Let us pray. Holy God, we thank you for your presence in this time and place and within each one of us. Help us to open our minds, our hearts, our whole lives to receive the gift of your living Word for us this day. And may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
So we are now launched into the season after Pentecost in the Church year. And the focus of the Scripture readings shifts somewhat from the personal life of Jesus to Jesus’s ministries and teaching particularly about God’s reign, God’s Kingdom. And the disciples are present to witness to and demonstrate the reality of God’s Kingdom and especially of God’s love, truth and purpose for all of creation.
Each of today’s Scripture readings reveal important teaching about the life of the Christian disciple – relating to God, relating to self, and relating to others. In the first reading from Genesis we pick up the Abraham and Sarah story, and including their son Isaac. Now it may seem to us just a little bit of interesting family history but it is much more critical in the story of God’s salvation of God’s people. Abraham was the one chosen by God to build God’s people, literally – to be the father of many nations. But Abraham and Sarah have failed to have children. So there is no heir to carry on this covenant promise that God has given. What about God’s purpose and plan? Both Abraham and Sarah are well beyond child-conceiving years. Then, in today’s reading, Abraham is visited by three persons. We learn later that this is God and two angels, but they appear to Abraham as human beings. Abraham shows very gracious hospitality to these three visitors. And he receives the prophetic announcement from one of them, that Sarah and Abraham will have a child. Now Sarah, who has been eaves-dropping from just inside the tent, overhears this and laughs to herself, thinking about how impossible this must be. But the divine guests hear her, and they reassert that she will indeed have a child.
Now, as is often true in the Hebrew scriptures but often lost to us in English, the child’s name is drawn from this incident, because the word “Isaac” comes from the root that means “to laugh.” And toward the end of the reading Sarah, once again, says that her friends and family will laugh with her – laugh with delight because of her being able to have this son.
So what is the teaching in this for we disciples? Tell the truth. Tell the truth – to yourself, to God and to others, about yourself, because you’ll notice that when Sarah denies it, the angel challenges her asking “Why did you laugh?”, and she says, “I didn’t laugh!” – she is challenged to tell the truth. Initially Sarah lies, really, because she is afraid. Does that response seem familiar to humanity? Right at the very beginning of creation the Genesis chapter 3 story, after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God and eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, when God comes to greet them they hide themselves because they are afraid. Why are they afraid? They have done something wrong and they fear the consequences especially from the one, God, whom they have offended. Does that not seem familiar? Certainly those of us who have parented children know it only too well. When we confront one of our children with something that has gone wrong, and we’re pretty sure they’re responsible, their initial reaction is denial – “It wasn’t me!” The teaching for us – speak, and live, the truth – with God, with ourselves, with others. Well that sounds good but what about our fear – of consequences – of how the offended one will respond to us? How do we deal with that?
Well the second reading from today is from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where he expresses the teaching to this very issue. The first five chapters of the Epistle to the Romans lays out Paul’s theology of God’s purposes in Jesus Christ, and today’s passage in chapter five is a wonderful summary of the first four chapters. As is typical of Paul, it begins with the word ‘therefore’ – and as one preacher I heard say once, “Whenever you read that word ‘therefore’, you need to ask “what it is there for?”, because it always follows from what has immediately been said. What Paul is in a sense saying is that as a result of everything God has done in Jesus Christ, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace – loving relationship – always, and forever, and in EVERY circumstance. How do we know this for sure? How can it defeat the fear that we might initially feel when we know we have offended or sinned? This is what we read in verse six, “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died or the ungodly.” Then Paul inserts some human rational thinking. He says in a sense that we wouldn’t normally give up our life for someone else, though possibly, just possibly, for some really special, really good person, we might be willing to die – we might be willing to sacrifice ourselves. And his audience, no doubt, nods their heads at that point. In theory, at least, they could see that as a possibility. But then Paul hits us right between the eyes and he contrasts God’s love with our mere human love because he says “this is what God does.” “God proves his love for us in this – while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Think about that for a moment. What it is saying is not that God’s love was strong enough for us when we were in our best behaviour, but rather at our absolute worst, God’s love was still strong enough. I think these may be the most powerful words in the Bible.
Do you know what that act of love by God for us means? That you and I never, ever have to hide or deny. Sure, we may not feel too good about ourselves with things we have done, but God can deal with that too. So you and I need to get over our false pride and our shame, and accept and receive God’s love – even in difficult times – for each and every one of us.
What about the Gospel reading from Matthew? Matthew tells us that Jesus sees and has compassion for the crowds that he notices, who gather around him, because they’re harassed and helpless – he says like sheep without a shepherd – people without leadership and guidance. And then he says to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” And then Matthew records that Jesus sends out the first group of labourers – the initial twelve. And he empowers them, and then concludes with this statement, “You have received without payment.”, remember Romans 5 – free gift of God – while we were still sinners God gives us the gift of God’s love. So Jesus says, therefore, “Give without payment.” Give merely out of a sense of joyful gratitude.
So what is this ‘plentiful harvest’ that Jesus refers to? It is a world of people literally starving to death from a lack of love. We’re very much aware of that in our situation here today, as we’re challenged with the reality of racism – as we’re honest with ourselves, perhaps, of our unconscious racist attitudes and of the privilege some of us are gifted with as a result of our race. The ‘harvest’ is a world full of people literally looking for that love – healing, redeeming, restoring love that helps them claim who God made them to be, and a love that opens them up enough to own their truth – to God and to themselves, and begin to heal.
So three teaching for we disciples:
Tell and own the truth.
Accept and receive God’s love in all circumstances.
And look constantly for every opportunity God brings to you to give God’s love to others.