Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sarah's Journey

Sarah’s Journey
Based on Genesis 22:1-8

Setting – Sarah’s tent, perhaps some cushions strewn around.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, an ancient woman.
Abraham, he should appear older each time he is on stage.
Isaac, a boy in his early teens

            Oh, you clumsy girl!  That was my best pottery!  You idiot!  Out of my sight now!  A day at the rendering pots ought to teach you to be more careful!  Out! Out!

            No, Zaphra, I do not want any of that vile tea you make for my aching joints!  There’s nothing wrong with me!  Quit fussing over me and leave me alone!

            (Sighing) Oh, you’re right.  I have been out of sorts for days.  I can’t help it.  I’m just so worried about Abraham and Isaac.

            I know, I know.  Abraham treasures the boy; he would not let anything happen to him.  It’s not Abraham I’m worried about.  It’s that God of his.  I can feel it in my bones – there’s something Abraham didn’t tell me about this journey, something that has to do with God.
            I feel so wicked for even thinking such a thing.  After all God promised Isaac would be Abraham’s heir and there would be descendents as numerous as the stars.  I should trust God.  But it’s so hard.  There’s so much I don’t understand.  God’s commands are strange.
            After all God has never talked to me!  But Abraham has had many conversations with God.  And after each one, Abraham has done some very strange things.

            Well, we moved here didn’t we!  So far from the rich green land I knew as a child.  So far from family and friends.  Yes, yes, Zaphra, you are like a daughter to me.  And our household has grown – we have new family and friends.  But I was not there when my mother died – how do I know if my sisters honored the customs properly?  I was not there to make sure it was so- as was my responsibility as the oldest daughter. 
            No I was not there.  One day, out of the blue, Abraham runs into my tent.  He was so excited.  What light was in his eyes!  But his words made no sense:

(Upstage and to the left of Sarah)  Sarai, Sarai!  I have spoken with God. I, I mean God has spoken with me!   You need to start packing, lay in provisions.  We’re going on a long journey.  God has promised to make me a great nation. But we must go the land God shows me.  Hurry, I want to leave within two days!  (Exits excitedly)

And with that he ran out.  I started packing and we did leave on the second day.  I left my mother, ailing, bedridden, in the care of my sisters.  She did not have much longer in this world, we could have waited.  But no – Abraham said God told him to go, and go we did.
            As the town faded in the distance, I wondered who this God was that Abraham spoke to.  Which god was he following?  What a thing – to claim that a god talked to you!  Unheard of! 
            Nor was that the last time God spoke to Abraham.  I remember the time God told Abraham that all the males of his household must bear a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham.  What a sign!  All the males from Abraham himself to the least of the goatherds were limping around for days!  What a sight!  Ha! And what a strange God to require such a sacrifice!

(Upstage and left of Sarah.  He is in pain.) Now Sarai, I mean Sarah – your new name is going to take some getting used to!  Now dear one, I know it is inconvenient for you to spare the girls - but the herds must be tended.  Until the men have finished healing, the spinning and weaving will just have to wait.  After all, there’ll be no more spinning and weaving if we lose the source of our wool.  And dear, could you please get some of that soothing salve for me!  (Leaves limping)

I didn’t understand, but it seemed to make sense to Abraham.  I decided then that I didn’t need God to talk to me.  God could just leave me and the other women alone!  If God required that from the men, we women were glad to be left out of God’s regard!
I didn’t understand and I didn’t believe.  It was Abraham’s God and Abraham’s promise.  Still, for Abraham to be the father of nations required a child; a child God promised would be mine.  I heard the promise of the strange visitors, the ones Abraham was sure were messengers of the Lord.  Ha!  A child from an old woman, from a womb that long since had dried up – that had never showed the least sign of being fruitful.  I laughed in disbelief.  Yet, yet, deep down inside, hope burst into life, hope that I thought I had buried long ago.
Suddenly, I no longer needed God to speak to me.  Who needed to hear God’s voice!  I had something much better.  God reached down from the heavens and touched me!  When I felt the first fluttering movements of life, so slight I thought I might be imagining them, oh yes, I believed then!  My faith was strong – I knew that a God who cared enough to grant an old woman’s desire truly loved me.  And a God who could fill the lifeless with life could truly do everything.  And that day, that glorious day, when Isaac first breathed our air, my joy was complete.  Abraham was so proud.  I could hear his voice from outside my tent as he held our son aloft for all to see.

(Enters upstage and left of Sarah, cradling the infant)  How great is God!  And how everlastingly faithful God is!  Look and see – the promised heir is born!  And what a strong, healthy boy he is!  Look at him!  The most beautiful perfect child ever! (Exits proudly showing off the child) 

            Finally life was perfect.  I held my tiny son, nourished him, nurtured him, watched him grow.  Watched his first steps, heard his first word.  Watched him grow into young manhood.  I worried all night the first time he stayed out with the shepherds, watching the herds.  And now, now, I worry about what God wants with my husband and my son so far out in the wilderness.
I heard them as they prepared for their journey.  And I know, as sure as anything I have ever known that something is not right about this trip.  Abraham was evasive when I asked him about the need to take such a long trip to worship God when we have always worshiped right here.  Even Isaac was puzzled by Abraham’s instructions.

(Isaac and Abraham enter upstage and left of Sarah.  They dialog, and then exit stage right).

            Father, should I go to the herds and select a few choice lambs to take for the sacrifice? 

            No, Isaac, there is no need.  We are to take only what we have already prepared.  God will provide us with everything else we need.

