Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stories Around a Graveside

Genesis 25:7-11 tells of the death and burial of Abraham.  Isaac and Ismael buried him.

Isn't that strange....these two half-brothers, standing beside the grave of their father.  I wonder what they said to each other.  Did either know much of the other's story of near death?

All we're told is that they buried their father and then went their separate ways.

I am convinced that they missed the opportunity to make some sense of peace between them.  Born out in the fact that their descendants are still fighting one another. And by the fact that in at least 3 following generations stories of feuding brothers and interfering mothers are part of the family story.

Those of us who do therapy observe that issues not resolved in one generation often carry over, in one form or another, to the next.  We will see this lived out in Isaac with his sons Jacob and Esau; and with Jacob and his sons, including Joseph.

This gives great power to the scriptural teachings that we need to live in peace and love with one another.  And it forces us to ask two really big questions:

1)  What unresolved issues are we dealing with now on the border of Texas; in Ferguson; in Iraq?

and

2)  What will be the future expressions of these issues if they are not resolved now?

As Christians I believe we are called to be part of the resolutions to these relational questions.  Each of them has racial and ethnic components as well as those of power and wealth and fear.  How do we believe that the God who "loved the world" and whose "perfect love casts out all fear" call us to work in this place and time?

Hopefully, this Sunday I'll be able to address a little of this.  Hope you can join us.

Shalom,
Stephen

Saturday, August 9, 2014

She Named Him "Jesus' Own"

This week a young mother gave birth.  Her child did not survive.  Suffering already from genetic difficulties, he was unable to deal with the stress of the birth process.

The nurses took him from his mother's arms; bathed him and dressed him in a white gown; and handed him to the pastor who baptized him-asking that God would welcome this little one into the Kingdom, healing all the hurts of this world, and allowing this beautiful boy to go from adventure to adventure in his new life.  The pastor then handed him back to his mother who laid him gently on her breast.  His name, in her native tongue, meant "Jesus' Own."

It seemed to me that all the aching, beautiful, loving, terrible sadness of the world was gathered in that moment.

Our world is like that baby; broken, sick, something in our DNA gives us what Francis Spufford calls HPTFTU (politely translated, 'the human propensity to [screw] things up').  From that hospital room; to Dupont Circle; to the Texas border; to Gaza and Iraq.....the terrible, terrorizing, sad brokenness of our world seems to reign supreme.

And yet God holds us like that mother held her baby; loving it even in death.  Baptizes us with Christ's love into the Kingdom.  And does what neither that baby's mother nor the one who baptized him could do:  breaths new life into death; healing into the brokenness; and wholeness into the tragic flaws.

We dare not pretend that the brokenness is not there.  The 'crimson stain' of sin in our world has marked it with neglect and terror; horror and violence.  Children starve and innocents are slain.  But we also claim that our world, like that tiny baby, is "Jesus' Own."  We live facing despair; we do not deny it.  But we face that despair under the Hope that is given us in the Cross.  For we are Jesus' Own.  All of creation is Jesus' Own.  The dying baby and his mother; the Muslim radicals and their victims (Muslim and otherwise); the children detained on the border and those who scream to send them back.....we ALL are Jesus' Own.

In that mother's face was reflected the infinite love of God.  It was a small portrait of the great love that holds and redeems you and me.  It was heartbreaking.  And hope filled.  Such a picture instills rage, and draws tears, and finally drives us to our knees.

We do not hope against despair because we know answers.  We hope against despair because we know love.

Shalom,
Stephen

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Story of Hagar: God Has No Throwaways

At Heritage Baptist we've been looking at "The Stories Jesus Knew" and will be spending a fair amount of time exploring the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as well as the Exodus over then next weeks.  Glad to have you along on that journey.

One of the most heart breaking stores in the OT can be found in two parts; first in Genesis 16, and then in Genesis 21:8-21.  It is the story of a slave girl named Hagar and her son Ishmael.  Many of you already know it, but a brief recap may help.

Sarah and Abraham were childless.  God had promised that they would have children, but it wasn't happening yet, so Sarah took matters into her own hands.  She offered Abraham her slave girl, Hagar.  'I will have children through her' was her comment to Abraham, and Abraham did as she suggested and Hagar became pregnant.

Now when Hagar became pregnant she became 'uppity' and "looked with contempt on her mistress."  Now scripture doesn't tell us that she said anything, or did anything......it was her look that got her into trouble.  So Sarah goes to Abraham and blames him for this.  He, in one of his less shining moments, said, "she's your slave, do what you want with her."  So Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away.  She ran away into the wilderness.  What kind of mistreatment does it take to make someone run away into the wilderness?

There, by a spring, the angel of the Lord finds her.  For the first time in this story someone speaks to Hagar and calls her by name.  This slave girl, whose name means "stranger" encounters an angel of the Lord; a privilege reserved for those God favors, and is spoken to.  Hagar names the place 'the well of one who sees and lives'.  For maybe the first time in her young life, Hagar has been seen.  More than this, if you look at Genesis 16:10 you will see that she is given the same promise that Abraham was given:  that her offspring, Ishmael, will produce so many descendants that they cannot be counted.

Hagar goes back; Ishmael is born; all is well for a while.  Then Isaac is born and Sarah is determined that, "the son of this slave woman will not be heir with my son Isaac."  Notice that she calls neither Hagar nor Ishmael by their names, only Isaac.  They are not people to her; they are things, means to an end that she has no need for any more; so now they must go.  So Abraham, in another not so shining moment, turns them out into the desert with a little bread and a skin of water.

When the water runs out, Hagar leaves Ishmael under a bush and goes off to weep at a distance so she won't have to watch her child die.  Again God intervenes.  God hears the cries of the slowly dying Ishmael (whose name means 'God hears') and shows Hagar a spring of water,  once again telling her that her descendants by Ishmael will be numerous and something about the kind of man he will be.

Hagar was nothing from nobody.....to anyone but God.  To Sarah she became, temporarily a means to an end; after that, something to be rid of.

Some of those reading this blog know what that's like.  To feel that no one knows you, sees you, thinks of you as a person.  You've been treated as a thing, a means to an end, a throwaway.  This story is your story.  It is also your story that God sees and God hears.  When the world says, "that's none of my business" about your situation, your pain; God says, "then I'll make it My business."

Even if this isn't your story, if you've ever met a 'Hagar' who has met the God who sees and hears you know what a wonderful thing that is.  But we cannot stop there.  Because you and I as the Body of Christ are called to see the 'Hagars' around us.  We aren't allow to just stop at isn't it wonderful what God did for me (or them) when they were oppressed and mistreated.  We have to develop eyes and ears.

Who are our Hagars?  One doesn't have to look far if ones eyes are open.  Do we see Hagar in children and adults around us who struggle with food insecurity?  Do we see then in the homeless on our streets?  Particularly now we need to ask if we see them in the children being held in detentions centers after having crossed the border to find safety from violence, poverty, and sexual exploitation in Central America.

We need to remember that when we say, "it's none of my business"; God says, "then I'm going to make it My business."  God hears their cries; God sees their oppression.  Do we?  When the story of Hagar is told in our day, where will we stand?  With Sarah saying, "they will not inherit with our children" or with the angel of the Lord who made it clear where God stands.

Shalom