Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Let me read to you something. It may sound a little familiar. It may sound a bit strange.
(Surah 45-67): The Angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, well-esteemed in this world and the next, and one of the nearest. He will speak to the people from the crib, and in adulthood, and will be one of the righteous.”
She said, “My Lord, how can I have a child, when no man has touched me?”
He said, “It will be so. God creates whatever He wills. To have anything done, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.”
And [God] will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel.
[The] messenger [,Jesus, said] to the Children of Israel: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind and the leprous, and I revive the dead, by God’s leave. And I inform you concerning what you eat, and what you store in your homes. In that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And verifying what lies before me of the Torah, and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear God, and obey me. God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”
When Jesus sensed disbelief on their part, he asked, “Who are my allies towards God?”
The disciples said, “We are God’s allies; we have believed in God, and bear witness that we submit. Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.”
They planned, and God planned; but God is the Best of planners.
God said, “O Jesus, I am terminating your life, and raising you to Me, and clearing you of those who disbelieve. And I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return; then I will judge between you regarding what you were disputing. As for those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe punishment, in this world and the next, and they will have no helpers. And as for those who believe and do good works, He will give them their rewards in full. God does not love the unjust.”
This is what We recite to you of the Verses and the Wise Reminder.
The likeness of Jesus in God’s sight is that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be,” and he was.
The truth is from your Lord, so do not be of those who doubt.
And if anyone disputes with you about him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, “Come, let us call our children and your children, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, and let us invoke God’s curse on the liars.”
This is the narrative of truth: there is no god but God. God is the Mighty, the Wise.
But if they turn away—God knows the corrupt.
Say, “O People of the Book, come to terms common between us and you: that we worship none but God, and that we associate nothing with Him, and that none of us takes others as lords besides God.” And if they turn away, say, “Bear witness that we have submitted.”
O People of the Book! Why do you argue about Abraham, when the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Will you not reason?
Here you are—you argue about things you know, but why do you argue about things you do not know? God knows, and you do not know.
Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Monotheist, a Muslim. And he was not of the Polytheists.
These are the translated words of the Quran. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus healed the blind and the leprous, and brought the dead back to life. Like Gospels we have dropped over the centuries, the Quran says Jesus made a bird out of clay and had it fly. Like our own Gospels today, the Quran says that Jesus was taken up into heaven and is with God.
Like the Jewish Torah, and the Christian Old Testament, the Quran says we are made by God out of dust. Says there are no gods but God, alone. This is called monotheism. Mono-one. Theism. God. One God. We are monotheists. Not polytheists. Not many-gods.
When the Quran says “O People of the Book,” it is speaking to us. To all the children of Abraham. Not his physical children – but the children our own Paul writes about to Romans: Abraham’s spiritual children.
Just like Paul, the Quran points out that Abraham followed and believed God long, long before there were the faiths of Judaism or Christianity or Islam; therefore, long before there was a Quran or Bible or Torah.
But he submitted. To submit is to be muslim. Muslim means a person who has submitted to God. In English it means a particular faith. But it has two meanings in Arabic – the faith, but also what it literally means – to submit.
Much like we are all democrats because we are all part of a democracy. Democrat, however, has two meanings: one – a person is part of a democracy. The second, a person is part of a particular political party in the United States of America.
Abraham couldn’t be Muslim-the-Faith because the Quran and The Prophet Mohammad had not come to be. But he could be Muslim-the-person-who-submits-to-God. Because, as all three faiths of the Book read, Abraham did submit.
You’re a democrat-the-government-citizen because you’re an United States citizen. I don’t know which party line you vote with, if any, and that is none of my business.
So why do we feud so much? Why do today’s Jews and Christians and Muslims bicker although we are all faith siblings? All brothers and sisters through the faith of Abraham, and all brothers and sisters literally because we all know, and affirm, God, God alone, creates all of us?
Because most of us don’t care about nirvana.
Here me out – I challenge any of you here to get into an argument with me about how to achieve enlightenment, and how to step out of samsara and into nirvana. Whatever position you take – Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayāna or Zen – I’ll take a different one and we can debate.
The truth is, here in Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, we don’t care much about Buddha or Bodhisattvas.
But we care an awful lot about what someone says about Jesus and God.
