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In 1987, I broke my right leg in three spots because I didn't listen to my mother tell me that jumping on stairs was a horrendous idea. My independent streak was strong as was my defiant streak. With a cast that went up to my waist and doubled my weight, my parents ended up carrying me lots of places. I was too short and small for regular walkers and crutches so we had to wait for pint-sized medical equipment to be ordered. In the meantime, while I milked my new condition with new Cabbage Patch dolls and a healthy dose of balloons, I also milked by dependence on my parents. I loved being carried around again like a baby, being doted upon. But, after a while, it got old and I wanted to move on my own again.
No question about it, this story is a difficult one for modern readers. We find it hard to relate to a God who would test someone by asking them to kill their only son. We find it hard to relate to the father Abraham who was willing to do this dirty deed. The story even reeks of child abuse for us. And we wonder how Isaac could ever trust his father again after Abraham raised the knife to kill him. It is a hard story to read and to interpret.
A couple of weeks ago I was north of San Antonio doing Kim McCallum's wedding - a child of this church, daughter of Jan and Rex, who moved a couple of years ago. It was at 6pm on Saturday, so that morning I drove south into town and was able to check out the heart of the city, spend some time at the Alamo, stroll upon the Riverwalk, get the feel of the place.
This past Tuesday in staff meeting I, as I always do, read the text for the week. At the end I said, ‘This is the Word of the Lord.' And, dutifully, every week, they always answer, ‘Thanks be to God.' Except this week. I read the text - Jim just read it - and then I said, ‘This is the Word of the Lord.' And, to a person, no one said anything. And I can't say I blame them. While I can work with the very beginning and the very end, it's the part in the middle, particularly, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me." If Jesus is going to make me choose, especially when I think about my children, I'm not sure if I am on board. I'm just not.
It started quietly at first. A young woman's voice opened the space, once silent, now sung. With her came the voices of older men and women, voices that long knew the song, their tongues and lungs reacting out of sweet ritual. The voices built, generation after generation adding their tenor until the music swelled like one living, breathing organism. I knew not the words they sang, these ancient Hebrew-meets-Yiddish words but I knew, I knew what they meant. It was clear from the tone, from the eyes that softly closed, the hips that slowly swayed, the heads that gently bowed - this was a song of devotion. Before I knew it, I was singing along with the congregation, offering my own voice to our God. My eyes began to well with tears as I watched my friends Aaron and Julie make their way to their chuppah, the wedding canopy. When each rounded the corner and heard the fullness of our song, of their community singing praises to the Lord, it was clear as could be that we were in a thin place, a place where the veil between heaven and earth was lifted. It was clear to me that our voices - voices of the old, the young, the trained and untrained, the stranger and the friend - our voices were living into our purpose: to praise God with pure devotion.