Posts Tagged 'Abram'

For March 16, 2014: Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            Genesis 12:1-4a

This short reading from Genesis is bigger than it looks. Abram (whom we know as Abraham) is rich but childless, in a day when family and children are everything, and God tells him to leave behind all the security that he has. But God promises a bigger family than Abram or we can imagine—and Abram believes him.

The Response            Psalm 121

Psalm 121 did not exist in the days of Abram, but it speaks to his situation and to ours as pilgrims in this world: the Lord who made heaven and earth watches God’s children and means us good.

The Epistle            Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

The epistle returns to the promise through which Abram became Abraham. Righteousness comes not by earning but through believing. What is more, it comes to Abraham’s descendants in God: each and every one of us who believes God as Abraham did receives righteousness as Abraham did.

The Gospel            John 3:1-17

Nicodemus is a man with a problem: he’s a Pharisee who grasps that Jesus is from God. The gospel challenges his thinking—and ours: God’s style is to love us, and love means not condemning even those who can’t stop asking questions.




I feel for Nicodemus, teacher and leader of his people. Smart people, at least in a culture that reveres intelligence, are popularly supposed to have all the answers; admitting to ignorance or uncertainty gets one dismissed as a fraud, and asking difficult questions gets one blown off as a troublemaker.

But I’m morally convinced that having faith doesn’t mean that uncertainty is just to be papered over, and it doesn’t mean that difficult questions aren’t to be asked.

Nicodemus knows what Judaism says about righteousness. Abram’s faith may be reckoned to him as righteousness, but mainline Judaism generally makes the same claim that most religious orthodoxies do: that righteousness is the fruit of following the rules. Nicodemus is also smart enough and worldly enough to grasp how unattainable that kind of righteousness is.

Jesus offers a way out that is stunningly at odds with the way we tend to do religion. God isn’t offering to love us once we’re righteous enough: God is offering to make us righteous because that’s the kind of love God has for us. And that’s the kind of love that God calls us to have for all God’s world.

What if the best Lenten discipline I can undertake is to stop telling God how to condemn me?

For Feb. 24, 2013: 2 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

In today’s first reading, God promises to childless Abram uncountably many descendants and the land between Egypt and Mesopotamia. This promise is sealed by a ceremony familiar to Abram: the parties to a contract would cut an animal in half and walk between the pieces declaring that, should they fail to do their part, they themselves ought to be cut in half. Here the fire pot and the torch represent God.

The Response            Psalm 27

The Epistle            Philippians 3:17-4:1

In the epistle today, Paul warns the Philippians about “enemies of the cross of Christ”. He is referring to those who insisted that Christianity means keeping the law of Moses, especially with regard to food and circumcision. Paul disagrees vigorously: God’s grace is for all of us believers, just as we are.

The Gospel            Luke 13:31-35

Further thoughts

Woven into today’s three readings are the concepts of promises and signs. In Genesis, old Abram receives two extravagant promises from God: he will possess the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea from Mesopotamia in the north to Egypt in the south, and he will have so many descendants he can’t count them. God seals his part of the deal by “walking” between the animals cut in half. Some years later, God extends the covenant and has Abram—now Abraham—seal his part of the deal through circumcising himself and all the males with him, and it is after that that Abram’s wife Sarai finally bears him a son. From that day to this, circumcision has been universal among Jewish men as a mark of their special covenantal relationship with the God of Abraham, along with the complex of special dietary laws that we know as “kosher”.

But in the epistle, along comes Paul to announce that neither the dietary restrictions nor the physical circumcision work to make us righteous; what’s more, bragging about what one is or isn’t or what one does or doesn’t do to be righteous is not only missing the point, it might even be poisoning the well.

For through Jesus’ willing and deliberate gift we are all as circumcised as we need to be and all as punished as we need to be. Whatever else we do should show not our human determination to Do It All Ourselves but our gratitude for the great gift of grace—and our willingness to share the grace with the whole world for which Jesus died.

For Oct. 21, 2012: Proper 24, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 53:4-12

Today’s reading from Isaiah is one that we associate with Holy Week. It speaks—at first from the point of view of those who benefit, later from the point of view of God—of a mysterious figure who suffers grievously in order that others may be spared the punishment they deserve.

