Monday, June 26, 2017

Troubling Divine Demands -- Lectionary Reflection 4A

22 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”


In Genesis 21, Abraham accedes to Sarah’s demands and exiles his oldest son, Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother. God had encouraged him to do so, and Abraham obeyed. Fortunately, God took care of Ishmael, and he didn’t die. Now, with Ishmael out of the picture, God makes another request of Abraham. Yes, God demands that Abraham offer up the child of promise as a sacrifice. We do know that human sacrifice was practiced at the time, but surely Abraham must have recoiled at such a demand. To sacrifice Isaac would mean he would have sacrificed both of his sons, and if he did so, what would happen to the promise? As for us, what does this passage say about God and our relationship to God?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

For Southern Baptists, a Sudden Awakening and Turn on the “Alt-Right” - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We live in a volatile time, when issues of race and ethnicity have come to the center of our conversations. At a time when 81% of evangelicals supposedly voted for Donald Trump, questions about rationale for voting emerges. My sense is that it's not as simple as many would like to make it. In any case, questions of white privilege and white supremacy remain potent conversation pieces. So, when the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, votes to oppose "Alt-Right White Supremacy," that makes news. After all, the SBC was born of a debate about slavery, and segregationist perspectives remained strong in the denomination. It is, therefore worth taking note when the annual convention decides to take a stand for racial justice, even if not everyone was comfortable with this step. Martin Marty, a thoughtful observer of things religious and public, makes takes a look at the question. As he notes, the sponsor of the resolution, Rev. Dwight McKissic is pleased, but knows that the conversation isn't over. Nonetheless, this is important stuff!

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For Southern Baptists, a Sudden Awakening and Turn on the “Alt-Right”
By MARTIN E. MARTY   June 19, 2017
Dr. Steve Gaines, president of the SBC | Credit: Dillonsherlock/Wikimedia Commons (cc, modified)
In a classic essay on “Denominationalism,” Sidney E. Mead observed that “[t]he denomination, unlike the traditional forms of the church, is not primarily confessional, and it is certainly not territorial. Rather it is purposive.” When Mead published that in 1954, he was commenting on Protestantism, but in American censuses, registries, and common-sense observation, all religious bodies are considered denominational now. Still, most of these consider themselves to be in some sense “confessional,” and all tend to be more at home in some parts of the country than in other “territories.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

Father of Nations or a Mother’s Anguished Cry for Help - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 3A

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 
20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
                God made a promise and a covenant with Abraham. The promise was that God make of him a great nation, and that he and his descendants would be a blessing to the nations. Indeed, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars in the heaven, something Abraham had difficulty believing since he and Sarah remained childless (Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 15:1-6). At one point Abraham and Sarah decided to go with a surrogate. Sarah gave Abraham her slave, Hagar, as her surrogate, with the expectation that if Hagar bore a child to Abraham, this would be her child, and thus the promise might be fulfilled. Fulfilled it was, as Hagar bore a son, whom Abraham named Ishmael (Gen. 16:1ff). The problem of an heir has been solved, and we can move on, except that God has other ideas. God intends for Sarah to bear a child herself, despite the seeming impossibility of such a thing happening. Still God had promised that Sarah would be the mother of nations and kings (Gen. 17:15-22).  Despite Sarah’s own incredulity, she does bear a son with Abraham, and she names him Isaac (Gen. 21:1-7). In her mind, Isaac should be the heir, but since Ishmael is the older of the two, he still has a claim on the inheritance, and that is a problem in the mind of Sarah, who is determined to protect her son’s claim. Abraham may have great affection for both of his children, but he will have to choose, or will he?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Harvest Time -- Sermon for Pentecost 2A

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Last Sunday we heard Jesus issue the Great Commission: “Go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This morning we hear another commission, but it’s more localized. We find ourselves on the far side of the resurrection, and as Jesus travels through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of God’s realm, he realizes the people of Israel are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Because he has compassion for them, he tells the disciples that while “the harvest is plentiful,” the “laborers are few.” The metaphors are agricultural—shepherding and harvesting—but the point is simple. There is work to be done, which means more laborers, more shepherds, more harvesters, are needed. 

Jesus responds to this situation, by asking the disciples to pray that “the Lord of the harvest” would “send out laborers into this harvest.” As the reading continues, we discover that the answer to the prayer is this group of disciples, whom Jesus has gathered around him. Jesus is about to send them out into the world, to the lost sheep of Israel, to begin the harvest, because it is plentiful. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography -- A Review

ELEANOR: A Spiritual Biography. By Harold Ivan Smith. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xi + 239 pages.

Eleanor Roosevelt not only was the longest serving First Lady, but perhaps except for Hillary Clinton, she is surely the most influential First Lady in American History. That she was influential in the political/social realm is not surprising, but that she was a deeply spiritual person, who was committed to the Christian faith as a life-long Episcopalian, and that this faith influenced her social vision, might be surprising. I know that, while I had some sense of her importance as a political figure, not only during her tenure in the White House, but as a delegate to the United Nations, I did not know the extent of her faith. Her faith, her religion, was broad, liberal, and committed to justice. She was a friend of H. Richard Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. She understands James’ declaration that faith without works is dead, as well as Micah’s call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with one's God stood at the heart of the Christian faith.