Questions and Reflections

Category: Genesis

Reflection: Struggle

In the game Oregon Trail, one of the elements that needed to be overcome was rivers. The game invited players to jump into a covered wagon on its journey from St. Louis to Oregon in the mid-1800s. After suffering broken axles, hunting for food, and contracting dysentery, players needed to cross several rivers. Players always hoped that these crossings would be uneventful but the wagon sometimes tipped over, causing wagon tongues to float way. Rivers, in Oregon Trail, were boundaries that needed to be crossed so that players could enter their promised land.

Today's first reading Genesis 32:22-31 begins at a river. Jacob, with his family and his wealth, is on his way to meet his brother Esau. Ever since their time in the womb, these two siblings have been in constant competition with each other. As a young child, Jacob pretended to be his brother in order to gain his father's blessing. Esau, in response, cursed his brother. Since then, Jacob's entire life was under Esau's curse. Jacob knew he needed to reconcile with his brother. But Jacob was unwilling to face his past. He needed to be transformed into something new. So God, in a colorful moment, intervened and the nation of Israel gained its new name.

In the ancient world, rivers were "believed to be infested by demons."* Jacob, when confronted by the unknown being, did not know what he was struggling against. He assumed he was fighting a demon but when dawn broke, he realized he was struggling with God. In that moment, his past and his assumptions collided with his present reality. He became open to new possibilities.  Jacob then asked for a blessing because he knew his struggle with God required him to become something new. Jacob's name change did not ignore or diminish his past. Rather, God's gift of a new identity signifies his transformation into something more than he once was. In our baptism, we are, like Jacob, given a new identity. We are not limited by what we have done or by what others have said about us. Rather, in God's eyes, we are God's beloved. And since we are loved, we get to live new lives that bear the marks of all our struggle while God's carries us into God's Promised Land.

*quote from page 233 of The Torah, a Modern Commentary (Revised) edited by W. Gunther Plaut, 2006.



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Reflection: Helper

Our first reading today (Genesis 2:18-24) has been used for centuries to place women into subservient positions. The words man, woman, helper, and partner reinforce culturally defined expectations of what relationships and marriages should be. The word helper can be used in a diminutive way, reducing the "helper" to someone less than the person being helped. A partner, in our language, can sometimes make this person less than the person they're partnering with. Part of this problem comes from our frame of reference. If we keep the "man" at the center of the action, we make the entire story revolve around him. But if we take a step back and place God at the center of this text, than the interpretation we commonly use to reinforce our culturally constructed gender roles begins to unravel.

This text is part of the second story of creation in our Bible. The first story (which also includes the creation of human beings - Genesis 1:26-29) involved God creating the universe and saying that many things are "good." Today's text is the first time when God noticed something "not good." The "man" was alone and God viewed their loneliness as "not good." The word "man" is a poor translation, and we should replace "man" in Genesis 2:18-22 with "human being" because the spectrum of gender hadn't been created yet. The "human being" represents everything that a person could be. And God doesn't like that this person was alone. God wanted people to have life-giving relationships so God invented every kind of animal, trying to give the human a compatible companion. The companion for the human should be a partner (like a co- equal partner in a law firm) and a helper. God doesn't see helpers as something negative. Rather, the Bible calls God a "helper" over and over again (ex. Psalm 115). God wanted the human being to have a companion as life-giving to them as God is. But after failing to create an animal or bird that would work, God used the human as a template to create their life-giving companion. And since this new companion is from the human, the human (who is changed and is now Adam), is called to be a helper too. God values the relationships we create with each other and those relationships, when they give us life, are good.

Much of the commentary on this text focuses on the nouns (helper, partner, woman, man, etc.). We usually don't spend enough time looking at verse 23 which, according to the second story of creation, was the first recorded words Adam (the man) spoke: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." This phrase is rooted in joy because they discovered who, along with God, will help them become who God is calling them to be. In this joy-filled moment, they stand before each other as they truly are. They are naked. They are vulnerable. They are unpretentious and full of possibilities. They are as God made them to be: people who can love each other because they are loved.



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Reflection: I...I...I

"I heard...I was afraid...I was naked...I hid..." 

