Saturday, August 7, 2010

First Sunday

An Episcopalian friend of mine once told me that having a set Lectionary (instead of being free to choose the readings yourself ) is a great blessing, because it forces you to let God's word set the theme, instead of artificially setting it yourself. I do agree with his general point; but I must admit that, had I been free to choose a scripture reading for my first Sunday as your new pastor, I doubt I could have chosen any better than today's 2nd reading (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19), interpreting the ancient story of Abraham, whom the liturgy so fittingly calls "our father in faith."

According the actual account in Genesis 12, Abraham - at the astonishingly young age of 75 - was commanded by God to move from his ancestral home to some vague new land that God promised to show him. His journey took Abraham from his family home in Haran (in modern Turkey) to the land of Canaan, stopping at Schechem, then journeying east past Bethel, then south through the Negev desert, even sojourning briefly in Egypt.

Now, admittedly, my move a couple of weeks ago was nowhere near so dramatic. I just got on a plane at Newark Airport, and two hours later landed in Knoxville. I did, however, have 41 boxes of books and other possessions which were shipped ahead of me and arrived after me. That may or may not seem like a lot, depending on your standard of comparison. I know lots of folks who've moved with many more things. And Abraham, so Genesis says, took his wife, his brother's son Lot, all the possessions that they had accumulated, and the persons they had acquired in Haran.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews appropriately wants to emphasize Abraham's faith. So he does not refer at all to all the people and possessions that Abraham brought along with him. Abraham's faith really was the most important thing he brought with him, but all those other people and things must have mattered to him too.

Jesus famously encouraged his disicples to travel light (see, for example, Luke 19:1-9). Detachment from people and possessions is important - at times even necessary. Still, as Aristotle said, a life without friendships would be hard to bear; and, as we all appreciate, the attractiveness of things is plenty powerful too. Nor is that altogether bad. After all, without books, for example, I would not be the person that I am. I really just cannot imagine myself living without constantly reading and learning. As for all those other modern gadgets that have beocme so important of our wired - and wireless - world, we would all probably be better off without some of that stuff. Certainly, multi-tasking is a highly over-rated alternative to actually paying attention to something - or someone. Still, without at least some of those things, modern life would undoubtedly be poorer relationally, because it is increasingly those things that enable us to remain connected with one another. And that is no small matter! In his own unique time and place, Abraham also understood that living productively in this world and maintaining fulfilling human relationshps will almost always require at least some things.

Even so, much more important than any possession was the confident faith that freed Abraham to move trustingly in response to God's command, and to make the ultimately best use of all his possessions in the new land God was bringing him to. So it must be for me, as I move from one place to another, from one parish community to another. So it must ultimately be for all of us as we are being challenged all the time, day by day and year by year, to respond to the new opportunities God keeps giving us to follow him and so become the people we are meant to be - the people we together hope to become forever in his kingdom.

Homily at Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, August 7-8, 2010.

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