Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Never Knew THAT was in the Bible


10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” 20 And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had.

Before Joesph of the many colored coat fame went down to Egypt, Abram and Sarai were the first to "vacation" in the land of pyramids.  But before Abram crossed the border, he came up with a plan to pass his wife off as his sister, because apparently, Sarai was quite the attractive lady.  

There is so much wrong with this whole scenario, I am not quite sure where to start.  But I will try.

First, how in the world, is this kosher with God?
Second, just what kind of fountain of youth was Sarai filling her cup with, because I think we would all enjoy a sip of that.
Third, how is Abram considered the father of a three religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all trace their roots back to Abram) given this skeleton in his closet?  Seriously, if he was running for elected office today, you can already make up the smear ads in your imaginations.

We are not even out of the first chapter of his call, no more than a few verses after meeting Abram and Sarai.  While Abram showed incredible faith to just pack up the camel caravan and set out without knowing where he was going or how long it would take to get there, I get whiplash by what a boneheaded plan followed his great leap of faith.  

But then again that is the story of my life too.  I do something right...like make my wife lunch... only to turn around and say something I instantly want to grab the words from the air and shove them back in my mouth.  I say something profound and then mess up the person's name I am talking to.  

Perhaps it is easier just to understand this part of the Bible as a foreshadowing of Joseph and Moses.  Joseph will go down to Egypt and save them from a drought, Moses will come with plagues to the Pharaoh and a plead to let God's people go.  That way, maybe we can explain these verses away, rather than deal with them.

But I also think such juxtapositions of faith and unapologetic humanness is exactly what we don't talk about as being in the Bible enough.  We make Abram out to be some kind of super hero...but the truth is God does not call us to be super heroes...God calls us into relationships.  And relationships are messy, whether that is human to human or human and to our loving, incredibly forgiving God.  For me, Abram is not a hero because of his leap of faith...he is one because he was authentic.  

As his home disappeared from sight and Egypt appeared on the horizon, I sense Abram was afraid.  And when we act out in fear, it can cause us to do things and say things that don't always reflect our clearest; most well-reasoned self.  

I love the fact that God can work with that...because God works with Abram.  God doesn't say, "What a schmuck, I knew I should have called out to Lot...now there is a faithful guy."  God just keeps on nudging Abram.  And in the end, I need to be reminded that it is not my perfection God is most interested in, but my authentic, honest, fully human self.  And I do think God can work with that.

May you encounter traces of God's grace in your most human moments this week.

Blessings ~

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unreasonable Faith



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. 2 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. 3 I 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.”4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Genesis 12:1-4

It seems logical to me that after dwelling with Noah for the last several weeks, we keep going sequentially through Genesis and arrive at the narrative of Abram (who will become Abraham).  That makes sense.  What does not make sense is moving your family when you are 75 years old to some undisclosed location with nary a peep from Abram.  He does not seem concerned about the destination or the length of time it will take to get there.  He just packs up household, puts the family into the camel roadster, and off he goes.

Simple, right?

Maybe it says more about me, but I think most of us struggle with taking leaps of faith.  We are well schooled in taking calculated risks and minimizing our likelihood of failure.  We don't want to step out, only to realize that the wire we are walking across has no net beneath it.  What if we stumble or take a tumble and fall?  What if we go the wrong direction, misinterpret God's guidance?  Does God have a way, like my GPS to say, "Recalculating" over and over and over again (after all I am slow learner!)?

Maybe the point for God and Abram is not the destination.  Maybe the blessing is not following the "right" path, maybe the blessing is found on whatever path Abram decided to travel.  Maybe the point was the first step.

There is a great scene in the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where in order to save his dad who has been shot, Indiana needs to step out...in faith...onto unseen bridge.  How often does it feel like that in our lives?  How often does it feel like when we do step out, we fall?  We don't always find the bridge, some times we do stumble or head down the wrong path only to find a dead end.

But there are those moments when we are supported and sustained by God's grace in the midst of our leaps of faith.  There are those moments when we step out into the great abyss and instead of falling, we find what we were hoping to find.  It is not either/or.  It is not either we fall ALL the time or find the unseen bridge ALL the time.  It is both/and.  We have experiences of both.  And to be sure, even though God is painfully clear about this leap of faith being a blessing (a word that appears 5 times in four verses!), that does not mean that with Abram's first step away from Haran all of the sudden blessings rain down from heaven immediately.  It is not as though Abram loads up the camels and starts the journey only to have prize bells go off loudly and colorful confetti get stuck in his hair.  This is the very beginning of a long story.  It takes time for the promise of God's blessing to be realized fully in the birth of Issac.  That is where we are going.

