We do not travel alone

April 23, 2017

 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. 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. 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.’

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. 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.

Genesis 12:1-5a  NRSV

I have an unfortunate tendency to think the call of Abraham only involved Abraham. Periodically the text reminds me that Sarah traveled with him. Less frequently the text reminds me that Lot  and many others also went with Abraham.  But mostly I focus on Abraham.

For modern Americans to focus solely on Abraham is easy to do. Our typical way of thinking and understanding the world concentrates and celebrates the individual. We love stories about the lone person who perseveres, triumphs, saves, or overcomes. We admire and revere the “One”. Many of us secretly want to be the “One”. Or perhaps, we are waiting for the “One” to save us, protect us, love us.

But if we read Abraham’s story carefully, we discover that Abraham doesn’t travel alone. His call affects others. And others participate in his call. And of course others benefit from his calling.

In the ancient world successes and failures, joys and sorrows were communal events. How an individual’s actions affect their family and community were important considerations. The stories in the Bible remind us that our lives are not our own. Our lives and actions affect the lives of people we know and people we don’t know.

From Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, to Moses’ demand  “let my people go”, to the prophets’ insistence that we care for the widow and orphan and stranger, to Jesus’s teaching about caring for the “least of these”- over and over again we are told we must be concerned about the larger community.

That means that my faith cannot be simply or only about my relationship with God. My relationship with God compels me to be concerned about others, in my home, in my city, in my country and around the world.

The way our modern world functions means that my concern is often called “political”. I don’t apologize for that.  It has to be. Reading the Bible seriously means I must take the well being of others seriously and consider their needs before I consider my own. When I vote, I think about which candidate will be best for the poor and excluded, for the food insecure, the sick, the homeless, the children, the aged.  When a millage comes up, I vote for what I think best benefits the entire community, not just me, and not just what keeps my taxes low.  When I march for a just immigration policy, it is not because my immigration status is a risk or is even questioned by anyone. I march because the Gospel compels me to work for a society that care about and for immigrants and refugees.

We are, as children of Abraham, called to be a blessing for others- for all the families of the earth. To be sure, this makes my life more difficult. There are a lot of people I need to think about, people I don’t know, people I will likely never know. As I try to learn and understand all these different people, who live in different places and in different circumstances, I learn wonderful things and terrible things. My heart sings and breaks. So much joy and yet so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Fortunately, God has created a world where I don’t have to do it all and you don’t either. We help each other. We help people we know and they help us. We help people we don’t know and they help us.  And the Spirit is in the middle of all of it- opening our eyes to see, our ear to hear, our heart to love. Nudging us to a bigger, deeper, richer life.

We do not travel alone, Thanks be to God.

Not the Messiah We Are Looking For

April 12, 2017

Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Jesus travels on a borrowed donkey, The crowds hail him as “Son of David” – meaning the king. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew tells us “the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ ”

Who is this indeed?

There were a variety of expectations in those days about what the Messiah would do and who the Messiah would be. Would he free Israel from Roman occupation? Would he be a great general? A king? A prophet?

Jesus however, was not the Messiah they were looking for. Military heros ride horses not donkeys.  They enter with armed soldiers. And of course Messiah’s don’t get themselves killed. Especially killed without a fight.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the crowds who didn’t understand what sort of Messiah Jesus was. We don’t understand either. We struggle with giving up our war horses. We struggle with giving up the thrill of military power. Jets flying overhead, tanks on parade, rows of  highly trained soldiers. We struggle with non violence. We are  afraid not to react to any provocation. We are afraid of being seen as weak.

This past week, we launched missiles into Syria. We have maneuvered war ships nearer to North Korea. We warn others not to “cross lines”.

Why did we do this?

Fear, I think.

Fear “they” will think the President is weak. Fear “they” will think the US is weak. We have been warned, this past year, that “they” are taking advantage of us, “they” are laughing at us, and “they” want to control us.

And so we fire missiles and maneuver war ships and sober faced officials give statements.

To what end?   Is the world safer this week? Has anything actually changed? Syrian leader Assad is still brutally killing his own people. Most of the rest of the Middle East is embattled. North Korea continues to dare the world to react to their missile tests.

We, like first century Israel, are confused about who the Messiah is and what the Messiah requires of us.

The Messiah we want, the one who wins wars and punishes enemies, is not the Messiah we have. The Messiah we have, rides a donkey, not a war horse. The Messiah we have does not strike back. The Messiah we have prays for enemies. The Messiah we have treats everyone with respect because they are a child of God, not because the earned it. The Messiah’s way is not the way we have always done things.

To follow this Messiah is hard. Perhaps even impossible.  Oh, I can follow for a day, especially if I don’t leave the house. But to follow when I encounter difficult people? Nearly impossible.

So if following the Messiah we have is so difficult for us as individuals, how much more difficult it is for nations.

What if we lose? What if the “bad guys” win? I don’t know. I don’t know what happens if we “lose”. But when so many suffer because of the status quo, can anyone really “win”? Are we willing to give up some security, possessions, privilege  so others can have more?

I have no idea what this looks like for me, for a city, for a nation. And it is more than a little scary to think about. I mean, exactly how much would I need to give up? How dangerous will this be?

But what we have now, the way we do things now, is scary too. Most of us have managed to isolate ourselves. Many of us can, for the most part, avoid seeing the suffering of others. We can take a break from the suffering of others. But suffering persists whether we look or not.

Following the Messiah we want has not and is not working. Perhaps it is past time to trust and follow the Messiah we are given. Riding a donkey, not a war horse. Loving our enemies, Blessing those who curse us. Sharing what we have with those who have less.

We have the Messiah, we have been given, Jesus. The question is can give up our false messiah and will we follow him?




%d bloggers like this: