Connections: Elijah and Life on the Edge

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I love stories of faith put into action. Some of the earliest faith connections that were made in my life were done through stories of the people of God living out their faith in extraordinary ways. One of my favorite biographies is that of George Müller.

…Müller was a Christian missionary evangelist and a coordinator of orphanages in Bristol, England. Through his faith and prayers (and without asking for money) he had the privilege of caring for over 120,000 orphan children. He also traveled over 200,000 miles (by ship) to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in 42 countries and to challenge believers about world missions and trusting God. In his journals, Müller recorded miracle-after-miracle of God’s provision and answered prayer.[1]

One story about George goes like this…

When I first came to America, thirty-one years ago. I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew, and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland be said to me:

“Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened which, has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Müller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by someone tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Müller:

“‘Captain, he said, ‘I have come to tell you that I must be In Quebec on Saturday afternoon.’ This was Wednesday.

“‘It is impossible,’ I said.

“‘Very well, if your ship can’t take me, God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an engagement in many years.’

“’I would willingly help you. How can I? I am helpless.’

“‘Let us go down to the chart-room and pray.’

“I looked at that man of God, and I thought to myself, what lunatic asylum could that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.

“‘Mr. Müller,’ I said, ‘do you know how dense the fog is?’

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.’

“He got down on his knees and prayed one of the most simple prayers. I muttered to myself: ‘That would suit a children’s class where the children were not more than eight or nine years old.’ The burden of his prayer was something like this: ‘O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement you made for me in Quebec Saturday. I believe it is your will.’

“When he finished. I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. “First, you do not believe He will; and second. I believe He has. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’ I looked at him, and George Müller said,

“‘Captain. I have known my Lord for forty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.’ I got up, and the fog was gone![2]

Stories like this are heartwarming and uplifting. Usually we hear them and think to ourselves, “That’s such a great story. I hope one day I have that kind of faith.” We assume there is something great in them that only available to a select few who are called to a special purpose. This morning I’m here to tell you that people put those kinds of restrictions on themselves, not God.

The Prophet, The Raven, and The Widow

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Image taken from Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

The book of Kings, like the book of Samuel is one single volume, the result of having a limited amount of space on a scroll when the original writings were made. Along with Judges, Samuel, and Chronicles, Kings provides us with a view of Israel, something called by scholars as the Deuteronomistic History. For the most part, it is the story of its namesake, Israel’s kings from the end of David’s reign and the beginning of Solomon’s to the end of the time Israel spent in captivity. It covers some leaders more than others and their interactions with prophets as well while providing a history of Israel.

The prophetic story of Elijah takes place in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and covers the rule of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, Ahaziah son of Ahab, and Joram another of Ahab’s sons. The Elijah cycle begins with the prophet going to Ahab and Jezebel at the end of 1 Kings 16, when the prophet calls out the renegade king and queen for their worship of false gods and as the story says,

He ruled over Israel in Samaria for twenty-two years 30 and did evil in the Lord’s eyes, more than anyone who preceded him. 31 Ahab found it easy to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, Nebat’s son. He married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, who was the king of the Sidonians. He served and worshipped Baal. 32 He made an altar for Baal in the Baal temple he had constructed in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made a sacred pole and did more to anger the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of Israel’s kings who preceded him. 34 During Ahab’s time, Hiel from Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He set up its foundations at the cost of his oldest son Abiram. He hung its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub. This fulfilled the Lord’s word spoken through Joshua, Nun’s son.[3]

Elijah went before the king and queen, bearing the message of God and said, “As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.” As was common among prophets, this was a dangerous business. The two most powerful people in the land were being called out for their actions one, the product of a kingdom that had turned away from God, the other a product of a kingdom worship gods considered false to Israel. Elijah was quite literally risking his life to speak the truth to these wayward monarchs. Which is why when he is finished, God directs the prophet to leave, as the Message version says, “Get out of here, and fast.”

The prophet then is directed to disappear to the wilderness of the Kerith Ravine to drink from the brook and eat food brought by ravens at the direction of the Spirit of God. Elijah believes and goes, living for a time by the river and being provided for by God. As our story goes on, the natural resources God has led the prophet to runs out and the story says, “…because of the drought.”

God then directs Elijah to go to the village of Zarapheth in Sidon, the same region where queen Jezebel was from, the same Jezebel that wanted Elijah dead. The prophet trusts and goes and this time not only is Elijah cared for but also a widow and her son. When they meet, the widow is preparing a meal that she assumes will be the last for her and her son. Elijah asks for a biscuit or small cake of bread and tells the woman after she objects,

“Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”[4]

The woman complies and the word of God rings true, the meal doesn’t run out and the oil doesn’t run out. Later, woman’s son becomes sick and the boy appears to die. The woman is livid, “Why did you ever show up here in the first place—a holy man barging in, exposing my sins, and killing my son?” I don’t know what sins the woman was speaking of, but her grief is apparent in the rest of the comment, blaming the prophet for the problems she has. But Elijah is not deterred. Too many times God has delivered, too often God has made provision for the prophet where there was none. He takes the boy in his arms, up the stairs to the boy’s boom and does the only thing he can: he has faith. Elijah prays to God with a question, (“O God, my God, why have you brought this terrible thing on this widow who has opened her home to me? Why have you killed her son?”[5]) and then a request (“God, my God, put breath back into this boy’s body!”[6]). God heard his request and the boy was brought back to life. This cycle of stories shows the exercise of faith in three distinct stories. In each case, provision of some kind is needed, in each case God provides what is needed, and in the time needed. The provision is there, the power is there, the only missing ingredient in each case is faith.

