Sunday, March 16, 2014
HEBREW BIBLE READING Genesis 12: 1-3
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
GUIDED MEDITATION, pt.1 “Giving Up The God Who Shares My Friend/Enemy List”
Sometimes the Bible disagrees with itself. In the passage we just read, we hear 2 consecutive but contrary theologies about what it means to be “blessed,” and we see two different portraits of God. First we meet a God who is partial to Abram and his descendants. If you know the back story, you know God has already been playing favorites—when God preferred Abel’s offering over his brother Cain’s, for instance, and (spoiler alert for those who’ve not yet seen the movie Noah) when God saved only Noah’s family from the flood. And as the Genesis saga continues, God selects Abram and promises to make his name great while promising to “curse those who curse [Abram].” The God we learn about in this story—this part of the story—has favorites. The God of Abram seems to divide the world into two groups: 1) Abram’s and God’s friends , 2) Abram’s and God’s enemies. And if we read further into Genesis, we will see that God’s favoritism will produce caustic sibling rivalries . . . between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his older brothers. This particular God seems to have favorite, just as fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had favorites. Which is good news for Abram’s descendants. But that also means The God Who Hates My Enemies likes only some of the poor schlubs on this earth, and you’d better hope you are on God’s good list for the blessings. At this point it may be wise to heed Anne Lamott’s warning: ““You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Does anyone else feel uncomfortable sometimes when people talk about how God has blessed them? I cringe a bit when some folks glibly, sometimes smugly, talk about how God has blessed them—with a nice home or new car. I hear the Flannery O’Connor character, the clueless Mrs. Turpin, bragging in the doctor’s waiting room about now God has blessed her with land and good sense, how blessed she is that she and her husband are not white trash or colored folks . . . until a girl sitting across from her in the waiting room hurls a book at Mrs. Turpin’s head. You see, the things we label as God’s blessings don’t always seem to be evidence of God’s priorities. (Recall our recent study of the Beatitudes to know whom Jesus blessed.) Blessed is a good word. One of my favorites. But it can convey favoritism, tribalism, superiority.
So let’s remember whom God is favoring. In the families of Genesis, God chooses the YOUNGER son to bless—not the oldest, as the tradition required. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph should not have received the birthrights of the eldest. God upsets our notions of who needs special treatment. You and I get to identify with the one who is blessed in Genesis only if we live on the margins of society, only if we are the little brother the family picks on, only if we are the oppressed and enslaved people who need to feel that they have not been left behind. But if we are rich, if we live in a nation that’s become a super power, if our people have run roughshod over others, we do not get to use these stories to justify our domination of others by invoking the God of Conquest.
For instance, it’s understandable that enslaved people in this country found hope in the Exodus story about a land God promised to those who’d escaped slavery in Egypt. And who could condemn the early biblical writers of this narrative thread of conquest because, after all, they had been the conquered, they’d been captured and exiled to Babylon, scarred by the desolation of their home. Who would blame them for telling stories in which they imagined themselves as the conquerors? Let us allow Abram’s distant and displaced descendants, pining for their lost country, to tell a story of a God who favors them. Let us sympathize with these storytellers. But let us not appropriate their story to justify a privileged people’s privilege or pride. You get to tell the story that God loves you the best—only if it seems to all others that God has chewed you up and spit you out.
Let’s also be mindful of an alternate theme weaving through these same 3 verses. You hear it best in the final phrase of verse 3: God will use the chosen ones to bless “all the families of the earth.” If that’s the case, God’s blessing of a favored one may mean tapping that someone for a difficult task in order to bless all of the earth. Abram may not have won the lottery—and certainly not for his family alone. Abram may instead have been chosen for a daunting journey. Think of Frodo heading toward Mordor to save all of Middle Earth. Or the beleaguered Tevye, from Fiddler in the Roof, protesting to God: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” Being chosen by God is not necessarily what we think of as a blessing.
I hear both theologies in these three verses. Surely there were then, as there are now, cross currents of feelings about if and how God allies with certain people. We so need to feel that God is on our side, because we need to feel there are clear sides. We think that God can be for US only if God is against other folks.
But the kicker is that today this story is speaking to all the families of the earth who have journeyed far and intermarried for centuries. We are all Abram’s children.
The question for us now: What is your role in God’s plan to bless others through us? How have your blessings blessed others? How might you use your blessings bless others?
First, “count your blessings”. Think of gifts you have: of personality, intellect, experiences, skills, material possessions, a physical body, family and friends.
Next, recall ways you have blessed others, ways your blessings blessed others.
Now consider ways you might use your capacities and resources and spiritual depth to bless others.
*SONG “In Love You Summon” p. 37 in songbook
HEBREW BIBLE READING Genesis 11:4-9 4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.GUIDED MEDITATION, p. 2 “Giving Up the God Who Says ‘Stay Put’”
The Lectionary assigns this story during Lent because the Lenten season is often compared to a journey—a spiritual journey. Like Abram, we journey to a new place spiritually. We often get “stuck” in our inner lives—stuck in habits, mindsets, feelings. We may, this Lent, need to give up the God Who Tells Us To “Stay Put.”
Like Abram, we often journey on with God “by stages” (v. 9). You’re invited to reflect on various stages of your faith journey. To help you imagine your spiritual journey in this way, one of our means of action prayers invites you to create a “map” that represents some of the stages of your spiritual life.
INVITATION TO ENACTED PRAYERS
1. You may prayerfully give to others from your own blessings. As you contribute your offerings, you pray for ways to use your other (nonfinancial) blessings (of time and talents and abilities) to extend God’s blessings to others.
2. You may receive bread for the journey and the cup of blessing. As you take the bread and dip it in the cup, recall the life of Jesus, who gave himself for the sake of love. Give thanks.
3. You may take paper and colored pencils back to your seat and sketch a map that symbolizes your faith journey. If you think of your life as a spiritual journey, how would you mark the twists and turns, deadends, meanderings, backtrackings, progress and inner changes you’ve made? You might place symbols along the way for things/people/events that have influenced or even redirected you along this spiritual road. Who’s been on this journey with you? How have you experienced God? Have you reached Canaan yet? You’ll have the option to share this map later.
4. You may kneel beside the pastor to share a prayer concern or ask for special prayer.