We once invited several families with children my son’s age over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing. But guess what, we dads saw our kids playing together with the cardboard blocks!
Well, as good fathers, we had to participate. Didn’t we?
While preparing this message, I remembered that when he was younger, my son would play with big cardboard blocks. And, once he built something, he’d often knock it down and start over, and over, and over.
When you’re two, play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor any other measure of success or superiority. It’s about playing, about imagination, about stacking blocks. It was also about playing with someone. Blocks were a favorite pastime with Mommy and Daddy, Grandparents, and friends.
Playing with someone was fun. Our participation – being with him in his play – was the point. There was no goal, no purpose other than enjoy playing … together. It was about relationship.
This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995. I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.
Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be. She was only six years old at the time. She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own. And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.
She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance. The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers. She did great. I was a very, very proud father that day.
But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness. A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since. I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.
The Abrahamic Covenant requires us to obey God, but the story of Abraham’s Bargaining with God in Genesis 18 tells us that there is a great deal more to the Covenant than we think.
Our reading from the Book of Genesis this morning is part of major turning point in the Biblical narrative: a fundamental redefinition of the nature of God’s relationship with us.
In the first 17 chapters of Genesis, we read about the classic Judgmental and often distant God of the Old Testament. The God we read about in the Creation, the Fall, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. But then we arrive here, at the story of Abraham, whom all the great monotheistic faiths claim as their forebear.
Abraham’s story begins with this distant God commanding him to leave his ancestral home in Harran, which he does: taking along his wife Sarah; his nephew, Lot; and all of their goods and possessions. They eventually settle in Canaan.
And there, Lot and Abraham part ways. And soon after, Abraham rescues Lot when Lot and his family are kidnapped in a raid by the enemies of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then we read about the declaration of God’s new Covenant with Abraham, which we examined in a sermon here over a year ago. At that time we learned how Abraham’s Covenant demonstrates that God hears all of us and sees all of us. That we are all included in this Covenant with God; and that it is one from which none of us shall ever be rejected. But now we will see how Abraham’s Covenant changes the nature of our relationship with God.
The sticking point is that up until this moment, it has been a one-way relationship: God tells Abraham what to do; Abraham does it. We even see this in the Covenant’s requirement that Abraham and all of his household be circumcised. Abraham immediately does this not only to himself and his son Ishmael, but “all of the men of the house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner.”
But, this is no longer a one-way relationship. So, how does the other direction of this relationship work? By virtue of the Covenant, God must be responding to us in some way. This also means that God must be open to being changed by us. And, that is exactly what seems to be happening in this morning’s reading.
This is beautiful and fascinating video was created by Ron Miller, a former art director for NASA: he digitally superimposed scale images of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune over the same landscape, showing us how big the other planets would appear if they were as far away as the earth’s moon is from us. (By the way, if the sun were shown from this distance, we’d be completely enveloped within it – a little too close for comfort. …And, if Jupiter really were as far away as the moon, we’d be experiencing tides several HUNDRED times greater than we do now – among many other unpleasant effects!)
Now, this obviously cannot happen – this video is an intellectual and artistic exercise, not reality, and Jupiter isn’t effected one bit by our seeing it in this new way. But, it enhances our understanding of the truth of our existence and of our relationship to Jupiter and the rest of the Solar System in many different ways.
And so to does looking at the Holy Scriptures from different points of view enhance our understanding of The Faith: we see new things, and have a fuller and more comprehensive appreciation of our relationships with each other and with God.
Eating of the Tree was the only thing in the Garden for which we’d been told there was a consequence of making a choice – “In the day you eat of it, you shall die.” Yet, the man and woman did not know what a “consequence” was, they did not even know what death was. Yahweh was speaking way over their heads: a specific day? Time? Death? What’s that? I’m sure the man and woman thought: “Hmmm, sounds bad, let’s not go there!” Time was infinite, so why rush? Why push the boundaries? Why risk change?