Faith is the Old Testament is best understood by the word chesed, or faithfulness. A good definition of what this kind of faith is found in a phrase written by Friedrich Nietzsche and used for the title of a book by The Message Bible translator Eugene Peterson. The phrase is ‘a long obedience in the same direction.” Nietzsche writes,

“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”[7]

This idea of ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ is the underlying call of being a disciple of Jesus. It is the mechanism that we need for the spirit of God to have something to work with in our lives. If we see our lives as an expression of chesed or faithfulness, we could be used to live out the message of Jesus. We can live out the Franciscan adage of “preach the gospel and if necessary use words.”

Believe like you were mustard

In Matthew 17, Jesus comes upon a crowd of people and within that crowd a man steps forward. Grief stricken and broken, he says to Jesus, “Lord, show mercy to my son. He is epileptic and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire or the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” Jesus reply is somewhat indignant, with overtones of frustration and irritation. He replies,

 “You faithless and crooked generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Then Jesus spoke harshly to the demon. And it came out of the child, who was healed from that time on.

The disciples are left bewildered and dumbfounded. They ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we throw the demon out?” Jesus replies simply and to the point,

“Because you have little faith…I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.”

This idea of the mustard seed is nothing new to them in Matthew’s version of the gospel. Not long before that, Jesus gives his disciples the parable of the mustard seed.

 …“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.” – Matthew 13:31-32

The explanation here as I see it is this, faith requires growth and practice. As the mustard tree grows from a small seed to a great tree, so too must our faith grow from just beginning to know God through the teachings of Jesus to being in the presence of the Spirit of God daily. It becomes a part of us and our being and we become intertwined in spirit with God. Paul Tillich puts it this way,

“Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements.”[8]

This comes with the practice of exercising faith, one step at a time, one moment at a time and seeing that God acts in faithfulness toward us. As we experience this, as we come to know this in a real and practical way, we find that prayers are backed with the faithful belief that God will answer, our path is illumined by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and our lives are lived in imitation of Jesus who came to show us what faith truly is. Let us be truly imitators of Jesus and live by the faith he showed. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.


 

[1] http://harvestministry.org/muller

[2] http://www.path2prayer.com/article/1117/revival-and-holy-spirit/books-sermons/new-resources/famous-christians-books-and-sermons/george-mller-founder-of-bristol-orphanage/george-muller-god-removed-the-fog

[3] 1 Kings 16:29-34

[4] 1 Kings 7:13-14

[5] 1 Samuel 17:19-20

[6] 1 Samuel 17:21-23

[7] http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4363/4363-h/4363-h.htm

[8] Tillich, Paul. The Dynamics of Faith. New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001. p.4

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Connections: David and the Promise of Tomorrow

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Comedian Steven Wright once said in his customary deadpan manner, “Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” The truth of this statement is something I have noticed a number of times over the course of my life. I have remembered a few things, things with great meaning and substance – that simply never happened.

Case in point: when my younger sister was born, my paternal grandmother came to stay with us for a while. The old joke in our family is that my mother got sick when she was expecting my sister Karen and she’s never gotten well since. The truth is a little more pedestrian: they were both simply ill due a difficult pregnancy. Nonetheless, my grandmother, Nana, came to take care of the house and watch over everyone while my father went back to work and my mother recovered.

Here’s where the fact and the fiction begin to blend. My father’s first career was as a photographer. Therefore, my parents have a gazillion photos around their house and probably twice that many digital photos on hard drives and backup disks. Among them are photos of the family around the time my sister was born. Since one of the family pastimes was looking at pictures and slides I have seen a number of these photos repeatedly through the years, many of them overlapping over time. In the amazing image factory of my mind I fashioned a group of these together into a memory of me walking down the hallway with my grandmother holding my sister and me trying to look at her. In the photo, I have on my brown sweater that I liked so much in kindergarten, and my grandmother is wearing a pantsuit that was one of her favorites.

As I look back now, I can see the problem with this memory: the sweater, the pantsuit, and the perspective. The sweater was one of my childhood favorites, I wore it until I was in the second grade and it practically fell apart, but my sister is less than three years younger than I am. I didn’t get the sweater until I started kindergarten. Even as bad as I am at math I can see that this doesn’t add up. The second part is my grandmother’s pantsuit; it wasn’t hers. The pantsuit I kept seeing in my ‘memory’ was one that another relative owned but I know it from a picture that grandmother was in with that relative. No the math is really shaky. It would take some pretty fancy calculus to make this reality now. But the truth is, it’s not and the last bit proves it absolutely.

The third part is perspective. I remember seeing myself walking down the hallway with grandmother. Let that sink in for a minute. I remember seeing myself walking down the hall. If I learned anything from my father about taking pictures it’s that even with a timer, it’s hard to take a picture of yourself. It’s even harder to remember yourself doing something by watching yourself do it. Transcendental meditation, anyone? The truth is I dreamed it and for years I was remembering the dream. It was a memory, but a memory of something other than reality, a memory of something that wasn’t real, but seemed so much like reality that it fools the mind.

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Photo by Maaillustrations | Taken from freeimages.com

Dream a little dream of legacy

Legacy is a lot like memory, it’s made up of things that have happened, been experienced. But it is also a way to say what you want to say about yourself without all the messy, uncomfortable stuff that we want to forget and more importantly, want others to forget. It’s something that I have heard many women accuse their husbands of having – selective memory. And yet, we all have a legacy, a cumulative life experience that we will leave for others to consider after we are gone, a memory of who we were and what we meant to those who knew us and were influenced by our lives.

