Facing the impossible with faith and hope in God amidst suffering seems to be the undergirding for our readings this week. Today we encounter Sarah who seem to lose her patience in God. She seemed to have resigned to her position of barrenness. Caught in a world of lost dreams, cynicism, and loss of faith she truly believed that God had forgotten. Maybe he had placed her prayers on the discard list. Often, we find ourselves railing against God in the face of what seems to be unsurmountable odds. The weight of oppression, false hopes and broken dreams can become a gateway to hopelessness.
For many years I have been crying like a voice in the wilderness declaring the church has found itself on the wrong side of God’s work among humanity. The church has found itself celebrating the wrong values for as much as it sought to clothe itself in clothing of liberalism in its response to the challenges of human sexuality the one sin which has plagued it from Philemon to Jim Crow is that of the human invention of racism. From the moment Constantine the European weaponized Christianity to become a tool of oppression against the marginalized, the church became part of the same oppressive structure which Jesus challenged.
For the God of Jesus is one of care for the oppressed, neglected and discarded. The God of the Old Testament who encountered Abraham was one of universality as reflected in the story of Isaac and Ishmael and threads its way throughout the scriptures. God’s people were never by race, creed or class but those who recognized His presence in all people. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev.7:9)
Today’s Old Testament report shares the roots of welcoming all people for in so doing you welcome the very presence of God. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
It all began when Abraham refused to count God out! Jesus modelled this understanding of God by eating and drinking with sinner thus when one witnesses Mathew’s edit to ignore the gentiles we are witnessing a call to culture rather than faith, That remains the biggest struggle of the Christian of having to choose between culture or faith.
“John Dominic Crossan has studied the historical Jesus extensively, placing him squarely in the context of the first century eastern Mediterranean world in which he lived. Archeology, history, and cross-cultural studies all help to reveal Jesus’ world. It was a world dominated by the Roman Empire, a world in which the Jews saw that the land given to them by God was being appropriated for commercial farming through high taxes levied on impoverished peasants. Some Jews lost their lands to debt and became day laborers. Some had to sell children into slavery to have sufficient resources for the rest of their families. Crossan said, “In any situation of oppression, especially in these oblique, indirect, and systematic ones where injustice wears a mask of normalcy or even of necessity, the only ones who are innocent or blessed are those squeezed out deliberately as human junk from the system’s own evil operations.” Thus, the poor Jews were “blessed,” although they surely didn’t feel like it. Jesus used parables to help people see beyond his culture’s “normal,” to see the world as God would have it, a world in which caring for each other with compassion and equality would bring the Kingdom of God to them, right there where they lived. Jesus modelled this world. He ate with anyone who chose to eat with him, disregarding cultural taboos. Crossan commented, “Open commensality is the symbol and embodiment of radical egalitarianism, of an absolute equality of people that denies the validity of any discrimination between them and negates the necessity of any hierarchy among them.” ( John Dominic Crossan. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (NY :HarperCollins, 1994) 70. 6 Ibid, 79.)
So today as we witness the an Episcopal President standing in front of an Episcopal Church waving a Bible to sustain oppression should be a clarion not just for the church to rail in condemnation but it should assume a position of penitence and begin the work of reconciliation within it’s own walls prior to calling the world to reconciliation. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? (Mathew 7:3) As our nation struggles with the emerging power of God who visits the poor and oppressed in His time, the church now must set about setting wrongs right! Is the church willing to finally free itself from the cultural prison which has provided much financial benefits while costing it very soul?
Our call at this is to understand that our God will never be imprisoned by human culture and its trappings. Sarah fertility being restored is a proclamation of God’s presence and power stands outside human understanding or control. That is the faith which led insignificant people to triumph over seeming unsurmountable challenges. It is that faith which Jesus shared with His disciples and by extension challenged them to take into the world. For Jesus, religion is that which subsumes itself to culture and faith is that which triumphs over culture.
My friends that remains the greatest gift that as African Americans we offer to the world. No other community practices their faith in larger numbers than us. No other socio—economic group has placed deeper faith in God than our community. Thus, when God raises voices around the world to shout our songs of freedom it is a testimony of whose side God is on. We then are called to lead the counter-culture cry by saying peace, forgiveness and reconciliation by inviting our oppressors to take a knee with us the presence of God.( Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,) We are challenging our oppressors to begin the work of restorative actions for unlike their culture we are offering the gift of love and peace. For the battle is not ours but has already been won by God. The Christian message is about having faith in the impossible.