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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

Abraham pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah, that God not destroy them if ten righteous people (those doing right), could be found. And God agreed. It only takes a few to save the many.

Genesis 18:32
Then he [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [the Lord} answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Jesus turned the world upside down with twelve disciples. These twelve were dedicated, who brought with them, their families and their neighbors and their friends. They touched lives and then those people touched lives. And today, we are the fruit of those twelve.

In the movie, Pay It Forward, a young boy, in response to a school assignment of coming up with direct action that could change the world, he devises a simple plan of helping three people with good deeds (things they could not do for themselves) and then challenge them to do the same. Exponentially, the impact would be as great as the disciples’ challenge, a charitable pyramid.

Sometimes, I see myself taking no action at all because I feel so insignificant in the face of our world’s despair. It is hard to remember the value of saving one, of helping one, of changing the course of a single life. It is indeed like the story of the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean one by one. An old man, who sees him, tells him how many will be lost and what difference could he possibly make, the beach was strewn with dying starfish. Yes, but the boy reminded him, he made a difference to that one, the one or few that he was able to throw back into the saving waters.

It is unlikely that I will be the next Billy Graham, speaking to thousands of a hope in the midst of despair, but I could be a friend to one more. I am not comfortable with people whose lives are a shambles. Their troubles are so overwhelming. I want to tell them how to fix it, to do this or that. But I have seen their inability to act. How do I befriend such a one?

It’s a trust issue I think. I have to earn trust and then, perhaps, there would be an opening for more than just a temporary fix. Jesus did not heal everyone, but he was present for them all. He did not feed everyone but he gave an example of how it could be done. He did not change the financial circumstances or status of individuals, but he gave them a better way of handling their situations. Except for the twelve, and the women who followed as well, those lives he changed forever.

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The mark of God. In that day, this command was a monumental request, an everlasting mark on the body that could not be reversed. No male would enter this covenant lightly. No God would ask it without cause. The offer God was making was a forever offer. And then what happened?

Genesis 17:11; 13b
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

Certainly, in today’s western world, circumcision is no longer seen as a mark of God. For modern generations, it has been a norm, perhaps a health issue, but primarily, a cultural one. That is not to say that all cultures practice circumcision, they do not. But even where it is practiced, in the United States, for instance, it’s not at the command of God.

But then, the covenant that God made with Abraham (his name change happened at the same time), did not, ultimately, go forever as a mark from God anyway. With the coming of the Christ, the mark of God had evolved away from circumcision (this is confirmed by Paul, who extended the range of Christ-knowledge to the gentiles who had never been circumcised). The plan for the everlasting covenant altered.

Perhaps even back then, this mark of the flesh had lost its significance. I do not know. But clearly, by the time of Christ and thereafter, it was no longer required for the gentiles who accepted Christ. And, as we know, this mark was never intended for women, even then. They were covered by the marks on the men who “covered” them.

But Jesus began raising the value of women, they were treated with more importance. Jesus had conversations with women and taught them.

So, what is the new mark of Christ’s covenant on our flesh? None. The mark is within.

Have I allowed this mark to change me? Is my heart, like the circumcised flesh of men in Abraham’s time, transformed by it forever? Or, is it just cultural?

Wasn’t this the point all along? “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” [Deuteronomy 30:6]

 

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Photo by Bertrand Celce

Most historians are pretty sure that the great trees of Hebron were terebinths or oak trees. Those are no more. And yet, the area still sports many ancient olive trees. It is a place of growth and growing things. It is a place of life in the face of adversarial conditions.

Genesis 13:18
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

Mamre, before Abram’s arrival, was a place of Canaanite worship. It was a central location and many caravans and travelers moved through the area. There were regular fairs and markets for trade. And apparently, there was ample water from a five meter wide well, later called Abraham’s well. This is the place where Abram built an altar, in the very midst of a pagan stronghold.

At this point in the story, there is no indication that Abram was anything but a man of peace. He did not fight or destroy anything there upon his arrival. He did not try to conquer the peoples or tear down their altars. He merely arrived and planted his household there.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes to transform a place. Just be there.

I remember a young couple who decided they wanted to serve in the poorest areas of Boston. And although it was dangerous to do so, they decided they would commit to this venture by living in the neighborhood itself. Many people cautioned them against it because of the dangerous elements to the street, drug traffic, poverty, and violence. And yet, they felt compelled to take a stand there. And although there were trials and losses, there was respect and acceptance. For the ten years that they lived there, many lives were changed.

