Test Everything

test-all-things

Today’s readings (click below to open in a new window/tab):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Genesis 16:1-14, Hebrews 9:15-28, John 5:19-29


Some days the biggest stumbling block to faith is scripture itself. Amid its inspiration, today’s passage from Genesis contains some truly horrifying ideas. God promised Abram he would father a nation, but he and his wife Sarai did not immediately conceive a child. An impatient Sarai suggested Abram impregnate her servant Hagar. Under the law, Sarai could have claimed legal possession of the child. The law also claimed that if Hagar started acting “uppity” after conceiving, her mistress could punish her – so naturally that’s exactly what happened. When Hagar ran away, God advised her to return with the promise her child would also beget a nation.

Forced surrogacy. Abuse. Slavery seemingly endorsed by God. Is it any wonder many people find it so easy to reject the Bible wholesale?

Many Biblical literalists and devout atheists approach the Bible in the same way: either it’s all factual or it’s all useless. They simply come to opposite conclusions. Moderate and progressive Christians can find themselves caught up in defending why they bother with the Bible at all, if they don’t find scripture inerrant. Convoluted excuses and justifications for stories like this one (and worse) erode faith rather than strengthen it.

The Bible is not all there is to God. And specific translations or interpretations (and in the modern age that’s all most of us who don’t read Hebrew and Greek have got) even less so. Treating it like it is might be the most acceptable form of idolatry going today. God can withstand our questions and criticisms of Bronze Age culture. Just because Jesus didn’t explicitly condemn slavery doesn’t mean we should approve it. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 advises: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” God has given us the ability to discern what is moral and what is immoral, though in some cases like slavery it takes us far longer than it should to make the right call. Acceptable practices become unacceptable, and “abominable” practices such as short hair on women grow inoffensive.

The fact that people have been able to use the Bible to both justify and condemn slavery tells us the truth it contains needs more consideration than the popular “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Trust that truth is Godly, wherever it is found.

Comfort: God and truth withstand all scrutiny.

Challenge: Meditate on what previously acceptable practices have been morally rejected in your lifetime, and vice versa.

Prayer: God, help me to approach all things, including scripture, with your guidance. Amen.

Discussion: How would you describe your relationship with the Bible?

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Cast and Crew

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Today’s readings (click to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Genesis (14:1-7) 8-24, Hebrews 8:1-13, John 4:43-54


Do you stay to watch the credits at the end of a movie? It can take hundreds of people to see a film through from beginning to end. Writers, producers, directors, stars – these people have the name recognition to get the project off the ground, but without gaffers and grips the production would falter or fold. Every name buried in that scrolling list provides a vital function.

As we follow the story of Abram and his wife Sarai, it mostly unfolds like the story of two stars and a few lesser roles. In today’s passage, however, we get a feel for the large number of people who depended on them, and on whom they depended. Every time Abram and Sarai move, in their wake is an entourage of hundreds, including family, herders (with their wives and children), slaves, trained solders, and sundry others – enough to fill two separate communities.

When we think of Abraham as “our father in faith,” it’s easy to overlook the hundreds of unnamed people who contributed to that title. When he knocked at Egypt’s door seeking entrance, he was more than half a married couple: he represented hundreds seeking sanctuary. When he was forced out, hundreds had to follow. When he was plundered by neighboring kings, he had to recover not just goods, but people as well. He and his people were interdependent: as their patriarch he led them wisely, and they made sure the show went on. A leader is the hub, but without spokes a hub is meaningless.

When we believe we see God acting through a leader, let’s look at the bigger picture – the spokes that define the hub, or the crew that supports the star. God’s touch is not limited to the elect few, so we need to actively support such leaders and understand the scope of their responsibilities. We aren’t an audience passively waiting for leadership to happen to us; we are a vital part of the production. By the time the credits roll, we want to be able to point to our name with pride in the job we’ve done.

Comfort: Even if your role in God’s plan feels small, it is vital.

Challenge: Don’t let your faith, church, or community happen “to” you – take part.

Prayer: Thank you, O Lord, for the responsibilities which are mine, and thank you that not all of them are.

Discussion: We tend to judge religious leaders (or managers, or civic leaders) on how well they meet our specific needs, but their responsibilities are often greater than we know. Our leaders can’t do everything that needs done; when appropriate how can we support them?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Sleeping with the Enemy

WEAKRESOLVESTRONGFAITH

Today’s readings (click below to open in a new window):
Psalms 56; 149, Genesis 12:9-13:1, Hebrews 7:18-28, John 4:27-42


How do we approach people we assume to be our enemies? Today’s readings feature two stories about people traveling through presumably hostile territory. They start with very different mindsets, and have very different results.

When Abram and his beautiful wife Sarai arrived in Egypt, he instructed her to pose as his sister so the Egyptians who wanted to woo her would treat him well. Otherwise, he feared, they might murder him to take her. Word of her beauty reached Pharaoh and soon she was living in his home. Displeased with this situation, God afflicted Pharaoh’s household with great plagues. His lie thus revealed, Abram was forced to flee with Sarai.

While passing through Samaria, Jesus stopped at a well. He had a very candid though compassionate conversation with a woman he met there. Once he revealed himself to be the messiah by showing he knew undisclosed details of her life, she was not afraid to challenge him about his relationship with non-Jews. After the people of her town heard her story, they invited Jesus to stay and he spent two days with them. As a result many Samaritans became believers.

Abram told an easy lie, and Jesus told hard truths. The Egyptians treated Abram well for a while, but no relationship was established. In the end, the lie forced him away. The Samaritan woman respected Jesus because he told the truth, and returned his frankness. The initial conversation between them does not read as comfortable, but in the end he formed an unexpected and important relationship with the Samaritan people.

The world tells us never to trust our enemies, and to do unto them before they do unto us. Jesus teaches and shows us another way. It is a more risky path, as we can never be sure of our enemy’s intentions, but it also opens a door to the possibility of reconciliation. If we refuse to hear someone’s story, or respond with judgment, that door stays closed. Being the first to offer a hand in peace is not a sign of a weak resolve, but of a strong faith.

Comfort: Jesus doesn’t want a relationship with your Sunday best, he wants one with your honest everyday self.

Challenge: Do you have any enemies you could get to know better? Try to do so.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, teach me the ways of peace. Amen.

Discussion: Who do you consider your enemies? How do you communicate with them?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!