The passage this morning is about just that – legacy, more specifically, David’s legacy and how he would like to be remembered. The story is about a conversation between David, the prophet Nathan, and God regarding the legacy of David. He has fought wars, conquered lands and peoples, survived death threats and attempts on his life. Now, David can rest, except for the nagging suspicion that there is something unfinished, something that he needs to do. And then it hits him, as David sits at peace and can finally think back on things.

When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent! Nathan said to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because the Lord is with you.”[1]

David is distressed by all that God has given him and feels the need to give something back. There is within him a desire to balance the scales, so to speak, between himself and God. I believe the guilt from having survived all that David survived and the blessing that was poured out on him left David feeling unworthy and wanting to show God that he recognized that unworthiness.

Have you ever felt this before? Looked back on your life and the blessings you have been given and the things that have been overcome and thought to yourself, “I really need to do something for God.” I think this is a common, human response to great generosity. Think about it, if someone sends you a gift, do you not want to acknowledge it and send them a thank you card, or at the very least, personally say thank you? I think when we look at what God has done for us we feel an even greater sense of this. I believe for some of us that can be frightening and we say things like, “I’ll never be able to repay God for his kindness!”

Think of the story of Zacchaeus. Here is a man who has been shown kindness and grace by Jesus personally. His response?

“Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”[2]

Can we repay those around us, or God for that matter, four times over for the kindness they have shown us? I know in my life, so many over the years have personally invested in me even before I started the journey of ministry. If the statistics are correct, as children of the 1980’s, my parents spent nearly $70,000.00 on my sister and I from birth to getting us out of the house,[3] not to mention helping us through college and various other endeavors as we began making lives of our own.

I don’t think repayment is the issue here, even though our nature draws us to want to ‘balance the scales’. As we look deeper into this story we find that God isn’t interested in David balancing anything. After their discussion, Nathan has a vision from God in which God clarifies a few things and redefines David desire for legacy.

First, God redefines the desire that David thinks God should have.

You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people: Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple?

In other words, God is saying, “If I had wanted the temple before now, I would have had the temple by now.” The point of a dwelling place in the tabernacle is not about God having a place to live, as the Psalmist says,

“Where could I go to escape your spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I climb the heavens, you are there, there too, if I lie in Sheol. If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me.”[4]

God lives all around us. Creation itself, from the farthest star to the smallest blade of grass, is the dwelling place of God. In theology we call this the idea of immanence, meaning God is present here with us. In fact, one of the more popular for Jesus at Christmas time, “Our Emmanuel – God with us”, is a testament to the idea of God being present. This first point God is making in our narrative is that God does not need David to build anything.

The second is that God will make the name of David great.

“…the Lord will make a dynasty for you. 12 When the time comes for you to die and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your descendant—one of your very own children—to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a temple for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me. Whenever he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod, with blows from human beings. 15 But I will never take my faithful love away from him like I took it away from Saul, whom I set aside in favor of you. 16 Your dynasty and your kingdom will be secured forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.”[5]

Theologians appear to look at this as if God is talking about two houses. The first being the house of the Lord, which is in truth, creation itself. The second is the house or royal line of David. From what I have read and understand, this passage/chapter was added after much of the rest of Samuel was finished sometime around the exile of Judah to Babylon, sort of an addendum to try and explain why things were the way they were but also offer hope to those who felt the circumstance was hopeless. I look at it this way, the Jews are living in a foreign land under foreign gods, some of the Jews having never put a foot on Israel’s soil. These people are looking for hope and the overarching message of Samuel and Kings is that despite the desire Israel has for earthly kings and that they have turned away from God as their king, God will still provide for them. The promise of a royal line of David going on into the future is an idea of hope to those who would want to return to Israel and be their own people again.

In the narrative, David responds with a lengthy offer of praise to God for remembering/recognizing/acknowledging him and promising to make his name and that of his family great. Remember the story of Abraham? When God promised Abraham to “make his people as numerous as the stars? How that was a form of eternal life by virtue of carrying a person’s name and memory into the future? A legacy is just that, the memory of you for future generations. What God seems to be offering David here is a place in the memory of a nation, that the deeds and life of David would be remembered from now on. And thanks to the prominent place that David has in the biblical narrative and the secular history of Israel, he has been remembered, for all his great deeds and some of his not so great deeds. Beyond that, David’s name is carried over into a new faith, as the lineage of Jesus includes this royal live and so Jesus of Nazareth is also known to us as a son of, or a direct descendant of, David.

Memory revisited

Going back to the memory that wasn’t really a memory in the beginning, we can see that memory is powerful and shapes the way we see our lives. Memory can shade the way we understand how we have lived and those we have journeyed through life with for good or for ill. For me, I lived with what I thought was a memory for years before I realized that it was in fact, the memory of a dream, a legacy of my childhood imprinted in my mind that was really a subconscious collection of photographs smashed together into a single image or idea.

In the narrative, we see the desire of a man to be remembered, and remembered well. These are the words of David before Bathsheba, before Absalom, before the house, the dynasty and David’s faith, is tested. In these moments, David seems to truly be a man who has been chasing after the heart of God. In these moments, David has a wonderful legacy to pass on to generations to come.

So what of our legacy? What have lived that is worth remembering? This can be uncomfortable as we think back to all the moments where we were less than stellar human beings, weighed and found wanting. This can be comforting as we remember times when we helped bring positive change to those whose paths we have crossed for the better. As I have said before, don’t plan, follow. God does the planning, we are called to be faithful, we are called to live in the moment, we are called to listen and follow. It is in the now that our legacy, our memory that will be passed on, is being made. Make it a memory worth remembering.

In the words of Jesus,

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”[6]

Be salt, be light. Live a life of change to leave a legacy of love of God and love of neighbor. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.


