Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Christmas, Advent or What?

November 29, 2018

Advent 1 Luke 21:25-36

With Thanksgiving safely behind us we can now turn our attention to Christmas (even though stores and radio stations have been putting Christmas in our faces since, I don’t know, maybe late October?) This year Thanksgiving was early so there is an extra week to shop and carol and eat and do all of those holiday things we like to do.

Unless you’re in a church of the Reformed Tradition, like the Presbyterian Church. In the Presbyterian Church, while the rest of the world is partying and shopping and singing Christmas carols, we are observing the season of Advent.

Advent is the season that encompasses the 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve. This year Advent begins Sunday, December 2 and ends Sunday, December 23. As people of the Reformed Protestant tradition, we understand this to be a time in between; while we know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected–and we celebrate that–we also wait expectantly for Christ’s return. The word “advent” means coming or arrival and we interpret the season of Advent as a joyous time of waiting for the arrival of Christ– the Christ who was and is and is yet to come.

However, this puts us somewhat at odds with the rest of the culture. At church we sing advent hymns, and we begin the season by reading scripture passages that point to the return of Christ. It’s only when we draw closer to Christmas that we begin to tell the story of the baby Jesus in the manger, only after Advent is over and Christmas–the Nativity– is here that we sing traditional Christmas songs. And so we find ourselves wondering why can’t we just sing Joy to the World now? Would it hurt us to be a little more Christmas-y? 

It is important, though, to take some time to reflect on what we’re celebrating when we celebrate Christmas. We should try to avoid getting so caught up in the revelry that we forget what we’re about. We might ask ourselves,  Why are we so happy that Jesus Christ was born so long ago? What does it mean to us today that Jesus lived, and that as the Messiah he will return at some point and put things right? And how do we live in the already/ not yet– the in-between of time that we find ourselves in?

When we look at the scripture passage for the first Sunday of Advent our first response is whoa Jesus! This is some heavy stuff! The images are of a time or unrest or war, probably reflecting the Jewish uprising against Rome that ended with the temple’s destruction. And yet this was a time of birth for a new church and a new faith; these are the people that this passage and indeed, the whole of the gospels, is intended for. It is intended to give them strength and hope for the future, a reminder that God is with them.

We live in a time nearly 2000 years from when these words were written, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as relevant as they were when they were written. We still face difficult times. We still find ourselves longing for the return of Christ and a righting of the injustices of the world. We still find ourselves afraid– of being hurt, of being found unworthy, of not being able to overcome the fears that the world puts on our plate. How will we ever be able to look God in the face when the time comes?

Jesus tells us to live in hope. Stand up and raise our heads because it is our God who is coming. Don’t get caught up in the worries and fears of the world but be watchful and prepared. The kingdom of God is here– and this is very good news!

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Reading between the Lectionary Lines- July 8-15

July 18, 2018

Ironically for this blog the last several weeks the passages from Mark that we’ve been reading have been consecutive, with very few skipped sections. As we follow the arc of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we can see a pattern emerge of the growing power and authority of Jesus.

Last week we read the interior story of fourth of our Markan sandwiches. The outer layer begins with Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs into villages and towns in the area. Then the story jumps to Herod, who has heard about Jesus and is wondering who he is. Herod believes him to be John the Baptist, who is dead (as we read way back in Mark 1) but has come back to life. Then there is a flashback to the story of Herod’s betrayal of John and John’s death. We have a cast of characters here who are all culpable in some way: Herod, a minor king or tetrarch without the power he seems to crave; Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, who has a grudge against John; Salome, who dances for Herod and is used by her mother to secure John’s death; the courtiers and other local gentry who are there for Herod’s birthday party. In the end, Herod must choose between keeping a promise to Salome “up to 1/2 of my kingdom is yours!” and continuing to protect John, who Herod is fascinated with and maybe a little fearful of. After this story we come back to the present, where Jesus’ disciples have returned, full of stories of the miracles and ministry they were a part of. This is the beginning of the pericope for Sunday, July 22.

If we imagine that the purpose of the filling of the Markan Sandwich is to interpret or enhance the meaning of the outer layers,  we want to understand how Herod’s understanding of who Jesus is gives us insight into the sending out of the disciples and their return. And why include the story of John’s murder?