One way to dwell in scripture is to look at what is said and focus on the verbs. Today's passage from Genesis 3:8-15 is a dialogue between God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. It begins with God walking in the garden near the start of a new day (in the Jewish calendar, new days begin at sundown). The evening breeze is blowing and sound of God's rustling alerts Adam and Eve to God's presence. Adam and Eve how ate from the "Tree of Good and Evil," panic and hide from God. The fruit gave the first two people access to all knowledge: to what is good, evil, and everything in between. This kind of knowledge is more than just having a thought about something. This knowledge is deep, mythical, cosmic, and expansive. It's a knowing rooted in a sense of reality that we cannot fully comprehend. This knowledge gave Adam and Eve access to God's experiences but, unlike God, human beings have no way of making full sense of it. And when Adam and Eve are confronted by God, all they can do is hide. 

"I heard...I was afraid...I was naked...I hid..." Adam's use of verbs show how his perspective has changed. This new experience has reoriented Adam. He has now placed himself at the center of his universe. Instead of seeing himself as part of what God created, Adam can only focus on himself. He blames God for creating Eve and blames Eve for giving him the fruit of the tree. He takes no responsibility for his actions and, in fact, seems even incapable of doing that. Adam becomes so focused on himself that he cannot admit who is he or what has happened. And when confronted by the One who knows Adam better than Adam knows himself, the only thing Adam can do is hide and hope God doesn't see him. 

But God does see him and that changes everything. God, amazingly, doesn't give up on Adam and Eve. Instead, God keeps coming to them, working within their reality to bring them back into God's. We know that Adam and Eve will still be themselves. We know all of us struggle to imagine a universe where we aren't the center of it. We can't change our reality on our own so God, in Jesus Christ, comes to change it for us. It's through Jesus and his relationship with us when our use of verbs change.  When we say we're afraid, Jesus says, "Don't be." When we say we're stripped bare and exposed, Jesus gives us a community to care for us. And when we hide from God, Jesus comes to us in our baptism, in our faith, and at the table to say we are his and will be, forever.  



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The Light was Good: Genesis 1

In the beginning, a lot of things were called good. The motion of the sun and moon, the monsters in the sea, and the critters on the land are all called good in the first verses in the book of Genesis. God does more than just create; God also gives everything in the universe worth and value. Water, land, animals, and people are created by a God who loves and values them. And since God, without prompting, has decided that everything in creation has value, we are called live lives that value everything. Much of what God creates in the book of Genesis are orders: systems of relationships where everything has a place and everything takes care of everything else in the system. But there is one thing, standing on its own, that God called good. We discover that goodness in our reading from Genesis 1:1-5 today. God created light and calls light, in itself, good. 

Genesis, I think, invites us to play around with light. We don't have to, at first, immediately place light in competition with its opposite. Even before darkness is created, God called the light good. Light does not need to be defined as the opposite of darkness. Instead light, on it's own, has value and worth. We should explore what light is and does before we try to see what light struggls against. 

So what does light do? Light illuminates. Light exposes. Light uncovers what we try to hide. Light, above all, shines. There is a reason why so many of our hymns and songs talk about light. When we focus on the light, we learn how we can act like the light. What, in our own lives, is God's light trying to expose? What, in our world, is God's light trying to uncover? How can our community let God's light shine? 

The light God called good is a light that is still in our universe and in our lives. And God gives us that light at different moments in our lives. When we were baptized, we were united with the light that was there at the beginning of creation - God's true light - God's Son, Jesus Christ. This light is a light we all carry. This light that God called God is a light that leads us. And we are invited to be just like this light to everyone we meet. 



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Rest: The 7th Day

Imagine, after a super busy week, being confident enough to take a break. And if God rests, why can't we?

Our first reading today (Genesis 1:1-2:4) is the opening to our Bible. These verses share with us the first creation story in our scriptures and how God created in seven days. The universe began as a formless void. God, in this story, doesn't create out of nothing. Instead, God brings order to a chaotic soup of randomness. For six days, God creates. Animals, birds, plants, and people are formed. I love how the giant sea monsters are named specifically in this story and how humankind begins their lives as vegetarians. The opening words of the bible are not meant to be a timeline detailing the history of the universe. Rather, these verse show God's relationship with everything. Unlike other creation stories floating around during the time of ancient Israel, the world isn't created through a violent act. There is no war between various gods that caused the earth to come into being. The world, instead, is created by a God who declares that creation is good. Everything within creation matters because God says it does. The sea monsters and the blades of grass are connected to a God who loves them.