But maybe there was blessing in starting the journey.  Maybe there is a blessing in that leap of faith regardless of the result.  Sometimes our best learning comes not from our successes but from our falling and failures.  Not that it is the path most of us would choose.

So, I invite you to ponder prayerful, what kind of journey are you just starting on right now?  Where is God nudging you to go?  Do you embrace that journey and take your first step?  Or are you resisting, pushing your tent stakes down deeper into the sand of your current location, crossing your arms and saying essentially, "La, la, la...I cannot hear you God!"

As you ponder, may the God who calls us to take leaps of faith move with traces of irresistible, if even unreasonable, grace in our lives beckoning us forward.

Blessings ~

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Noah take seven


6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9 but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11 and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done."

So, when all is said and done, what is the bottom line or take away message of Noah's Ark?  I am not sure I can answer that question in short, succinct way. I think there are a few important ideas that are roaming around my mind as we close off this series of blog posts.

1).  Noah's persistence and patience ~ When I think about what Noah went through: the people who thought he was crazy or the people who wanted to come into the ark and he would not allow, it causes me to think about my own relationships.  I think about people who say hurtful things or people who I have said hurtful things to.  Human relationships are messy.  Sometimes what creates the mess is that we need to do something that we feel compelled to do and others don't understand...or vice versa.  Our relationships at once are the most incredible blessing, but sometimes the ties that bind rub us the wrong way.  Noah was given a task to do, he did so with a great deal of prayer, persistence and patience.  Even when the dove came back empty footed, Noah kept on keeping on.  I guess he had no other choice.  But still, how many of us lose heart after a few days (or minutes) when God does not respond to our prayerful requests on our time table?  Yet, this message of God's time and our time is an important one, especially in Genesis.  God promises Abram and Sarai (their original names) a child...then it takes a loooooooong time for Isaac to be born.  Joseph dreams a dream and it takes a looooooooong time for those dreams to come true.  For so many people in Genesis, things don't happen at the pace of twitter...they happen at a snail's pace.  Noah kicks off this important theme and one I think we need to hear, especially in the forty days of Lent.

2).  God is willing to change God's mind.  We get to the end of Noah's ark and God essentially says, "Perhaps that was not the best decision I made."  We don't like to think of God changing God's mind.  We like God to be confident and certain all the time.  But if relationships matter to God and humans are as fickle as we know we can be...then over the course of time it means our choices will influence God and even change what God might do or where God might nudge us to go.  I think this is vital today.  The Noah narrative points to an important tenant of Process Theology, which essentially says our temporal or human actions can impact God.  While the church has not always talked about this, we know this to be true about relationships in general.  If my wife says something that tickles my funny bone, I laugh.  If she says something that hurts, I cry.  Why would we think our relationship with God is less dynamic and changing than our human relationships?  The ending of Noah gives some support to this understanding.

Finally, one of the members at the church sent me a top eleven lessons for Noah's Ark and it is a fitting end to these posts:

ONE: Don't miss the boat.
TWO: Remember that we are all in the same boat!
THREE: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark .
FOUR: Stay fit. When you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
FIVE: Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
SIX: Build your future on high ground.
SEVEN: For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
EIGHT: Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
NINE: When you're stressed, float awhile.
TEN: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
ELEVEN: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting 

I pray these forty days of Lent have filled you with the presence of God.  As we gather around the Last Supper table, the cross and eventually enter the garden of the empty tomb, may we know that God is always with us...no matter where we are or who we are.

Blessings and peace to you ~

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Noah's Ark take six


 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided;  the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained,  and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated;  and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared.  Genesis 8:1-5

God remembered Noah and all the animals.  Such a sentence seems to suggest, on some level, God forgot.  That in the midst of the storm waters churning, lightening crashing, and chaos chaos-ing (not sure that is really a word), perhaps God got so caught up in it all that the ark became like an ant in the midst it all.  God lost the ark, it became a proverbial tree in the midst of the forest.