It’s a transitional moment–a transfer of power from John to Jesus. It’s also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death at the hands of the same powers that kill  John. Beyond that, it shows that the powers of the world will not have the last word; because even as Herod is remembering his sin that was the killing of John, Jesus’ power is growing; even as Herod is afraid that Jesus is John reborn, Jesus is the one who John was sent to bear witness to. Even as Jesus anoints his disciples with his own power they are sent out to expand the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines July 2-8

July 5, 2018

Again this week we have no extra, skipped text between last Sunday and this Sunday.  Last Sunday, as we recall, we had two healing stories, both of female characters– Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage. This Sunday we will hear about Jesus in Nazareth– how he is disrespected in his hometown and is unable to use his power; we will also hear that he sends out the disciples, empowering them to heal and drive out demons (which they do.)

The healing of the female characters, neither of which are named, points to the egalitarian nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jairus is a temple official, presumably well to do and important in local culture; yet he falls at Jesus’ feet begging Jesus to heal his daughter. As Jesus turns to go with him, he is interrupted by an unknown woman who has been sick for many years. She boldly touches his garment and he feels the power go out of him; he stops to find out who had done this and gives her a blessing. Then he goes on to Jairus’ house where the little girl has died; yet when he takes her hand she rises and is alive. Note that being touched by the sick woman and taking the hand of the dead girl were both acts that would render Jesus ritually unclean– a serious thing in Jewish religion and society, and yet he does not shy away from them.

We go from these displays of Jesus’ power to Nazareth, where Jesus can barely do anything at all. How do people in Nazareth respond to Jesus’ ministry? What do you think is keeping him from being able to use his power? In our ministries in our own communities where do we find resistance? What can we do to overcome that resistance?

Jesus then sends his disciples out two by two into the villages and towns where he will be going. Why do you think he does this? What effect do you think it has on the communities? What effect on the disciples?

Do you have any stories in your life that are similar to these stories? Of a time you took a risk for ministry? Of a time you were healed or helped heal someone else? Of a time you were disrespected by people close to you? Feel free to share you stories in the comments below.

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines–June 25- July 1

June 27, 2018

A big crowd. Confusing stories about the kingdom of God. A stormy boat ride. We are coming to the middle of the gospel of Mark, and the middle of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

Sunday June 24 we read the story of Jesus calming the storm— which we also talked about in last week’s RBLL blog.   On July 1 our passage will be a “Markan Sandwich” which wraps one story into another– in this case, the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage.

Between the storm and these two healings, however, we have the story of what happens when the storm ends and Jesus and the disciples come to land.  Mark 5:1-20 reads:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

When Jesus and the disciples step out of the boat, on the heels of almost drowning in a storm, they are met by a man who lived in the tombs. That he lived in the tombs, essentially in a graveyard or cemetery tells us he didn’t have the usual life; and in fact the passage tells us that he has an unclean spirit and cannot even be restrained. We are reminded that Jesus also was accused of having a demon and might compare/ contrast Jesus’ behavior (he sat at dinner with sinners, so many he couldn’t even eat) with this man’s behavior (superhuman strength, living in the tombs and mountains, howling and hurting himself.)

Jesus once again displays his power: the unclean spirits cannot resist when he commands them, any more than the water and wind could when Jesus told it to be still.  We can note here that this is the region of the Gerasenes, a Gentile region. Crowds come to see Jesus but instead of crowding around him for healing they ask Jesus to leave. Only the man, now released from the unclean spirit, is willing to go with Jesus. He is told by Jesus to go home and tell what has happened to him, and thus the man, now released from the unclean spirit, becomes an early evangelist to the Gentiles by proclaiming in the Decapolis what had happened.

We’ll see, if we read forward to the Lectionary reading for July first, that Jesus leaves the Gerasenes and goes back across the lake, where the “Markan Sandwich” healing stories take place. We notice that we have gone from Jesus being accused to having a demon, to teaching about the kingdom of God to large crowds of people; to commanding the wind and waves to be still, to healing a man by commanding the unclean spirits (demons) to come out of him, to two more stories of healing. The story arc continues to follow Jesus as he moves around in Galilee and aligns himself with the outsiders of the world.

