She has been rehearsing all week.
Testing different volume levels:
Practicing the proper inflection:
“I renounce them.
I renounce them.
I renounce them.”
On Sunday morning our sister Izzy will affirm her baptism, echoing the words her parents Bill and Kristin spoke on her behalf 13 years ago at a font in Dallas. She will both claim what she believes, and renounce, in ever-tightening circles of specificity, those things that thwart God’s work in the world and in her:
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? (That is, everything in the multi-verse that stands against God’s desires.)
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? (That is, everything on this planet that opposes the powers of God.)
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? (That is, everything in Izzy’s heart and mind that keep her from being all God created her to be.)
To each question she will answer, “I renounce them.”
Izzy’s words take on even great import after this week’s stark evidence of all the powers that defy God—out there in the cosmos and in the human heart. The powers that defy God now have human faces and voices. I have not slept peacefully since last weekend when evil erupted in Charlottesville. A torch parade. A weaponized automobile. Armed marchers chanting epithets against Jews and African Americans. Unfiltered hatred. Equivocating on the part of our leaders. I have feared that the “path of totality” refers not to Monday’s solar eclipse but to the relentless march of evil. But, of all the voices that have attempted to either explain or explain away the present unrest, a fourteen-year-old girl will speak the clearest word: “I renounce them.”
The appointed texts for Sunday could not be more well-timed. It’s almost as if we planned this confluence of Izzy’s affirmative faith and scripture’s clear admonition about the scope of God’s love and our responsibility.
The prophet Isaiah writes to God’s people recently returned to their homes after a generation in exile. (Isaiah 56.1,6-8) They had dreamt of that homecoming for years, imagining that their homes and neighborhoods would be just as they left them. Instead they returned to Israel from Babylon to find their country populated by “foreigners” living in their homes, working in their businesses, farming their land, teaching in their schools, worshipping in their temple. They were saddened. And enraged. And confused. But God was not. God welcomed them home as warmly as God had welcomed the “foreigners” who had settled in their absence:
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . .
these I will bring to my holy mountain . . .
for my house shall be a house of prayer for all people.
We continue to study Paul’s argument that God has not rejected the Jews, but continues to regard them as inheritors of the promise, even after the arrival of Jesus. (Romans 11.1-2a,29-32) Paul could not be clearer in his affirmation of God’s trustworthiness and faithfulness to all who have believed: “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Jews are not our enemies. They are our brothers and sisters in the expansive love and welcome of God.
Jesus himself is forced to rethink his biases when confronted with a Canaanite (i.e. pagan) woman who begged him for a miracle. (Matthew 15.21-28) She interrupted his third attempt to rest and re-group after the death of John the Baptizer, shouting at him like a reporter at a press conference, “Have mercy on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus initially brushed her off, claiming that he was called only to the People of Israel. But she pressed. And pressed. And begged. And Jesus finally had to admit that he had responsibility for her, as well. He said, “Woman, great is your faith!” And her daughter was healed instantly.
If Jesus himself needs to be reminded about the breadth and depth of his ministry, it should not be surprising that we do, too. We forget that we have a responsibility to and kinship with the “foreigner,” with our Jewish brothers and sisters, with those who look to us for healing, regardless of artificial obstacles of language, color, orientation, income, education or creed. More than that, we have a responsibility to defend those Jesus loves who are endangered by both orchestrated hatred and unthinking privilege.
Please join us for worship this Sunday. The world is unsettled. Our teeth are on edge. The least among us live in fear. We need to be together. To sing. To pray. To repent. To renounce. To affirm.
Sunday will be a special day for us as, to misquote scripture: “A teenage girl shall lead them.” Izzy, we await your witness.
Confessing the faith that we share,
Pastor JoAnn Post