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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah’

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man [servant] will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”Abram agreed to what Sarai said. [Genesis 15:4, 16:1-2, NIV]

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! [Luke 10:40, NIV]

Both of these women were movers and shakers: let’s git er’ done.

These are not intrinsically negative traits, without the energy and determination of many women, things would come to a halt. In my own case, I think of my mother who was resolved to emigrate from Germany after the war. She asked all the questions, she made all the connections, she filled out all of the paperwork, she made it happen.

The difference may lie in the Promise. Both Sarah and Martha were impatient and unable to embrace the paradox of the Promise. God told Abraham that he would have an heir, but Sarah could only see the reality around her. She could not manage the possibility against the odds. She considered herself a pragmatist; she was a control freak. Martha could not leg to of what “had to done” in the face of resting. Who has time to rest, we ask, there are places to go, things to do, people to see. They were both on a human clock while God was in a timeless space.

I don’t have a personal promise from God, not in so many words. But I do have the same scriptures that everyone has about God’s blessings, God’s care, and God’s love. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11, NIV]

Sarah and Martha are in me, I know. They are part of my DNA too. It is time to give them a break and give myself a break. My life is good, my God is Present, and I can choose to be content, giving thanks for what is today.

Thanks be to God.

 

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women and storyAbraham protected himself by claiming that Sarah was his sister in the land of Abimelek (Abimilech) and here, Isaac does the same thing, in the same geographical area, with another king (perhaps a son?), also called Abimelek (Abimilech). Scholars are not in agreement about these accounts since they are mirror of one another in so many ways. But for my purposes, they cause a completely different resonance: one that makes my blood boil if you want to know the truth.

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” [Genesis 26:7, NIV, emphasis mine] (See Genesis 20 for Abraham’s version.)

In some quarters, commentators have said that these parallel stories show God’s protection over the patriarchs and the beauty of their women. How swell. But in neither story, as told by the Old Testament historians, is there much information about the women and the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of their husbands clever misinformation (lies). The reason for their deception, in both cases, was to protect their own lives because the ruler might kill the husband to acquire the wife. But a sister? Piece of cake, just hand her over (with gifts from the household of the King to the patriarch, I’m sure).

And so the women, beautiful they may have been, were thrust into the households of foreigners. Nice. Convenient and cunning.

I am more than aware that culturally, in those days, women were a type of property or chattel. They were owned by their husbands and subservient to the lord of the house. Despite these restraints, many women of that period still accomplished great things and often, with courage, they turned their world, the Esthers and Abigails and for all we know, many who went unnamed. But these accounts are few and far between.

Women are a often strong and flexible and most tenacious. They can take a bad situation and make it better. They can tolerate much. They are survivors. But not all women. Too many other women fall in the face of men who strike with force to gain their will. Other women self-medicate to beat back emotional pain. And still others eat until their bodies betray them altogether and beauty is no longer apparent.

I suppose Abraham and Isaac could be commended for their clever little deception. They both gained immeasurably by it and found much favor from the Abimileks in their sojourns. But for the women, it was a sacrifice. And I want to remember that.

As a contemporary reader of scripture, I often remind myself that it’s critical to look between the lines, to pray and contemplate the untold story. So often, scripture time is compressed into a single phrase but it’s really months or years. And in those time frames, there are women living, crying, hoping, and maintaining their faith, often in the face of trial. whats_your_story

For my sisters in faith today, I challenge you, don’t read like a man. Read from your unique femaleness. For it may only be us who hear and see and can recognize those underlying truths. In the centuries since those days, many women’s stories have been lost. We need to remember and we need to repeat our own narratives, to our daughters, to our nieces, to our girlfriends.

Tell your story. No one else is more qualified than you.

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quiet placeIn Genesis 23, almost the entire chapter is dedicated to the negotiations between Abraham and the local Hittites about a parcel of land and a cave in which to bury Sarah. And although my Bible [NIV] has labeled this chapter “the death of Sarah,” I think it should have been called Abraham’s necropolis.

Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”Ephron answered Abraham, “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekelsof silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” [Genesis 23:12-15]

This negotiation, I understand, was rather standard for the day with the exception that it was between a foreigner (Abraham) and a local (Ephron) Hittite. No one believes that Ephron would have given the land to Abraham, that wasn’t how things were done. Instead, there was a lot of “saving face” and gestures of respect and false civilities.

In any case, Abraham would never allow himself to “owe” Ephron for the gift of land. After all, gifts of this kind usually carry strings attached. And perhaps Ephron thought Abraham’s sojourn in the land of Canaan was relatively temporary. We’ll never know. But for Abraham, this was the promised land of God and it was his belief that one day his descendants would indeed conquer the land. This parcel became the first parcel in that conquest. And in later years, not just Sarah, but Abraham himself along with Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and even Jacob’s bones were carried there by his son, Joseph, many generations later. Only Rachel was buried elsewhere, not far, but immediately after dying of childbirth.

So, why devote an entire chapter to this negotiation? I think the land was important as “Abraham’s little green acre.” I think it symbolized Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, which drove Abraham all of his life. I believe he expected this land and cave to be come the great tomb of the patriarchs. This little piece of land was Abraham’s personal investment in the promise.

He wasn’t trying to “make” things happen (unlike Sarah who had tried to hurry things along by giving Hagar to Abraham to prime the pump for descendants). Abraham was simply putting a standard in the ground, and saying, “we begin here.” In the end, Abraham was still considered a nomad until the day of his death and he never saw the true occupation of the land by God’s people, but he is buried there. He took a foreign piece of land and transformed it.

Then there is a lesson for me. How often have I been overwhelmed by circumstances and unable to see how situations could change or be different? But I think I see a way here. I only have to claim one small piece of the situation. As my pastor suggested, I only have to do the one possible thing, that choice that is within my power or ability to do, and then God can do the rest. I lay down an anchor but God calms the sea.

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ancient tomb    The whole point of buying the field and the cave from Ephron was to avoid burying Sarah on or in foreign soil. Once purchased, the land became an oasis of Abrahamic land, a place and purchase that took him and his household out of “stranger” status (vs. 4). And although he might continue to lead a somewhat nomadic life, this place would root him to that area by the very same laws of the Canaanites. It was a serious transaction.

Genesis 23:12-13Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the landand he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

Austrian Cemetery

Austrian Cemetery

I am sure other people in Abraham’s household had died in the thirty-plus years that had lived, worked, and traveled the Negev desert. But, when his own Sarah died, she was almost royalty to those who lived in that time period. Abraham was considered a “prince” because of his great wealth and tribe and herds. To stop and lay down his wife in that place was huge to his household as well as the Canaanites. What Abraham created here was the family burial ground. This would be sacred ground from that time forward and their direct descendants would be expected to be buried there.

german-cemetary

German Cemetary

In modern times, we have lost some of this respect for the burial ground. In Ancient Israel, burning of the body was forbidden (this form of burial was considered to be a punishment for idols and enemies. I am not saying we should not do this in our world, but I do think it’s interesting, this difference in cultural norms.

But in the United States, even those who are buried are not respected. While in many German and Eastern European cemeteries, it is the family joy and obligation to care for the family burial plot, to beautify it, to make it a place one would desire to go and spend time. They are like a series of mini-parks, each plotted area touched by the uniqueness of the family. The burial ground is part of the cycle of life and death. But not here.

New York cemetery

New York Cemetery

In our world, we have relegated the dead to sweeping greens where  paid workers run lawn mowers and weed whackers. In some cases, we we might see  long-lasting plastic flowers jammed into the ground or perhaps an artificial wreath. What is the point? Who is blessed by these? Neither the dead or the living.

Polish cemetery

Polish Cemetary

In my life, I have no burial grounds anywhere. My mother cremated my father and requested the same for herself. They now share an urn which I have in my possession and although it has a small shelf with pictures, I do not think about them much anymore. There are stories that erupt every now and again, but there is no sense of place for them. My husband has asked to be donated to science and then, as far as he is concerned, the body can be cremated and disposed of, like a family pet whose ashes were not saved. For him, it is the soul that continues and has no need for the corporeal flesh. He is probably right.

