July 2, 2023
Genesis 22.1-14. Abraham sets out to sacrifice his son Isaac, but offers a ram instead.
Psalm 13 is a cry for help: “how long must I suffer pain in my soul?”— that soon turns to a song of trust: “I will sing to the Lord, who has dealt bountifully with me.”
Romans 6.12-23 Paul says that we are no longer slaves of sin, but slaves of righteousness.
Matthew 10.40-42. Jesus says, “Whoever receives your receives the One who sent me.”
Fourth of July
It’s increasingly important to craft worship around the 4th of July that evokes gratitude for our nation, which is appropriate, without veering off into American nationalism, which is anti-Christian. God is the God of all nations, not just one. The Kingdom of God is not, nor is it even like, any earthly nation, government, state, system or power. The “God and country” slope is slippery. God is not American, and does not favor one nation over another (even Israel). Nor is America a “Christian” nation. Neither our country nor our policies are shaped by or reflect any of Jesus’ teachings. Would that they did! What would our economic, health care and legal system be like if it were founded on healing, forgiveness, generosity, non-violence, welcome of the stranger and care for the poor? This may not be the Sunday to launch into that… but the best we can do sometimes is to avoid promoting the old nationalist religion. (Bear in mind last week’s Gospel, about trusting God amid controversy and opposition.)
If you really want to face the idolatry of nationalism head on, consider this: Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac is a pretty good image of our willingness to sacrifice our young people for the god of war. maybe God is suggesting an alternative, no?
God had given Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age; Isaac meant not only love and joy for them, but an heir and the continuation of their family line. So Isaac also meant the means of the fulfillment of God’s promise to give them great descendants. Now God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac! What will Abraham do? What will God do?…
It’s hard not to see this story through our modern lens of horror at the thought of murdering one’s child. But in the context of the story in Genesis, it’s not about Isaac; it’s about Abraham, and whether he’s willing to give up what is most precious to him to serve God. What do you hold back? What are you more attached to than God?
Tread carefully here, for a couple of reasons. One, what Abraham is asked to sacrifice isn’t just his: it’s the life of someone else. It’s Issac who’s really making the sacrifice. Abraham thinks of sacrificing Isaac, or a ram, but not himself. But when God asks us to sacrifice something it’s something of ours, not someone else’s. Further, I don’t think God asks us to sacrifice anything just for the sake of proving our faithfulness to God. In fact often what we care most about is a sign of what God wants. But there are things we need to let go of, even sometimes things we think we can’t live without. This is the experience of letting go of something we’re addicted to. It can feel as wrenching as child sacrifice. But it is for life, not death. What do we actually need to let go of to be more faithful tp God?
A traditional interpretation here is that God is testing Abraham, and plans to stop the sacrifice of Isaac at the last moment. (Another is that God intends it to go forward, but Abraham’s faith converts God at the last minute.) But another is this: maybe Abraham has it wrong from the beginning. God never did want him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham just thought that’s what he heard. Maybe, more often than we think, we’re wrong in our certainty about what God asks of us, and God has to interrupt us before we do something harmful. What are the Isaacs we set out to sacrifice—and how do we listen for God to re-direct our sacrificing?
I think it’s likely this is not the story not of an individual event but a narrative of a culture, personified in Abraham, coming to reject the child sacrifice it used to accept, and change its ways of worship. What night this story say about our lives—personal, religious and political: what God is asking us to change?
The psalm gives voice to our feeling of being abandoned by God, yet trusts in God’s grace. As in all lament psalms, our complaint gives way to gratitude before we have even received the blessings we yearn for.
Paul speaks of choosing to live as “slaves of righteousness” instead of “slaves of sin.” That might grate against our modern (“woke”) sensibilities: we shouldn’t be slaves to anything, should we?