Yet, there was a reason. The serpent knew what it was: they would “become like God, knowing Good and Evil.” Eating that fruit meant we’d learn new things: we’d escape from our existence in a mindless and meaningless eternity. Something new would happen in our never-ending cycle of days. But, to do so, we had to be willing to face what we had never known: change. We would experience limited time, we would experience death.
You know, the story of Adam and Eve is a great story, but it’s always bothered me. I mean, come on: if the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were so darned important, why didn’t God put a fence around it, or stick it in some remote and impossible to access place? I mean – seriously: even if the man and woman obeyed, one of their kids or grandkids, or great-grandkids would eventually “forget” and taken a bite. It was inevitable. So, why?
Now, this morning’s reading is the passage in which the so-called “Original Sin” takes place, an event that we are taught “cursed” mankind for all time, until we were redeemed by Christ. But, is this event that affects every one of us – whether it is factual or metaphorical – really the great failure and source of all sin that we have been taught it is? Perhaps not.
…Let’s step back for a minute and consider the text as a whole. This particular story, the second of the two “creation narratives” at the beginning of the Bible, portrays Yahweh as a very hands-on sort of God: unlike the more remote vision of God we find in the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1. In that narrative, God “spoke” the world into being, hovered over the waters and said “Let there be light.” – All these are commands and things done from a distance, like you’d expect a remote and unapproachable God to do.
But, in Genesis 2 & 3 God doesn’t command anything into being, Instead, Yahweh gets down and dirty: She lovingly forms us with her own hands, then gently breathes the breath of life into our nostrils. She is presented as an up close and in your face sort of God, a very hands on sort of diety.
Yahweh is concerned for us as individuals, saying “it is not good that the man is alone” and so creates the woman. She talks face to face with us. The man and woman, we are told, “heard the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” Yahweh works, walks, talks and breathes. She is a very human God – not some powerful spirit being. She is a very personal God – not some distant and unreachable entity. Yahweh is a God of Relationship – not a dictator. She is not a god who demands obedience and taking whatever she wants from us – Yahweh is a God filled with love and concern for us and for all of her Creation.
So, what does the type of God we find in this passage have to do with all this? Why wasn’t there even something like one of those little gnomes holding a “keep off” sign put there in the garden? Why was this tree left unguarded, tempting us? …Why no fence?
Lord, let it be your voice that speaks through my mouth, and let our hearts be open and receptive to the Word you have for us here, today. Amen.
The story of the “Canaanite Woman” in this morning’s reading from Matthew 15, and also in Mark 7, is a narrative that crosses all sorts of boundaries.
To begin with, the setting isn’t located near any of our other stories about Jesus. Matthew tells us that Jesus has journeyed with his disciples to “Tyre and Sidon.” Doing so means he has left behind the familiar comforts and safety of his native land, moving across Israel’s frontier into the Gentile lands to the North. He’s in a new and strange place. But, is it strange for him, or strange for us?
There’s been quite a bit of fuss over an nationwide ad campaign sponsored by some humanist groups who are determined to make us hear, in this the Christmas Season, that they believe God does not exist.
I agree with them.
These ads are reacting against a judgmental, limiting, inflexible god who’s main purpose seems to be to oppress humanity and destroy freedom. I would have a hard time with such a god myself. And so, I agree, the god they are reacting to does not exist.
The God I know is a god of relationship, a god of love. Love transforms you. Therefore, the god I know, a god of love, cannot be inflexible and unchanging. Just as God’s love changes us, our love must change God. My god is not a god of oppression, inflexible judgment or limitation. My God is a god that would (and did) die for us; a God who wants to walk with us in the both the light and dark times of our lives.
So, my advice to those offended by these “God does not exist” advertisements is to agree with those who have such a viewpoint, then show your love to them, to those who seem to hate God. What they hate is the pain inflicted on them in the name of a god that does not exist. Let the love that God has placed in you show them that there is a different God, a real God, a God who loves them, too. A god who gives us the freedom to love back, or to choose to not love at all. To love God is our choice, if it isn’t a choice, then God’s love would be meaningless.
Copyright (c) 2010, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).