“The best day ever!”

Sunday Evening
The First Sunday of Advent

Mark 10:15-16

15“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

“This is the best day ever!” she said emphatically and repeatedly at the end of our day today. Worship had been followed by the “Hanging of the Greens” as we set up and decorated the Christmas trees in the sanctuary, a “family” Christmas tree in the entryway (with ornaments from every family), and decorated the campus of the church with large ornaments hanging from the trees.

At the children’s sermon they had come forward and stood before a large mural of Mary and Joseph journeying towards Bethlehem, and discovered that it was a large Advent calendar. It’s only December 2nd, so there were only two doors to open, but the second contained a gift for the children – small binoculars because on this first Sunday in Advent we look towards the horizon of human history and a world made new, when Christ reigns in every heart.

I’m not sure they got the message. They were too excited looking for the numbers and getting the packages open to use their binoculars.

Their joy and enthusiasm is a healing balm and delight for a congregation. Children have the very important ministry among us of being children – even the sad child who came to the altar rail at communion with tear stained cheeks. I don’t know the source of distress, but I appreciated the child’s sad and yearning look into my eyes as I placed my hand and gave a blessing. We all need to feel the hand of blessing at times.

So Advent is come. Christmas draws near, but this is the season of waiting and hope, of expectation and joy. For the child of the manger is the one who comes at the fulfillment of the human story, and his hand is a hand of blessing.

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Jesus and the fabric of creation

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Pieces from last Sunday

St. Francis, the blessing of the animals, the creation of Eve, and Jesus on divorce: it all weaves together in our worship and message last Sunday. On the lawn with our pets, in the days after the bitter conflict over Brett Kavanagh, around a table where bread is shared, we speak the reminder that we were not made for division, the promise that the torn fabric of the world shall be mended, and the call to live from that promised future rather than our failed past.

The whole message from Sunday can be found here.

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When we ask God to bless the animals we bring with us this morning, we are talking not just about these individual animals, but also our relationship with them – and we are talking about the whole complex web of life. We want God to bless it all.

We want the world to thrive. We want the whole creation around us to vibrate with life. We want the rains to be gentle and the winds soft and the sunlight warm. We want the crops to grow in season and the fruit of the earth to be bountiful and nourishing. We want the human community, also, to be whole and good, to be gracious and generous, to be kind and compassionate, to be creative and rewarding, to be joyful and peaceable. We want God to bless it all.

And we want that blessing because we know that the fabric of creation has been ruptured.   This, too, goes back to a story about us as humans. This is the story about the “apple.” It’s our fault that the world has been thrown off kilter. It’s on us that the fabric of the world is torn by violence and war, poverty and injustice. It was not God’s purpose that that the human family should be torn by divorce. It was not God’s purpose that societies like ours should be bitterly riven over a president, a senate, and a judge.

When Jesus is asked about divorce, his opponents know full well that divorce is discussed in the Biblical law. Maybe they think Jesus, the Galilean peasant, is too ignorant to know his scripture. But more likely they are trying to frame Jesus. This is a question that will get him in trouble with the king. It got John the Baptist killed because he condemned the king’s illicit marriage to his brother’s wife…

Jesus’s answer to his opponents is brilliant. He dodges the political trap and confronts us with the existential one. It is because of our brokenness, our “hardness of heart”, that all this conflict and division exists in the world. Jesus doesn’t cite the legal code; he points us back to our beginnings. He points us back to a time before the world was torn in pieces and we were divided from one another. He points us back to God’s purpose for us – and, in so doing, he points us forward to the day when the Spirit of God breathes in every breath.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rending and restoring

File:L'alba di San Francesco - Convento Frati Cappuccini Monterosso al Mare - Cinque Terre.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 7, 2018

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

This Sunday we worship out on the lawn, commemorating the feast of St. Francis (October 4) with the blessing of the animals. We will, however, use the assigned readings for Sunday. They fit the occasion, in their odd way. From Genesis 2 we will hear the account of the creation of the animals and the forming of Eve. Psalm 8 will marvel at God’s handiwork in forming humanity. And then Jesus’ opponents will challenge him with a question about divorce.

It is the divorce question that seems out of place for a day when we sit happily on the lawn with our pets. Yet this challenge to Jesus brings before us the wonder and goodness of the creation, its tragic brokenness, and the promise of the creation made whole.