Well, in fact we are slaves. In our natural, unenlightened state we are pushed and pulled about by all sorts of unconscious fears, desires, attachments, habits, beliefs and emotional reactions. We’re not actually freely choosing our behavior: we’re slaves of our unconscious garbage. And we fool ourselves if we think we can just be free to choose whatever we piously choose. Then we’re slaves to our independence and our illusion of our strength, wisdom and self-governance. It’s our own ego. And we’ll still be controlled by our own inner agendas, and unable to free ourselves. It feels like a huge sacrifice (think of Abraham) to give up our illusion of self-control. But that’s the way out. The 12 steps of AA describe the it: “1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or sin]— that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”
When we give ourselves over to God we let God’s grace be the determining factor in our choices. We acknowledge we can’t live righteously on our own: we submit our selves to a higher power. A recovering alcoholic chooses to be a slave of sobriety. A Christian chooses to be a slave of grace. That’s actual freedom.
It’s not about you.When people reject you for being loving they’re not actually rejecting you, they’re rejecting love. When people receive you they’re receiving God. It’s still not about you. So “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” isn’t just being kind to a neighbor, they’re being kind to God. “Whatever you do to the least of these…”
Call to Worship
Leader: Christ says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”
All: God you welcome us into your loving presence and offer us grace.
A cup of cold water.
God, in our need you give gifts to us.
In many hidden ways you bless us.
A cup of cld water given to these, my little ones.
In our thirst for your grace, refresh us once again.
A cup of cold water, given in the name of a disciple.
We drink of your grace; we rest in your presence;
we worship you in humble gratitude.
Make of us your faithful disciples, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Leader: God of All Creation, we worship you.
All: God of this day, we thank you.
God, who dwells in all people, we greet you.
God of the present moment, we open our hearts to you.
We worship in your Spirit, in the name and the company of Christ. Alleluia!
Leader: This is the day which God is creating
All: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Holy One, as this moment unfolds, your hand is in it.
We open our hearts to your presence. We open our souls to your Word.
We listen and wait.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God of all the earth, we worship you.
All: God of all peoples, we thank you.
You create all people in your image, and you bless every land.
God of all peoples, we thank you.
You provide for us, and give us all to each other, for our mutual blessing.
God of all peoples, we thank you. Alleluia!
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of love, you walk with us each moment. Speak to us now, in scripture, in thoughts, in imagination, in silence. Open our eyes and ears to your wisdom . Amen. 2.Eternal God, you who call us to hear and obey, we still our hearts to listen for your voice, coming to us now, coming to us new, to give us life and set us free. Speak to us, for we are ready. Amen.
Gracious God, Abraham heard your call to sacrifice his son. But then he heard again, and did not. Help us to hear again, to listen continually for your voice. Now help us, as your scripture is read and your good news proclaimed, to hear your Word and change our lives. Help us always, by the grace of your Spirit, to listen. Amen.
God, you called Abraham to sacrifice what was dearest to him to be faithful to you. By your grace help us to let go of everything that holds us back from you. Help us let go, trusting your grace, and cling only to you, in the promise and the presence of Christ. Amen.
God of mercy, you led Abraham and he listened to you. Because he listened, he was bold to do things that took great courage and sacrifice. Because he heard, he acted in harmony with your will, and he was a blessing. By the grace of your Spirit, help us to listen to you now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may gladly hear what you are saying to us today, and follow faithfully. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
we stand on the mountain of our solitude,
with the Isaac of our loves and attachments in our hands.
We release them to you. We let go,
so that we may truly worship you
by listening for your new word.
Speak, for even with knives in our hands
we are listening.
Prayer of Confession
Gentle, loving God,
we confess that without knowing,
we have tried to live apart from you,
by our own judgment rather than by your grace.
We are sorry, and we repent of our sin.
By the grace of your Spirit within us,
return us to you, forgive us,
and restore in us the mind of Christ.
Gentle, Life-giving God, we confess our sin:
for although we have had the right in our minds,
we have not done your will; we have not heeded your voice.
Speak to us again. Call us to the truth.
Forgive us, open our hearts to your Word,
and set us in your ways, that we may truly do your will,
for the sake of Christ, who died and has risen
so that we may be free. Amen.
Psalm 13 —A paraphrase
God, have you forgotten me forever?
Do I even matter to you?
Why are you so hard to find?
How long will I argue with myself about you,
this dark pit in my heart all day long?
How long will this dark adversary
loom over me?