So after creating everything, God took a break. God, for a brief period of time, stops working. In our modern context, we are used to the idea of weekends. We live in a society shaped by over a century of people, systems of thoughts, organizations, and labor unions that created the weekend. In a sense, the weekend is an ideal. We take a break from a normal workweek to instead, rest. This is an ideal because not everyone's work week begins on Monday and ends on Friday. And our lives are so dedicated to busy, we stop working on Fridays only to start again with other projects, sports games, homework, and more on Saturday. We work because we have to. We keep working because, if we don't, we imagine what we're doing will never get done. We've built lives where we need to be busy because we don't receive the help we need to take a break. We are, in the words of some, a society addicted to being busy. 

But God, who doesn't need to take a break, actually stops working. God rests. God, who has a relationship with every blade of grass, every sea monster, and every person, has created a world where taking a break matters. God invites us to live in a world where everyone has the time and resources they need to stop doing everything. Instead, we can  sit, enjoy, and bless each other and the world. When we take a break and help the people around us take a break, we're not encouraging laziness. We're encouraging people to connect with creation and the God who created it. And when we can connect with God, we discover how we can bless what God has blessed. And we discover the blessing God wants us to be. 
 



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A lifetime: 70 is a symbol and here's one of its meanings.

The First Reading is Genesis 12:1-4.

The second part of Genesis 12:4 reads "Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran." He's 75 when he leaves his adopted home. 

Abram originally grew up in modern day Iraq. When he young, his father Terah headed west to the city of Haran. Terah was planning to continue to Canan but he never made it. Terah build a home in Haran. When he died, Abram inherited the household. Abram has a home in Haran when God tells him to leave. 

The number 75 represents more than just a year in Abram's life. 75 represents his entire life. When 70 (or 75) years shows up in scripture, we're seeing a number that represents a lifetime. Scripture uses this number to point to everything this character would have experienced in a life. We are not supposed to be shocked that Abram, at the age of 75, could move to a new country. What is shocking is God telling Abram to give up his life so he can start something new. 

I imagine Abram saw Haran as his home. His household, wealth, and workers (slaves and servants) dwelled there. Over the years, he formed deep relationships with the other citizens of Haran. I imagine he knew every shortcut in the city and where to watch the sunrise over the hills. Even though he grew up in ancient Iraq, Abram was a citizen of Haran. By the time he was 75 years old, he was an old timer. He was a mature resident. He was a pillar of the local community. And that's the moment when God tells Abram to become a stranger. 

When Abram leaves Haran, he becomes an alien in the land of Canan. He is a foreigner, without papers, in a land he's never known. His old life in Haran is behind him. A new life is before him. God has called Abram to be a stranger in a strange land. And that's what a faithfilled life can look like. This life of faith isn't always a life of comfort and predictably. Faith sometimes means we will live in strange places with strange people. Yet these journeys will never be journeys without God. Abram goes to Canan because God is with him. We go to wherever God brings us because God is with us too. 



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The Garden of Eden and Totality

The first reading today is Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7.

We don't know why God plants trees in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve cannot eat. When I visualize the story in my head, I put these trees in the very center of Eden. No matter where they are, they know these trees are there. One of the trees is a tree of immortality. Whoever eats its fruits will become divine. The other tree is the tree we hear about today. It's a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

To me, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a merism. A merism is a figure of speech where polar opposites are used to denote a totality (The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford 2004, page 16). Merisms show up many times in the bible. In the very first verse, God creates the heaven and the earth (i.e. everything). In the second creation story, the first human being is created and then split into male and female. The first human contained the totality of what's possible in humankind. Merisms show up in other places too. When we find polar opposites in Scripture, we need to look for what's totally represented. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents what everything that can be known. This  knowledge contains what we usually call knowledge: science, math, poetry, and language. But knowledge also contains experiences. To be knowledgeable, we need experiences. We need to know how to survive through a broken heat. We need to know what happens when we break someone else's. We will struggle, feel joy, and sometimes need to take each day just one-at-a-time to survive. Knowledge is more than just learning; knowledge is living. 