Jesus is confronted by opponents trying to shame him. They want to know his ruling on divorce – most likely to expose his presumed ignorance (he is, after all, just a village faith healer from Galilee). But Jesus isn’t interested in apodictic law; he is announcing the dramatic and transformative reign of God. He turns the question back on his accusers and uses their answer to name the hardness of our hearts. The Torah recognizes divorce and seeks to limit some of its potential harm, but Jesus doesn’t go to the text in Deuteronomy to respond to his opponents. He takes us to the creation story: we were made for unity not division.

We who gather Sunday to hear this word about the profound goodness of the union of man and woman in an Edenic world are painfully aware of the brokenness of the relationship between the sexes. The words of Christine Blasey Ford are in our ears, as are the cries of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, the two women at the elevator challenging Senator Flake to see and hear them. Social media is full of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories. Others are confused – if not bitter – at the perceived threat to young men. Some dismiss all this as the follies of youth in a wayward culture. Others see attitudes of privilege that betray our human obligation to care for the vulnerable. Some see a brilliant mind worthy of the Supreme Court; others a failure of compassion that should not be allowed near it. This tear, this divorce, in the body politic is deep and troubling.

Into this cacophony comes this word about our humanity: it is not good that the human creature should be alone. Sorrows multiply in our alienation from one another. Families are torn. Communities are divided. We assault the dignity of one another, sometimes with tragic consequences. And we assault the natural world around us.

We are created for relationship. We are designed for community. For this reason God brings forth all the creatures of the world. And when none of these prove equal to the first human, a piece of him is taken that, in the other, we might find our wholeness. God makes a companion and partner equal to him.

But the human heart turns from Eden. The relationships for which we were made are ruptured. We end up with broken hearts and broken marriages and people of all ages who fail to recognize the humanity of the other who is before – or beneath – them. We are capable of laughing as their dignity is stripped away.

But Jesus has not come to give new rules to limit the destructive consequences of our hardness of heart; he has come to give us new hearts. He has come to bring the new creation when God reigns in every heart. So, once again Jesus is welcoming children into his presence. Once again he blesses – inviting us to receive his blessing like these children.

The Prayer for October 7, 2018

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us,
that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 7, 2018

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Second Reading as appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and v arious ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L%27alba_di_San_Francesco_-_Convento_Frati_Cappuccini_Monterosso_al_Mare_-_Cinque_Terre.jpg By GIANFRANCO NEGRI [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

A priestly people

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“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

Watching for the Morning of June 18, 2017

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

The First Lesson on Sunday declares that if Israel abides by God’s teaching, they shall be a priestly people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends his followers out as heralds and agents of God’s reign. Though the language is different, the substance is the same: a priest mediates the connection between people and God. In the Old Testament this was about the reconciliation (forgiveness) and fellowship with God established through the sacrificial system. In the New Testament it is mediated through allegiance to Christ and participation in the Spirit/reign of God.   In both you are restored to a community bound together in praise and service of God. And in both there is a word spoken that announces the reality of reconciliation and fellowship – a priestly/prophetic word, spoken on God’s behalf, that the sacrifice has been accepted, that reconciliation is at hand, that the hearer now abides in the grace and life of God. “The grace in which we stand”, says Paul in the reading from Romans for Sunday. The debt has been forgiven. Reconciliation has occurred. Peace that has been established. This is our calling. This is our identity. We are a priestly people – or, at least, meant to be a priestly people reconnecting the world with the source and goal of life. Every cup of cold water. Every healing hand. Every kind word. Every confession heard. Every kindness lived.

It is a great honor to be a priestly people. In a world where so much is torn and divided, we have the privilege of joining the realm of heaven with the realm of earth.

Preaching Series: Abram

The narrative of the flood last Sunday set before us the mystery that though the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, God suffers for his world and delivers it. But the people that get off the ark are no different than those who got on. And now we will hear how humanity’s rebellion continues in the building of the tower of Babel. But then come the first notes of a new mystery that follows the line of Seth down to Abram. It is a line that seems to dead end with Sarai’s barrenness – but God speaks a strange and wonderful promise that, from the line of Abraham, God will bring blessing to the world.

The Prayer for June 18, 2017

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 18, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The touch of God’s mercy

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Sunday Evening

Psalm 71:1-6

2In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

There was a woman at the altar rail deep in prayer as I came with the bread of Holy Communion. We are set up so that the altar rail surrounds three sides of the altar and the servers can walk in a continuous circle around the altar, serving each person – with the spaces emptying and filling again by the time we come around again.

We have kneeling pads so people can kneel if they wish. And occasionally someone is in prayer when I come with the bread. But the prayers are usually brief – or they become aware of my presence and open their hands. Today this woman didn’t look up.

Open hands are a symbol that a person wishes to receive. Hands closed together are a sign that a person wishes only to receive the blessing. But were these closed hands or folded hands? Was she awaiting a blessing or deep in prayer and not yet ready for the bread?

I have asked people before whether they wished to receive – especially on those times when their hands were not really open but not completely closed. These are often visitors not aware of the routine we follow in this place. And I have waited for people to finish praying. But this person was deep in prayer.

Part of my brain was trying to decide what to do. But my heart was with this woman’s cry to God. And before my brain made up its mind what to do, my hand reached out to give her a blessing. Whether she wanted to receive communion or not, she seemed to need the touch of a human hand making the sign of the cross on her forehead, reminding her that she belonged to a gracious God.

The bread does that too, and more. Much more. But there is something about the touch of another and the sign of the cross that has great power.

We need more than words in worship. We need to hear music. We need to taste the bread and smell the wine. We need the handshake that goes with the word of peace. We need to stand and sit and kneel. We need even to dance – though Lutherans don’t do that much, you can occasionally catch them swaying. It is more than our minds that need to feel the touch of God’s mercy.

 

Woman praying at the Western Wall.  Photo: By Shoshanah (Flickr: 2008-06-25 00212) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Important adult stuff

For Thursday

Mark 10:1-16

File:Lucas Cranach the Elder, Christ blessing the Children, Paris (?), private collection.PNG13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

It’s a world where most children don’t make it out of childhood. Only 4 out of 10 born alive reach 16. I would want my child blessed, too. I would want this man who heals the sick and hands out the mercy of God like candy to lay his hands upon all my children. I am not surprised that the villagers are at the door wanting to get near to Jesus.

I also recognize the disciples who don’t want Jesus to be bothered. I can’t say I understand, but I recognize it.

I was still a rookie, serving on the staff of a large urban congregation with German roots. I was given a list of shut-ins with whom I was to visit once a month and take Holy Communion. One elderly couple had an adult daughter with special needs living with them. She sat with us in the dark back room when I first came to visit. And when it was time for Holy Communion they shooed her out of the room. “She can’t understand,” they said, and for them that was the end of the matter. I was stunned and troubled and lacked the experience to know how to respond. I will always remember the hurt and anger on her face and in her body as she was shunned from the room.  She understood quite a bit more about this bit of bread and wine than they did.

So here are the disciples shooing away mothers and children because Jesus has important adult stuff to do. And the disciples still aren’t getting it that the important adult stuff that Jesus has to do is gather the scattered and heal the wounded and bear away the sins of the world. The important adult stuff that Jesus has to do is to usher in the reign of God, the healing of the world. The important adult stuff that Jesus has to do is to bless the children.

 

Image: Christ Blessing the Children, Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A torn world made whole

File:Frankfurt Liebfrauenkirche Innenhof Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 4, 2015

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

File:Nicolaes Maes - Christ Blessing the Children - WGA13814.jpgDivorce. St. Francis. Jesus blessing children. The blessing of the animals. The praise of God who is the author of all. Eden and the creation of a good and perfect partner equal to the first human. All the readings and elements of our worship on Sunday actually fit together rather nicely – though you wouldn’t expect it. Why preach about divorce on the day you invite friends and neighbor to have their pets blessed? Because we are a people created for Eden and living outside it. Because Christ has come to restore the lost harmony, the lost grace, the lost fidelity, the lost joy and life of the world.

Christ is not come to give us a new and stricter rule about divorce. It just sounds like it if you are not listening carefully. Jesus changes the conversation, steering us away from the commands in the law to the gift in creation. Jesus changes the conversation from what rules we have to follow to what does righteousness look like and where does it come from? How do we find our way to the life for which we were created?   How do we find our way to innocence and joy? How do we find our way from the broken world after humanity turns from God when “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you,” back to the original exultation: “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? How do we find our way from the curse to the blessing?

The Pharisees are on the attack trying to trap Jesus with a politically explosive question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The king, Herod Antipas, (technically a tetrarch) has divorced his wife, Phasaelis, and the country is now at war the with the spurned wife’s father (the king of Nabataea). The Queen, Herodias, has divorced her first husband Herod II (called Philip in Mark) to marry Herod Antipas, Philip’s brother. John the Baptist has attacked the marriage as a violation of the Law – and, as a consequence, he has been beheaded. So when the hostile Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it’s a very dangerous question.