            No, Zaphra, it is unlikely that they will find a suitable sacrifice in the wilderness of Moriah.  You have never been there, but I have.  I will never forget the desolate lands we passed through on the way to this land God promised to us.  Shepherds would be hard pressed indeed to bring flocks there to graze.  And it is the wrong time of the year for the caravans.  How will God provide?  There is nothing there to provide with.
            I can not imagine what Abraham is thinking.  Well, yes I can.  You can not live with a man as long as I have lived with Abraham without knowing what he is thinking.  I saw the look in his eyes as he kissed me goodbye – the uncertainty, the fear.  That look filled my heart with dread.  God has asked something unthinkable.  I am afraid for my husband, and especially my son.
            I keep telling myself, Isaac is the child of the promise.  God will surely let no harm come to him.  I remind myself of the stories that Abraham has told me about God, about God’s goodness and love.  Surely such a God would never ask what I am afraid God has asked.    Still, thoughts plague my days and my dreams are troubled.  I know the secret Abraham tried to hide in the depths of his eyes.  I know why they took no lamb. 
            How could God ask such a thing?  What about the promise?  How can a dead son provide heirs?  How can God snatch my joy from me?  I don’t understand.
            How can Abraham love such a God?  How can he even think about obeying this command?  If God is good and loving, why is God doing this to us?  What about God’s promise?  Will God go back on his word?  Hasn’t Abraham been faithful? 
            How can I trust, Zaphra?  I want to scream and beg and plead with God!  And then I feel ashamed that I lack faith!  What if my doubts cause God to harm my son? Each day I watch the hills, looking for a sign that they are returning, safe, to me.  And each day I despair of what I fear I’ll see.  And God, as always, is silent.  There are no answers for me, no promises, no hope. 

            So what can I do?  I pray, even though the heavens seem closed to my pain.  I wait.  I hope against hope.  I have no answers, no reassurances.  I am empty, clinging to a promise.  And through all the doubts, the despair, and the pain, there is nothing left but God.  

How lost are you? A sermon for Sept 15, 2013

The flocks were settled in relative safety for the night and the shepherds gather around the campfire as they prepare to take turns keeping watch during the night. There’s the usual banter, conversations about how the day went, where the good grazing was. 

Then, one shepherd blurts out, “I feel like celebrating!   You just got to celebrate with me.”

“Celebrate? What do you got to celebrate?”

And the shepherd responds with joy, “Well today one of my lambs wandered off.  So I found a spot to leave the other 99, so I could search for the one that was missing.  Let me tell you it was not easy!   I really had a time of it - he was a long way off.  But I was so excited when I found him -  I just grabbed him up and put him on my shoulders and ran all the way back to my flock.  It was so wonderful to bring that little lamb back!  Come on celebrate with me!   I found the one that was lost!

The other shepherds just looked at each other. Finally, one of them said what everybody was thinking: “You spent all that time and effort on one little lamb? You could have lost your whole flock while you were out searching.   Are you crazy?”

The whole street was buzzing.  A neighbor lady had hurried from door to door with an unexpected invitation:  “Come over to my place, I’m having a party right now!  I have such good news - you just won’t believe it!  Come and celebrate with me!”

The guests for this impromptu party arrived to see a lavish buffet spread out.  She had spared no expense.  What could her news be?  They couldn’t wait to hear - what could be so exciting?  It must be very good news indeed.

Their hostess motioned for quiet and all eyes turned to her as she said: “You won’t believe what happened!   I was checking my silver coins - I have 10 of them you know - when I noticed that one was gone.  Oh my heart dropped to my stomach!  So I started to search everywhere.   I got out candles, lit lamps.  I checked corners and moved the furniture.   I shook out all the linens and emptied drawers.  I searched high and low!   I spent all day searching for my lost coin - and then I found it!  Isn’t that wonderful news!   I just had to have everyone in to celebrate!”

There was applause and some murmured congratulations as people turned to enjoy the food and drink laid out for them.  But as each made their way back to their home, they shook their heads. What foolishness! She had spent more on that party than the coin was worth! She may have found her coin, but she must’ve lost her marbles to throw party like that!

Crazy love.   Foolish determination.  Irresistible grace.

That’s the kind of God we have.

God loves each and every one of those created in God’s image – every single person is God’s beloved child.  God loves us too much to let us stay lost.   God doesn’t rest until the least one is found.  God won’t rest until every last one is found. 

And each and every time we discover we are lost, we discover that God is already looking for us, has already found us.

That’s the great thing about God’s love and grace.  God is the one who does the seeking.  The lost lamb just keeps wandering farther and farther away.  The lost coin just lays there until it’s found.

I wonder if the lost lamb is Jesus’ metaphor for those tax collectors and sinners – those folks who have gotten so far away from the flock that choosing the wrong path is second nature.  Just like that little lamb that is so busy eating and frolicking  and looking for the next juicy tidbits to nibble that he doesn’t realize that he’s completely alone, completely lost.

Then the lost coin would be the metaphor for the Pharisees and other righteous folks.  They don’t know they are lost.  They are busy going about their days, trying to do their best, trying to live a righteous, God-pleasing life.  And yet somehow, something is not quite right – something is missing. 

They are.  Like a coin, they’ve slipped away, dropped on the floor and rolled into a corner. 

Either way, lamb or coin, God is not going to leave anyone lost.  God is the crazy shepherd, leaving the 99 in the wilderness, to search until the one is brought back, and the flock is made whole again.  God is the foolish woman, spending all day searching for that lost coin and then throwing an over the top celebration when it’s found.

Every time a so-called sinner repents, there’s a party in heaven.

Every time someone is baptized, the angels rejoice.

Every time, you turn to God, for any reason, God calls the angels together to celebrate.