The Olympics have been pretty great, haven’t they? I watched a little of the figure skating one day and was fascinated by the Slovak lady’s figure skater. She reminded me of photographs of my grandmother with her round face and high cheekbones. I can remember when we got lost in Bratislava when I was a kid, and our car broke down. Someone found us, brought us to his flat and phoned up the rental car agency, telling them that they had given us a lemon of a car. He went upstairs and brought down a figure skater that knew some English, and once they had figured out that we were from Canada and that my mom’s parents had come from Slovakia, they treated us like royalty. The figure skater was lovely to us, and it was a real relief to find someone that spoke a little English in what at the time was a communist country. So I always remember Slovaks being very kind to us as we were travelling through the country.
We were wandering, like Abraham and Sarah. They had left a safe home where Abraham was part of a wealthy family, and was the first-born son, destined to inherit his father’s business. Yet he and Sarah were restless for adventure and traveled into what their family must have considered the most uncivilized and dangerous of circumstances. Even still, they remembered to practise hospitality to people they met. And every time they gathered with others, even strangers, they would hear God’s message to them of great promises. Promises to have children, many children, nations that would carry their DNA into the future.
Paul got that. But he went deeper. For him, writing to the early Roman church, it wasn’t just about DNA or following the complicated holiness code of the Jewish rituals, it was about faith. So he made an extraordinary claim, that said that Abraham’s children weren’t just the folks who carried Abraham and Sarah’s genetic code, but about folks who gathered together in faith and trust.
No, he was writing to a congregation that was divided by their races, that their new community was to be more than a club for folks who had similar language, culture and shared the same eyes and noses. He wanted them to be united in worship of God regardless of their ethnicity, their DNA.
Paul said that Abraham had faith, and that anyone can be part of Abraham’s faith, but that is such a loaded word. The Greek word for faith was pistos, which can mean faith, belief, trust, being convinced, having commitment to. That doesn’t mean that we don’t test things or question things. Abraham and Sarah laughed when they heard God’s message of hope. They didn’t trust that message at first and went through all kinds of messiness to push their own solution forward rather than trusting God. It was abusive. Sarah forced Hagar, her servant, to become a surrogate mother for Abraham, and later bullied Abraham into banishing Hagar and her son Ishmael be from the family camp. Abraham wasn’t much better, and he too had difficulty trusting that God had a covenant with them.
Paul knew his people in Rome would struggle to trust that God had a plan for them too, that this tiny community could come together and rise above their differences to become a nurturing place that would help each other survive in the very heart of the Empire. Rome thought it was more powerful than Jesus. But today Rome no longer worships Jupiter or Minerva. And we no longer believe that our political leaders are gods, the way that the Roman Emperors encouraged their people to do.
Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s plans, but eventually after many questions and debates, trusted that something new was just around the corner for them. Paul trusted that something new was in store for his friends in Rome. We are given that same opportunity.
We gather together to worship God and share our stories of how new things are in store for us when we decide to take a leap of faith and trust that God is doing something new.
Too often we try to do everything ourselves, but we forget that we are imperfect creatures. I found out that the wonderfully hospitable Slovaks can often make life very difficult for the Roma people who live in the country, and that for the Roma, becoming a country separated from the Czech republic has not improved their living standards or the racism that they deal with on a constant basis. The Americans are trying to make a country where everyone is part of the melting pot of what they call the United States and yet there have been seven school shootings since the start of 2018 down there and no one seems to know how to address it. In Canada, we are realizing that justice is not what first nations people can assume they will get when young women go missing or young men get caught up in violence. We have become certain that we are gods that can fix the world, and that we can only trust ourselves. But we come to worship to connect with something bigger than ourselves, someone that we can trust in ways that maybe we can’t trust even our own biological families. We come because we want to trust the one who fed the multitudes, and who turned simple bread and wine into a glimpse of a holy and powerful community. We come to worship God and when we worship, we are indeed part of a new thing that continues to transform us and our world in new and wonderous ways. Let us continue to quest for God, and question God as we allow God to shape us into a faith community that follows in the footsteps of Abraham, Sarah and Paul, a community that can laugh at God’s promises but then be awed at God’s amazing transforming actions. May it be so for us all. Amen