God’s promised justice, mercy, and peace will surely come to pass, and today it is you and I who are sent to be a part of it.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11 A
Texts: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
She wasn’t supposed to be listening, but what she heard was so ridiculous she couldn’t hold it in. She, ninety years old, would become pregnant by hundred-year-old Abraham?
But was her laughter amused? Or was it bitter? The promise God made to them decades before was so ancient now, her body bent and dry, her bones aching, this was laughable even to talk about. But not very funny. If God had meant to give her a baby with Abraham, God would have done it.
God heard her laughter, and understood. But God said, “yet surely I will do this.” Laugh if you must. Disbelieve. Say, now it’s too late. But I will be back to visit you, and at that time you will have a son.
Sarah laughed, but we don’t.
This earth has waited so long for God’s promised justice and mercy and peace, it’s not funny. The idea of a ninety year old woman having a baby is more realistic to us some days than the thought that what we see in our city and in our country could change, could be transformed.
So instead of laughing, we lament at the pain and suffering we see and hear in our city, the systems of oppression that crush people of color in our society, systems that seem unassailable. And those of us in our Mount Olive community who are white also lament our sinful part in this suffering of others, that we have not always heard this pain, pain caused by systems that benefit those of us who are white.
God hears the cries of God’s children as certainly as God heard Sarah’s laughter, and understands. But God says, “yet surely I will do this.” Say it’s been too long, and it’s too late. Disbelieve that I can do this if you must. But my justice and mercy and peace will come to this earth.
God’s promise has a long timeline, true. But at each step, hope is found.
Baby Isaac does arrive, and is given the name “laughter.” Now Sarah’s laughter is joyful, because God did the unbelievable. It took her whole life to see God’s promise, but see it she did.
But Isaac is more than a baby for a longing mother. Isaac is another step in God’s long plan leading directly to today. Without Isaac, there is no Israel, no Jesus, no Incarnation in our human flesh as we know it. This baby is the start of God coming to be with us.
Jesus’ coming is also just a step in the plan. An enormous, God-sized step, as Jesus is the face of the Triune God for the world. But not to instantly create a world of justice and mercy and peace for all. In the wisdom of the Trinity, the only path to God’s promise is to grow it in the hearts of each of God’s children, one by one, until all live in God’s way. And each time one steps into this way, hope is found.
Today, right now, it’s our turn to take that one step of hope toward God’s promise.
What we do in our city, in our world, today, and tomorrow, from our perspective might seem very small. But like Isaac’s birth, what we do as Christ is advance God’s promised justice and mercy and peace a step further into God’s world.
There’s a huge shift between verses 1 and 2 of Matthew 10 today. In verse one, Matthew says Jesus called out twelve of his disciples and gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. In verse two, Matthew says, “these are the names of the twelve apostles.” In a few words, the disciples – followers – are changed into apostles – ones who are sent.
That’s the move Christ needs in you. To move from following Christ to going out as Christ. To do, as these initial twelve did, the work of Christ in the world. That’s how God’s justice and mercy and peace will eventually reign in this world.
Like the twelve, you and I are sent, Jesus says, “to proclaim the good news, that the reign of heaven has come near.”
The reign of heaven, God’s promised justice and mercy and peace, has come near. Is here. Is happening. Even if it’s hard to see.
And right now, in these days, being Christ, proclaiming that the reign of heaven has come near means walking with our siblings in pain. For those of us who are white, it means listening to how we’re a part of the problem. Offering our love and our ears, and our commitment to be a part of the solution. That’s living the reign of God on earth as in heaven. And in our compassionate listening as a whole community together, honoring all suffering, honestly searching our own hearts for where God needs us to change, we are signs of God’s reign coming near. And another step toward God’s promise.
“When Jesus saw the crowds,” Matthew says, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
As you might know, the word translated “compassion” is literally, “torn up in your guts.” Jesus’ guts are torn up over his flock, over their harassment and helplessness, their lack of a shepherd.
And that gut-wrenching compassion of the Triune God now laments over the suffering of God’s children in our city and in our world.
But it is that gut-wrenching compassion of God that is the hope of the world. It drives God’s plan for justice and mercy and peace. It leads God to inhabit all God’s children, to make the promise a reality.
You are no longer just a follower. You are an apostle. A sent one. The Triune God’s life in you fills you with the same gut-wrenching compassion God has, and gives you the courage and strength to walk with all who are in pain and, as signs of God’s reign coming near, partner with all to bring about today’s step toward God’s promised justice and mercy and peace.
But know this: God surely will do this. And then all creatures will be able to laugh with joy.
In the name of Jesus. Amen