We’re not invested into koans and tantras and the holy books of Budhism.
But we’ve staked our whole lives and afterlives on the Bible, and our prayers, and traditions, and rites.
We argue with our siblings because they are the most like us. We argue with our siblings because we share the most interests, investments, and the most is at stake.
We argue with Jews and Muslims and especially other Christians because these groups are most like us. What they say, and how they say it differently, we greatly care about.
This is as true today as it was in the past when the words were set in the Surahs of the Quran translation I read; it is as true as when Jesus walked and said a prophet is never accepted in his home town. It is as true today as when the ancient Israelites and Samaritans – both ancient Jews to anyone else but themselves – argued. As true as when Sarah tossed out Ishmael and his mother because she didn’t want them around herself and her son… as true as when Cain slew Abel.
We fight – we hate – the people who are most like us because in those few, few ways we are different SO MUCH is invested, risked, and at stake.
Paul, writing to the Romans, was trying so hard for the Roman Christians and Roman Jews to see each other as family. You’re not enemies! You’re siblings! Of the same faith of Abraham. The mono-theists, the One God, faith. He goes over laws – laws like the law to have circumcision, or to keep Kosher, or to keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath, and says – if laws are making you lose faith, give them up!
We are alive in faith, faith gives us life. Faith – submitting to God, and trusting God will do as God promises – even if it looks impossible – keeping this hope against all hope – KEEP FAITH! Laws are good. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Laws and Prophets, not abolish them… but, in today’s language, if the Kings James Version is too difficult to read, get a different version of the Scripture. If Sunday Morning is too early for you to praise God, find another service time. Another church. Maybe not a church – praise in your house or car or with your friends over coffee. KEEP THE FAITH! The how and where and rules – the traditions – are good, but FAITH is what is essential.
What about our heads? All three books – The Torah, the Bible, the Quran – mention we ought to be covering our heads. No one here is wearing a hat. Why not?
Because, somewhere, our ancestors debated this. Our ancestors changed. They decided the FAITH was more important. The FAITH, the following, the trust, of God – than whether or not they covered their heads.
But other ancestors have chosen to keep following that law out of faith, out of submission, to God. And I’m not just talking about Muslima women who wear hijab; or Jewish men who wear yamakas, there are plenty of Christian churches and denominations where scarves still cover heads.
If Paul were writing to us, I think he’d write – don’t argue over whether or not to cover your heads. Argue – are you being faithful to the one and only God? Are you loving your neighbor? Are you loving God?
When we say things like “Don’t shop there, they jew you.” Or call someone a “towel-head,” we are not loving our neighbors. We are hating them.
When we refuse to speak with our siblings, out of fear, our of ignorance, out of hate – we are not being faithful to God who calls us to be the allies, the disciples, the-ones-who-submit to God who calls us to live our faith and preach to all nations.
When we believe that God of the Old Testament, YHWH, El-Shaddai, and the Lord, the God of the New Testament and Allah, are different gods… we forget our faith. We forget Abraham. We forget mono-theism. We forget there is but one god, and that is whom all of the faith children of Abraham are following.
One God. Understood differently. My perspective on my mom and dad is different than my brother’s perspective. But they are still the same mom and dad.
One God. Related to differently. I like doing crafts with my mom. My brother likes fishing with my mom. Still the same mom.
One God. We’re not the same religion. There are profound theological insights and beliefs that differ among us. I am not my brother. He is not me.
But we have the same parents.
And Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have one God. We are all siblings. Bickering siblings, different siblings, but siblings.
Since I razzed on Buddhism a little, I want to end with a Zen Buddist passage… a nun who one day approached a great patriarch to ask if he had any insight into the Nirvana sutra she had been reading.
“I am illiterate,” the man replied, “but perhaps if you could read the words to me I could understand the truth that lies behind them.”
Incredulous, the nun responded, “If you do not know even the characters as they are written in the text, then how can you expect to know the truth to which they point?”
Patiently the patriarch offered his answer, which has become a spiritual maxim for the ages: “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”
We don’t worship the Bible. Jews don’t worship the Torah. Muslims don’t worship the Quran.
We all worship the Truth, which is God. The Truth – who is larger, brighter, truer, and beyond what our words, traditions, or experiences can capture.
We all worship God.
And we are all siblings.