The Least, First

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On freedom roads

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“On What Freedom Roads Do You Walk?”

Proper 5 A: Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33:1-12, Romans 4:13-25, Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
June 6, 2005, at New Oaks Church of the Nazarene, Washington, IA

Night rotation of starsMonte: In Genesis: Last week Noah, today, Abraham. Father of three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read you a bit, then we’ll sing.

Abraham – or Abram, was born, we think, in 2166 B.C. Farther before the birth of Jesus than we are after the birth of Jesus. He lives in Haran – not too far from the city in modern N. Iraq called Mosul. It’ll help you to know a couple things about life there.

1. Abram knows, as far as we know, nothing about God as we know him at the beginning of his story. He’s never heard of Jahweh. He’s never been to a synagogue or church – none exist.

2. Abram is a pagan man in a pagan culture. As much as any headhunter in Borneo ever was. As much as any ancient European ancestor of yours or mine ever was. He’d have household gods set up. The worship he’d participated in might have involved child sacrifice. It probably involved temple prostitutes. Your ancestors’ worship may have, too.

3. Abram’s home culture is sophisticated. It values stability and wealth and probably business over agriculture. It values staying put and getting rich.

And then God starts talking to him. Maybe A thinks, at first, that this is one God of many. Maybe he thinks Yahweh is his own household god. We don’t know. But here’s the message Yahweh brings – and I want you to talk to me in a minute about what Abram has learned about God by the end of this short story:

Sharon: Genesis 12:1-9 (The Message*)

1GOD told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.

2I’ll make you a great nation

and bless you.

I’ll make you famous;

you’ll be a blessing.

3I’ll bless those who bless you;

those who curse you I’ll curse.

All the families of the Earth

will be blessed through you.”

4So Abram left just as GOD said, and Lot left with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him, along with all the possessions and people they had gotten in Haran, and set out for the land of Canaan and arrived safe and sound.

6Abram passed through the country as far as Shechem and the Oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites occupied the land.

7GOD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your children.” Abram built an altar at the place GOD had appeared to him.

8He moved on from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent between Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. He built an altar there and prayed to GOD.

9Abram kept moving, steadily making his way south, to the Negev.

Monte: So what’s Abram know about God so far? God talks. God is interested in people like him. God makes big promises. And God wants him to take a journey without knowing where it will end up.

Guess what – I think those are things you know about God, too. Maybe we and Abraham have some things in common.


Rise Up

Be Thou My Vision

Here I Am to Worship

Invocation – Sharon – ask God to reveal himself to us today

[cue logo]


Monte: Now remember what kind of fellow Abram was when God first spoke to him. And listen to the Apostle Paul write about why and how that happened.

[cue Rom 4.13] Ben: Romans 4:13-25*

13That famous promise God gave Abraham–that he and his children would possess the earth–was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. 14If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. 15A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise–and God’s promise at that–you can’t break it.

16This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father–that’s reading the story backwards. He is our faith father.

17We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. 18When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”

19Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. 20He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, 21sure that God would make good on what he had said. 22That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” 23But it’s not just Abraham; 24it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. 25The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

Monte: What kind of people is God interested in?

Now let’s go to the gospels. Since Jesus is the center of all we believe, let’s watch him, and see if we’re on the right track.

[cue Mat 9:9-13]

Monte: Matthew 9:9-13*

9Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.

10Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.

Reflecting God Study Bible: “Notoriously evil people as well as those who refused to follow the Mosaic law as interpreted by the teachers of the law. … commonly used of tax collectors, adulterers, robbers and the like. … To eat with a person was a sign of friendship.

11When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?

Most of Jesus’ boys had never been any place like this! One of them had been a zealot! He had friends who slipped a knife into the guts of people who were these guys’ friends. Tax collectors were traitors.

A modern comparison? What do you think? What could people do that would be so disreputable that religious folks might get on your case for hanging out at their place?

So say you’re a disciple of Jesus then. What’s going on in your head?

“But won’t they think I approve of what they do?”

Know what? God took that risk when he started hanging out with me. Matter of fact, he’s still taking it. How’s it make you feel? Makes me want to take the risk for somebody else.

12Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 13Go figure out what this Scripture means: “I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Jesus is the full demonstration of God. So what’s God like? What do you learn?

More about Jesus:

Reader: Matthew 9:18-26*

18As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, “My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live.” 19Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along.

20Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. 21She was thinking to herself, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned–caught her at it. Then he reassured her: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” 22The woman was well from then on.

23By now they had arrived at the house of the town official, and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and the neighbors bringing in casseroles. 24Jesus was abrupt: “Clear out! This girl isn’t dead. She’s sleeping.” They told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. 25But when Jesus had gotten rid of the crowd, he went in, took the girl’s hand, and pulled her to her feet–alive. 26The news was soon out, and traveled throughout the region.

Monte: Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary: a person or thing could contract ritual “uncleanness” (or “impurity”) in a variety of ways: by skin diseases, discharges of bodily fluids, touching something deador eating unclean foods. [Or by touching others who were unclean for those reasons. If a person were unclean:] An unclean person in general had to avoid that which was holy and take steps to return to a state of cleanness. Uncleanness placed a person in a “dangerous” condition under threat of divine retribution, even death if the person approached the sanctuary. Uncleanness could lead to expulsion of the land’s inhabitants; its peril lingered upon those who did not undergo purification. Priests… if defiled, had to abstain from sacred duties. An unclean layperson could neither eat nor tithe consecrated food, had to celebrate the Passover with a month’s delay, and had to stay far away from God’s tabernacle.

How was Jesus unclean? [touched by a menstruating woman, touched a dead child.] Why would he do that?

Ceremonials laws were symbols to help them remember that they had been chosen by God for the purpose of blessing all the peoples on earth. But by Jesus’ day, hundreds of rules had been added, and keeping all the rules had replaced relationship with God, self and others as what religious folks thought God was after.

But think of the irony of these descendants of Abraham. 2100 years earlier, when God spoke to him, was he “clean”?

And then, remember Jesus’ first miracle? “Six stoneware waterpots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings.” “This act in Cana was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory.” Ceremonial water’s gone – replaced by wine, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The outer replaced by the inner. The symbol exchanged for the reality.

And now think of yourself. When Jesus spoke to you, were you clean?

I guess this is a problem for all times. Leonard Sweet wrote in Out of the Question – Into the Mystery: “The airways are crowded with Christian ministries that have discovered that the best way to increase donations is to define yourself as fervently engaging in battle against an enemy.” But wait – does Jesus say, “Fight your enemies?” What does he say?

But what about “taking a stand?”

Sweet again: “The issue is not on what principles of justice and freedom do you stand, but on what freedom roads are you walking?”

Dorothy Day: The true atheist is the one who cannot see Jesus in the face of the poor.

Mother Teresa lamented that it is popular to talk about poor people, but it is not nearly so popular to talk to poor people.

And Sweet again: “Sin is not a breaking of commands; sin is a breaking of relationships.

See, dear ones, until broken human beings have the opportunity to feel the genuine affection of God through us, how will anything ever change?

OK, what do you learn about God?

And what kinds of opportunities do you suppose he is going to put before us?

Who Is Like the Lord

Sharing – Sharon


His Name is Yahweh

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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