But I keep thinking about this idea of a selected place, different from today’s norEarthm, but more like ancient times, a place for family to extend itself in memory. Sometimes I think the Japanese and other orientals have it right, their nurture of the ancestors.

And yet, I know, Jesus left the tomb. He was not buried with his family. There was not talk of transferring the body after the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea embraced Jesus as family by giving him space in that tomb. Jesus left it and in essence, his departure also said that no single place could embody him. He was of the entire Earth.

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In this story of Abraham, Abimelech (King of Gerar), and Sarah, her husband called her “sister” to protect their household. But that protection meant being taken by Abimelech and placed in his harem of women. Her safety was exchanged for the many. But not until the end of the story are we told what drove her redemption: barrenness.

Genesis 20:17-18
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. [NIV 1984]

God opens and closes wombs. Whether it was back then or now.

I am always intrigued by the real time that takes place within the space of a single sentence in the scripture. In order for Abimelech’s household to know that none of the women could bear children, some time had to pass by. Perhaps their monthly menstruation stopped or women who had been fruitful and continually pregnant, suddenly were not. In any case, it was not a day or a week but more like a year or more that Sarah languished amid the Philistines of that part of the Negev. Which is another reason why the story specifies that the King had not touched Sarah, a surprise, considering how long she had been among them.

In my imagination, when the King’s household discovers their barrenness, they beseech their gods and they beseech their leader to seek healing, to seek an answer, to seek a solution. In this way, it makes sense to me that Abimelech was open to hearing the voice of God in his dream. I believe his seeking was authentic. And when a person seeks from the heart, God answers.

Another interesting side note is that Sarah herself was barren. Did she reveal this fact to the other women? Undoubtedly, since the most important role of women in those days was producing children, and in particular, producing sons. Perhaps they mocked her. That would be my conjecture and yet I could see God responding to Sarah’s lament as well. That they might experience her sorrow of childlessness.

Sometimes, it takes a physical situation to wake us up. When my husband I married thirty years ago, the last thing we expected was to experience barrenness and childlessness. How could that be? We were both believers and committed to our marriage. We were faithful in things of God. And yet, we had no children for eight years. And only then did we seek adoption as a way to build a family.

And yet, despite our confidence that God was in this process, we still had people who asked if we still believed that God would give us our “own” children. Another woman told me I was probably too selfish to have children. Another said it was a curse and we should seek forgiveness for the unspoken sins in our lives. We felt the judgment of well-meaning Christians in our midst.

Our barrenness drove us to God and God’s answer was not pregnancy in the traditional sense. From this experience forward, I have been clear that we, as humans, limit God every day with our interpretation of what God’s “answers” should be or look like. And not only that, but the time it takes for the plan to unfold.

And so, for any women who sorrow over their closed wombs, I offer this one advice: accept what is today and move on so that God can bring forth the next thing. As long as we hold to our way, no other path can be revealed. Every closed womb still holds the Spirit and that is a seed for all generations.

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No.

Genesis 18:14-15
 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Why did Sarah lie? It says straight out that she laughed to herself and doubted her old body could have a baby. And yet, when confronted by the visitor for laughing, she lied.

But then I knew. Her laugh said “I don’t believe.” And her fear came from another place, the place of hope, that it could true and did she blow it just then. Did she block the promise with her unbelief?

Fortunately, the measure of our faith does not drive the hand of God.

And yet, there is a measure since Jesus states several times [Luke 17:6, Matthew 17:20, and 21:20-21] that the smallest amount of faith can move mountains and fell fig trees. In other words, more can be done with faith. I could, with faith, participate in the transformation of the world. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen without me. In fact, God’s will is what it is with me or without me.

I am invited into the realms of God; I am invited into fellowship of Spirit; I am invited to follow the Way that appears like paradox to me. I am invited to the banquet. [Matthew 22:1-14]

And if I say no to this invitation, the amazing truth is that God will invite me again, like the prodigal son, there will a table. But will the table be the same one, will it be the experience of moving mountains? Probably not.

I can laugh at God’s plan and God will forgive but I might be missing a miracle.

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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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