In my mind, this is the most authentic way to serve the poor. What is it to serve the poor and then return to one’s middle class home? Now, this is not to say that I have done this. I’m a wimp. I fear poverty, having grown up in it. And yet, I sense a pulling, a drawing toward something radical.

Of course, not every challenge means impoverished circumstances. There are needs in paradise too, people who have lost sight of the things of God, enveloped by the lush trees of comfort. How do we impact this world? It’s very hard for we are much more easily entranced by the life of leisure than a life of poverty. How do we plant ourselves in the world without becoming part of the world? So far, few have succeeded.

For me, Jesus is the prime example of being in the world and yet not of it. He traveled freely between the poor and the wealthy. He ate with sinners and saints. He could do these things because he was totally centered in the truth of Himself and God. He was his own Light. He was not dependent on the reflection of others. He did not waiver. He was able to love and listen and yet, speak and teach without judgment.

Today, it is our cities that are the great trees of Mamre.

 

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It all started with Noah’s sons, this leaving business. After the ark, they spread out and started creating their own civilizations and communities. They were nomadic at first, searching for a fertile place to settle. Generations passed and eventually, Shem’s great, great, great (who knows) grandson, Terah, also had three significant sons: Abram, Nahor, and Hanan.

Genesis 11:31
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

But after Terah lost his one son (and even then, fathers assumed their children would outlive them), he left the land of his development and headed toward Canaan with his other son, Abram (his wife, Sarai), and grandson, Lot. But they didn’t get far, finding some peace in the neighboring community that Haran had built.

So, perhaps Abram had already been primed for leaving, perhaps he was ready to hear the call to travel.

There are many reasons people leave home. As a teenager, I married young predominately to escape my home life. I was fleeing home. Others leave because they have overstayed their welcome. Sometimes people go far to distance themselves from family while others stay close. Some choose job over family or adventure.

Abram left home for a promise. Many times we are reminded that Abram left because God called him to come out and make a new community, a great nation. And that is true. But this was not the only reason. In 12:2-3, is a list of the reasons and although greatness is one of the carrots dangled before him, there is something even more precious: blessings.

There is nothing more powerful than the promise of blessings, both to receive them and to give them. A blessing is a gift, like grace, it does not need to be particularly merited. And one of the key elements of a blessing is that it brings happiness. That is its very nature. It’s a kindness.

And so God promised to bless Abram and even more, to make Abram a blessing to others. Wouldn’t you go too?

Oh Lord, bless me this day but even more, may I bless others because of the presence of the You within me.

I have struggled for years wondering what do I really want! From gurus to motivational speakers to “blab it and grab it” preachers, you have to know what you want before you can go after it.

And today, I see it in sharp relief: to bless others and to be blessed. To live in the cycle of blessings.

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There are a few stories in scripture about being told to get up and go. Abraham comes to mind [Genesis 12] when God told him to leave Harran and go (who knew where) and Abraham wandered to several places looking for the right one (and even, for a time, into Egypt). When God first spoke to Abraham and Joseph, the “away” was more important than the destination.

Matthew 2:13-14
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt . . .

God doesn’t always give us the big picture when we’re asked to leave one situation or place for another. In fact, I think the truly Godly adventures come with a pretty good dose of the unknown (may even a flat-out Star Trek mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before). Anytime we leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, there is trepidation and fear. If there wasn’t, then we’re probably not being straight-up about the departure. We’re thinking, I can always go back. Like so many twenty-somethings who are boomeranging back home after college while looking for work, they figure “home” is a good Plan B. But you see, Joseph didn’t have a back up plan. He was totally dependent on that voice inside his head that said “go” and had to hope he’d hear it again when (and if) a time came to return.

Me? I’m always second-guessing my destination. My not-so-private joke is that I prefer “planned spontaneity.” I don’t even like using a GPS because it’s a turn-by-turn description and too hard for me to “see” ahead. Give me a good old paper map any day. (And this is from a tech junkie!)

So, here’s the thing. If God wants me to head to Egypt (symbolically), chances are I’m going to ask for a Fodor’s. Maybe, if I had a really strong guide or someone who’s been there before, I would be more willing to go.

This is where the Body of Christ could really come into the picture. You see, each one has been to one of these Egypts along our way. Right? Even me. Like everyone, I’ve had times and places I didn’t really want to go, but I had to go and despite my proclivities, I didn’t always have a map: I learned through experience. Boy, did I learn. (I’m pretty sure those “Egypt” trips would have been better had I gone willingly; had I gone with trust in the one sending me there.)

That’s the key: I can say or do all kinds of things to avoid Egypt and yet, I end up there anyway–the long way; like the Israelites who had to put in those extra 40 years in the desert because they were unwilling to trust God for the land of milk and honey. They thought they knew better.