It’s a dangerous world, far from the goodness for which God created us. And it’s a wounded world, where humanity tried to kill the wolves rather than preach to them. Where humanity neglected the poor rather than cared for them. Where the crows were hated rather than beloved. Where we did not see the earth as brother and the moon as sister and all creation joined in a great song of praise, as St. Francis expresses in that great hymn we will sing: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

We live in a world of rent relationships. And the answer is not a strict enforcement of a stricter law. The answer is that Christ has come to heal the creation’s wounds, to restore the world’s lost grace, to reconcile all things to God and one another. Christ has come to open the way to the tree of life.

Christ has come to be the tree of life.

And so this Sunday we will hear of the gift of a partner to the first human and our need to live in relationship with others, with God and the creation. We will sing the psalms praising God for God’s wondrous creation. We will hear the promise of the world made new. And we will rejoice in the blessing that has been spoken, and the blessing that is come and the blessing that will be.

The Prayer for October 4, 2015

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us, that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 4, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a (appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:

Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Liebfrauenkirche_Innenhof_Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg  By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh  Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

The lure of the eternal

Wednesday

Psalm 133

File:PikiWiki Israel 18540 Geography of Israel.jpg

1How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

It is a psalm of ascents, from the collection of songs sung by pilgrims traveling up to Mt. Zion for one of the ancient festival days. In that simple designation we are reminded of the strange unity of spirit that infects a crowd walking towards the stadium for a big game, or riding the train to the ballpark. One or two people can quickly get the whole car singing the school fight song. Churches get a small sense of this even in that short walk among the luminaries from the parking lot to the sanctuary on Christmas Eve.

That sense of unity, of bond, of community that transcends all our differences, is deeply pleasant – and though oil on the head may not be the first metaphor that comes to our minds, we do certainly know the soothing relief of a good lotion on dry chapped hands, or a lip balm on chapped lips.

The dew from Hermon doesn’t actually fall on Mt. Zion. But it is the highest mountain in the region, and from its snowmelt comes the River Jordan that fills the Sea of Galilee and brings life-giving water to the whole rift valley and its surrounding hills.

Rich, abundant, vital, renewing, healing – drenching rain and the oil of anointing are apt metaphors for the goodness that a common spirit brings to the human community.

Conflict, dissension, partisanship arise so easily among us, but the pull of worship – that deep human impulse to turn towards the eternal, to heed the call of grace, to stand before the majesty and wonder of God – unites what life divides. In the song of the community a little bit of that boundary between self and others dissolves and we are touched by the bliss of heaven.

“There the LORD ordains his blessing, life forevermore.”

Photo: מוחמד מוסא שהואן [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Two very different kinds of religion

Thursday

Genesis 12

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The last lifeboat off the Titanic, by a passenger on the Carpathia

3 “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Everything hinges on what we hear in this statement to Abraham.  Some translations understand these words to say, “by you all families shall bless themselves,” meaning that Abraham shall be the paradigm of good fortune: “May we be as prosperous as Abraham.” Other translations hold, as the NRSV above, that somehow Abraham is the agent or conduit of God’s blessing.

This is a fundamental divide in the hearing of scripture.  Is God the god of Abraham, watching out for him and his descendants, providing, guiding, protecting, directing and blessing them?  Or is God the god of the whole earth, working through Abraham and his descendants to bring God’s blessing to the world?  Is God working to reclaim his lost creation or working to prosper and save a privileged few – or even a privileged many?  As we said, everything hinges on our answer to that question.

You get two very different kinds of religion depending on your answer.

If God is the god of Abraham, then the story we hear in the Old Testament is a story of God’s unmerited love and providential care for Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob.  God watches over Joseph and rewards his faithfulness.  God rescues his people from slavery and fulfills the promise of a rich and abundant land.  When they are faithful, things go well; when they are not faithful, God punishes them to bring them back to himself.  The door is always open for others to join the community of Israel.  And that’s what happens in Jesus.  Gentiles are welcomed into the community of the blessed – if they repent and believe.  At the culmination of history humanity is judged and the reward of heaven is given to God’s chosen ones.

