Archive for July, 2013

Galatians 4:21-23

July 31, 2013

21Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. 23One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise.  Galatians 4:21-23

 

You can’t read the stories in the first several books of the Old Testament and not come away surprised that there was so little attempt to “clean them up.”  Most of us have some black sheep in the family history.  We tend to “forget” those stories as soon as possible.  But Israel captured them.

 

Some stories might seem scandalous to us today but weren’t in the cultural standards of that day.  Like Abraham’s relationship with Hagar.

 

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great people who would be a blessing to all the people’s of the world.  It was an amazing promise.  Abraham was nothing special.  He was already old.  And he and his wife, also old, were childless.  It became ever easier to doubt that Godly promise.

 

So Abraham and Sarah jumped the gun.  They got a better idea than God.  Now, mind you, it wasn’t that they lacked patience.  Genesis 16:3 says they had already lived in Canaan for ten years when Sarah determined to use Hagar to produce a child.  Ten years is a long time to wait.  But jumping the gun on God seldom works out for the best.  Ishmael’s birth didn’t exactly fill Sarah’s heart with joy.  It also didn’t fulfill the promise of God.

 

And now we, over three thousand years later, are still feeling the effects as the children on Abraham’s family tree battle for the hearts and minds of people.

 

So Paul, looking back at this story, looks out at the Christians in Galatia who are being pressured to incorporate Jewish ritual practices into their new-found freedom in Christ.  His whole letter to them is an argument to resist the voices who would reduce following Jesus down to following human rules and regulations.  He likens those who would live according to the law to the children of Hagar, slaves born of a slave woman.  And those who trust in Jesus, who live in freedom, to children of Sarah, born according to the promises of God.

 

My sense is that the Galatians were feeling the same pressure as Abraham and Sarah.  Their lives had been captured by a promise but they weren’t seeing it yet.  So they want to get the jump on God.  They want to MAKE something happen rather than trusting God to do what God would do in God’s time to do it.  They want the good they expect (perhaps that they think that they deserve) more than they want God to have God’s way with them.

That seldom works out.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, may we be patient today as we wait on your promises.  Forgive us for taking into our own hands what we ought to wait for from you, and for failing to use those same hands as you would have us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Advertisements

Galatians 3:6-9

July 30, 2013

6Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.  Galatians 3:6-9

 

Next week, when we listen to the call of Abraham from Genesis 12, we will see again the shift from the pre-history stories of the previous chapters to the particularity of God singling out Abraham as the promise carrier for the world.  Anyone reading Genesis for the first time would notice that shift.  God is up to something new.

 

We will never know who first told that story.  We’ll never know who was the first to write it down, preserving it for future generations.  We can rest assured that it wasn’t dictated by some angel in the wilderness onto tablets of stone – but beyond that, we would be guessing.

 

We know a little bit more about Paul, who wrote about Abraham in his letters to the Galatians and Romans.  In those writings, Paul is doing exactly the same thing that I am doing this morning, that countless Christians do all the time.  He is reaching back into the stories of his faith, looking for connections to the present day realities of his readers. 

 

In Abraham, Paul sees that the intended recipients of God’s promise are all the people of the world, including Gentiles.  The universality of God’s promise would be carried through the particularity of God’s relationship with people.  People who trust God and act on that trust.

 

How many times, after Jesus changed his life, did Paul ask himself, “Why couldn’t I see that sooner?”  Paul’s conversion to Christianity didn’t change the language of Genesis 12, it just opened his eyes to what he had previously been blind to.

 

So it is with us.  Jesus healed blind people.  Faith healing isn’t about dropping your crutches in a crowded auditorium – it is about suddenly seeing yourself, your world, your reality, infused with God in ways to which you were previously blind.  And acting differently as a result.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, may we trust this day, not in ourselves or our ability to trust, but only in you, working in our lives and our world in ways that are beyond us, yet include us, for the good of all.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Romans 4:1-3

July 29, 2013

1What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Romans 4:1-3

What does it mean to live our lives “by faith”?

Usually someone will offer the argument that we have no choice but to live by faith.  All day long we use tools that we don’t understand.  I turn the key and expect my car to start whether or not I understand the dynamics of an internal combustion engine.

We exist in a natural world, the complexities of which we seldom even notice.

But the Bible uses the word “faith” in ways that surpass simply things we don’t notice or understand or fully grasp.  In the Bible, and in the Christian movement, “faith” is a much more relational word than an intellectual word.  It implies trust, loyalty, fidelity, love.

So we ask again – what does it mean to live our lives in trust, loyalty, fidelity, and love?  What practical, down to earth, real difference does that make?

I look back on my life and I realize that most of what I learned I learned by watching and learning from others.  I saw bigger kids ice skating and I copied their movements.  I listened to my teachers and learned new things even as I worked to please them with the results that came back to them through the tests they gave me.

And so it is that we look back to the characters and the stories of the Bible to capture what it has meant along the way to live by faith in God.  Through the month of August, our congregation is going to listen with new ears to the stories of the life and times of Abraham and Sarah.  We’re going to revisit stories that we probably heard long ago, listening and watching again to see what faith looks like.

In addition to the Sunday morning messages (available for live viewing or archived to watch later at http://faithbellaire.org/watch/), and All Church Learning between services, I’m also going to be sharing some thoughts each day to prime the pump of our learning.

Welcome to the journey as we walk together by faith.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, come to us each day to guide us as we follow.  So many voices clamor for our attention.  Be our compass and our Guide, that we might follow in faith.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.