A Radical Relationship
Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Today’s scripture readings invite into a radical, life-giving relationship with God, our Father, and with all those who compose God’s family.
Our first reading presents a famous interaction between God and Abraham. The Lord, having just finished dining with Abraham and Sarah, now walks with Abraham to Sodom. Just a few verses prior to our first reading today, the author of Genesis gives us a glimpse into the mind of the Lord while he is walking with Abraham. The Lord knows he is going to visit Sodom and the purpose for his visit, but is debating within himself whether he should tell Abraham what his reasons are for going to Sodom. The Lord says to himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No,” says the Lord, “for I have chosen [Abraham], that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:17-19). God wants Abraham to know what will happen to evil as Abraham has just been promised by God to be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Perhaps knowing the inhospitable and toxic environment of Sodom, and knowing that his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s family is there, Abraham starts negotiating with God and interceding with God on behalf of the righteous folks still left in Sodom (Genesis 18:32). And it’s here our first scripture reading begins.
We are witnesses to a unique and dynamic relationship Abraham has with God. Much like in the Middle East today, you can almost imagine Abraham in a crowded marketplace bargaining God to come down on the price of a Persian rug. While God does eventually bring about the destruction of Sodom, Abraham’s interaction with God spared Lot and his family from suffering the same fate. Putting aside for now the complicated reasons and effects of Sodom’s destruction, the interaction with God and Abraham today foreshadows the close, intimate relationship Jesus shares with the Father. Today, we are called to share with Jesus, this close, intimate relationship with the Father as well.
Our second reading comes to us from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In a very powerful passage, St. Paul encourages the Church at Colossae to reject philosophies and thinking patterns that diminish the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. “Do not let anyone condemn you,” St. Paul says (Colossians 2:16). “Do not let anyone disqualify you” (v. 18). “See to it that no one takes you captive” says the Apostle. (v. 8)
Saint Paul encourages us today as he encouraged the Church in Colossae. Do not forget, he seems to say. You have been baptized in Christ and, “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:12-14).
We have received God in his entirety in our lives because our sharing in the baptism of Jesus Christ. Any philosophies, any human tradition, any rules or regulations impressed upon us that diminish our feelings of worthiness or justification before God are, as St. Paul might say, “not according to Christ.” Our baptism in Christ signaled the beginning of our new, radically different relationship with God. Whatever is held against us, whatever our sins, whatever our faults, whatever our shortcomings, God has taken those sins and nailed them to the Cross. God has surprised, disarmed, and eviscerated the demons among us or within us that insist on absolute purity and absolute conformity to human rules and traditions lacking divine authority. How truly life giving and freeing it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ!
And finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus responds to his disciples request, to “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” The shortened form of the Lord’s Prayer many of us know reinforces the lessons we have heard from our two earlier readings. And the lesson again is this: We are all invited into a radical life-giving relationship with God, our Father, and with all those who compose God’s family.
Today, Jesus approaches God almost with child-like manners. “Give us” he says. “Forgive us” he cries. “Do not bring us” he prays. To his disciples, Christ demonstrates the closeness and intimacy that God seeks for all of us. Although God is Father in that, he is the source of all creation, God is Father by his intimacy and care for his loved ones.
From birth, in life, and even in death, we are the Lord’s own. “Give us each day our daily bread,” says Jesus. Here, the Greek word for daily means “necessary” or “sufficient”. What we have for life’s journey, from bread for life and the Bread of Life, is a gift, freely given by God to us.
Here I’ll say again, how truly life giving and freeing it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ! If we are no longer structure our lives around the passing treasures of this world, then we are truly free people. For Christians, we trust a God who created all things, who knew us even before we were born, who knows every bit of us right now, is the same God who will always provide for his creation.
As one denomination of Christians say of God’s care for us, “The Father who gives us life cannot but give us the nourishment life requires” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2830).
One of the great dangers of our age is the myth of self-reliance. This individualism has been noted by many religious leaders throughout our lifetime. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said, “If you live in a world where everything encourages you to struggle for your own individual interest and success, you are encouraged to ignore the reality of other points of view – ultimately, to ignore the cost, or the pain of others” (“Out of the abyss of individualism”, 2010).
When God is Father, then we have a responsibility to care for those around us. This, my brothers and sisters, was the reason for Sodom’s downfall in the Old Testament. The Prophet Ezekiel says this very plainly. “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom,” he says. “She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it” says the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Whether or not the destruction of Sodom actually happened as it is portrayed in the Bible, their destruction is warning to us all. Sodom perished because it was soaked through the core with its rampant individualism. As Christians, we are invited to do the opposite. We are called to worship God and to participate in bringing about God’s kingdom on earth.
Each time we pray to God “Our Father,” we boldly proclaim our interconnectedness with God and all of creation. Calling God our Father lets us know more than ever the meaning of Christ’s words when he says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Each time we pray, the Lord looks at us and says, “You are my Beloved, my son, my daughter. With you, as you really are, I am well pleased.” In the same breath, he also says, “Your enemies, they are also my Beloved. Those who hate you, they are also my Beloved.” He says to all of creation, to our four legged friends, to the plants, to the animals, to the forces of nature, “These too are my Beloved.” To call God Father says just as much about our relationship with others as is says about God’s relationship with us.
Saint Francis, understood this when he composed his famous Canticle of the Creatures. You probably know this Canticle best by the hymns, “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Most High Omnipotent God Lord” both of which are found in our hymnal.
In his praise of Creation, Francis refers to inanimate objects and forces as one would an affectionate brother or sister. Francis famously sings, “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun”, “Sister Moon”, “Brother Wind”, “Sister Water”, “Brother Fire”, “Mother Earth”, “Sister Death”. All of creation bears the imprint of the One who spoke them into being.
Our adoption as God’s very own has the power to transform our lives and those with whom we encounter. As Christians, we are called not merely acknowledge the Kingdom of God. We are instead, exhorted to live out this new chapter in the history of God’s relationship with the universe, by caring ever the more for the poor, the needy, the hungry, the sick, the elderly, the powerless, the voiceless, the humiliated, the exploited.
To steal a phrase from a great 20th Century Anglican bishop, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you did not pity Jesus in the slum” (Frank Weston, Our Present Duty, 1923)
Today, let us honor our Lord by continuing to call on him who is our Heavenly Father. Let us always call on him and feast on him who calls us his Beloved. Let us continually call on him who sees the whole of creation as good. With his eyes, let us love others and ourselves as God so greatly loved the world that he offered his only Son to us to win for us the joy of risen life in him. Amen.
June 28, 2019
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32
Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
Holy Family Episcopal Church: Half Moon Bay, CA
Good Shepard Episcopal Church: Belmont, CA
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.