Questions to ponder:

Jesus goes from describing the kingdom of God as something subtle or small that grows without being noticed. How does the growth of Jesus reputation mirror the growth of the kingdom of God?

Jesus commands the waves and wind to be still and commands the unclean spirits to go out of the man. How are these two events related? How is the response of the disciples to Jesus in the boat the same/ different than the Gerasenes? Why do you think the Gerasenes tell Jesus to go away?

To what might we today attribute behavior like that of the man in from the tombs?

Where do we see the power of Jesus displayed today?

What does the boat represent in our lives today? What do the landings of Jesus in different locations represent?

Rev. Sharon is pastor of Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, KY. Please feel free to leave comments in the box below.

 

 

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines June 10-17

June 12, 2018

For the summer I am Reading Between the Lectionary Lines by looking at the scripture passages that the Revised Common Lectionary skips over. 

This week our “in between passage” is Mark 4:1-25. If you recall, at the end of Mark 3:20-35 (June 10) Jesus was eating with a large crowd of people– a crowd of tax collectors and sinners, not the best of company. His family had come to remove him from the situation because he was “beside himself” and the Pharisees claimed he had Beelzebub. When his family arrived and the crowd passed on the information that they were there waiting for him, he dismissed them saying that the crowd was his family, that anyone who does the will of God is his family. The passage for June 17 is a set of parables: the parable of the clueless sower and the parable of the mustard seed; this passage closes with commentary about Jesus teaching by using parables. As we begin to think about these parables for this coming Sunday, let’s look at the in-between passage:

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
10When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” 13And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word. 15These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 21He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

This is a very familiar passage to most of us, I think– the parable of the sower. It is the story of  someone sowing seeds willy-nilly, not caring if the seeds fall on good soil, rocks, the path, or in the weeds. Not a very efficient way of sowing seed! The second part of the passage is an explanation of the parable by Jesus– the only place in the gospels that this happens. The third part of the passage is a short parable about letting light shine, not keeping secrets or hiding anything. “For to those who have, more will be given; to those who have little, even what they have will be taken away.”

At first glance this passage doesn’t seem to connect to the previous one at all. Jesus goes from challenging the Pharisees and eating with a huge crowd of people at home, to teaching beside the sea. He is still in Galilee, though, and there is still a large crowd of people who have come out to hear him. The passage has a better connection with the text for next week, which contains another set of agricultural parables.

Because we have Jesus’ own explanation of the parable we know he’s talking about: how different people receive (or don’t receive) the word of God. Seeds fall on a path, on rocky ground, on thorny ground and on good soil. A path, of course, isn’t going to sprout seed at all– those seeds are lost. Rocky ground allows the seeds to sprout but their roots aren’t deep enough so they wither. Thorny ground allows the seeds to sprout but the thorns are an invasive species that kill off any seeds that try to grow. But good soil, of course, not only lets the seed sprout but also has the nutrients the seed needs to grow and thrive.

Things to ponder:

  • In this parable, what do the following images stand for? Sower, Seeds, Path, Rocky soil, Thorny ground, good soil, grain.
  • Why does Jesus teach in parables? What does he tell his disciples about parables?
  • How does teaching in parables relate to hiding a lamp under a basket versus letting it shine?
  • Why does Jesus tell the disciples “The measure you give is the measure you get” and “the more you have the more you receive and if you have nothing whatever you have will be taken away?” How does this connect back to the parable of the sower?

 

A new year is here!

January 8, 2018

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m just a little late with that greeting, I know; here it is January 8 and we’re well into the new year. (Though it may be awhile before we all remember to write 2018 instead of 2017!)

There are two times during the year that I feel that I have a fresh start: in the fall, at the time when I started a new school year for many years; and at the turn of the year, when the Christmas season is over and it feels like a blank slate, a new year full of possibilities and hope. Of course I know it won’t all be great– I have my ups and downs just like everyone else– but just the idea of a new year, a new beginning makes me hopeful for good times to come.

The beginning of the new year is an especially good time to examine our faith and our spiritual connections and rededicate ourselves to our faith. A new Bible study or a new spiritual practice can be helpful in getting us on track. I discovered Art Journaling last year and I hope to find ways to use it to enhance my spiritual life this year. New mission initiatives are also good ways to engage our faith; if you know me you might not be surprised to hear that I have a new idea for mission– watch this space for more information!

