Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Gen. 22:1-14

I'm very new to blogging. And I rarely keep a journal or diary, so this entry may very well be a disjointed, rambling struggle as I attempt to gain calrity on a weird portion of text. I say weird because the idea of human sacrifice is so bizzarre to me. I think my understanding of human sacrifice is depicted best by the sacrifice scenes in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom.

I'm not sure I've ever been comfortable with this text. Abraham, being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, is so completely obedient! As well as making a unilatteral decision. Why doesn't Abe sit down with Sarah and say "here's the deal, we've been blessed with this son in our old age, and now we have to give him back."

So why does God ask this of Abraham? What is the point? I think a simple answer is that God was testing Abraham's faith. Maybe God wanted to see just how far Abraham could be pushed. Maybe Abraham needed to be pushed to this point to be made aware of his own devotion to God.

Another thought deals with human (especially child) sacrifice in general. It's well known that child sacrifice was a common practice among pre-Hebrew peoples, and was still happening in the area during Abraham's time. Maybe God, who from our earliest understandings has been about transformation, is using Abraham and Isaac to illustrate a change in behavior. No longer was sacrifice of this nature desired, which previewed what later prophets would utter, God no longer wants burnt sacrifice, but devotion and faith.

So does Abrahams obedience leads to understanding God's provision? Does our following of the way of Christ lead us to understanding how we can be providers for others?

Like a typical teenage boy, I ignored everything good that my parents did for me and focused on the things that were "bad" for me, like cleaning my room and helping with household chores. I always thought they had it out for me. (maybe that's how Isaac was feeling when he was being tied up!)

Now as a father of a 15 month old, I see so much of my parents in the way i try to provide for my child. Maybe i understand their provision for me better now that i am a parent too. Maybe as followers of Jesus we understand God's provision better when we provide for others, and they in turn understand God's loving provision when they are providers: "Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help." Matt. 10:40 -The Message

Sunday, June 15, 2008


by Danny Bradfield
lectionary text for 6/22: Genesis 21:8-21

Less than two months ago, I began a new ministry. The congregation I now pastor is in many ways a typical Disciples congregation. It has wonderful people, and a nice mix of ages, although members would like the number of people to grow, especially among the younger age groups.

Thus far, a big part of my job has been getting to know the people of this congregation. In doing so, I am also becoming familiar with that all-too-familiar component in our churches: the struggles for power. Nearly every congregation has had power struggles among its members. Usually, the members learn to deal with—or at least live with—these struggles. However, sometimes they can be damaging.

The conflict between Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 21: 8-21) bears many of the characteristics of a power struggle. Sarah has observed her son, Isaac, playing with Ishmael, the son of Hagar, and has become jealous. Isaac and Ishmael are both sons of Abraham. The question is, which one will be the heir, the one to carry on the line of Abraham, the one to receive the rights and blessings of the first-born son?

Muslims today trace their heritage to Abraham through Ishmael, and insist that he is the heir. He was the oldest, and even though he was born to Hagar, ancient Mesopotamian law would have considered him to be Sarah’s son.

Jews and Christians, on the other hand, trace their heritage to Abraham through Isaac. They insist that Isaac is the rightful heir, the one whose birth fulfilled the promise God made to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child of their own.

In many ways, the power struggle that developed between Sarah and Hagar continues in the power struggles that exist between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They are struggles that threaten the peace and even existence of the planet. And how does God feel about this? According to Genesis, the quarrel between Sarah & Hagar was “very distressing” to Abraham, and it seems to me that our current struggles and quarrels must certainly be “very distressing” to God.

Quarrels and power struggles are always distressing, not only to those directly involved, but to everyone in the family/community. Parents fight, and their children suffer. Nations wage war, and innocents die. Church members quarrel, and even those not directly involved feel the effects.

