Life for All
Based on Genesis 21:8-21, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
Last Sunday was the 23rd anniversary of our “family day”. This is the day that Lucinda and I arrived back in Arlington with our two adopted boys. It was the completion of the first part of our journey together as a family, and the culmination of about a decade of intentional activity on our part to try to have children. We quickly found out that we were ill prepared to be parents, just like all first-time parents. Thankfully, we were embraced by friends who were themselves adoptive parents, my parents and ultimately our church family. All of these persons held us in a community of continuing care and unconditional love as we navigated the ups and downs of becoming a family and weathering the storms of life.
We joined the Mount Olivet church community in Arlington in March of 1998 by taking our vows of membership and baptizing the boys. It’s important to note here that baptism and church membership launch people on a shared journey exploring issues of meaning and purpose inside an adopted family. In the sacrament of Baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive the grace of God but then are called to spend the rest of our lives within the Body of Christ learning how to respond to that gift. To aid our response we have the Church, which gives us the language of faith, teaches us its doctrines and traditions, inspires us with a holy mission for our lives and constantly points us back to the gospel for meaning, purpose and healing.
Our scriptures today speak to us about issues of life for all and how our belief in a loving God brings life to us, our adopted family of faith and all the world. Whether it is God saving Ishmael and Hagar from death in the wilderness, Paul speaking about how Jesus’ death destroyed the body of sin freeing us from our enslavement to sin, or Jesus himself saying, “…Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it….”, being adopted into the Body of Christ brings true life for all. In honor of our adoption, let us go to God now in a prayer of thanksgiving that in God we have a loving parent who welcomes all to abundant life…
Jesus is giving final instructions to the twelve before they head out in mission. Jesus tells them that they will be persecuted by those who are of the world (i.e., disciples of Beelzebul), but that they need not fear because God goes with them. God values them and will support them in their mission. They need to be clear, however, that Jesus comes to call back to God all of those whose allegiance has been given to worldly family or endeavors – and that Jesus will not be peaceable about this call to repentance and reconciliation. Jesus tells the missionaries that love for human family must come secondary to love of God and all of God’s family. Thus, Jesus’ final admonition is to call people to lose their worldly lives in order to find their lives in Jesus.
The Apostle Paul has been writing about Jesus the Christ as the second Adam; the one who reconciles the sin of Adam and brings life back to all Adam’s children. Paul is building on the idea that becoming part of the Body of Christ through baptism requires that we die to our old lives in order that we discover our true life. Paul writes, “…The death Jesus [he] died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus….” True life for all comes through baptism and adoption into the Body of Christ.
Sarah is confronting Abraham about the child, Ishmael. Sarah had not believed the promise of God to give her a child and so had convinced Abraham to use her Egyptian slave to give them an heir. However, God did remember the promise to Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac arrived in Abraham’s 100th year. Sarah was jealous of Hagar and Ishmael and presented Abraham with her need to rid herself of the reminder of her lack of faith. Abraham was “distressed” with putting away Hagar and Ishmael, but assented once God promised him that they would be cared for. So, he sent them both out to wander around the wilderness of Beer-sheba. The water and bread that Abraham provided soon ran out and Hagar placed Ishmael in the shade of a bush and waited for both of them to perish. God having other plans, brought them to water and renewed God’s promise to make of Ishmael a great nation. No matter how Sarah felt, God still considered Hagar and Ishmael to be not only family but deserving of continued life with and through God.
Life for all…we’ve all been called during this time of pandemic to confront the reality that not everyone in America gets to experience life equitably. We’ve been called to confront the discordance between how some citizens experience more infection-related deaths than others. On top of all of that, we have seen the burden of unnecessary deaths of persons of color by systems that have been designed to lead to these outcomes for this group of Americans. I say unnecessary death because it seems clear that if preventative healthcare, public health agencies and public policies had been fully and equitably funded and staffed, some of the death rate in persons of color would have been prevented. Systemic inequities and injustices in access to and coverage for healthcare, access to wealth, safe and effective shelter and access to water and access to healthy food have led directly to the excess mortality in both persons of color and impoverished whites.
What are you saying, Pastor Dan? What is the relative rate of death from COVID 19 by ethnicity? Glad you asked…according to APM Laboratories, who have compiled data as of June 9th from 93% of the U.S. reported deaths, the following are the calculated death rates per 100,000 persons (a standard denominator). Whites and Asians have a death rate of approximately 26/100,000; Latinex of 28; Native Americans 36; Blacks at 62/100,000. To put these statistics in another way, “…if they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White (or Asian) Americans, at least 14,400 Black Americans, 1,200 Latinx Americans and 200 Indigenous Americans would still be alive….” (from apmresearchlab.org) Note that the national black death rate from COVID-19 has never fallen below twice that of white and Asian populations. In Virginia, the overall death rate is 15.5, with whites at about 14.5 and blacks at about 19/100,000 – far lower than the National average but still disproportionate. These data beg the question of why in America, “One Nation Under God”, all of God’s adopted children are not able to experience life equitably?
How are we good Christian people supposed to respond to this inequity in America? The second question in our Baptismal liturgy asks all persons who come to Baptism, Confirmation and membership in the Church to respond affirmatively, “…Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Additionally, in each of these ceremonies, the congregation is asked to affirm the following question, “…Do you, as Christ’s body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?” All of you who have been baptized or joined a United Methodist church have said “I do” to both of those questions. How do you reconcile your vow to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves AND your commitment to following Christ, with the evil, injustice and oppression of systemic racism that ensures your adopted black brothers and sisters in Christ die twice as frequently as your adopted white brothers and sisters?! The truth of the matter is that our adoption by God into the family of Christ and our commitment to following the teachings of Jesus, carry with them the imperative to care equitably for all members of the Body. All of us who follow Christ, are descendants of Father Abraham and thus are heirs to the promise – no matter the color of our skin or family of origin, we are part of the great nation that God envisioned. The grace of God which helped Lucinda and me build our family brought life to us – and to everyone that participated in their growth and development. That’s the way grace works – it is free, unmerited, unexpected and unconditional, but brings with it the expectation to treat other members of the family with the same grace. Christ expects us all to lose our lives for His sake; not for one part of our family to disproportionately lose their lives to the sin of systemic racism while another part is protected by those same anti-Christian forces. To be truly alive in Christ is to be dead to sin – especially the sins of evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they may take. May the Holy Spirit help us to die to sin so that we can live into the promise of life for all in God through Jesus the Christ…amen!