 

[1] 1 Samuel 7:1-3

[2] Luke 19:8

[3] http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/221000-to-raise-a-child/?_r=0

[4] Psalm 139:7-10

[5] 2 Samuel 7:11b-16

[6] Matthew 5:13-16

Connections: Hannah and the Art of Persistence

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I love underdogs. There is something about pulling for the little guy, the person with no shot, no chance, and then seeing them overcome the odds. I’ve read a lot of biographies over the years, a habit that my father passed on to me, and this one struck me as a great American underdog story,

 [Howie] was raised in a working-class Jewish family in Canarsie, Brooklyn. While his mother Elaine tended to him and his siblings full-time (she later became a receptionist), his father Fred held a series of blue-collar positions, including truck driver, factory worker, and cab driver. In 1961, when Howie was 7 years old, his father broke his ankle while working as a truck driver picking up and delivering diapers. At the time, Fred had no health insurance or worker’s compensation, and the family was left with no income.

Today, Howie writes, he still remembers the way his father looked laying on the couch with his leg in a cast. In a way, his tremendous professional success is a tribute to his father, who died years later and “never attained fulfillment and dignity from work he found meaningful.”

Almost from the outset, Howie’s career path was different from his parents. In high school, he played football and earned an athletic scholarship to Northern Michigan University, becoming the first college graduate in his family. After graduation, Howie landed a job in the sales training program at Xerox, where he got experience cold-calling and pitching word processors. In a few years, he took a job at Hammarplast, a housewares business owned by a Swedish company called Perstorp. There Schultz ascended the ranks to vice president and general manager, leading a team of salespeople.

Despite his seeming success, Howie writes that he was “getting antsy. It may be a weakness in me: I’m always wondering what I’ll do next.” Or perhaps it was because he hadn’t yet found what he would discover in [his future]: “what it means when your work truly captures your heart and your imagination.”

Schultz first encountered his future life’s work when he was working at Hammarplast. [A] coffee shop had four stores in Seattle and caught his attention when it ordered an unusually large number of drip coffeemakers. Intrigued, Howie traveled to Seattle to meet the company’s then owners, Gerald Baldwin and Gordon Bowker. He was struck by the partners’ passion and their courage in selling a product that would appeal only to a small niche of gourmet coffee enthusiasts.

Joining their company would mean moving across the country and taking a significant pay cut, but Howie was certain it would be the right move for him. It took a year to persuade Baldwin to hire him as the director of marketing.

Howie’s career changed forever when the company sent him to an international housewares show in Milan. While walking around the city, he encountered several espresso bars where owners knew their customers by name and served them drinks like cappuccinos and cafe lattes. “It was like an epiphany,” Howie writes of the moment he understood the personal relationship that people could have to coffee. He was convinced that his company should start serving espresso drinks the Italian way — that their shops should be an experience, and not just a store.

Baldwin and Bowker, however, felt differently. In 1985 Howie decided to leave to start his own coffee company: Il Giornale (Italian for “the daily”). He spent two years away, wholly focused on opening Il Giornale stores that replicated the coffee culture he’d seen in Italy. It caught on quickly. In 1987, Il Giornale bought Starbucks, and Howie or Howard Schultz became CEO of Starbucks Corporation.[1]

From a small tenement house in Brooklyn to the largest purveyor of coffee in the world, Howard Schultz is the epitome of underdog.

The Bible seems to love an underdog as well. Many – if not most – of the stories recorded in the record of our faith have a decidedly underdog feel to them: slaves escaping the greatest army in the world, a boy winning a duel with a professional soldier, a refugee child growing up to change the entire religious, social, and political landscape – not to mention how we record time itself.

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Photo by Carlos Sillero from freeimages.com.

The Persistence of Hannah

The two books of Samuel are the books in which God loses his throne. Through the stories of creation, the rise of the patriarchs, the birth of Israel, and settlement of Canaan, God is the ruler of the Israelites, speaking through a succession of prophets and leaders who hear and for the most part, follow after the leading of God. The book of Samuel – in the beginning First and Second Samuel was one story, but it was divided into two because they wouldn’t all fit on the same scroll in the ancient days, think in terms of running out of room on a flash drive – tells the story of how Israel gave up God for an earthly king. The story begins with the last prophet of God before the kings, Samuel.

The story begins with some familiarity, the story of a woman who is barren. As we talked about with Sarah, barrenness was – and is – a horrible thing for a woman to have to deal with, especially a woman who wants to have children. We of course talked previously of the stigma associated with being unable to bare children in the Old Testament and that difficulty is front and center in this story. The first few verses of chapter one lay out the pain and frustration as Hannah not only has to deal with her barren state and the relationship she has with Elkanah, her husband, but also with the other wife, Peninniah. The texts says quite plainly,

“Peninnah had children, but Hannah didn’t,” and “Whenever he sacrificed, Elkanah would give parts of the sacrifice to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But he would give only one part of it to Hannah, though he loved her, because the Lord had kept her from conceiving. And because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving, her rival would make fun of her mercilessly, just to bother her. So that is what took place year after year. Whenever Hannah went to the Lord’s house, Peninnah would make fun of her. Then she would cry and wouldn’t eat anything.”[2]

Elkanah, because of his love for Hannah, tried to understand but like most men (sorry guys), he just didn’t get it. At one point after the yearly trip he bursts out, “Hannah, why are you crying…Why won’t you eat? Why are you so sad? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”[3] In this, there is an attempt at comfort, an attempt to help his wife find solace in a difficult place, but as with many problems that are out of our hands, finding a substitute or simply trying to take someone’s mind off the problem is no real solution. Elkanah, was powerless to change things for Hannah and simply stood by dumbfounded.

