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The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 11, 2019

     Some priests never begin a homily without a story – preferably a funny one. It’s a practice I’ve avoided. For two reasons: I’m not very good at telling stories, and good stories are hard to come by. Let me prove my point. Did you hear the story about the fellow who fell headlong off a steep cliff?  In mid-fall, miraculously, he managed to grab hold of the branch of a tree that was growing from a cleft in the rock.  There, suspended between heaven and earth, he cried out to God for help.  And God called back to him, “Do you trust me?”  “Oh yes, Lord, I trust you,” the fellow told God.  “I trust you!”  “Okay,” said God, “then let go of the tree.”  To which the fellow replied, “…Is there anyone else up there?!”

     I told you that stories were not my thing…!  But that one, funny or not, does shed some light on today’s readings. In one way or another, they’re about letting go of the branch. That’s certainly true of the story of Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in faith. God asked them to let go of the branch more than once.

     God first asked it of them when they were well up in years – at that mellow time of life when looking back comes much easier than looking ahead. In their advanced years God broke into the quiet of Abraham and Sara’s lives and told them to move - to leave everything behind: their comfortable dwellings, their herds, their crops, their livelihood.  Let go, God said.  Move far away from all that, and I will be with you. I will make you the founders of a great and powerful new people, numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore.  But first you must let go!

     And Abraham and Sarah did let go.  They went where God led them – to a distant and strange land.  And they let go even further one fateful day many years later when God told Abraham to take his son, Isaac – the son of his old age to whom his sterile wife Sarah had given birth – and offer him up on an altar of sacrifice; Isaac, the living embodiment of God’s preposterous promise that Abraham and Sarah would be the founders of a great nation.  Let go of him, God said.  Give him back to me.  And Abraham once again said yes.

     But, as so often happens with this mysterious, demanding, yet faithful God of ours, God said yes, too.  Yes to Abraham and Sarah, yes to his promises.  God caused young Isaac to live, and so a great nation was born from the bodies of two people who were as good as dead, to quote the Letter to the Hebrews.

     My friends, this is a story that gets repeated all throughout the scriptures.  Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom evokes the memory of that greatest of all nights in the history of God’s dealings with the Chosen People – the night of the Exodus when Moses led God’s people through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.

     We tend to view that story in a rather ho-hum manner.  We know how it turns out, after all. Yet it is another of the great ‘let go’ stories of the Bible.  In fact, the Exodus is the great ‘let go’ story of the Jewish scriptures.  Before those waters ever parted, there was that leap into the dark we call faith, that “yes” to God that echoed the “yes” of Abraham and Sarah.  I once heard it put this way: “Not until the Hebrews plunged into the waters did the winds push those waters back.”  First came the plunge; then, and only then, came the parting of the waters.

     It’s always that way.  Call it what you will - a plunge, a leap into the dark, a letting go – it’s all the same. It’s an act of faith in a God who asks a great deal but who always gives a great deal more.

     The message from Jesus in today’s gospel is the same.  “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   What a wonderful thought that is.  The kingdom!  And God is going to give it to us!  But there is a catch, because Jesus goes on to say, “Sell your belongings and give alms. Get money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, a never-failing treasure in heaven which no thief can reach nor any moth destroy.  For where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also.”

     It’s the old “let go” story again, isn’t it?  We who want to follow Jesus will, like Abraham, Sarah, Moses and the chosen people, be put to the test in one way or another.  “Trust me,” God will say to us.  “Take the plunge.  Let go.  I will be with you…!” 

     My friends in Christ, I have no way of knowing what price you have paid – or are paying – for saying your “yes” to God.  All I do know is that it has cost you, is costing you, and will cost you.  That much is certain.  And I also know that if it is not costing you, maybe it’s because you haven’t really said yes, or maybe your yes has been less than wholehearted. The same goes for me….

     And I know this, too: that no matter how dark the days or how bleak the prospects may seem at times, the God who was faithful to Abraham, Sarah, and Moses – turning nature itself inside-out and upside-down for them, and the God who did the absolutely unimaginable for Jesus, raising him from the dead after he “let go’ on Calvary, will just as surely be there for us if we will but trust Him, and let go…!

Father Michael G. Ryan
 

 

 

 

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