Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Sometimes, the lectionary gives us a mild headache. Some weeks, you can read all of the readings and emerge with nothing but knitted eyebrows. It’s one of those reading weeks where the Supreme Council of the Lectionary (in all seriousness, check out http://divinity.library.vanderbilt.edu/lectionary/FAQ/faq_lect.htm to find out a little more about who and how and why the lectionary gets to be) might have just rolled the dice and selected a few random passages connected by some common words in a single Psalm.
It turns out that maybe (just maybe) the Lectionary was put together considering the American holiday calendar. This week we remember where we (as Americans) came from—we remember our Day of Independence. Yes, it is a time for hotdogs and apple pie and fireworks, and it is also a time where we pause to remember where we were, where we came from, and how we got here. And (maybe it is just Firework Fever) when we look at the readings this week we see similar themes in each passage.
In Genesis, Abraham is facing his own mortality. The selected passage is sort of chopped from a bigger story…go ahead and read all of Genesis 24 – you’ll be glad that you did. Abraham has been through a lot. We were with him when he left is family and his kindred and his country to find a new land promised by the Lord. He showed good and bad and good judgment while navigating foreign rulers and infertility and fatherhood. He’s been blessed with a son through Sarah, who is now on her deathbed. And he wants to make sure that the line continues, which means that his son Isaac needs a wife. But not just any wife – Abraham is committed to finding him a wife who is of their “kindred” but willing to live in this new land in Canaan. He’s looking for someone who, like he did, will leave family and kindred and land for promised future generations. He sends his servant off to find the perfect match. And of course, the servant does. Like Abraham, Rebekah chooses to leave what is known behind her for a new promise. She takes nothing with her but her own genetic material and her servant. And she meets with Isaac and Sarah’s approval. Abraham remembers and honors his own history as his family creates new history. He holds his commitment to his country, his commitment to his family, and his commitment to God together.
If we read all of Psalm 45 we continue to see a theme of remembering one’s ancestry as one envisions one’s future. Even though this socio-political setting seems to be fairly far from where we are today, we can still interpret and respect what we see in context. The writer addresses the king (likely referencing God) and affirms the power and might and strength (from the past) that has created the current lineage and national respect and ethos. And then the writer addresses the daughter (likely referencing the individual believer or Israel…or both) and encourages her to not think about anything else except (current and future) duty to the King / God. It closes with another address to the King that emphasizes the continuing power and the length of the rule that the King / God will enjoy as history unfolds.
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul is wading around in his identity as a human – a human with base desires prone to sin. He’s grappling with how his humanness and sin and the law and God’s grace intersect. Paul was himself a Pharisee. He was steeped deeply in the traditions of the Law and criticized Jesus and his followers for their non-traditional interpretation of the Law. Now he has the perspective of where he was to better understand his own experience of grace and relationship to Christ. Could Paul have thought, understood and taught the things that he did if he hadn’t once been who he once was?
If we back up and read more than just the selected text in Matthew, we understand that John (the Baptist) is in prison, and is desperate to know who this Jesus really is. And so, he asks. Jesus’ response is action based – tell John that the lame walk and the blind see and the deaf hear. In this week’s selected text, Jesus is addressing the crowd immediately following John’s inquiry. He has told them who John was and he is drawing parallels between the way John was received and the way that Jesus is being received. In spite of what they see and hear, the people are not taking these warnings from John and teachings from Jesus to heart. Jesus scolds and warns the crowd. And then he gives thanks to his Father for wise things revealed to infants and children. If only the crowd could remember where they came from – what they learned and new before the complications of life got the better of them.
If our collection of scriptures in the bible is nothing else, it is the rehearsal again and again of who we are and where we are from. From beginning to end we see different characters attempting to balance their own history and their own relationship with God with what they see in front of them and what they feel they are called to do next.
And depending on how far you might want to push this particular way of framing scripture, this can become an important question for us as Christians in America….or American Christians (whichever you identify as you) today. In this election year, with its heated and sometimes ugly campaigns underway, what responsibility do each of us have to our selves, our country, and our God? In a place that seems to be desperate to forget a lot of its own history (eradication of Indigenous Peoples, import and enslavement of folks from other places, “benevolent” military efforts around the world and through the years, etc), how do we hold on to our commitment to God while at the same time remembering and respecting where we came from?
Where did you come from?
What do you carry with you from that place?
What do you try not to carry with you from that place?
What has been your experience of being called from your family, your kindred and your country?
My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside let freedom ring! My native country, thee, land of the noble free, thy name I love; I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills; my heart with rapture thrills, like that above. Let music swell the breeze, and riing from all the trees sweet freedom's song; let mortal tongues awake; let all that breathe partake; let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong. Our fathers' God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing; long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light; protect us by thy might, great God, our King. Samuel F. Smith, 1808 - 1895
My country, 'tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims' pride,
from every mountainside let freedom ring!
My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
and riing from all the trees sweet freedom's song;
let mortal tongues awake;
let all that breathe partake;
let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.
Our fathers' God, to thee,
author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright
with freedom's holy light;
protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
Samuel F. Smith, 1808 - 1895