This is based on a sermon preached at Gethsemane Lutheran, St. Louis on 6/20/16 using the texts 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Mark 12:26-27.
It’s hard to admit, especially as a Pastor, that I have struggled with prayer. It’s not that I don’t believe in God, of course I do. It’s not that I worry that God doesn’t love me—I experience God’s love in my life. It’s not even that I fear I am unforgiveable. I think sometimes I avoid prayer and time with God because there’s so much bigger, more important stuff going on in the world than my relatively minor concerns. Do you know what I meanHave you ever felt this way?
Can I really bother God with the minutia in my heart when half the worlds’ population lives on less than $2/day? Do I really need to take up God’s time for relief from my health issues when refugees and the ravages of war continue to tear apart countries and families? Should I really be asking God for help with vocational discernment when the family and friends of those shot in an act of hatred, are crying out in anger, despair, and grief and need to be heard?
Do I really need to involve God in the daily-ness, the issues, the concerns, the hopes and dreams of my life, when there are so many who are in so much more need than I?
I held this query in the quiet of my heart for a long time, when a response came from our former neighbor and dear friend, Zalman Stein, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. He came to do an Adult Education class at the church my husband, Dan served. He brought up the phrase Jesus quotes in Mark 12. Rabbi Zal looked at us and posed this question: Why doesn’t God just say, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which is more grammatically correct than I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
I’d never really noticed it before, to tell you the truth, and I was a bit surprised by the question. Then he told us the conclusion of the Rabbi’s who gathered to study and ponder this very question. Zal said the reason it says, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob rather than just I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is because God had an individual and unique relationship with each one of these men, and I would add by implication, with their wives, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel as well. God had a different relationship with each one of them.
Abraham, for instance, left his home and family to go to the place where God was going to show him, but even though he took this leap of faith, he and Sarah had a hard time trusting that God would make good on his word to give them children. They kept coming up with their own solutions, so God had to keep reminding them of his promise. God was involved in the details of their life, even their faults, and worked through them!
Isaac and Rebecca had an arranged marriage and a beautiful love story, but their relationship fractured as they each chose their favorite son—Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah love Jacob—so much so that she helped him trick Esau out of his blessing as the oldest son. But God even worked through the details of deception and continued to bless Abraham and Sarah’s descendents.
Jacob, the trickster, was himself tricked by his father-in-law and, after 7 years of labor, had to marry Leah first, and then had to work 7 more years to marry Rachel, whom he loved. We can see early on in Genesis that that the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith had an early corner on the market of the dysfunctional family. But God wanted to put the “fun” back in dysfunctional, so the details of their lives mattered to God. They mattered so much that God used this mess of a family to build a nation through the 12 sons of Jacob.
I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This phrase is repeated in the Bible several times –4 times in the book of Exodus alone. It reveals that God does in fact care about the minutia of your life and in my life. It turns out God is interested in a daily conversation about darn near everything!
• everything you think about,
• all the relationships and people you love and worry about,
• all of needs you have,
• every one of the talents God gave you
• each one of the dreams you hold,
• everything you want to change,
• each way you want to grow and learn
• all of the little tasks you undertake.
Because God is the God of Bob, and the God of Megan, and the God of Deanna, and the God of Richard, and the God of Gary and the God of Angie!
And that’s true of every one of the 7.4 billion people in the world- no matter what we’re dealing with, because you know, God can handle it!
And just to make sure that we get the message that God is a personal God who’s working out a unique relationship with you, and with you, and with you, and with you…God made it as personal as possible by coming to us in flesh and bone. God clothed the divine being in human DNA to make sure that we don’t miss the message, that God is eternally available to each one of us even in the minutia of our life, right down to the very number of hairs upon our head.
Again, to make sure we grasp God’s presence with us in the lowest of the lowest places of our human experience— famine and war, senseless killings and the muck of human life—Jesus suffered a horrible and senseless death himself so that we know that even there, God is with us; even there, God is the beginning and the end. God is in death and right there, in the details of depression and despair, God is bringing new life.
You see, we have one advantage over Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and that’s that we live in the reality of the resurrection! Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples in Mark 12:27 – He is God not of the dead, but of the living! Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were already in the resurrection before Jesus died and rose from the dead—but the disciples didn’t get it until they saw Jesus risen from the dead themselves! His resurrection is for us—that we might know and experience the Living God, the Risen Christ within every detail of our life—the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful—so that we might never doubt, so that we might never avoid prayer, so that we might never stop talking with God everyday about our life (Linda-listen to your own sermon!).
This is why Paul spends all of 1 Corinthians 15 talking about how important it is that we grasp the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Jesus' appearance to each one of them deepened their unique, individual relationship with the God who is the author, the progenitor, the one and only power over life and death. So there is the God of Cephas and the God of each of the 12 and the God of each of the 500 brothers and sisters, and so on.
And Paul himself also has a different, unique relationship with God than everyone else. Jesus appeared to him after his Ascension into heaven.: For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. Paul went from a persecutor of Christians to the chief evangelist—he had a unique relationship with God that gave him a unique witness, because his relationship with God was different from the God of Peter, and the God of Mary and the God of John.
So once we get it, that we each work out our own unique relationship with God in Jesus Christ—then what? Then we follow the example of Paul and the other Apostles—by sharing our unique relationship with God with others.
The disciples and apostles did not keep their relationship with God to themselves—they shared it with others! If they would have kept it to themselves, we wouldn’t be here today! We need to hear the unique witness of Peter, of Paul, of Timothy, of Mary, of Martha, of Lydia—because each one is different. We all grow and deepen our own relationship with God when we hear about each others’ relationship with God and what Jesus has done for others. When we come together as a community who all belong to Christ, then together we can begin to address the issues of our day and come up with solutions that embody that God is in the details of the despair and death of this world working to bring new life.
When we each bring our own relationship with God and come together -
• We can relieve world hunger through collective action and help those living on less than $2 day.
• We can work with others of faith to help refugees and embody with and for them that God is working life out of death.
• We can stand as believers who love all people as God made them, including LGBTQ people, and make sure that our Church is a place whose proclamation of welcome is louder than anyone who hates.
• We can hold and comfort those who mourn and reassure them that God wants a unique relationship of love with them that can even be forged through holy rage and sacred tears.
For there is nothing more powerful than a person who is willing to share with the world, the meaning and the depth of their relationship with God.
• For the relationship that Abraham had with God changed the world.
• The relationship that Sarah had with God changed the world.
• The relationship that Jacob had with God, and Leah had with God and Rachel had with God, changed the world.
• The relationship that Mary had with God, giving birth to Jesus, changed the world!
• The relationship that Paul had with the risen Lord, the relationship that Mary Magdalene had with the risen Lord, changed the world.
• The relationship that Ghandi had with God, and the relationship that Dr. Martin Luther King had with the risen Lord changed the world.
• The relationship that Harriet Tubman had with God, and the relationship that Mother Theresa had with God changed the world.
Indeed, the only thing that changes the world is when people of faith deepen the conviction that comes from their own, unique relationship with God, and then they share it with others, and embody by the way they live and the way they lead.
So don’t stay away from God—bring every detail of your life to God in prayer and conversation and meditation. Go as deep and wide as you can. And you too, will change the world with your unique, individual relationship with God. I can’t wait to see what you do next!