Last Thursday we spent some time meditating on the journey of Abram... these are my (brief) reflections... Jem might want to post his (...hint!)...
GOD told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father's home for a land that I will show you. I'll make you a great nation and bless you. I'll make you famous; you'll be a blessing. I'll bless those who bless you; those who curse you I'll curse. All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram was called to let go... to leave his comfort zone... to leave his country... to go on a journey (sounds familiar!) the journey was not for his sake... it seems to me that the covenant the God made with Abram was not simply one in which God promises to bless Abram's descendants... thought that is often the received wisdom... but one where God promises to bless the people of the world through Abram's descendants... God tells Abram not to worry about how he and his family are treated... blessed or cursed... that's Gods business!
Abram passed through the country as far as Shechem and the Oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites occupied the land. GOD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your children.” Abram built an altar at the place GOD had appeared to him. He moved on from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent between Bethel (a place of ruins) to the west and Ai to the east. He built an altar there and prayed to GOD. Abram kept moving, steadily making his way south, to the Negev.
Firstly Abram pitches his tent in the place of ruins... a hostile place... a dangerous place... God met him there... so there is where is he builds a place of worship and remembrance... a sanctuary... a marker that this amidst the ruins and danger is holy place! Abram kept moving marking each place where God met him... living lightly on the earth... always ready to move on... never binding himself to anything other than the covenant... never grasping anything that would make it hard to move!
GOD appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. He said, “Master, if it please you, stop for a while with your servant. I'll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I'll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. He said, “Hurry. Get three cups of our best flour; knead it and make bread.” Then Abraham ran to the cattle pen and picked out a nice plump calf and gave it to the servant who lost no time getting it ready. Then he got curds and milk, brought them with the calf that had been roasted, set the meal before the men, and stood there under the tree while they ate.
Abram's Tent has become a symbol for a meeting place for all peoples... a place of peace... here though is a picture of real hospitality... Abram rushes out into the heat of the day to meet and greet the visitors... calling for the best he had to offer, note he doesn't eat with the visitors (The passage said God appeared - were the visitors God, were they Angels or is there a sense that God is present in all who come to us in need... in the stranger?) Abram first serves... then waits close by to help them in anyway he can. Is this a picture of sacrificial hospitality? Hospitality that isn't simply about sharing what we have but giving it to the stranger... maybe even going without ourselves?
The men set out for Sodom, but Abraham stood in GOD's path, blocking his way. Abraham confronted him, “Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad? What if there are fifty decent people left in the city; will you lump the good with the bad and get rid of the lot? Wouldn't you spare the city for the sake of those fifty innocents? I can't believe you'd do that, kill off the good and the bad alike as if there were no difference between them. Doesn't the Judge of all the Earth judge with justice?” GOD said, “If I find fifty decent people in the city of Sodom, I'll spare the place just for them.” Abraham came back, “Do I, a mere mortal made from a handful of dirt, dare open my mouth again to my Master? What if the fifty fall short by five-would you destroy the city because of those missing five?” He said, “I won't destroy it if there are forty-five.” Abraham spoke up again, “What if you only find forty?” “Neither will I destroy it if for forty.” He said, “Master, don't be irritated with me, but what if only thirty are found?” “No, I won't do it if I find thirty.” He pushed on, “I know I'm trying your patience, Master, but how about for twenty?” “I won't destroy it for twenty.” He wouldn't quit, “Don't get angry, Master-this is the last time. What if you only come up with ten?” “For the sake of only ten, I won't destroy the city.”I couldn't help but contrast this story with that of Jonah... where Jonah get angry with God because God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh, whereas Abram puts himself on the line in order to be an advocate for the good that there may be in Sodom... He doesn't argue that all the people are good in their own way... he pleads for the few who may just be righteous... now I don't know if he changes Gods mind, or whether God knew Abram so well that he gives him the opportunity to cry for the people... to see if he knew God well enough to be confident to speak out??? Anyway... these stories paint a picture of a God who is capable of mercy and compassion and who encourages us/gives us the opportunity to show mercy and compassion too... So will we be like Jonah and demand swift and brutal judgement... complete destruction of culture even though there is a part of it which still retains the reflection of the Creator... or will we be like Abram, quick to see and plead for the good in people and in culture even though the vast majority are/is corrupt?
I guess there is a narrative here which says something about Church... are we living lightly in the midst of chaos and hostility... always ready to move, to go... are we aware that we are a called and sent community whose covenant is one of service and blessing to all peoples... or are we so tied to our comfort zones, our buildings, our aesthetic, our structures etc. that we cling desperately to the altars instead of marking the holy places, building sanctuaries and making ourselves ready to move on... are we sure we know that our blessings are incidental (God's business not ours) or at least secondary to our calling to be a blessing to others... have we really grasped a theology of hospitality that is sacrificial and truly reflects the teaching of Jesus... are we too focussed on judging that which is wrong with the world that we miss the chance to plead for the good? Can we reflect the walk of Abram?
This isn't a definite interpretation... just my reflections!