"Father Abraham Had Many Sons"

2 Lent.B.17
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Perhaps, like myself, you learned the children’s song, “Father Abraham” in Sunday School. “Father Abraham, had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them. And so are you. So let’s all praise the Lord.” And if you were anything remotely like myself, perhaps you also assumed that those children of Father Abraham meant people much like yourself—specifically, other Christians. Oh, they could have been Christians as far away as Norway, Kenya and China—but all sharing the same faith—playing together in the same sandbox, as it were.

Now consider this. Abraham, that ancient nomadic patriarch who originated from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans (located in present-day Iraq) is the father not simply of one faith—but of three: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. God wasn’t exaggerating the divine promise: “I will make you the ancestor of a multitude of nations”. It’s a lesson to us that God rarely promises small things, which, I believe, tells us something important about God. The nature of the Almighty is abundant and expansive.

That, I believe, is Good News. Whereas humanity tends to see things by virtue of their limits, God does not. We see to the horizon, and for centuries believed the world was flat. It took a tremendous leap of faith for us to recognize the earth is round—and it has only been within the past few years that we have begun to come to the realization that there may indeed be proof that there are other worlds in different universes such as our own capable of supporting life. We see death as the limit to life; but for the Almighty, death becomes merely a doorway to another way of being, and through the resurrection, we have received the promise of eternal life. All too frequently, the human tendency is to see limits and set boundaries, whereas God perceives possibilities—yet, every so often, there is movement on the human front that makes us sit up and take notice.

I witnessed just such a shift last week when Phil and I went to see the movie The Black Panther. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become accustomed to seeing movies that reflect a dystopian world view—but what a joyful surprise. Without giving away any of the plot, imagine a mainline, wildly popular movie that projects good morals, strong and smart characters for both boys and girls to emulate, beautiful and exciting costumes that are not hyper-sexualized; lots of action without gratuitous violence, characters that celebrate people of color—hairstyles, clothing and culture and do not make the attempt to pigeon hole them into a Caucasian box of beauty. A message of hope—not just for one group of people—but for everyone. Who knew it was even possible? I’m still excited about it. I mention this movie because, one of the story lines that pervades the film is one which we should appreciate, given the lesson for today—and that is, we are all, in a very real sense, responsible for one another. We are connected, and that connection reaches past generations, beyond continents and (one can hope) also beyond the color of one’s skin. “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.”

Each year at the time of the Annual Meeting I do not review the past year (you can read about that in your Annual Report). Instead, I take the liberty of looking ahead. Today, taking my inspiration from Abraham, I’d like to highlight a few of the ways in which we, at St. Paul’s, are stepping into the role of joining ourselves hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters of Abraham’s larger family—both near and far.

Alongside St. Susanna’s Catholic Church and Allin Congregational, we are sponsoring a refugee family. Volunteers are on hand, fundraising has been accomplished—and now…we wait. As you may recall, almost as soon as we got our ducks in a row, a moratorium was put in place. Our hope is that it will not last long. We don’t know when the call will come; but when it does, we will be visited with a flurry of activity; because the family we are sponsoring—who could hail from anywhere from Somalia to Syria, and have probably been living in a refugee camp anywhere from five to seventeen years, will arrive approximately three weeks from the time that we receive the call. We won’t know their faith orientation or if they speak English, the number of children or their job skills until close to the time of their arrival. We are all a great venture of faith one to another.

On another level, we continue to work here at St. Paul’s to discover ways to reach out, support and involve those within our local community. We do this in a variety of ways: There are outreach efforts through ministries such as the Dedham Food Pantry (which you will have an opportunity to support this morning as you make your way to our Annual Meeting) Fruitful Offerings, and B-SAFE Summer Enrichment Program; yet there are also fun ways of letting folks know that we are here and are supportive of their efforts. The past few years we have supported the James Joyce Ramble with the ringing of bells, raucous cheering and hand-made signs by our children. This spring, we hope to work with our technically gifted parishioners so that we can invite the larger Dedham community to celebrate the Royal Wedding with us on May 19th, followed by a Reception in the Fellowship Hall. This Lent we are learning the Art of Meaningful Conversation in the hopes of connecting with people on something deeper than a superficial level and challenging ourselves and others to think meaningfully about what matters most. My hope is that conversations such as these are not simply challenging, but also affirming, hopeful and inspiring as well, encouraging us to find ways in which we share affinities across differences that too often divide.

What’s more, we are leaving the comfort of our homes in Dedham and surrounding areas and venturing abroad. Twelve pilgrims from St. Paul’s will be taking a pilgrimage to Spain this June. Our hope is to learn about conflict and reconciliation in the Basque and Catalonian regions of Spain and support a Protestant center of welcome in Santiago. If we undertake our mission well, our pilgrimage will involve not simply twelve pilgrims, but our entire congregation.

My belief is that there is ample reason for us to be hopeful and even enthusiastic. Not only about our life at St. Paul’s; but also about our world. If we take our cue from Abraham and Sarah, we realize that we are, after all, really one family. In truth, I don’t know all the ways in which we will be called to respond to the will of God and the needs of our world this coming year. Yet, of this I am certain, that with the Grace of our Savior and the leadership of your wardens and vestry as well as the willing hands of you, our congregation, I look forward to seeing how we will be challenged to live into the calling of our faith. “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.