Readings for Proper 5 (10)Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 8 June 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 5A/Ordinary 0A/Pentecost +4 June 8, 2008 Textweek


Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today’s readings give us an opportunity to get back to the basics, to revisit and perhaps to revise our theological foundations, to reflect on our genesis and the genesis of our faith. There’s always a sense that a lot of the stories in the Book of Genesis are stories about beginning and about creation, so they’re therefore stories about this moment in relation to the next moment. And in the reading that we hear this morning, Abram is given divine directions. He’s not asked to go off and create a new religion called Judaism, he’s not asked to head up a select group of people called God’s chosen, in fact although it’s a story that appears to be about Abram, he is not the important person in the narrative at all, we are. It’s really helpful to get that; the stories in the book of Genesis seek to provide a revelation of the divine; not a revelation of God to Abram, but a revelation of the Divine for humanity in every place in every age. So the story is for us to find, to hear and to see ourselves and our lives reflected in.

The divine directions are given in the very first verse: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.’ These are divine directions for the spiritual life, divine directions for life’s pilgrimage, divine directions for our journey into the fullness of life. In one verse we’re given the principles of life and at the same time our cultural dependencies are called into question. ‘Go from your country’. How much easier it is to stay where we are, watching Australia go one-up in a three test series and so quietly confident that we are a great nation. ‘Go from your country’ is the divine direction that impels us into life, so we should question those forces that keep us from moving, question the forces that keep us from growing, the forces that hold us staying in the same and in the familiar.

‘Go from your kindred’ – we can almost wince when we hear that one: it’s as if there’s another degree of difficulty. Go from your kindred; kindred, family, clan, this is our place of birth, our place of nurture, our place of becoming, our place of being known. Families also have a darker side; they can be self-interested, exclusive, fiercely protective. Within the darker side are the seeds of competition - keeping up with the Joneses, the seeds of discrimination - well, I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one, and so also the seeds of war. Go from your kindred has a truth that we can all acknowledge, for we know that our children will and should grow up and leave home. To remain in the womb of nurturing is to remain in the tomb of Easter’s promise.

‘Go from your father's house’ – it’s getting harder. Here the emphasis is placed with the future, not with the past that we inherit. In our culture, inheritance is almost a form of protectionism, and for most it’s primarily about retaining possessions, keeping it in the family. The divine direction calls us beyond that self-centred worldview and asks us to reach out and find ourselves as a much wider family, to look not to our birth and our birthrights, but rather to look at what we might bring to birth and to the rights of all peoples.

‘Go from your country, go from your kindred, go from your father's house.’ And where do these divine directions take us? We find that out in verse 2: ‘I will make of you a great nation, I will make your name great, I will make you to be a blessing.’ And just to underline that point, in verse 3, ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. In you – life’s quest and the divine promise is not about you being blessed, so there we can just put a line through all that salvation theology, ‘accept the name of Jesus and you can be saved’. Hear it differently: this is not about you being blessed, nor is it about your family. ‘In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. ‘In you’ and ‘in us’ is the shape of tomorrow, the future for all people and therefore our future. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed: ‘in you’ is a response to global warming, ‘in you’ is the end of poverty, ‘in you’ is peace on earth.

Paul, I think, uses the same understanding in his teaching to the Romans. In verse 13, he says, ‘the promise that he would inherit the world’ - and that’s a promise that each one of us receives at our baptism, that you will become and be inheritors of the kingdom of God. ‘The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.’ The divine promise to Abraham (to us) or to his descendants, to our future, did not come through doing what is right, did not come from what is expected, did not come from doing what we’re told to do, did not come from maintaining the status quo, did not come from being good Christians, but through the righteousness of faith.

What is our faith in the Divine? In verse 17 and 18 we learn of the God in whom Abraham believed, the God in whom Paul believed, the same God in whom we believe, the God who gives life to the dead, the God who calls into existence the things that do not exist. Quite often I notice when I light a candle and make a wish, the wish is calling into existence that which does not exist. This is the God in whom we can hope against all hope.

The God of grace who called Abraham to go in faith is revealed once again in the person of Christ. The call to Matthew is also our call, it is a call of divine direction and for those of us with short attention spans, it is made very simple: ‘Follow me’. That simple call is a path that takes us away from our self to a much larger self, calls us into an existence whereby we are and know ourselves as a part of a great nation, a nation that is the whole of creation. ‘Follow me.’

Peter Humphris