Give me an answer, God—any answer.
Let there be light in my eyes,
not this sleep, this death.
I can hear my adversary now: ” I win.”
I can see them gloat over my lifeless soul.
But I trust your kindness like the earth itself.
You rescue me, and I rejoice.
I will sing to you, Beloved,
because you always so lovingly pick me up.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We live in you, God, maker of all things. You continually create the universe moment by moment, and you give us life and breath.
We follow Christ, your love embodied in humanity. He gathered a community and taught them, telling parables of grace; he performed prophetic acts of justice and healing; in love he gave his life; and in grace you raised him to new life. He lives among us still by the mystery of his Spirit in us, so that we ourselves may be parables of his love.
We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, your life in us, in which we are one, the Church, the Body of Christ. By your Spirit we trust in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection and the mystery of eternal life. Mindful of your presence and your grace, we devote ourselves to lives of gratitude and trust, love and justice, in the name of Christ, for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.
We trust in God, creator of all things, ruler of al that is and all that is to come. God is transforming the world into the place of God’s justice and mercy.
We follow Jesus, who taught and healed, who died and rose, revealing God’s abundant grace. He sent disciples out into the world to proclaim the good news of your grace, to heal, and to participate in the Reign of God in all that we do. He reigns in love over all Creation, and holds all accountable to their faithfulness to God’s rule of grace.
We rely upon the unfailing grace of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we devote ourselves to lives of daily prayer, study, service and reflection, following Jesus as our Master, for the sake of the transformation of the world by the grace of God.
We believe in God, Creator of all things, heavenly father and mother, of infinite love, wisdom and power, ruler of all that is and all that is to come.
We follow Christ, God’s chosen one, who loved and served humbly, who chose to die rather than kill for the sake of the healing of all Creation, and who was raised by God to new life. We believe that he calls us to humbly follow him and obediently serve him for the sake of proclaiming God’s grace. We trust that he accompanies us and will help, guide, heal and defend us through all difficulty and suffering.
We believe the Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us and sustains us as servants of God’s grace. We live as the body of Christ, in the power of forgiveness and the reality of resurrection, and the light of eternal life. Amen.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
[…mindful of the 4th of July…]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
We praise you and thank you, God of all Creation.
You create the earth, one living being, without nations or boundaries.
You create your people, one living family.
This feast comes from the earth, the whole earth giving praise.
This gathering is your people, without division or privilege.
You invite us all, from every people and nation, to gather at your one table.
So with all Creation, with one voice, we praise you and thank you.
[Sanctus]Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He loved and taught, he healed and fed the people,
without distinction: Jew and gentile, slave and free.
He established a new nation: the Kingdom of Grace, the Nation of God,
made not by laws or armies but by love.
The empire of his love threatened the powers of this world;
therefore he was crucified. But you raised him from the dead.
He lives among us, inviting us to this table, establishing again your Realm of Love.
[The Blessing and Covenant…]
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
citizens of a single kingdom, the Realm of your love:
one nation, under your grace, with liberty and justice for all.
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Our ways of worship and service are always imperfect. But you speak to us in our hearts. May we listen, listen always for your word, to lead us, correct us, guide us, and set us free, for loving service, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, you have saved us from the flood of our own sin. You have brought us through the troubling waters to a broad and generous land. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world to extend to others the same holy hospitality of heart that you offer to us. Send us to reach out to those who suffer, who wander, who are without a home for their spirits. Bless us in the Spirit of Christ, and send us in the name of Christ, to do your will. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
God of Mystery (Abraham’s Song) (Tune: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)
God of mystery, always calling,
in my heart your love has stirred,
calling me to follow humbly,
and obey the voice I’ve heard,
giving you my all, my treasure,
trusting in your gracious Word.
God of mystery, still creating,
move my spirit as I pray.
Give me faith to change my living,
paths I’ve followed all my days.
Stay my hand from ill, providing
grace to walk in blessed new ways.
God of mystery, now redeeming,
still is Isaac bound in me?—
dear, yet sacrificed to duty?
Speak your Word and set me free.
Give this child your life, your blessing,
freedom for eternity.