The Response            Psalm 91:9-16

The Epistle            Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5:1-10 explains how and why Jesus Christ is the ultimate high priest, in both senses of the term: he is human, so he understands human weakness; he is God, but served humbly just as, in today’s gospel, he calls us to serve; he knows what it is to sacrifice—and to be the sacrifice. Melchizedek, which can mean ‘king of righteousness’, is the king and priest who came to Abram in Genesis bringing bread and wine.

The Gospel            Mark 10:35-45


Further thoughts

The Melchizedek who is Jesus’ prototype in the book of Hebrews is named in Genesis 14:13-20: as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and three other kingdoms flee from an unsuccessful revolt, their overlords the Elamites capture Lot, who is the nephew of a certain Hebrew that the world will later know as Abraham. Blood being thicker than water, Abram combines his own forces with those of his neighbor Mamre and Mamre’s brothers Eshcol and Aner and goes to Lot’s rescue.

Abram’s forces rout the enemy and take Lot and and his goods plus, one surmises, prisoners and booty. On the way back, Abram meets the king of Sodom—Lot’s king—in the Valley of Shaveh. Also there is Melchizedek, king of Salem (which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘peace’) and priest of God Most High. This is in the time before the Levites in Israel were set aside as priests; indeed, neither Israel nor the tribe of Levi even existed. Now it was not unusual for a king also to be a priest. Unusually, though, Melchizedek comes to Abram rather than making Abram come to him, and Melchizedek brings bread and wine. That is, even though Melchizedek is a king and Abram is not, Melchizedek serves and honors Abram before blessing him.

What a contrast this is with the bumptious Sons of Thunder, James and John, demanding their places at Jesus’ left and right hands in heaven! It’s easy to laugh at their lack of polish, at least when I’m not wincing at how much it looks like my own.

And yet the most valuable servant is not the one who passively waits for orders but rather the one who takes initiative. James and John, and the almost irrepressible Peter, have caught glimpses of what Jesus is doing on earth; whatever their mistakes, they are doing their best to live into the vision given their understanding of the way the world works. That God Almighty is also in the business of seeking dirty feet to wash remains a startling concept, two millennia and thousands of Bible studies later. As I struggle to reconcile Jesus’ vision of servant leadership with the facts of worldly hierarchical life, I have a good model to follow in Melchizedek’s graceful integration of the exalted roles of king and priest with a personal reality in which, by God’s grace, he is clearly pretty well over himself. I have a very long way to go to match Melchizedek as a servant, let alone Jesus—but, as with James and John and Peter, there’s grace and work and hope for me, too, in Jesus’ vision.

For March 4, 2012: Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Reading    Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
On the first Sunday of Lent, last Sunday, we heard God’s first covenant with humanity, symbolized by the rainbow. Today’s reading recounts the second covenant: God promising that childless Abram and Sarai, despite their age, will have a son, and giving them new names—Abraham and Sarah—in token of the promise.

The Epistle    Romans 4:13-25
The letter to the Romans is written to a church community of Jews and Gentiles; some of the Romans might not have known about God’s covenant with Abraham, and others who knew about it might have misunderstood how it works. It is explained here for both as a matter not of what we do but of God’s unfathomable and unstoppable grace.

Further thoughts
Following on from week 1, the week 2 Lenten readings call us to continue considering the covenants that God makes with us: we contemplate what we deserve, what we get, and what we do next.
In Genesis, Abram and Sarai are an elderly couple, “as good as dead”, as Paul puts it in the Epistle, their hopes for a son dashed on the rocks of time. They have made alternative arrangements for the future: Abram has named his kinsman Eliezer of Damascus his heir, and Sarai has arranged for Abram to sire an heir by her slave Hagar; this was widely accepted practice for the time, though in this case it has produced a good deal of domestic strain.
Then God makes a new covenant: the heir for which Abram and Sarai have yearned, the child on whose birth they have given up, will be born to them, as God makes of them Abraham and Sarah, parents of millions.
Verse 17, which has been omitted from the lectionary, records Abram’s immediate response: he falls over laughing. Chapter 18 of Genesis, left out of this season’s lections, also gives us Sarai laughing in incredulity as she wonders how, after all the years and all the tears, this promise could possibly come true.
Yet, as Paul tells us, the two of them do believe, sooner rather than later—and it is their faith in God’s promise, not their own virtue, that makes them righteous before God. It is their faith in God’s faithfulness that somehow makes it possible for God’s promise to take hold in their own flesh.
What a staggering thought. What did it take for Abraham and Sarah to forget all the reasons it was crazy to hope long enough to believe God, really, deep down?
And what will it take for us?

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