However you practice, whether you keep up with something you’re already doing or begin something new, I hope 2018 will be a year of spiritual vitality for you. And if you want to dialogue with me about this, please feel free to comment!

Peace,

Rev. Sharon

Abraham Study: Ishmael and Isaac

June 29, 2017

I am a couple of weeks behind with the Abraham Study, so let’s catch up. Two weeks ago the chapter was about Ishmael, the son that Abraham had with Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant. Last week the chapter was about Isaac, the son that Abraham had with Sarah, his wife.

As the story goes, God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah; but they are old and Sarah gets impatient. They have recently lived in Egypt and acquired an Egyptian woman to serve Sarah, and Sarah decides that it is through Hagar that the son will be born. She seems to imagine that Hagar will give birth and just turn the baby over to Sarah to raise. Abraham is uncertain but when Hagar goes to him he sleeps with her and becomes pregnant.

This is where Sarah’s plan goes awry. Hagar now has status over Sarah because of her pregnancy, and the story indicates that she taunts Sarah with it. So Sarah tells Abraham to send Hagar away. Again Abraham is uncertain but does as Sarah asks. Hagar is sent into the desert, where God tells her to return. She goes back and Ishmael is born. Thus, he is the first born son.

Eventually Sarah becomes pregnant and Isaac, the second son, is born. Conflict arises once again between Sarah/ Isaac and Hagar/ Ishmael and Sarah once again demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Abraham is uncertain once again, but God tells him to do what Sarah says.

It’s interesting to note that here the Jewish scriptures, known by Jews and Christians, have one story, but there are other stories about what happens to Hagar and Ishmael. Of course the Christian tradition has the story that Hagar and Ishmael are sent away into the desert, where they nearly die of thirst. But God hears their cries and gives them water and then promises that Ishmael will be father of a great nation.

The other story is quite different– Abraham takes Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca and settles them there and even revisits them later. In this version there is a continuing relationship between Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael.

How does this story and our understanding of Ishmael as firstborn son inform our understanding of Abraham? To begin with, it seems likely that Abraham has some real affection for Ishmael because he is the first born son. At that time birth order was quite important, and the eldest was the heir of the father. The story implies that Abraham was born because Sarah went against God’s intent and that Isaac was intended as heir to God’s covenant with Abraham rather than Ishmael (the Jewish/ Christian traditional reading. One way or another Hagar and Ishmael are taken care of by God.

At this point I find Abraham to be a rather ambiguous character. On the one hand he seems to have this one-to-one relationship with God; on the other hand, when Sarah tells him to send Hagar away he does it. Regretfully, perhaps, but he does it. This seems to be at odds with his reputation as a man of great faith who took up stakes and moved his family at God’s behest.

We don’t hear much more about Ishmael in the Jewish/ Christian scriptures. At one point Joseph is given to “the Ishmaelites” by his brothers. Islamic tradition views Ishmael as a prophet and an ancestor to Muhammad. Over time the Ishmaelites became associated with the term “Arab”.  In Islamic tradition Ishmael seems to be seen as the link to Abraham and, as first son, a reason that Islam should be considered the ‘true’ or ‘primary’ religion; he is at least a partial source of division particularly between Jews and Muslims but also between Muslims and Christians.

For notes Bill Lindsay’s notes on the chapter about Isaac, click here.

 

Abraham– Week 4: Call

June 12, 2017

We continue our Abraham study with the chapter entitled “Call”, about the beginnings of Abraham’s call to follow God. Once again, there are notes from co-teacher Bill that can be accessed here. If you’re reading along or following this blog I encourage you to add your own comments, and if you haven’t started reading the book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler it is well worth the read. It is available on Amazon and possibly through your local library as well!

This chapter addresses the question of what it means to be called by God, particularly as it pertains to Abraham and particularly as understood by Christians, Muslims and Jews. We can also glean form this discussion what it means to be called on a more personal level; for, as Abraham is called, so are we called as his descendants.

