August 11, 2019

“@”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 1.10-18

Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16

August 11, 2019

Both of our scripture passages for today demand a bit of context. Names are dropped, like Abraham and Sarah. There are places that are full of baggage like Sodom and Gomorrah. To understand these passages, it is helpful to know the context, and to be remined of the history even if we already know it.

The Hebrews passage tells us about faith, that it is the evidence of things unseen. The description plays the dichotomy of things that are seen versus unseen, and how both can take hold in our lives. We are to put our hope in God, in the possibilities in the future, even though it is unseen. As Presbyterians we have emphasis on education and understanding, trying to sort out the unknown and ask questions. Our faith often goes against the traditional notion of understanding, as we commit our lives to something that is not visible in many ways. The context of the Hebrews is that there was pressure from the community. They were being ridiculed for their practices and the author is writing to encourage them in their faith, reminding them of those who have gone before us who have followed God and the unseen promises.[1]

Abraham is given as the example – the first man of faith who fathered many nations. Abraham, born Abram, was married to Sarah, born Sarai, and they were childless. Through many fertility struggles, not including Abraham having a child with Hagar, the handmaid, God continued to promise Abraham a son with Sarah. There were times of doubt, but Abraham and Sarah trusted in God. God called them out of their homeland – their place of comfort and familiarity – and led them into the wilderness. They packed up and left, trusting in God. Eventually they had a son named Isaac.

When we put our faith in God, we do not know where we will end up – all we know is where we have been. We must rely on God and not only put our faith in the Holy One, but also in the stories of those who have gone before us.

The prophet Isaiah wrote to the Israelites about worship. At first glance this passage seems to be centered on animal sacrifice, but it is really more than that. The author points to Sodom and Gomorrah, places that have had bad publicity for the wrong reasons. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were condemned because of the treatment of strangers in their midst. An important cultural practice for the Israelites was hospitality and treating those who were different with kindness and respect. Those who were guests in Sodom and Gomorrah were abused. The prophet brings up this warning against Sodom and Gomorrah because the Israelites in Isaiah’s time have separated their worship from their everyday lives, and they are dangerously close to being inhospitable to their neighbors.[2] They are told to love one another in worship, but in reality they have “blood on their hands,” as the prophet said. The people are offering sacrifices to appease God, but are doing nothing in their everyday lives that connects with God. In fact, God is appalled.

With faith and actions, there is so much that is seen and unseen. Our contexts are often seen, but sometimes we do not see how they affect us; how they make us act in certain situations. Our assumptions are not always in the forefront of our minds.

Yet, as we can see from our passages, context is important. It can reveal motivations, it can reveal celebrations, it can reveal something deep within we cannot always see. The idea of homeland and space and place is important in our faith. Where we come from affects us and our faith. The idea of a centralized location was important to the identity of characters in the Bible.

At the Summer Institute for Theology and Disability I heard Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernandez speak. She spent quite a bit of time talking about context, specifically from the Latina and Latino perspective as she is a theologian from that perspective, working with people who identify as such. She introduced a couple of new terms. The first was Latinx. This is a new term (well, new to many) that describes someone in the Latinx community who might be female, might be male, or might not fit into a gender binary. It is meant to be all inclusive. Dr. Nanko-Fernandez explained the power of being able to name one’s self, and not be pigeon-holed by gender terms. Just as we read in scripture, we need to be able to define and know who we are as God’s children, and the Latinx term allows some people to do that.

Another term that she used – one that she subscribes to in her teaching especially – is Latin@. This is a term that includes the -a and -o in Latina/Latino, but also takes out the gender-binary, and reminds us with the @ symbol that we are always located somewhere, and our theology and our thinking is attached to that space.

Whether one identifies as Latin@ or not, we can all benefit from looking at some of the questions she raised in her presentation concerning location. Before we address them, I think it is helpful to figure out our place.

So, we have maps all around! I want you to take two sticky notes – one to point where you are from originally, and one where you identify. For example, you might have been born in New York, but you have lived so long in Indiana you define yourself as a Hoosier. Or, maybe you have lived here all your life, but spent some meaningful time in South America and identify with culture and people there for various reasons. Let’s take some time and map it.

 

 

Next, I want you to consider these questions Dr. Nanko-Fernandez challenged us with: How have these places shaped who you are and how you think? What stands out to you because of these places? She also asks, what do we miss because of our locations? Sometimes we can misinterpret because we are used to our own perspective and we overlook someone else’s.

We take these places with us – these contexts. We learn from one another and share our own experiences. We also recognize our context now – Hanover, IN, in 2019, and ask God how we can use our gifts of context to show God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] John C. Shelley, “Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 325.

[2] Stacey Simpson Duke, “Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 318.