I believe I have a certain obligation to go back and tell/show the other ones about the way. I know there are folks still hanging back? Granted, I blazed a pretty loopy trail, but I also got some insights and short-cuts in hindsight.

As I begin this new, and last quarter, of my life, I believe I am being asked to take on a new role.

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Joan of Arc as played by Renee Jeanne Falconetti, 1928

The Lectionary readings for this day, the Second Sunday of Lent, are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; and, Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9.

From these readings comes a theme of covenant, promise, and faith. From it also comes this verse in Romans 4:16b-17: He [Abraham] is the father of us all. As it is written: “I [God] have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—-the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

The God who calls into being things that were/are not. For me, this phrase is worth holding onto forever, this is a game changing verse.

But, what is even more intriguing is the crossover of events and messages that I experienced today. First, in church, our pastor started a new series on praying boldly, which means to pray the big things, the larger than life prayers. If those prayers come to fruition, there is no doubt that God is in the results. Elijah was known for these kinds of prayers. And like Abraham’s faith, it’s believing God can bring things that are not, into existence.

Secondly, I went to Voices of Light: the Passion of Joan of Arc, an oratorio with Silent Film presented by the Baltimore Symphony, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and four soloists. The original music was composed by Richard Einhorn who was also present at the concert and introduced afterwards. The film, from 1928, was directed by Carol Theodor Dreyer and starred French actress, Renee Jeanne Falconetti, who, incidentally, never acted in another film after this one. The film was based on the actual court record of questions that religious authorities asked Joan D’Arc and her subsequent answers. And although her story ends in her death at the stake, her short life, driven by her voices and visions from God, crowned a king (Charles VII) and turned an army in despair into hope. Her faith was so authentically depicted, I could only weep at her inner battle. We saw her fears and faith seeking dominance.

Can I walk with such faith? Can I pray boldly? Can I challenge my fears and overcome them with my faith? Can I trust in the covenant I have made with God through the Christ?

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Sarah? I’m to emulate Sarah, wife of Abraham, a major control freak who convinced her husband to take his servant/concubine [Hagar] to bed in order to “get on” with God’s promise already. Culture prevailed (a norm). And so it was with Peter’s women.

I Peter 3:3a, 4, 6a
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, . . . Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. . . like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.

All right, I’m sorry, but as many of you know, most of the female to male submission passages are hard on my digestion. It’s not that I don’t want to show respect to my husband as a person, I do; I should. I certainly don’t denigrate him to others, and after almost 30 years of marriage, I think we’ve worked out a lot marriage kinks (leaving others for heaven’s explanations).

It’s also lovely to be reminded by Peter that a person’s beauty (male or female, I believe) comes from within. It has to so; otherwise, the aging process would send us all to the looney bin. Love, marriage, friendship: they all have to be rooted and grounded in the “person” who resides inside the body, who is eternally young and vital, who is not of this three dimensional world.

Since the whole idea of marriage or male & female appears to be a non-issue “in” heaven [see both Matthew 22:29-30 & Galatians 3:28], men and women are seen equally by God, doesn’t that truth balance out this very specific teaching of Peter (that same Peter who hedged and refused to eat with gentiles in the face of certain powerful Jews)?

Peter was asked constantly by God to think outside the box (creatively & innovatively). He broke several essential Jewish laws when he entered the home of Cornelius and shared both the gospel of Christ as well as a meal with gentiles. He left his wife and family to follow Jesus for months at a time. He challenged his own belief in miracles, tried walking on water, shared in the multiplication of food, and experienced the transfiguration. Everywhere he turned, Jesus stretched and pulled him away from the norm of the day. And for a long while, he allowed his beloved Master to take him there.

But Peter was also a slave to his culture. He was no different from the other disciples, mostly unidentified, who marveled and wondered at the relationships that Jesus had with women, from the woman at the well to the woman who washed his feet with her tears and hair to Mary of Magdala, one cursed and healed of seven demons.

Both the liberal view and the conservative view of women can be found in scriptures. What do I believe? Which verses will corroborate my presuppositions?

The last time I encountered the bold words of Paul and his passages on submission of wives to their husbands [Ephesians 5:21-32], I accepted their literalness but took a pass on embracing them purely on a male/female basis. Instead, I chose, instead, mutual submission, which I still believe to be more fitting. So, I do the same today.

We could all argue until we are blue in the face about these passages. It’s not worth it. Instead, I’ll opt for that gentle and quiet spirit and may it yield an unfading beauty that transcends human interpretations, mandates, and rules about being a Christian woman and wife. Selah.

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