Baptismal Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Pentecost 12, August 31, 2003, dedicated to the honor of Lillian Elizabeth Hills on her baptismal day and always to the glory of God!
(Part V of V in the Sermon Series: "Abraham: The Father of Three Faiths")
Genesis 25:7-11; Luke 16:19-31
Over the past four Sundays, I have reflected upon the God of Abraham. Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What is it about this sole figure in Biblical history that all three faiths have embraced? What is it about Abraham which will lead us through the malaise of hatred and misplaced religious righteousness into a new day of reconciliation, and hopeful peace? Today, I close with "Through Abraham: Faith Being Born."
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength & our salvation. Amen.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, America and the world watched in horror - the sight of planes descending, towers collapsing, fire and smoke consuming, prayers ascending, and war beginning - fueled by terror and the power of violence and hate. Words did not come easily or well to those of who were witnesses and victims. Triage centers waited for the wounded who never came. Within hours, smiling photographs of the missing appeared on light poles. Relatives and friends stood vigil for miraculous news, while pink vapor, blowing paper, and the stench of loss filled lower Manhattan. Smoldering fires lit the night sky in Reston, Virginia. And on a hillside outside a small town in Pennsylvania, eulogies began to shape a future where only plane parts remained. To this day, those who are called to forge words and meaning from September 11th, struggle to articulate the oppressive atrocities of that day.
One thing we know for certain - our isolation from hatred, from fanaticism, and from irrationality ended on September 11th. What the Middle East, as the cradle of God, had experienced for years, came crashing into America. We found on that beautiful, clear September morning, that we would have to know more about ourselves, our land, our family, our faith, and the land, family, and faith of our global neighbors, if we were to create a different future. We have found since that we have a lot to learn. We have discovered that striking back has brought little solace for most and increasing pain for many more.
It is faith, family, and geography that sculpt the elemental bloodline of Abraham and the three monotheistic religions that claim him as their father. As I read and traveled through Genesis and the three religions' texts on Abraham, seeking sacred places and spaces of unity with Islam (especially) and Judaism and Christianity through Abraham, I discovered instead that the oasis of Abrahamic Hope was a mirage. Along with others, I had thought that if we could find a place between the religious traditions where Abraham could clearly unify us as monotheists, we could boldly step onto new ground and create a way forward where there was seemingly no way. After all, that is our nature as reconcilers of this world to peace, justice, and nonviolence.
I discovered that each of these religions have done the same thing with Abraham. Each has cast Abraham in its own image, for its own needs - especially in times of persecution - to look a certain way. Much like our 16th Century Brussels tapestry has woven Abraham into a beautiful image of a merchant of Brussels bartering for property, each faith tradition has woven him into its tapestry, too.
There is good news in this story. Abraham does not belong to any one tradition at this point. He belongs to all! Instead of being bound and found in a tomb outside of Hebron, Abraham is nowhere and everywhere. Instead of a stream of living water to be found in a desert oasis, Bruce Feiler writes in Abraham:
Abraham is a vast underground aquifer that stretches from Mesopotamia to the Nile, from Jerusalem to Mecca, from Kandahar to Kansas City. He's an ever-present, ever-flowing stream that represents the basic desire of all people to form a union with God. He's a physical manifestation of the fundamental yearning to be descended from a sacred source. He's a personification of the biological need we all share to feel protected by someone, something. Anything.
This perpetual stream of Abrahamic ideals has existed just under the surface of the world for as long as humans have told themselves stories. And every generation - at moments of joy and crisis - tapped into the same source. Each generation chose as Abraham for itself. (Bruce Feiler, Abraham, William/Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2002, pp. 215-216).
Just as each generation has cast Abraham in its own image, we can, too. Today, I have brought this canvas into worship from the CCAD Freshman Convocation last Tuesday. The canvas appears to be blank, but it is not. It has subtle tones of white already painted on it. CCAD's President, Denny Griffith, challenged the incoming students to leave their mark on CCAD, to fill the canvas with their images and their story. I do the same with you!
If we are to come to a new understanding of Abraham, an Abraham in which faith is being born, then we need to paint this canvas with the colors of our Abraham! What should he look like? He should be God-fearing and God-loving. He should be such a lover of God, that he can help God renew God's commitment to protect humankind. He should be a wanderer and a leader who helps us face the frontiers of our own failings and brings us home to God. He should be a family man who is not afraid to admit his mistakes and face the consequences, a unifier of sons, a reconciler of pain. He should serve as a bridge between the human and the divine, one who demonstrates by example what it means to be faithful to a loving God and yet delivers humanity to a place of hope and peace.
I choose an Abraham who believes against all belief that God's children still desire God. He is not a Jew. He is not a Christian. He is not Muslim. He cannot be Moses, or Jesus, or Muhammad. He must embody the best qualities of all three. He is our best hope of uniting Jew, Christian, and Muslim.
And yet, he is not perfect. He is not a saint, this Abraham, I choose. I know there will be other Abrahams. Of this, I am sure. But, this new Abraham, our new Father Abraham, needs to come now. He needs to bring his faith, hope, love, and compassion to a world waiting to be born.
With Ishmael and Isaac, let us bury our old father Abraham in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. Let us lay him to rest with his wife Sarah. And, then let us begin again God's story of resurrection hope. Let us call forth a new blessing from the Abraham we choose. Amen.
Copyright 2003, The First Congregational Church
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