In many ways, we’ve been here haven’t we? Faced with problems that seem to be out of our hands. Handed a stack of cards to play that are far from aces and no hope of anything good for you in the deck. We’ve heard the terrifying diagnoses, we’ve watched helplessly as loved ones made one bad decision after another, we’ve cried, screamed, swore, and generally poured out our souls in an attempt to say, “For the love of God, somebody do something!”

The story moves to the second part as the family of Elkanah takes the yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh to offer sacrifices for the family. I imagine the conversation along the way as Hannah endures one slight after another from Peninnah, one comment after another what strong, healthy men her boys are growing into and what beautiful young women her daughters will be. I imagine the speculating that Peninnah does about their futures, will her boys be wealthy, prosperous farmers like their father? Or merchants? Will her daughters be betrothed to traders or landowners or perhaps even priests? I imagine Hannah vacillating between tears of sorrow, self-pity, and rage as she hears the endless sniping and backhanded commentary.

Hannah survives the barbs of her rival, the sacrificing, and the feasting when all is said and done and finally she comes to what has become her yearly act of desperation. She falls on her face before God and starts crying uncontrollably and inconsolably. She is desperate and desperation is dangerous.

Desperation drives us to do what we would not think of or dream of to survive whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. It is the thing that pushes us over the edge to a place beyond bargaining, beyond reason, beyond accepting anything but relief and release from the pain and the circumstances that drive it. Hannah prays, fervently, passionately, and with no regard for anyone around her. The story says,

Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” As she kept praying before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk. “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her.[4]

Desperation looks to other people like madness. To Eli, the priest serving in Shiloh, it looked like she was drunk and out of her mind. When we are desperate, people around may or may not understand, they may or may not be able to identify with our pain or our suffering. When we see desperate people, we might not be able see them past their desperation. Yet, if we can be patient, be attentive, the Holy Spirit can show us the suffering and pain behind the apparent madness, opening up an opportunity for us to show the grace and mercy of God to someone in need. Eli, with a little help gets this glimpse as Hannah replies to his accusation,

“No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!”[5]

Hear her recognition of what her desperation looks like to others. She knows it seems like insanity or drunkenness to Eli but she is not praying to Eli is she? She is not desperate for Eli to fix this massive ball of heartache that fills her chest. She is crying out to God, crying out to the only one who can open a door, a path to healing from her circumstance.

When we take the time to come along side of people who are hurting and in need, we have the opportunity to speak peace and comfort into their lives, as Eli does for Hannah when he says,

Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.”[6]

Hear Eli speaking to Hannah, go in peace, may God give you what you’ve asked for. These words must have been the greatest thing that Hannah had ever heard in her adult life. The man who speaks on behalf God saying her prayers would be heard, her suffering alleviated, her shame, embarrassment, gone.

Speaking this truth into the lives of others

We know the story from here. Hannah goes in peace as it were, soon after conceives a son and makes good on her vow. Samuel comes to live in the sanctuary of God and spend his days acting as prophet and priest for the people of Israel. The story of Hannah ends her but the way it ends, I think speaks a truth we should hear.

Hannah was a woman of persistence before God. She never gave up on God even when it seemed unreasonable and unlikely that God would hear her. She acted in desperation near to the point seeming like a mad woman in the sanctuary of God. In the end, God hears and her prayer, grants her the desire of her heart, and how does she respond? The story says,

When he had been weaned and was still very young, Hannah took him, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a jar of wine, and brought him to the Lord’s house at Shiloh. They slaughtered the bull, then brought the boy to Eli.

“Excuse me, sir!” Hannah said. “As surely as you live, sir, I am the woman who stood here next to you, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this boy, and the Lord gave me what I asked from him. So now I give this boy back to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”

Then they worshipped there before the Lord.[7]

When all was said and done, Hannah worshiped God. The response to God when God is faithful, is faithfulness. God heard Hannah and responded with an affirmative answer to her prayer. Hannah honored her vow and worshiped.

I wonder where we are today. Are we desperate for God to hear our prayers? Are we desperate enough to act on those prayers? Are we willing to do, give, walk through whatever and be persistent in our lives and prayers to seek an answer? Are we patient enough with others to walk with them as they endure a season of desperation? Are we able to worship in response to the answer, whatever the answer is? May we be, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.


 

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/rags-to-riches-story-of-howard-schultz-2015-5, (brackets and the use of the name Howie instead of Howard show edits to the original article for ease of reading and presentation.)

[2] 1 Samuel 1:2,4-7

[3] 1 Samuel 1:8

[4] 1 Samuel 1:10-14

[5] 1 Samuel 1:15-16

[6] 1 Samuel 1:17

[7] 1 Samuel 1:24-28

Foundations: Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers

foundations2

Sacred Burgers

When I was a kid, we used to go periodically to Smyrna or Marietta, two towns about half an hour from Douglasville where I grew up. We would go drop off various bills, drop in to various outlet stores, and usually, if my sister and I were lucky, go out to eat. It was usually some place like Burger King® or Long John Silvers® but sometimes we would go to Fat Boys, a local greasy spoon that was near where my parents first lived after they got married.

If we were really lucky, we went to a place called Round the Corner. It was a burger place that specialized in coming up with a myriad of ways to stack things on top of a piece of charbroiled beef. They also had a few other odd little eccentricities like having telephones in the booths that you used to call the kitchen for your order and kitschy decorations. They have since gone out of business, replaced with Good Times Burgers by the parent company. But while Round the Corner was in business, the thing that drew people for the ten years or so that it was open in the Atlanta area was the burgers and my personal favorite – still to this day – was their chili burger.