If God is the god of the whole world, then the story we hear is also of unmerited love and providential care – but God’s work in Egypt is not partisan.  God works through Joseph not only to deliver the sons of Jacob, but also Egypt and the surrounding peoples (“You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”) God delivers both Israel and Egypt from the system of bondage, for the enslaved and the enslaving are both captive and far from God’s plan and purpose for human life.  God doesn’t punish Egypt with ten plagues; he provides them ten opportunities to turn from their slaveholding ways.  That they resist to the bitter end is part of the human tragedy, and a telling warning for the rest of us.  But God’s determination is greater than ours.  God will liberate his broken and captive world.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

If God is the god of the whole world, then the law given to Israel at Sinai is not just about Israel – but about a servant people embodying God’s justice and mercy in the world.  Then the emphasis in the law is not purity, but care for the poor and the stranger.  Then the law is not a means to placate God or merit grace; it is a set of concrete examples revealing the character of God and the life to which all humanity is called.  Then purity is a means to preserve Israel as a witness to the God of justice and compassion, and food laws and customs are not binding on GentilesThen Jesus is not giving us new commandments, but revealing the depth of meaning in the old ones.  Then Paul’s declaration that love is a fulfilling of the law doesn’t abrogate the law but hears it truly.

If God is the God of the whole world, then loving your neighbor doesn’t make you worthy of heaven – it follows as fruit from the vine because you have been made a citizen of heavenWe are not saved by works – but works follow as truly as the mustard “tree” from the seed, the raised loaf from a little yeast, and the harvest from the sowing.

If God is God of the whole world, then the work of God is to come and reign in every heart and we are witnesses of these things: healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, forgiving sins and declaring good news to the poor.  If God is the god of Abraham, then the work of God is to create and prosper a holy people and our mission is to get others to join the community of the blessed.

Everything hinges on what we hear in these words: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Are we agents of blessing or simply partakers/inheritors of it?

PS 

If you are not sure which is the right answer – consider that when Abraham lied about Sarah to protect himself, he endangered Abimelech’s life.  When Abraham was faithful, he sought to save even Sodom and Gomorrah.  The argument is there in Genesis that Abraham and his descendants were to be instruments of blessing not its paradigm.

On this question churches will rise or fall.  Those who see themselves as agents of blessing to the community around them will bear much fruit.  Those who see themselves as the passengers in the lifeboat from a sinking world may pull in a few stragglers, but they are salt that has lost its ability to help the fire of God burn brightly.

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By Dungodung (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Trust me.”

Wednesday

Genesis 12

Tissot The Caravan of Abraham.jpg

The Caravan of Abram c.1896-1902 watercolor by James Tissot

1The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

 “All right, everybody, get in the car.  We’re going on an adventure.”

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Don’t worry; it will be fun!  Trust me.”

We could write many more lines of this dialogue, replete with protestations, rolling eyes, “Who else is going to be there?” and a dozen other variations.  Some of us like such adventures, but most of us want to know more.  Who, what, where, when and for how long.  Especially “How long?”  Maybe, “What should I wear?”

“You look fine.  Trust me!”

1The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

The formal language of the text, the name of God and the varnish of piety obscure the fact that God gives Abraham no information about where he is going.   “I’ll tell you when you get there.”  God is calling him to a journey of faith.  This is not just a change of location, moving to a new town, a new school, a new job, or trying your hand at a new ministry in the community.  This is a journey whose end they cannot see.  All they have to go on is their trust in God’s goodness.

The story is certainly a very old story for Israel, told for generations before the compilers of the Torah set it into its place in Genesis, but I think about the weight of this story for those who wrote it down.  They are now a people in exile, far from home, far from the land that was promised to Abraham – a land they had possessed for 600 years, but had lost.  What is it like to write down this story of Abraham when their future is unknown?  What is it like to record these words about their ancestor who left home with nothing but the promise that God had a purpose to bring blessing to the world through him?

Do the compilers of Genesis record this story through tears?  Do they hear in the narrative a promise that they are called even now to trust?  Do they find themselves in Abraham’s shoes – unable to see the future, but daring to trust God that God yet intends good?

Trusting is easy when the sun shines warmly, the rains fall on time, and there is peace in the world.  But going forth into the unknown future in times of uncertainty – that is a different journey.  We are people who want to know where we are going; God is a god who wants us to trust him.  We are a people who prefer certainty – or at least some reasonable probability; God is a god of pilgrims on a journey to bless his world.

We have no guarantees but one: that wherever this journey leads, God is good.  And so we go forth in trust, even when we find ourselves in Babylon – for God has promised that the journey does not end in exile but in blessing to the world.