Sunday, September 25, 2022

Paula Stoltzfus: From Covenant to Blessing

Roots and Tendrils: God Grows a People

To Bless the Nations

Genesis 12:1-9; Matt 28:19-20

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A prayer practice I am engaging in presently is an imaginative contemplation group led by MaryBeth Heatwole Moore.  She has adapted Ignatian contemplation, created by St. Ignatius as a way to read and pray through scripture. MaryBeth gives some context to the scripture, reads it a couple of times slowly so we have the chance to imagine the scene, place ourselves in it, pay attention to how we experience it, and then in a 10 minute silence to enter into a prayerful conversation with God.  We end our time sharing our thoughts, questions, and experience. 

This has been a way for me to engage scripture allowing it to come alive in the spaces between the words and lines written on the page. The sights, sounds, emotions, and even smells become a part of the experience.  

As I entered into the story of Abram and Sarai we had read today, these spaces of imagination opened up more.  The Biblical text doesn’t always give the descriptive detail that often enhances the story’s meaning. This text is fairly brief in God's invitation and blessing followed by Abram’s response.

Before we go any further I want to lay a little groundwork for today’s story. The first 11 chapters of Genesis address all of humanity.  There is the creation account and the growth of humans in number. There are multiple lists of genealogies, the flood narrative, and the Tower of Babel. The flood narrative we looked at last week made evident God’s covenant of love to all of humanity.

Chapter 12 initiates a shift. God interacts with one family, initiating a call to be a people that would carry the priestly function to humanity.  God speaks and acts directly with Abram, calling him to leave family and home in order to be a blessing to the nations.  

There is a particular movement here, a flow, of a direct personal encounter with God, reception of God’s blessing, and then becoming a blessing to others.

First, this covenantal love is embodied in a personal call. God’s call wasn’t broadcast to all to see who would respond. It was to Abram and Sarai.

Some scholars ask the question, why did God choose them?  There aren’t many details given. The author doesn’t seem to highlight any particular reason. For all we know, Abram and Sarai were regular people.  Some experiences at the end of chapter 11 mention Haran, one of Abram’s brothers dying in Ur, leaving his son Lot and daughters Milcah and Iscah, fatherless. At some point Abram and Sarai were married as well as his other brother Nahor to his niece Milcah. Sarai is noted as being barren. Terah, their father, decided to move from Ur to Canaan with Abram and Sarai and Lot. On their way they came to Haran and settled there.  Haran is where Terah died.   

Now these two paragraphs jump through a lifetime of details, but perhaps give us a glimpse into what formed Abram, grief, barrenness, and an experience of moving from what he knew of as home.

So when we get to chapter 12, God spoke to Abram, giving a personal call. As one commentator puts it, “God seems here to be working with a stripped down version of the mid-twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, covering safety, belonging, and esteem/self-actualization.” 1

We don’t know when this call came but perhaps being fatherless and childless may have allowed Abram and Sarai open to this direct invitation for a place to call home, purpose, and descendants that would be as numerous as a nation.

So this blessing was personal, but it was also bigger than Abram and Sarai. God’s call is to be a blessing to those around them, offering an example of a people in relationship with God. This blessing was to flow from God, through a family to all the world. Sounds familiar to Jesus’ call in Matthew 28, to make disciples of all nations. This blessing wasn’t for an elite few, one family, or one nation. It was for the benefit of all.

The only way this blessing is possible is because God was covenanting with this family, marked by an altar. Through God’s reaching out, Abram in turn acts in faith, taking Sarai and Lot, all their possessions, livestock, and all they had acquired and began the journey. This covenant was remembered for generations to come and has become a clear marker within the salvation story.

Now, did this blessing keep Abram and Sarai from experiencing the challenges of life?  Clearly not, for they go on to experience a famine and live as refugees in Egypt where Sarai endured Abram’s plan to lie about their marriage. As a result, she was taken into Pharoah’s house as another wife. There was family discord with Lot. And then there was their plan to use Sarai’s slave, Hagar, to build Abram’s desendents, because God’s plan wasn’t coming to fruition in a timely manner as they thought should occur. So, yes they had their challenges believing that God was going to carry out the promise God made.

Through God’s grace, the flow of blessing continued.

A rock caryn has become a meaningful symbol to me on my faith journey, much like the altar Abram built and left on their journey.  On a trail, caryns are often built along the way to signal that one is on the path and in some instances, to signal where the path is. It is a signal that the trail has been passed by many before and invites use by others afterwards.

When we make a personal decision to step on this path of faith, we enter into this flow of blessing, which is personal, bigger than ourselves, and grounded in God’s commitment to all.

To close I want to invite you to do a faith imagination exercise with me.  You may close your eyes, look at the picture or outside, or have a soft gaze in front of you.
I invite you to imagine a stream of people of faith that stretches back to Abram and Sarai. This stream includes people of whom you have only heard stories.  It includes people known and unknown, seen and unseen.  
Listen to what it sounds like. What stories are they telling?
What does it feel like to be in their presence?
Notice where God is in the midst of the people.
Where do you place yourself in relation to this stream?
What personal invitation might be bubbling in you as you encounter this stream of God’s everlasting love and blessing?

Divine Creator, Giver of Blessing, we are in awe of the ways you use ordinary people with whom you co-labor to bring about your blessing of grace and love.  Open our eyes and ears to the invitation you have for us as individuals and community to step into the stream of faith where Your blessing flows through us to the world. AMEN

1 Wright, Rebecca Abs. Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9, September 18, 2022.

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