In our church (and in many others), there is a part of the worship service called the “Passing of the Peace.” One member recently disclosed to me that he didn’t like “all that hugging” in the middle of worship, that such greetings and signs of affection should take place “outside the sanctuary,” either before worship in the narthex or afterward during our time of fellowship.

His comments made me think that perhaps the theological reason for including a “Passing of the Peace” is lost on many worshipers. Reconciliation has always been an important part of the Christian message. To paraphrase: “When you come to the place of worship, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave the place of worship and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come to worship” (Matthew 5:24). The “Passing of the Peace” is a gesture of the type of reconciliation Jesus describes. It suggests that, sometimes, the “brother or sister” with whom reconciliation is needed is there in the sanctuary. As a part of the worship service, it is most especially needed when there are power struggles in the church—and when isn’t there a power struggle of some sort going on?—as a reminder that whatever struggles and differences exist among us, they aren’t enough to divide us. We’re united in Christ.

The “Passing of the Peace” also serves as a model to be practiced with those outside the sanctuary walls with whom we need reconciliation.

The conflicts of the children are distressing to the parent. As the father of two boys, I know this. Abraham, also the father of two boys, knew this as well. And God, the parent of all the earth’s children, knows this, too. How much joy, then, can we bring to God by being reconciled with our brothers and sisters!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Radical Hospitality

By Brian Kirk
Text: Genesis 18:1-15 Matthew 9:35 - 10:23

I decided long ago that I'm not they type of preacher who should try to deal with more than one text per sermon. I just like to cram so much in that two texts would end up causing worship to run way past lunchtime (and we can't have that!)

These two texts this week certainly offer up individually much more content than a wise preacher should cover in a single sermon. However, it seems to me that there is a common thread running through portions of each of these readings. The story of Abraham welcoming strangers and the story of Jesus sending out the disciples both give us different perspectives on the theme of radical hospitality.

When Abraham notices three strangers approaching (3: a nice folkloric number), he runs to meet them and bows down before them. He insists on welcoming them by providing only the best food: fresh water, newly baked breads, the meat of a tender calf. He is, of course, following the well-established practice in the ANE of welcoming strangers, but it would seem that he is going above-and-beyond the call of duty. Particularly as one remembers that, as far as we can tell from the text, Abraham has no idea that these strangers are messengers from God (or, that perhaps they ARE God). And in his willingness to, in essence, "entertain angels unaware" (Hebrews 13:2) and to live out his call to be a blessing to the world, Abraham is blessed himself by receiving the good news that his wife will bear a child.

Perhaps there are shadows and signs here of Jesus' own teaching: "When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me." When we are willing to practice radical hospitality, to welcome the stranger and the alien with the best we have to offer, we are also welcoming God. It seems that a deeper truth to be unearthed here is that we don't welcome the other just in case they happen to be God in disguise. Rather, we are called to develop the discipline of seeing the reality of God's presence in all we meet.

The passage from Matthew picks up this theme of radical hospitality, but this time we are on the other side of the transaction. Rather than offering hospitality, we identify with those whom Jesus sends out seeking hospitality. He instructs the disciples: "Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff...." Some biblical scholars suggest that those hearing this text in the first century would have recognized that Matthew's Jesus is telling his disciples, in essence, "Do not go out into the world like the Cynics do." The Cynics were somewhat like travelling philosophers, rejecting conventional life in a sort of back-to-nature movement and publicly displaying their disdain for the injustices and pretensions of culture. They prized themselves on their self-sufficiency, carrying with them all they needed to get by without the help of strangers. In contrast, Jesus here specifically tells his followers not to take provisions with them, guaranteeing that they will have to rely on the hospitality of others. They will have to trust that God will provide and, as we see over and over in the biblical text, God most often provides through the actions of the stranger -- of those we encounter on the road of life. In these experiences, we come face to face with God only as we are open to what the "other" has to offer us.
[Note also the reference in verse 15 to Sodom and Gomorrah, another indication of this passage's focus on the theme of hospitality. Despite common understandings, Sodom's real sin was their lack of hospitality to the stranger.]

