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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before August 11, 2013

Genesis 15:1-18
15After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

What I am Learning:

This week let's look at the Hebrew Scriptures text for this week.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard people talk about the "Old Testament God" and the "New Testament God" I would be a wealthy person. By this statement, people seem to express their view that the Old Testament stories are about a God of wrath and punishment.

There are stories in the Hebrew Scripture that are terrifying and disturbing. I would argue, however, that we would need to understand those stories in their cultural context before going too far. It is also true that some of the stories in the Hebrew Scripture have been used in terrifying ways.

But this week's story is very different, and when we understand the cultural context of the day, it is quite amazing. In fact, I think you will agree that the story reveals a God much more "New Testamenty" than people often think.

In Chapter 12 of Genesis God calls Abram and Sarah to leave their home and be a blessing to all nations and to give birth to a great nation.

Years later Abram and Sarah are still wandering around, childless and their hope in God's promises are drying up like water poured in sand.

In this reading God reaffirms God's promises and then enters into a covenant with Abram. A covenant is a relational contract much like marriage. One of the ways that ancient Middle Eastern people would symbolize and publicly announce a covenant was to take an animal, cut it in half and then one of the parties would walk between the two pieces of the animal.

Typically the less powerful person would walk through the two pieces. The symbolism here is clear: if you break the covenant you will be cut in pieces.

This story in Genesis totally turns this upside down. Instead of Abram walking through the middle of the animal, God does.

In doing so, God is showing God's willingness to put God's own life on the line if the covenant does not work out.

This story takes a widely known practice and turns it on its head. This story, this "Old Testament" story gives us a picture of a God with a very different understanding of power - power with and for others instead power over them.

I have no desire to explain away the troubling passages in the Hebrew Scripture, or the in the Christian Scripture for that matter.

But here in this passage, we see a God willing to risk on behalf of a creation and humanity God loves. A risking love that we see fulfilled in Jesus and that in the Spirit, still lives in us.