Have you ever considered that God could forget?  That just does not seem very God like. We usually talk about God being omnipotent (which means all powerful) and omniscient (which means all knowing).  Our theology (the ways we talk about God) can place intellectual distance between us and God in such ways that Scripture does not always support.  Take for example, God being all powerful. As people who follow Christ, we say that God does not always act in that way.  God is born as a tiny, vulnerable baby.  Christ is willing to teach in parables (confusing stories) rather than philosophical platitudes.  And next week, we say that Christ dies on a cross, a form of capital punishment the Romans used to keep the "peace".  All of the sudden, God's power and human's understanding of power are very different.

Perhaps the same is true of God's all knowing.  Maybe it is not a knowing for all times and places.  Maybe God does not exactly know what is going to happen to me next Tuesday at 3:15 pm.   Maybe God's knowledge is about being able to see just a little further down the road of my life than I can in the daily fog of my live.  Maybe God can see just far enough to notice the curve or that the bridge is out in my current path to nudge me to go a different way.  Of course in my stubbornness I can decide not to listen.  I keep on going on my own wisdom rather than follow God's wisdom.  

Remember is also about reconnecting.  Every Sunday we remember.  I mean that both intellectually we recall in our minds a Biblical story people have sometimes heard before.  But we also, re-member...as in re-connect and re-attach ourselves to each other as a community of faith.  Re-membering is not just an intellectual exercise, but one that connects us physically and spiritually to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The most basic understanding of religion is to re-attach, as in re-attaching a limb (re - again and ligio means limb).  We are the body of Christ and every Sunday we re-connect with each other and God.

So maybe God's remembering of Noah and the animals was about a reconnecting or a reestablishing of God's relationship with God's creation.  That is what God does as God sends the spirit to surf over the waves of the flood.  God re-creates.  God re-connects.  God re-imagines what life could be like.  And that is an act that happens not only to Noah thousands of years ago...but also happens with the rising of the sun today, tomorrow and for a thousand tomorrows to come.  This is the day God has made.  This is the day when morning has broken, God's re-creation of a new day.  This is the day when we can be open to the traces of God's grace.

May it be so for you and for me.

Blessings ~

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Noah's Ark take five


17 The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20 the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.  Genesis 7:17-24

What do you do when the waters/chaos/storms of life swirl around you?  What is your ark, your happy place, your way of trying to stay afloat?  Who do you turn to?

I am not sure I have definite answers to those questions.  I'd like to be the kind of person who says that, "Prayer" is my ark.  Or to quote the great hymn, "No storm can shake my in most calm while to that rock I am clinging."  But the truth is, I am just as sea sick from the storms of life as the next person.  As I type this, breaking news of another shooting at Ft. Hood is being reported; my family is still trying to settle into the house we moved into last weekend; my kids are trying to adjust to a new school/make new friends; I am learning to adjust to life in Florida; and the church I serve is living through a difficult time.  Chaos might just be the new normal.

When God set out to create all that is seen and unseen, Genesis 1 starts off by telling us that in the beginning it was just God and chaos.  Chaos was the raw material as God sang and life actually came out of the chaos.  Since when should life be void of chaos since it seems, in some way, to be woven into our DNA?  I think our theology has failed us here.  Too often we think of faith as an insurance policy.  That somehow when the rain clouds appear and the storms rage, we should be able to call on God to stop it all.  What if, chaos was never fully conquered or squelched in the beginning?  What if, life is a dance between chaos and creation?  Or, a dance between the rain/storms as the sunshine?  

Now, to be sure, I do not like the fact that all of creation...save Noah...parish to share this truth in the Noah story.  These verses are part of the reason why I don't think we should decorate baby's room with this theme.  But sometimes chaos claims life.  The shooting at Ft. Hood claimed too many lives today.  Violence from war claims too many lives.  School shooting; struggling in mind/body/spirit claims too many lives; trying to make ends meet/job loss claims too many lives; words spoken hastily claims too many lives.  All of this is true from my experience.  And maybe we want to blame God for all this.  But the truth is, as humans, we are accountable and responsible for the chaos too.  We create, alongside our still creating God, sometimes the works of our hands and words of our lips are beautiful...sometimes what we create is brokenness.  Sometimes it is somewhere in-between.

So, what do you cling to in the midst of the chaos?  Where is your happy place?  I invite you to ponder prayerfully that today...and may God grant all of us a safe, sacred ark to weather the storms we face today.  And may we find more than a trace of grace in that.

Blessings ~