Did you ever have a friend that you trusted completely – the kind of friend whose pinky swear really meant something? And beyond being trustworthy, did you have a friend who could look at you in all of your awkwardness and still love and forgive you ALL the time?
As we (Matt & Laura) contemplate Life Together, it’s pretty clear that this is how we are called to be in relationship with one another. It’s an ancient kind of relationship. It’s the relationship that existed between God and the Israelites in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s the relationship Jesus worked to create with his disciples. It’s the relationship Paul called for in the church communities of Corinth and Phillipi and Rome. These ancient relationships are a kind of interdependence and interrelatedness – yin and yang – blood oaths – covenant.
Wow…those relationships are hard. And maybe it’s our imagination, but they seem harder for adults than for children.
This week’s lectionary reading hinges on the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, another difficult text from Genesis. At first read, this seems like a story about Obedience…perhaps even fearful obedience. God summons Abraham and sends him out to a mountain to offer up Isaac, his only son – the son promised to Abraham and Sarah by God himself – as a sacrificial offering. But a further reading this week revealed a new detail. You see, the Hebrew scripture is a little short on narrative description at times. Every word is packed full of meaning…if a word is there, it is there for a reason. If a detail is missing, it probably isn’t important to the story. At the center of the story, Abraham has packed up the wood and the donkey and Isaac and two servants and headed to a mountain in Moriah. At a point, Abraham turns to his servants and tells them to stay where they are with the donkey. “The boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and they we will come back to you.” Wait a minute. Abraham tells these servants that they will both return to the appointed spot. It is as if he knew that God really wouldn’t require a sacrifice of Isaac.
This opens up all kinds of questions. Does God test us? (Well, there was that incident with Jesus in the Wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.) Does God change his mind? (Well, Adam and Eve actually got to leave the garden with their life.) Is there space in our relationship with God for testing and bargaining? (Well, there is that time Elijah pleads for the widow’s son.) Maybe, just maybe after all they had been through in their relationship, Abraham knew that Isaac wasn’t the burnt offering. Or maybe, even knowing what he heard from God, he could not imagine anything else than to return to the donkey and his home with his precious son. One way or the other, Abraham was in relationship with God and trusted God enough to follow. And Isaac was in relationship with Abraham and Isaac trusted his father that when a sacrifice was needed, one would show up.
The psalmist is giving voice to a give and take relationship with God. In six quick verses, the dialogue ranges from lament and doubt to thanksgiving and praise. Even in the face of death and defeat, he continues to trust God's watchful eye to care for him. Obviously, there is a deep trust and a deep longing to continue to be in relationship with God...even though at that moment, it seems he feels like he has been forgotten by God. How quickly relationships cycle!
This excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome always makes us giggle a bit. It’s a little bit like a conversation with a child. Just because you didn’t get in trouble for doing something inappropriate doesn’t necessarily mean you should continue doing it! (C’mon, you’ve probably had that conversation with a kid, right?) Really, if you wade through Paul’s difficult imagery of slavery and tough use of words like sanctification and righteousness, he’s really driving home a point about relationships. Sure, you could receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ and keep living the same old life…but to truly be in relationship, you have to be in some sort of exchange. And so, we receive grace and try to live in a way that honors God (hopefully by being in relationship with those around us as well as God).
OK, so it seems a little difficult sometimes to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. Some of us have really developed prayer practices that put us in direct relationship and dialogue with Jesus. But what about the rest of us who struggle with what it means to be in relationship with the incarnation of God who walked and talked and taught over 2000 years ago? The Matthew passage this week helps a little bit. By being in relationship with the people around us – by welcoming the prophet, by welcoming another, by giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty – we are connected to Christ in this way. Another important teaching that comes from this passage is the example it offers of how simple it can be to relate to another human....how simple it can be to welcome Jesus. No need for a grand cathedral; no need for a pious, theologically correct, properly executed prayer, no need for clothing that match the appropriate liturgical color--welcome one another...share a cup of cold water (like our friend Rick this past week in worship).
Are you interested in continuing the struggle of relationship?
Do you really trust God enough to follow toward where you are feeling called?
What is your role / responsibility being in relationship with Jesus?
Love I get so lost, sometimes
days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
when I want to run away.
I drive off in my car
but whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are.
All my instincts, they return
and the grand facade, so soon will burn.
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside.
In your eyes,
the light the heat;
in your eyes
I am complete;
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches;
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches;
in your eyes
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
the heat I see in your eyes.
In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel, 1986