I loved watching Poker on television. It’s rather easy to find these days, isn’t it? I love to watch but I don’t play poker. There’s a reason for that: losing money is against my religion. The things that attract me are the strategy of the game and the psychological struggle that accompanies it. It’s about numbers crunching to see if you’ve got the best hand, but it’s also about deception, pressure, willingness to put everything on the line when the time is right. The most dramatic moment is when someone goes “All In”: they lay all their chips on the table. It takes a lot of courage to do that, it takes a willingness to risk, it takes a ability to pretend at times when you’re really bluffing. When you’re All In, you are completely committed.
Abraham was completely committed to God. He and his wife Sarah had wandered a long distance from their home in Mesopotamia, and had survived a lot in their journeys. They had seen great signs from God, and heard of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They didn’t think they would be able to have children, and had some interesting adventures revolving around that quest. It’s tough to imagine what Sarah would say if Abraham had told her about what he was doing, but if he was a wise man he probably didn’t tell her. He didn’t tell anyone, but he did something important. He put his future, he put the gift God had given him into God’s hands.
Abraham has a vision of what his future would be through Isaac. Isaac was the son who would take his place at the head of the household, the shepherd of the sheep, the leader of the journey. Fathering a son and heir was what he feared would be left undone most of his adult life and what he hoped would happen when Isaac was born. God calling Abraham to offer Isaac is giving up on that little vision of Isaac as another wandering chieftan. But in Hebrew Abraham means “the Father of Nations”; Abraham, through offering Isaac as sacrifice, embraces this name God has already given him, and the larger role for him as the founder of more than one flock wandering the hills.
Peter, James, and John see a great thing in today’s Gospel reading. They have gone through a lot in their journey with Jesus: they had seen him heal the sick and cast out demons; they had seen him walk on the water and feed the multitude with a pittance. Jesus had asked them to go up the mountaintop and up there they witness what may have been the most astonishing thing of all. Jesus transformed into all white, Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus as equals. They see a bright future, the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of their people for liberation from oppression. This is a moment to remember, this is a spot to commemorate. Peter says what’s on the other two’s mind: it’s time to settle down here for a while. Set up shop here, let the world come here, let the future begin here. Their hope must have been boundless as the view from on top of the mountain.
But Jesus turns things on them. Instead of getting the PR apparatus going, he says “don’t tell anyone.” The first thing he talks to them about is not how this glorious vision is going to happen right now, but that he must be taken away to be put to death. He takes that glorious future that Peter and James and John have surfaced and asks them to give it up.
Peter, James and John are called to give up the Messianic expectation of a delivered from Roman occupation and a restoration of a kingdom. They are called to give up the future of the salvation as one people in favor of the salvation of all peoples that Christ represents. It is a future that will be born of degradation and pain, that will affect them in ways they cannot imagine, take them on journeys that they cannot imagine.
What kind of future does our God want us to embrace? As individuals, as a parish, as a Church, as a people? We all have notions about what our future ought to be, and they are probably pretty close in nature, pretty logical, pretty much run in expected directions. After all we are a people with many gifts that we’re aware of, and we know our limitations. Should we have to give them up, we who have been faithful?
We may have to. Abraham did, Peter, James and John did. They all went all in, gave up a future, as have many people of faith have through the years: the early martyrs, the saints. When God calls us to give up a future, it is to embrace a larger purpose, a larger vision. When God calls us it give up a future, it might mean to give up our own ideas of what should be and where we may think our gifts are, and permit God to fill us more completely. When God calls us to give up a future, it’s to give up a future of being part of a power base, and letting God send us when He wants us to go.
We come to this table to embrace God’s future. We come to this table so that our God may fill us with his vision, his grace, his compassion. We come to make a sacrifice as Abraham did, a sacrifice which does not mean death, but a sacrifice according to original meaning: to make holy. We come knowing Christ never bluffs, and going all in has rewards. As we travel through this season of Lent, and through every season, we come so that God may make us holy as we embrace God’s future.