I apologize in advance for the comments I’m about to make. I realize that we are still a few hours from eating dinner and that may cause some of you a bit of distress but bear with me. This burger was a force to be reckoned with. It was two quarter pound pieces of ground beef, grilled medium and laid out open faced on two halves of a burger bun with mustard. They took beef chili with just a touch of spicy peppers and ladled over the top of these two pieces of meat and bread. Then, they topped off all of that with shredded cheddar cheese and added fries and a Pepsi on the side.

I had not yet started to go to church with my family, but that was a sacred meal, a meal that made me feel as though there were something special about the world. It was the atmosphere, the weird little touches like the telephone ordering system, that made the restaurant a special place, especially for a ten-year-old kid. The chili burger is still one of my favorite meals and if I find a place that has one, I try it on principle but no one has ever been able to top that special mix of flavors to this day.

We all have certain things – food, places, ideas – that we regard as sacred, meaning they are “devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated” or “entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy”, set apart for special use or special purpose.[1] The question that we need to ask, however, is are they worthy of that veneration, that elevation to a status above all other things.

William Easum wrote in his book Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers, that sacred cows are things that are “immune from criticism and attack.”[2] He also goes on to talk about how the idea of control is behind the need for sacred cows saying, “Control is the sacred cow of established churches, and it needs to be ground in gourmet hamburger.”[3] Obviously we mean no offense to our Hindu or vegetarian friends, but the metaphor here is helpful in seeing the greater point and for that matter a point that is a part of our scripture reading for the day. My hope is that we will see the sacred cows that exist in our lives, our worship, and our churches and be able to deal with them and move forward.

summer-grilling-1327330

Sacred Cows at Mount Sinai

It was a long road for the Israelites from Egypt to Mount Sinai in more ways than one. By this point in the journey, Moses and the children of Abraham had traveled through parted waters, across deserts, been fed manna and quail, and been given the law and instructions for festivals and the tabernacle. During the last part, Moses is on the mountain getting the clay tablets with the law and the people are at the bottom, waiting anxiously for something to happen. In fact, they are beginning to lose faith in God and Moses,

The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.” – Exodus 32:1

Notice how their fear is overcoming their faith here, “We want a god like the ones we remember from Egypt, the ones we can see and touch.” The truth is if you live in a culture long enough, you adapt your faith practices to your cultural practices. The Israelites had been in Egypt for four hundred years, long enough to notice and pick up some of the religious and cultic practices of Egyptian religion.

I feel like Aaron often gets vilified by the description in this passage but the truth is, I can’t say that I might not have done the same thing. Camped in a desert beneath a mountain that covered in clouds with thunder booming and lightning flashing. Spread out before him, a people who were running from slavery to a promise that didn’t seem like it was turning out. The whole lot of them scared and wanting to find a place to settle down and be for a while. Aaron does what any good leader would do: he tries to keep the people together and give them hope. He tries to give them something to focus on beyond the situation in order to calm them and restore their sense of faith.

The account goes like this,

“So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!” Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!” Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party! – Exodus 32:2-6

At this point, Moses has not yet come down from the mountain. The law that we read in Exodus 20, particularly the second commandment, “Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them…”[4] has not yet been given. Aaron has no idea what God and Moses have talked about, he is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. He gives the people a focus of worship and the opportunity to divert their attention from the fear and wondering as they wait for Moses. I think of it as being similar to what I have done at times when my own children were toddlers. I focus on the two D’s: distractions and diversions. Find something that makes them focus on something else and give them a different direction to go in until you figure out where you’re going.

What Aaron and the Children of Abraham are doing is not unlike what we would do under the circumstances. He heard crying children and he tried to sooth them. I think Aaron was not trying to lead the Hebrews to worship a false God, but a false image of the real God. I believe he was honestly trying to the best of his ability to give them hope and comfort in a frightening time.

Worshiping Our Own Sacred Cows

I think sometimes, it’s easy to make and worship sacred cows but worshiping a sacred cow is an exercise in missing the point. I think when we do, we are worshiping a representation of God and not actually worshiping God. The truth is, it’s easy to do because anything that we worship – that we bow down to and offer honor, reverence, and obedience to – can be a sacred cow.

A few examples:

  • When we worship the rules, instead of the Ruler or better said, when we worship the Bible instead of the God that the Bible points us toward.
  • When we worship the building we meet in instead of the God who blessed its construction.
  • When we worship the country we live in instead of the God who privileged us to live here.
  • When we worship the past victories and success instead of the God who is leading us into the future or as William Easum said it, “People who become comfortable in the present, learn to live in the past.”[5]
  • When we worship control and comfort instead of the God who calls us to be led in the moment.

Sacred cows are sneaky in that they come along slowly and in stages. We never see that we have made the switch until we are so comfortable with it that we cannot tell the difference between God and the sacred cow. There is a great example from Jesus ministry as he is traveling through Samaria. It is midday and he stops off at the well in town to get a drink of water. As he does a woman comes to draw water, unusual because women do this early in the morning so as not to have to carry the large jugs of water in the heat of the day. But this woman has reason to avoid the other women of the town. She is a social pariah, an outcast by virtue of having had five husbands and is now living with a man who is not her husband. Her social status and standing among the people of the village is below the bottom rung so she avoids them even at the cost of braving the intense desert heat.

Her exchange with Jesus is interesting. Jesus asks for water and the woman is startled. Jews did not talk to Samaritans. Samaritans were regarded as half-breed traitors before God who worshiped falsely in a place other than Jerusalem. They were not true Jews in the eyes of Jerusalem Jews and it was more likely that Jesus would spit on her than talk to her.

