Sunday, June 22, 2014

Look Who is Coming for Dinner


The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”


Of all the stories in Scripture, this one is certainly in my top twenty.  I love the image of God coming to us in the form of a guest.  Think about that this 4th of July at the family reunion.  I love the image of Abraham racing all around like Martha Stewart over-caffeinated, getting everyone into a tizzy for this dinner.  I love that Sarah laughs.  What an honest and heartfelt prayer.  I love the icon above as one of the ways that brings this passage to life.  Three figures, draped in robes, feasting on a holy meal as an image of communion.  

What I don't particularly care for is Sarah feeling she has to deny her honest response.  And I don't like that Abraham gets to laugh (see the previous post on chapter 17) and does not get called on it by God.  I really wish Sarah would have said, "Um yeah, God, I did laugh.  It's been, like, ten years since we left our home.  We've been all over this You-forsaken desert always lured by a promise of a son.  Now...now you are asking me why I am laugh?  Because I have given up hope." 

Hope is one of those oft-used, rarely-understood words.  We get hopes confused with wishes all the time.  I wish I could go buy a new car...I hope for a world where none exclude.  I wish my children would listen so I would not have to yell...I hope for a world where our leaders listen.  I wish the media would quit interviewing Christians who preach hate/discrimination all in the name of the One who died on a cross...I hope my actions/blog/life can in some way suggest Christianity is about something else.  Wishes are wrapped up in the trinity of me, myself, and I; hope calls me out of myself.  Hope calls me to stop navel-gazing and start God's-realm-gazing.

Even with the above examples...I am not sure that really helps differentiate between hope and wishes.  But I think hope has to do with more than just my desires...hope has to do with God's desires.  God's deepest desires for a world where God's realm is not just a glimpse or a trace, but fully realized and shared by all God's people.  Hope has to do with me putting my wishes on hold for God's hopes; which is why we, as Americans, struggle with hope.  We get our wishes/desires confused with God's desires all the time.  It is easy to do...to conflate our desires and God's desires...let ours hold the trump card.  We need to wake up in the mornings, most of the mornings, and say what am I going to do today that makes no sense and makes me vulnerable for the sake of God's love/prayer/desire for this world?  That questions will take my morning prayer time to new places every time.

Which is why studying Scripture is so important and why it is important to be honest about the absurdity of faith.  I know why it is easier to go to Starbucks on Sunday or a soccer game, then I don't have to deal with God's faithful/loving demands for my life.  Scripture reminds me that God will show up at the most inconvenient times.  Not only when I least expect it, but also when I least want God hanging around.  Scripture shows us the surprising serendipity of God sense of humor.  And perhaps, God's final words to Sarah are not said laced with anger or judgment, but maybe a chuckle.  "Oh Sarah, knock it off, laughter is a prayer.  Own it and live it and pray it."

What in the world and in your life causes you to laugh?  So often faith becomes this somber and serious ritual where laughter rarely happens.  But I believe God laughs.  I believe God shows up for dinner unannounced, when we are least expecting it.  I pray this week you will sense traces of grace in moments of laughter and in meals where bread is broken.

May it be so for you and for me.

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Perfect Way to Pray


God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Genesis 17


This is the third and final post on Genesis 17.  And as the cliché goes, I think we did save the best for last.  I love this passage for two reasons.  First, I think this says something very profound about God's willingness to rename both Abram and Sarai.  For ten years, God's promise has revolved mainly around Abram, his ability to take leaps of faith and his willingness to trust in the midnight of his soul as the stars twinkled over his head.  And so it would make sense if the name change was only for Abram to Abraham.  But it is not.  Sarai to Sarah finally gets involved.  Maybe that is why finally in the next few chapters the promised son will finally arrive.  Changing names is important.  Our name offers insights into who we are and defines a part of our identity.  While Abraham means father of a great nation, Sarah means pure and happy.  What makes you happy in your faith right now?
Second, while usually we remember Sarah laughing, which we will examine in the next post, Abraham has his own funny bone tickled too.  And it is not just a polite chuckle that erupts uncontrolled from deep within.  Scripture says he fell on the ground.  I imagine the kind of laughter where your stomach hurts and you cannot breathe kind of laughter.
When was the last time you laughed like that?  Usually that happens with family or friends.  So maybe more importantly, when was the last time you laughed like that in church?  Most of us make faith out to be such a serious and somber event that we never laugh in church.  We wear these stern faces on Sunday mornings.  But we should laugh every time we come to the table.  Seriously this tiny piece of Wonder Bread and sip of juice is to communicate God's grace?  Get real. 
We should laugh hysterically every time we talk about God's unconditional love making all the difference in our life.  Seriously?  Love?  Have you not watched the news recently?  Any political or public leader who talked about love would be laughed right off the stage and not taken seriously.  It is all well and good to talk about love in church on Sunday.  But don't ask me to love my enemy, he will mock me on Monday morning.  Don't ask me to love unconditionally, it will make me look foolish.  Which is what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:10: "We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ."  Being able to hold that in tension is a key to faith.  People will rarely understanding Christians...what we do (like listen to sermons) and why we would give some of our hard earned money way.  The evidence for our foolishness is widely documented by those many others throughout history.  
We should laugh uncontrollably at church.  Seriously, are committees really the best way to do things?  No.  But it is an incarnational way of living life.  Does getting up early on Sunday and driving to church for community make sense?  No, we could find community at a more reasonable time and convenient location.
I do believe laughter is a prayer to God.  And we have our patron saints Sarah and Abraham to thank for that.
Today, may the traces of God's grace be found as you laugh...and may that be a prayer and a moment of God's presence for you.
blessings ~

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All In



9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”  Genesis 17:9-14

Okay...circumcision is not exactly the easiest topic to discuss today.  First, it makes me squirm a little... okay a lot...just thinking about.  Second, I really have to question why showing Abram the stars and renaming him was not enough.  What exactly does cutting off flesh prove?

