Come, everyone who thirsts! This is an extraordinary invitation from the Creator of the Universe, an invitation specifically given to the beloved children of God who are most desperately in need of having their thirst quenched. Centuries before Jesus would meet the woman at the well, this bold statement gives us a foretaste of what the Son of God will one day come to provide – and shows us that God has already been for centuries the life-giving Source of all our needs.Continue Reading
“And he believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” That’ll preach, as they say. But we get to that lovely reckoning only after what appears at first to be a low point in God and Abram’s turbulent history. This scene has an important, even vital, message for you and me.
“Abram believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness,” is a celebration of the dynamic, active love that transcends actions, a love that is rooted in the very core, the heart, of both God and God’s people. So much had happened in Abram’s life, so much water had passed under the bridge between Abram and God, that Abram’s belief in God’s promise was the hard-fought victory that comes only after a lifetime of ceaseless effort. Just as a speck of grit irritating an oyster will slowly accrue layers of scar tissue to form a pearl, Abram’s belief in God’s promise came out of the deepest, most inexpressible longing of Abram’s heart.
When Abram and Sarai first step onto the stage in Genesis chapter twelve, God makes a promise: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
After that promise, though, fifteen years will pass for Abram and Sarai, years of wandering, years of famine, years in exile among the Egyptians, and years of no sign of any descendants. And fifteen years of silence from God.
So that when at last God speaks again to Abram, repeating the promise from years earlier, the scene that follows shows us the powerful, the dynamic, the living relationship that God desires with you and me.
“Some time later, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. He said, ‘Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you, your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord, what can you give me, seeing that I shall die childless?’
Descendants! You promised me descendants!
Like so many of us, Abram has been wanting and hoping for things that have not happened, and maybe will not happen. Not for years. Not for decades. Maybe, not ever.
And mostly we internalize this longing. We don’t talk about it. We don’t put it into words with our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, and we certainly don’t talk about it with God. But how do we live our lives always with one ear trained for the voice and the message we have been longing to hear?
Abram shows us. He shows us to name our deepest needs before God. To be specific. To cry out with unashamed urgency and to wrestle all night if that’s what we need. A healthy faith, one that is living and active and life-giving, is a faith that dares to plunge beneath surface politeness and tend to the roots of relationship with God. When you and I name our vaguely defined longing, when we show God where it hurts, we are affirming before God and to our own hearts the limitless nature of God’s holy love.
When Abram cries out, “Words are not enough! Show me!”
God says, “Look toward the heavens and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your descendants be.”
“And Abram believed him, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” God has given Abram the gift of a nightly visual aid, a tangible reminder of the promise. Every night, Abram can step outside his tent, raise his eyes to the cosmos, and be pleasantly amazed all over again.
God understands how weary and skeptical Abram is of God’s promises that have not yet quenched the longing of his heart, because God seals the promise of descendants and a land of their own with an extraordinary gesture. God – represented here by the fire-pot and the torch – passes between the sacrificed animals that Abram had cut in two. To make a covenant in the ancient world, animals were cut in half, and the one making the commitment walked down the middle between the animals. It symbolized that if you did not fulfill your part of the covenant, you were to die in the same manner as the animals.
God has promised to make a people and a land – and He is staking on this covenant his very life. He ritually commits to die rather than forsake the promise.
The sacraments of Baptism and of Holy Communion are birthed in this cradle. A sign of water and earth confirming the Word of God. This is what we must cling to, this is what we must remember. God answers the struggles and longings within us in so very many ways. If we hold out for the thunderclap and the booming voice from above, we might well miss the still, small voice. We might miss the voice of God that comes to us by another road. We might miss the voice of God that comes in a powerful ritual gesture. We must wrestle and lament, pray and trust, even as we go through every moment of our lives, so that we hear God in all the many ways that God speaks to you and to me.
God shows Abram the stars as a visible illustration of the promises that He has made to him. And he passes between the pieces to ritually stake his life on the covenant promise. This is extraordinary. This is unheard-of. This upends every practice and custom. And this introduces to you and to me the idea that when we regularly wrestle with God, when we keep the lines of communication open, our prayers might well be answered in the most unexpected of ways. God the Creator of the Universe has just assumed the place of the vassal, the servant, for the assurance of God’s people. All God’s people. To all God’s people for all time.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem, the Holy City, the home of the Temple of his own faith, and uttered the lament of a broken heart: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city that kills its prophets and stones those sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” Jesus’ trust in God the Creator calls to mind Abram’s trust in the God of the Promise. He knows in his anguished heart that his death that is to come will free the children over whom he now weeps.
