How shall we pray?

Thursday

Genesis 18:16-32

16“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”

File:AbrahamIcon.JPGThe assigned reading from the Old Testament for Sunday omits these first two verses, but they are the verses upon which the whole story pivots:

16Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

The visitors have come. Abraham has feted them properly. They have spoken the promise that by next year Sarah will have a son. And Sarah has laughed. This is, after all, quite preposterous, given their age and the truths of biology. But, asks God, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” And that question haunts the story to come.

So Abraham escorts the three visitors (God and two angels?) on their way and God pauses to tell Abraham that he is on his way to discern the truth of the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. The implication is that, if true, God will execute his judgment. But in light of the wondrous grace of God that gives to withered Abraham and Sarah a future, a son, Abraham asks whether grace is not also possible for Sodom.

We do not pray easily for the wicked. We are children of vengeance. No one grieves for the man who drove the truck in Nice, or the shooters in Paris, Dallas or Orlando. We do not even count them among the dead. No tears are lost on suicide bombers.

But the truth is a human life was lost long before they armed themselves and decided to kill. A soul perished. A human with the capacity for love and kindness and joy and generosity was extinguished by ideology or poverty or violence or rage. No one defends their actions. But do we pray for their destruction? Is this the god we serve, a god who smites?

The story of Abraham isn’t about whether God is a god who smites. It is about whether Abraham will live up to his calling to be an agent of blessing in the world. Will Abraham who is blessed by God’s grace do grace? Will we who live by grace live grace?

It is a haunting question, knowing as we do our capacity for righteous indignation and wrath. But we stand before the one who saved Noah from the flood and forgave his executioners. We live in the knowledge of the mystery that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”

So, God stands with us on the hill looking down over the wicked city, the wounds on his hands visible in the breaking of the bread, and how shall we pray?

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAbrahamIcon.JPG See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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“In the shadow of your wings”

File:Love takes many forms. -penguins (14893159952).jpg

Saturday

Psalm 36:5-10

7How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

I don’t know why our translator chooses the subjunctive to describe what might be. I don’t see it in the Hebrew, and other translations do not do so. It is a simple statement: “All people take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Perhaps our translator wanted to convey that the arms of God are big enough to embrace us all. And yes, the psalmist is not suggesting as a fact that all people do take refuge in God. He has begun this psalm with an excoriating review of the wicked who “flatter themselves in their own eyes” and think “their iniquity cannot be found out.” But once the author has begun to sing of God’s faithfulness, he can use only superlatives:

5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

The wicked become little more than a foil against which to compare the majesty of God’s faithfulness.

So, yes, all people may take refuge in God – but, in fact, we all do. Whether we recognize it or not, whether we trust it or not, we live and move and have our being in the steadfast love of God who sends rain on the just and the unjust. But those with eyes to see recognize a world radiant with love, rather than a world contesting for table scraps. And we find both comfort and joy in the shelter of such wings.

 

Photo: Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons