Abraham “believed the Lord.”
Well, time marches on and Abraham, impatience with God’s fulfillment of the promise, takes matters into his own hands. He has a with his wife Sarah’s slave, Hagar.
Abraham and Hagar’s son, Ishmael is born.
Then finally, God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is fulfilled. They conceive and have a son, and name him Isaac.
The drama only ratchets up from there. Two sons by different women.
Eventually jealously gets the better of Sarah, and she orders Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. This is distressing to Abraham because Ishmael is his son.
God comes to Abraham and says to him: “… it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you …” As for Ishmael, “I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring (Gen. 21.12-13).” If we read on in Genesis we find out that God cared and provided for Hagar and Ishmael, and from them a great nation was born, alongside the nation born through Isaac.
Thus we have a Father of many faiths in Abraham: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.
As a child, I was ignorant of the conflict over the centuries between all of these faiths. More than declaring our common heritage, it seems we’ve been more quick to kill one another.
Christian people killed millions of Jews during WWII. Coptic Christians in Egypt are killed all of the time by Muslims. Five months ago there was a mass shooting by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life Jewish Synagogue. Christians have killed countless Muslims in the Crusades. And now 49 Muslims were murdered in New Zealand, again by a white supremacist, while they worshipped this past Friday.
God’s people were never meant to kill one another. But we do it all of the time.
So, I recall the song, Father Abraham, this weekend after senseless death. What once seemed to be a silly song, now speaks a profound truth into our world more than ever. Father Abraham had many kids … I am one of them and so are you.
Why is it so hard to see that we are all created in the image of God? A friend of mine wrote this on a Facebook post on Friday: “God’s love unifies me and my siblings of the Abrahamic traditions. This includes my Jewish and Muslim siblings. We need to proclaim to our Muslim neighbors that they too are children of Abraham and children of God.”
Tree of Life Rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, who lost so many of his people just 5 months ago, sent out an email to his congregation on Friday. He wrote: “I ask you … to reach out not only to the injured communities, but to your Islamic neighbors as well.”
In an article in the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/muslims-embraced-us-jews-when-we-were-slain-at-worship-now-we-must-support-them/2019/03/15/f8bc612c-4749-11e9-8aab-95b8d80a1e4f_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bfcbab1348fb, written by Molly Pascal, I read about how the Muslim community reached out to their Jewish neighbors following the mass shooting back in October. On October 28th, there was a community gathering in Pittsburg to memorialize what happened. Leaders from many faith traditions were present and “Wasiullah Mohamed, the executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, took the stage. He announced that the center had begun raising money to pay for funeral expenses for the victims. He had already raised thousands, and in the coming weeks, the number would skyrocket to hundreds of thousands. Mohamed also made a vow: He pledged that the Pittsburgh Muslim community would stand with the Pittsburgh Jewish community. He and members of his community offered to personally stand guard at the doors of local synagogues, if necessary, to allow Jews safe passage” to their places of worship and to accompany people if they felt unsafe running their daily errands.”
Molly wrote: “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of these words. Muslims offering to protect Jews? To me, there could be no greater olive branch, no more profound promise of peace.”
We have Muslim neighbors here in our own community. It is during these times of hate that it is even more important that we reach out in love and peace. After worship today, you are invited [if you so wish] to write notes to people at the Bismarck Muslim Community Center. There is paper provided, as well as writing prompts.
It is interesting to have the readings we have today paired together in light of the mass shooting. In our Gospel reading Jesus laments over Jerusalem. It is supposed to be a city of peace, but rather it is a city in which prophets are killed. It is also a city in which even the Son of God is killed.
Today it is a city fought over by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all claiming it as a holy place. Jerusalem has not seen peace for many many years. I think Jesus still laments over Jerusalem and the mess we can make in the world. All of this hurt simply because we fail to love God and our neighbors.
Like a mother hen, Jesus desires to gather us, all of us, under his loving wings. And what a task this is, for we are often unwilling!
We’d rather gather our own selves, on our own terms, thank you very much, Jesus. Or, we may think, “I’ll come under your wing, but not if so-and-so is also invited. Not enough room under you for both of us you see.”
We know Jesus did not live and die only for Christian people, but for all people. On the cross Jesus’ arms are spread open wide to gather all things to himself. He puts to death hatred, violence, and judgment, and gives us hope for a new day.
Jesus knew his work was to bring us all into his body, as one people. He tells the Pharisees to tell Herod: “You go and tell that fox I’m too busy to deal with these death threats. I have business and the gathering of people to attend to.
Jesus is still gathering us.
Mother Teresa said, “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” [https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/mother_teresa_107032]
Molly Pascal finished her article in the Washington Post with a story. Six days after the shooting … the Tree of Life congregation gathered privately in a small chapel at Rodef Shalom, a nearby synagogue, for the first service of Shabbat. She wrote:
As I waited for the service to begin, people I didn’t know filed in. Soon, the row behind me held a half-dozen strangers, the women in traditional abaya and hijab. I looked around and saw many Muslim families like them joining the crowd. When our congregation rose to speak the mourner’s Kaddish, they rose with us. Afterward, we thanked them. They offered us their condolences and invited us to attend a service at the Islamic Center. Salaam, I said. Shalom, they said.
Father Abraham had many kids … I am one of them and so are you.