The call of Abraham teaches us, according to Mr. Feiler, that God hears the cries of all of God’s people. God heard the cry of Abraham, who at an advanced age had no heir; God responds with a promise of not only more descendants than there are stars in the sky, but also land that will be his and theirs. In order to receive this promise Abraham must leave his homeland and go… somewhere. God isn’t clear in the beginning where Abraham will go, only that he needs to go. And Abraham, trusting God, goes.

This is something new; Abraham is breaking tradition with his father who is a maker of idols. For Abraham, God offers no physical manifestation; neither does Abraham seem to need it. We might wonder how to put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes: is God the still, small voice in Abraham’s head? Is there an actual conversation? We have reported interchanges between God and Abraham, but is this a conversation as we humans understand conversation? And if not, what was it that convinced Abraham to go?

In Mr. Feiler’s book he describes the differences in emphasis between Christianity, Judaism and Islam regarding the understanding of Abraham’s call. For Jews, Abraham’s call began as a call to migration, a call that will lead him (and his descendants) to the promised land. Later the understanding becomes more spiritual in nature as the exile sends Jews on a different journey, a journey away from the land to a place where they are the other. Now the task, says Mr. Feiler, is to “go to yourself…find your roots.” For  Islam Abraham’s response to God, that he picked up and went to another land at God’s instruction, is the ultimate submission and obedience to God. For Christians the Abraham story represents a “hoping against hope” (as Paul puts it)– he didn’t disbelieve God’s promise even though he was of advanced age and “his body was as good as dead” (again, Paul). Feiler’s friend Father John says that “the lesson of Abraham is that you have to be willing to risk it all. You have to give up everything for God.”

As Christians we ask ourselves “what is God calling me to do?” We beleive that all of God’s people have gifts and abilities that we are to use to fulfill God’s work in the world. Frederick Buechner describes the place God God’s us to as that place in which a person’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. It may be that we are called, as Abraham was, to pick up stakes and move to a new land. It may be that we are called to a a new ministry in which we are the other, the outsider who must form relationships before we can accomplish any change in the world.

 

 

 

Abraham Study– week 3 “Birth”

June 8, 2017

I am behind a week in writing about our study Bruce Feiler’s book, “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.” Sometimes life intervenes! So this is from Wednesday, May 31 and I’ll be writing about last night’s (June 7th) discussion later in the week. The lessons for May 31, June 7 and June 14 are led by Bill Lindsay, so I am including his notes in the writing for these weeks. Thanks Bill!

The chapter for May 31, called “Birth” is the first of two in a section that are about the historical Abraham and the question of whether or not he really existed, if it can be proven, and if it matters. To me, this is part of a larger question that encompasses the whole of scripture– what do we know, what can we prove, and does it matter? For Christians, answering this question runs the gamut from Biblical inerrancy– every jot and tittle is true and authentic in its authorship (God, through Moses and others) to the idea that the Bible is just a good book which, because it can’t be proven, carries truths but isn’t true, per se. 

To many people the question of the truth of scripture is very important. Some will read the Bible stories about Abraham and believe he was a real historical character. Some will see that there is no physical evidence and understand Abraham as a mythical or composite figure, borne out of centuries of oral tradition and helpful as a anchor for the faith, but not a real, historical figure. Either way, even though Abraham isn’t provable– as Avraham Biran says in Feiler’s book, All we know about Abraham is in the Bible …  In the ground , there’s nothing… But remember , archaeology cannot prove or disprove the Bible . I follow Albright , the founder of our field , in that the Bible as a book of divine inspiration needs no proof . At the same time , you can neither do archaeology in biblical lands nor study the Bible without being aware of the discoveries . 

The Bible is a book of stories, a mix of oral tradition and written history– though maybe not “history” as we in the 21st century think of it. When we read the Bible and study the ancestors of the faith, we do so from a place and time so far removed from its happenings that it can be hard to process it, it can be hard to know how it applies to our lives today–if it even does.

And yet there are truths there. Abraham is a figure of faith that we can look to in order to understand our own. In Christian and Hebrew texts we come upon Abraham as an adult, with little background information other than his father’s name and the fact that they all migrated from Ur to Haran over a number of years.

Muslim texts have more detail. Abraham’s father carves and sells idols, and people worship him. He is of the polytheistic age and forced Abraham, who even as a young boy didn’t believe in the power of idols, to sell them. Abraham is reported to have mocked his father for worshiping idols; he was threatened with stoning and was reportedly thrown into the fire for his alternate beliefs but was saved by God.