On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took the cup and gave thanks over it, saying: Drink of this cup, all of you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.
When Jesus says those words after the Passover meal, he is also saying: ‘Long ago God the Father, God my Father, said to your father, Abram, “I promise unto death.” Now, I am here to die. Not only that you might be redeemed from your sins, but that you could know that there is no power in all the universe that can prevent your receiving the blessings that God has promised to you, because I have sealed these promises with my blood, my life-force, my whole self.’
Listen. God is speaking.
The book of Deuteronomy was written many hundreds of years after the Israelites had reached the Promised Land, but it is structured as Moses’ deathbed address, his last words to the stubborn, chosen people of God. Remember, he says. Remember the last forty years. Remember who you are. Remember all that God has done for you. And respond in gratitude and thanksgiving – first before the altar and then by putting hands and feet to that gratitude.Continue Reading
To hear the unfiltered reality of Ash Wednesday is surprisingly refreshing. This day, this service, this time together is a little like naming the elephant in the room.
It’s refreshing in a way that only the truth can be… because we know deep down that we live in a death-denying culture which tries to tell us that we can live forever with the right combination of exercise, yoga, vacations and elective surgery. And it’s all very tempting.Continue Reading
The Gospels, the life portraits of Jesus, often encourage you and me to think about what we are asked to leave behind to follow Jesus, and what this Jesus teacher is getting us into. We do not often think of what he might be leading us out of. In her novel The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver gives us a blindly stubborn Baptist missionary leading his wife and four daughters into the Belgian Congo of the late 1950s. His family makes it clear that all they have left behind is good. But after they have had their assumptions tested, and they are scattered and threatened by revolution, they find that the America they were led out of carries its own hidden dangers. “You learn to love what you have to lose,” says one character, speaking of dangers the family never imagined.Continue Reading
A priest preaching on this text surveys his congregation. “Raise your hands if you have a lot of enemies in your life,” he says, and about half the people raise their hands. “Raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” About a quarter of them raise their hands. “Now,” he says, “raise your hand if you have no enemies at all.”
Way at the back one very old man shakily raises his hand. “How wonderful!” the priest says. “What a fine Christian life you lead. How old are you, sir?”
“I’m 98,” the man answers.
“And how is it possible that you have no enemies?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” the man says. “All the so-and-sos have died!”Continue Reading
“I’m so blessed.” “Have a blessed day.” “Ooh, God has blessed us.”
We say that all the time. Often we don’t even think about it. There are even songs that dwell on how very blessed we are. “With showers of His goodness, I’m blessed.” Is it possible that when we say, “I’m blessed,” we mean something very different from when Jesus tells us that certain groups of people are blessed? Is it possible that we say, “I’m blessed” when we mean that we have material possessions.Continue Reading
If you want to catch the fish, you have to leave the comfort and familiarity of the shallows and go out into the deep. If you and I are looking for abundance, or wisdom or healing or love, do we have the courage to break free from our nice cozy ruts and head into uncharted waters? Here be dragons. Or, at the very least, new hymnals.Continue Reading
And it was going so well.
Jesus had returned to his home village, to the people who knew him when he was an adorable child, and maybe a not-so-adorable adolescent. He read out a prophecy from Isaiah, not one of the harsh ones that make listeners squirm, but good news for the poor, the broken-hearted, the oppressed. He even said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Continue Reading
In her book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling begins with a scene in which 15-year-old Harry uses magic outside of school. He does so not to get himself out of a scrape or for his own benefit, but to protect his cousin, Dudley, from Dementors, evil creatures that suck the soul out of a person. Even though he is defending his unappreciative and unkind cousin from the Dementors, when they return home, Harry finds a note from the Ministry of Magic informing him that because he has broken the rules, he has been expelled from school.
At that, his Uncle Vernon, who despises Harry and is frightened and distrustful of the wizarding community, turns and gives him a wicked grin. “Justice,” he hisses.Continue Reading