Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

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.

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Vocation looking backwards

February 2, 2014

Last weekend I had the opportunity to talk about Christian call and vocation with an adult education class. Normally I have this conversation with 17-21 year old people but last weekend the crowd was a bit older, closer to retirement age. I asked them to think about what society had told them about vocation, what the church had told them and what their experience of vocation had been.

The interesting thing this group said was that often vocation only became clear in retrospect. In the midst of life one’s vocation was not necessarily clear. It is not surprising that older people said this. If you have lived more than a couple of decades you probably have noticed this.

Sometimes younger people are very concerned that they make the correct choices about their vocation. This is a good thing. They are thinking seriously about their abilities and gifts and what the world needs. They want to be faithful. But they wonder, how can they know that they are making the correct choice?  I tell them  all they have to do, all they can do, is take the first step as faithfully as they can. And then they take the next step, as faithfully as they can. And then the next step. They might have to backtrack occasionally but God can work with that. It may not seem that they are headed anywhere special. Their path may not be clear. Life might be pretty confusing. But when they are older and looking back on their life, that’s when their vocation becomes clear.

I suspect this is small consolation to younger people – hearing that someday things will make sense. But that is one of the lessons of Abraham’s life.

You will remember that God tells Abraham to go. But God doesn’t tell Abraham where exactly he is to go. Abraham goes to the land of Canaan, but that is a pretty big place. In addition, God makes some big promises to Abraham, a son, descendants, and the security of his own land. But Abraham’s life is full of difficulties and Abraham makes plenty of mistakes. Often Abraham is not the blessing that he is supposed to be to others.  It is quite a story and you can read it here.

By the end of Abraham’s life, it still isn’t clear that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. And then in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:8-15 ) the author reflects on Abraham’s life. Abraham lived by faith. He traveled one step at a time, trusting in God, trusting that things would make sense, trusting that God was at work in all of his life. In retrospect, we see how God was at work in Abraham’s life.

Each of us is called to love God and to love our neighbor. Exactly how each of us does that is unique- and not without mistakes and regrets. But somehow, in retrospect, we see, or our children see, or our great grand children see how God was at work in our life. Faithful living means that even though we may not see the “big picture”, we trust that God does.


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