Abraham is the first monotheist– the first to insist that there is only one God. Abraham is also the first, if we believe the stories, to be martyred. There is no question why this man, this Abraham, became so important to three major religions of the world and remains the ancestor to us all. So the question becomes for each of our traditions, how can we each honor him without dishonoring the faith traditions of the others?

 

Abraham, Week 2: Home

May 26, 2017

Our discussion this week truly begins our study of the book, Abraham: A Story of Three Faiths. If you’re following along in the reading, the chapter we discussed on Wednesday, May 23 was called Home. In this chapter Mr. Feiler lays the groundwork for his investigation of Abraham, beginning with a visit to Jerusalem.
We began this week by reading Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version (NRSV))

The Call of Abram
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

For background I put together a set of images showing various maps of Abraham’s journey as well as some modern day pictures of Ur, Haran, Shechem, Bethel, Ai and the Negev– locations given in the scripture passage of where Abraham had traveled. At the end are a set of pictures of Jerusalem, and it is easy to see how close in proximity are landmarks of the three faiths. In one image is the Dome of the Rock, a building with a golden dome, which marks the spot that each faith sees as a touchstone– the place where Mohammad was taken into heaven by Allah, the place where Jesus preached, the place where Isaac was offered by Abraham as sacrifice.

Jerusalem is a good place to begin to understand what it means to be monotheistic; understanding monotheism can help us understand the roots of the difficulty of coexistence that the three faiths have.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines monotheism as belief in one personal and transcendent God. In simple terms, Muslims believe Allah is the one God; Christians believe God as expressed as Creator/Christ/Spirit is the one God; Jews believe that Yahweh is the one God. For each of these groups even acknowledging that the others have a god of their own is to acknowledge that there is more than one God. Thus, it becomes important to maintain an exclusivity or purity of belief in their particular deity. Over time each faith tradition has attempted to impose its own religious beliefs and practices on the others– which continues until today.

Below are some notes I pulled out of Mr. Feiler’s book, on which we centered our discussion:

Notes from Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths (B. Feiler): Home
A piece of land emerged out of the water [of creation]. That land is the Rock, and the rock is here.
Adam was buried here, Solomon built here, Jesus prayed here. Muhammad ascended here.
Abraham came here to bury his son.
The Rock is considered the navel of the world
Stand here, you can see eternity. Stand here, you can touch the source.
o Stand here, you can smell burning flesh.
Any panorama, any camera angle, any genuflection that encompasses one will necessarily include at least one of the others.
Jewish boy, Joshua’s, comment (re: waiting for the messiah to come and make all things new, but unable to imagine it happening with Muslims present.)

Abraham
Shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
History’s first monotheist
Found in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Koran—which often disagree about Abraham’s history, even on basic matters
Even Abraham’s itinerary changed between generations and religions
]for we who study Abraham in this book, we are looking at] 3 religions, 4 millennia, one never-ending war.

Abraham’s offering of Isaac is a shared story, a shared touchstone for the three faiths.
Christianity—we read at Lent/ Easter– Isaac/ Jesus as ‘sacrifice’
Judaism—Rosh Hashannah
Islam—‘Id al-Adha—“the feast of the sacrifice” -climax of the pilgrimage
But can’t agree on what son was victim
Is that the model of holiness, the legacy of Abraham: to be prepared to kill for God?

Story from David Willna —the point of the story is that this degree of brotherly love is necessary before God can be manifest in the world.
“This (Jerusalem) is not only the spot where it is possible to connect with God, it’s the spot where you can connect with God only if you understand what it means to connect with one another” (David Willna)
“The relationship between a person and another human being is what creates and allows for a relationship with God. If you’re not capable of living with each other and getting along with each other, then you’re not capable of having a relationship with God.” (David Willna)

As we begin this study we see that there is a connection between these three faiths through the ancestor Abraham, but that each wants to claim the God of Abraham as its own one true God. Is the connection enough to say that we share one God through Abraham?

Please leave any comments or discussions in the comment section below.
For next week we’ll read the next chapter, Birth, and begin to seek out the ancestor we call Abraham.