It is perhaps easier for us to offer hospitality than to receive it. When offering hospitality, we maintain a measure of control over a situation. But when we place ourselves in the position of needing to receive hospitality, we make ourselves vulnerable. Perhaps it would be useful to consider how these two relationships reflect our own relationships with God. Are we willing to make ourselves vulnerable to God/vulnerable to the other? Are we willing to offer radical hospitality to the stranger, providing for them not necessarily what we want to give but what they need to receive?

I'm reminded of the old story of the new pastor whose church had coffee and donuts in the courtyard every Sunday morning after worship. The food was served off of fine silver platters and drinks were served from china cups and saucers. One day, a homeless man wandered in from the street. He strolled around the courtyard, smiling at people as they passed. They in turn began to whisper amongst themselves, not certain what to do about this. But when the man found his way to the table of food and began stuffing donuts in his pockets, the head of the church council had seen enough. She marched quickly across the courtyard to the new pastor and said in a loud whisper, "Well? Aren't you going to do something about this?" The preacher thought for a moment, and then she made her way over to the table where the homeless man was eating. The young pastor took an empty pastry box, filled it with donuts and handed it to the man. "We are here every Sunday, "she said to him. " And you are always welcome." The pastor then walked back to the head of the church council and, enjoying the stunned looked on the woman's face, declared, "That's what you meant when you told me to "do something," wasn't it?"

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Faith and Certainty

By Dennis Sanders
Text: Genesis 12:1-9

I've always been a bit irked by this text. I remember when I was in college, the campus pastor would marvel at the faithfulness of Abram. There was no questioning, no wondering what this was all about, Abram just heard the voice of God and took off for an unknown adventure.

I, on the other hand, took some issue with this. Surely, Abram had to wonder what was up. He had to have some doubts about leaving all that was familiar to him and go somewhere far all because some voice told him to do it. Was this God or that pickle he ate earlier in the evening?

Don't get me wrong, I think Abram (soon to be Abraham) was a person of strong faith. But I just thought that he had to question at times, because we all do.

Faith has always been a struggle for me because my logical mind is more suited to facts. Faith is elusive. There are questions and doubts and confusion, not something you can hang your hat on. More often than not, I would love to not have doubts, to know all that there is to know and feel more certain about faith than I am. But I am beginning to think that maybe those questions, and doubts and confusion are part of the deal. Maybe that IS part of faith after all.

Abram had a good life. He was in his seventies, the same age of my parents. He had probably worked had like my parents did as former autoworkers in my native Michigan. Now was the time for Abram to kick back and relax.

And while Abram was settling in to retirement, God calls him to move to some unknown place where he will father a nation. At seventy five.

Abram had to be swirling with questions. And yet, in spite of those questions, he picked himself up and moved to this new land with his family. Abram takes one step of faith, then another and then another until he gets to where God wants Abram to be.

This life of faith wasn't all roses for him, though. He and his wife Sarai would doubt God would give them a son, so they use the young slave called Hagar to father a son for him. But God still worked through Abram, not because he was smart or certain, but because he was faithful.

We live in a time when we are certain in so many things. But certainty can at times be an idol that can take us away from faith in the Living God. Maybe God is okay with us being a bit unsteady in our walk, but placing our trust in God. In the end, God has a bigger plan than we can see.

This past Sunday (June 1), the Associate Pastor at Lake Harriet Christian Church in Minneapolis preached a sermon based on the parable of the house built on sand and the one built on a rock. It was a vivid sermon in light the recent death of a grandchild of two elderly members of the congregation to a tornado. Even when houses fall when the winds blow, she said, we stand on the solid rock of God.

Abram wasn't certain, but he was faithful. He knew he stood on solid ground and went on a journey with God.

May it be so with us.

Dennis is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and lives in Minneapolis.