Yet, Jesus engages her in conversation about living water and drinking from a well that never runs dry. The woman is suitably impressed and honors Jesus by recognizing him as a prophet. She then throws out what she thinks is her trump card,

“Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.” – John 4:19-20

In other words, the woman is saying, “We can trace our spiritual lineage back to Jacob at this well and Moses on Mount Gerazim. We have the better claim to worshiping in the right place.”

Jesus deftly gets to the greater issue behind the argument and moves into the core issue at hand: who do we worship? What is worship? How do we worship?

Jesus responds to her,

“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming — and is here! — when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.” – John 4:21-24

In his answer, Jesus answers each of these questions. Who do we worship? We worship the one true God, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. The God who is god of all, not just Jews and Samaritans, but of everyone in all of creation, those who have heard and those who have not heard. What is worship? It is the recognition of who God is and the response we have to that realization. The word used in the passage means, “to bow one’s self in adoration and homage” to God. How do we worship? We worship in spirit and in truth or another way of saying it, we bow ourselves in adoration and homage with all of our being, loving the truth of God and who God is.

Grilling Sacred Cows

As believers, I think it is time to give up. I think we should give up our preferences in favor of preferring the way of Jesus. What does that look like? I think it starts when we see our sacred cows for what they are: grill bait. It’s time to put our preferences and ourselves to the fire that we might be purified and shaped to a Christ-like image.

It is time to turn things around to their proper perspective.

  • To worship the God that the Bible points us toward.
  • To worship the God who blessed it’s the physical things we have.
  • To worship the God who privileged us to live in the freedom we live in.
  • To worship the God who is leading us into the future.
  • To worship the God who calls us to be led in the moment.

Will we be afraid? Yes. Will we be uncomfortable? More than likely. Will we change? I hope so. True worship of God calls us to yield ourselves to God that we may be changed to be made like Jesus. True worship opens the door for us to see God in ways we have never seen with an understanding of God that we have never had. If we are willing to live in the moment, this moment now and not one from yesteryear, and if we are willing to sacrifice our comfort for uncertainty, and if we are willing to be clay before the hands of God, we can be the church God has called us to be in this time and place. Let us be willing, that the message of the gospel reaches out beyond ourselves to the community around us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.


 

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sacred?s=t

[2] (Easum 1995), p.11

[3] (Easum 1995), p. 13

[4] Exodus 20:4-5

[5] (Easum 1995), pg. 36

Covenant for Generations

foundations2

Telling a Good Story

My father tells the story of being a kid and visiting his family on Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama. The family and nearby neighbors would sit on the front porch and play music, talk about the events of the wider world, and tell stories. I cannot begin to count all the stories passed down and cannot imagine the number I have never even heard. Most of them were humorous anecdotes about life on the farm, in the mills, or old family stories.

One thing that always struck me about these stories and many others that I have heard through the years is that they all seem to have a certain feel to them, a certain flow in the narrative. They start with phrases like, “Well your uncle JW had joined the army…” or “Uncle Burl had gone fishing at the lock and dam with your grandfather…” There was always the same sense of change from the ordinary, moving into a new landscape, new circumstance, experiencing an adventure of some sort, and returning to share the story with the family and friends.

Scholars have developed an understanding of these types of stories and in 1949, a college professor and comparative religious scholar named Joseph Campbell came up with the name for it: the hero’s journey. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Campbell expresses the simple idea as this – all stories are a variation of the same basic story. It goes something like this:

A hero leaves from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[1]

Campbell makes the case for all stories and especially all mythological or culturally foundational stories being the same basic story. The hero is introduced to a character or situation that opens the door to a journey, the hero leaves on the journey, along the way, the hero faces adversity and difficulty and has to overcome the obstacles before them, and finally the hero returns to share the adventure and its wisdom with their community.

These stories resonate because there is a truth to way our heroes in the real world experience similar life events and overcome. Abraham Lincoln growing up in poverty in Kentucky and Indiana, overcoming one political defeat after another, and finally becoming President of the United States. Anne Frank secretly writing her diary in hiding while avoiding the Nazis during World War II.  George Washington Carver being born into slavery and rising to become one of the foremost agricultural minds of his time.

The one constant, the one thread throughout all these stories is that throughout the hero’s journey there is hope, the hope of overcoming, the hope of surviving, the hope of rising above to new and higher ground. The narrative from scripture this week is the story that Jews the world over celebrate as the greatest moment of deliverance in their history, the Passover from the Exodus story.

God is the God of Deliverance and Hope

Remember back in Genesis 15 when God says that Israel will spend four hundred years being oppressed slaves? Remember that God had made a covenant with Abraham to give them a land that would be their own? In Exodus, we see the people as oppressed slaves on the verge of beginning their journey to the promised land. Israel has lived in Egypt for four hundred years now and at some point, they began to grow as a people and rival the Egyptians in number. The beginning of Exodus says, “Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.” The people of Egypt no longer remembered Joseph and the great things he had done for the Israelites, the Egyptians, and all of those who lived in the Nile Delta. In fear of their growing powerful and joining other nations against Egypt or simply taking over the land of Egypt, the pharaoh enslaved the Israelites. And now for four hundred years, the Israelites have languished under the abuse of their Egyptian masters.

God, however, has not forgotten them. He has called one out of the house of Levi, a survivor that was delivered to the house of pharaoh and learned the ways of the oppressor, yet still retained the blood of his kin, the blood of Jacob. This deliverer, Moses, came to understand the truth of his lineage as a man, defending a Hebrew who being beaten, killing an Egyptian in the process as he began to identify with being a Hebrew, and escaping to the wilderness. While there in the wilderness of Midian, Moses has a vision of God, a conversation with a burning bush and receives a calling to go and demand the release of Jacob’s people.