Well, perhaps circumcision shows you are all in...making a commitment.  And to be honest, commitment makes us squirm today.  I will give someone my email...but not my address.  It is easier to delete an email than to make awkward conversation on the phone.  And if you text me...even better. 

But part of faith needs skin in the game otherwise it feels like a theoretical and intellectual exercise.  And the Christian faith has always been about flesh...or incarnational...we worship God who puts flesh on in the form of Jesus our Christ.  God with flesh.  Of course that also means we need to re-examine our understanding of human flesh.  Over the course of Christianity, we have often regarded flesh as less than...especially in relationship to the spirit.

But why do we divide ourselves?  Our bodies are interconnected and interwoven.  Our souls are not separate from our flesh, the two are intimately and integrally twisted as one.  The two cannot be pulled apart; nor should we say one is good (soul) and the other bad (flesh)...both matter to God.  We experience the world through our bodies and our bodies were created by God.  God stirs our souls through music and prayer and conversations...all of which are incarnational too!

Of course, that really does not satisfactorily explain why God would ask for circumcision?  In Paul's letters he would eventually say, if it is meaningful to you, get circumcised. But if it is a stumbling block...then don't do it!  I think we need to help people think about rituals that connect to God and ones that distract from God.  And sometimes what is meaningful at one point or in one season of life will eventually become a rut where we are spinning our wheels.  This is a process, not a destination.  But then so is living life in this flesh.  Then so is living life with our spirits open.  

I invite you think...prayerfully ponder your understanding of circumcision.  Is there something that is still meaningful?  Is it a ritual that could be left behind?  And before you are quick to draw lines and claim one way is clearly better...perhaps there is a way that both can be true for us and for God.

May there be traces of God's grace for you as you ponder!

Blessings ~ 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Re-name


When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”  Genesis 17:1-8

God has asked Abram to leave his home, soak in the starry night, and even wait...and wait...and wait.  Remember the 10 years from the last post?  So, here comes God again and Abram fell on his face.  To be sure, that could certainly be reverence...or maybe just pure exhaustion.  If I was Abram, I might wondering, "Good Lord, what now God?  Do I need to look at a cow jumping over the moon?  Or maybe a pretty cross stitch that tells me to trust?"  Abram does not even utter a word, just receives his new name.  He will now be Abraham.

And with my initial sarcastic response out of the way, I actually see something so powerful and prayerful and sometimes virtually impossible to do, at work in this passage.  Abram/Abraham has been waiting (and waiting).  He has trusted and even took matters into his own hands in chapter 16.  But God keeps coming to him...and in the passage above asks Abraham to RE-NAME and RE-FRAME the issue/situation of his life.

Often when we are mired in the messiness of life, we cannot see as clearly as we think.  When we are exhausted by waiting, our tired eyes and souls don't see as clearly as we think we do.  When change moves at a snails pace, even though our surroundings are practically standing still, we don't process as clearly as we think we do.  Instead, we keep returning to the same old tired explanations and responses day after day.  Our office environment is toxic and our co-worker has always bothered us, so when some project goes south obviously it is Bob's fault.  It was last time and will be next time.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results (can also be the definition of the church sometimes too unfortunately).  God calls us to constantly re-name and re-frame.  That does not necessarily mean we will change, but it does mean we will challenge our own perceptions, our own accountability, and our own responsibility for the brokenness that can happen in life.

We need opportunities for new names.  To be sure, a rose by another name is still sweet...perhaps by renaming we open ourselves to see/smell/hear/taste/experience something different in that flower; or more to the point: that person and that experience/event.  This, of course, is NOT easy.  It will challenge us and can even change us.  Once we hear that "Bob" from above is going through a divorce maybe our heart softens.  Or once we see that we were lax on our part of the project, we can see that we are not perfect either.  Or once we notice and rename that we are not always right and the smartest person in the room...that will make us re-think...re-name...re-frame what we are going through.

So, I encourage you to do that.

Where are you waiting for change?
Where are you mired in the messiness?
Where do you need to stop being in a rut, spinning your wheels?

Here is the thing about re-naming and re-framing...we NEED others to help.  This work is too hard to do alone.  Of course, that will mean being vulnerable.  The person we talk to might re-name the situation in a way we don't like, don't want to accept.  The person we talk to might shine a light on something we were hoping would remain hidden.  Or perhaps we'd rather stay stuck?

I pray that as you talk with others about places where we need to rename and re-frame, there will be more than a trace of God's grace for you and those around you.  

It certainly helped Abraham...eventually.

Blessings