Reluctantly, and with a great of prodding and proofs from the one called, “I am Who I am”, “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob”, Moses, along with his brother Aaron, goes to the court of pharaoh. Moses demands the freedom of the Egyptians and the ruler of Egypt refuses him, going so far as to punish the Israelites because Moses asks. The one called “I am Who I am” sends Moses to the court of pharaoh to announce plagues coming to Egypt. Nine times a plague is inflicted on the people of Egypt and nine times pharaoh denies the messengers of God. Which brings us to the text at hand and the final, pivotal plague.

God has Moses and Aaron go to the house of pharaoh and deliver this final message,

At midnight I’ll go throughout Egypt. Every oldest child in the land of Egypt will die, from the oldest child of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the oldest child of the servant woman by the millstones, and all the first offspring of the animals. Then a terrible cry of agony will echo through the whole land of Egypt unlike any heard before or that ever will be again. But as for the Israelites, not even a dog will growl at them, at the people, or at their animals. By this, you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”– Exodus 11:4-8

Pharaoh would not listen. He had not listened before and he would refuse to listen this time as well, despite the terrible tragedy that awaited.

God is giving hope to the Hopeless

When we come to Passover, we have come to the moment most associated with deliverance and salvation for the Jewish religion. No other moment, no other story expresses more thoroughly the understanding of who God is or what he has done for Israel. It is the seminal moment that expresses the understood love of God for the children of Abraham.

It is the offer of hope to the hopeless. Imagine being a Hebrew in Babylon when this story was most likely written down and finished. Imagine hearing the tale of Moses and Aaron from your grandfather as a child, lying beneath the sky of a foreign land with only the memories passed down to you of your true homeland. Hear with the Israelites the startled gasps of Pharaoh’s court as Moses and Aaron say to the ruler of Egypt, “This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says: ‘Let my people go so that they can hold a festival for me in the desert,’” the hissing of snakes at court, the sight of the Nile turning blood red, the invasions of frogs, lice, insects, and locust. Feel the panic of the Egyptians as they their livelihood – livestock – dies off before their eyes and skies flash with lightning, roar with thunder, and pour out the destructive power of hail on the land, its animals, and its people.

Finally, come to the greater moments of the story. Those moments when God shows his care for and salvation of the children of Abraham. The Passover, the moment when God redeemed his own and struck down the enemies of Israel, is born as a reminder to be passed down to every generation that comes after the last.

You should explain to your child on that day, ‘It’s because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ “It will be a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead so that you will often discuss the Lord’s Instruction, for the Lord brought you out of Egypt with great power. 10 So you should follow this regulation at its appointed time every year. – Exodus 13:8-10

And that is the greater point of all. That God has called the Israelites to remember and pass that memory onto the next generation, to all generations that come after. Theologian Jacqueline Lapsley writes,

One of the most important elements in the story occurs in Exodus 13:8: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” Telling the story in every generation — that God delivers those who suffer from oppression, that God works for the flourishing of the world — is a central task for those who trust in God. The Bible itself puts forth the idea that the testimony of those who have experienced the benefits of God’s saving power is vital and necessary for God’s work in the world to go forward.[2]

Every year while we who call ourselves Christians are celebrating the Easter story and remembering the cross and resurrection, our Jewish forbearers are recounting a story with similar meaning. It is called the Haggadah and the central theme of it is this,

“And we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers,” as it is said: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel groaned because of the servitude, and they cried out. And their cry for help from their servitude rose up to God. And the Lord heard our voice” as it said: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And he saw our suffering,..God saw the children of Israel and God took note.” – The Haggadah[3]

We too, cried out to the Lord. We too, groaned under the weight of slavery to life without the presence of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Jesus the Christ. We too, have known separation from God and lifting up our cries to be heard before the throne of the Almighty.

And God heard us. And God remembered us. And God engaged us in covenant relationship as the Lord took note of our pain and distress.

We are living hope (Christ in us, the hope of glory)

The story we have entered into and been given to pass down is no different from the story that the Hebrews were given to pass down. God saw us in the pain and suffering of our lives, in the distance of our lives without the Almighty, in the lack and need of life disconnected from God. For many years the story of reconciliation was that of God redeeming the Israelites from bondage and delivering them to a new land of promise, fulfilling the covenant. Now, we have a story to tell along with that.

The story of one born a refugee, in poverty, in a land of promise now conquered by foreigners.  The story of one with the Spirit of the Lord upon him, one anointed. One sent to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed. One called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the deliverance of those who have lost or perhaps never even found their way. One who came to be the Way, show the truth, be the light.

Our calling in this is to be the living hope of Christ in us before God, to each other, and to the world. We are the hope before God that we may worship as we remember. We are the hope to each other that we may stumble with, carry, and journey together through this life as we share in the memory and the life of the story of God’s redemption. And finally, we are the living hope before the world that the world may have hope. That the world may look beyond all the heartache, devastation, and pain that weighs heavy on our souls. That the world may look into the joy, love, and peace that exists within those with eyes to see and ears to hear the message of truth and the light of Jesus and know that hope is still real.

So what do we do now? We remember. We remember and we share the memory.

All of those family stories mentioned earlier have one thing in common: they are all memories, shared memories that keep the people in them alive to those of us who knew them. Though many of the people in those stories died years ago, they live again in the telling of their stories.

Every time we recount the stories and teachings of the life of Jesus, he lives on to another generation of people who can embrace, reject, or respond however they choose. But he lives nonetheless. And for those of us who hear and answer the call to follow, we carry the story onto another generation that they too may find redemption, restoration, and reconciliation with God and with neighbor as they follow in the footsteps of the life of Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.


 

[1] Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2978

[3] http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/661624/jewish/English-Haggadah.htm