The totality of knowledge is what God has. And this is what Adam and Eve desire. They see the tree and the possibility for joys. They see the tree and the possibility to be like God. As Lutheran Christians, when we talk about Sin, we mean more than just immoral acts. For us, Sin is our desire to be like God. We want knowledge; we want power; we want control. We want to be God. And this is why Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden. But they aren't sent out alone. God will replace the loincloths they made for themselves with something better. Even when we try to take God's place, God never stops being generous to us. 



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Card Carrying [Sermon Manuscript]

Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,

So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’“ The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

Genesis 32:3,6-7,13-18,22-30

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 17, 2016) on Genesis 32:3,6-7,13-18,22-30. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So even after my children’s sermon, even after the props, the bottles, and the grapes, I’m still having a hard time visualizing what today’s gospel reading actually looks like. It’s really overwhelming. The servants lug these six large stone jars to Jesus and, without so much as a rolling up of his sleeves, Jesus turns the water into the best wine they’ve ever had. On the 3rd day of a wedding filled with family, friends, neighbors, and probably random folks looking to dance, Jesus does the impossible. He takes basic H20 and, without a press, or barrels, or grapes, or time - Jesus does a supernatural thing. But the gospel writer John doesn’t call it a miracle. That’s a word John never uses. Jesus’ act isn’t a miracle - it’s a sign pointing to who God is. God is someone who shows up to parties, who does the unexpected, and, even when only a few bottles are needed, God instead creates too much. This gift isn’t saved for just the couple getting married or their families. This gift - this overabundance - this grace - is for everyone. 

Now, This gift is the first sign that Jesus does in the gospel according to John. This is his first act of public ministry. Jesus starts his journey by showing that something new, something exciting, something extravagant and over-the-top is happening. His hour hasn’t come but God’s love is here - and God’s love can only be abundant.
  
Which is why, I think, Jesus’ story and our story from Genesis 32 fit. Last week we heard the promise that God made to Abram. God tells Abram that he’ll have descendants that will outnumber the stars. So, today, we’re watching as two of those descendants - his grandchildren - are having a fight. Esau and Jacob are twins - and they don’t get along. Ever since day one, they’ve been opposites. Esau loves the outdoors, he’s a hunter, he’s impulsive, and he doesn’t really think about what’s going to happen next. Jacob, however, is a homebody. He’s patient, observant, manipulative, and will play a few tricks on others when he can. At one point, Jacob pretends to be his brother so his father, who is basically blind, accidentally gives Jacob the blessing and the inheritance meant for Esau. Before Esau can try and get revenge on Jacob, Jacob skips town and stays with his uncle for 14 years. While there he marries, has children, and grows wealthy. But now is the time to come home. So Jacob, after a few run-ins with his uncle, heads towards home. He knows that Esau is out there. He knows he has to deal with his twin brother who he’s tricked, betrayed, and who probably wants to get even. Jacob’s afraid. So Jacob does the only thing he can think of: he tries to put everyone and everything he has between himself and his brother. 

Jacob’s traveling in a large caravan so he splits the group in two. But like all of us when we’re facing an unknown future, he overthinks. He overanalyzes. He really has no idea what his impulsive brother will do so he tries to buy him off with three large and extravagant presents. But, after thinking about it some more, Jacob realizes that might not be enough. He knows that life, eventually, will catch up with him. He knows that our past, our present, what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do will, eventually, need to be dealt with. His history with his brother needs to be reckoned with. So Jacob takes all that he has - people, wives, even his children - and puts them between himself and this unknown future, barreling down on him. He’s trying to delay the unavoidable. He’s trying to stop the future from coming. He strips himself of all that he has, of all that he is connected to, and of all that he pretends to be. Soon, he’s all he has left. He’s alone. But it’s then, right then, when God grabs him. It’s here when the man wrestles with him. Jacob’s alone, in the dark, with no one to protect him, and no one to manipulate or trick. And that’s when God’s grace make itself known to Jacob. This is when God starts a brand new thing with him. Jacob is in the grip of something he doesn’t understand - but he doesn’t let go. 

Now, I don’t know why Jacob holds on. I don’t know who told him to not let go. When an unknown future is about to unfold - when we’re up in the middle of the night, playing out all the scenarios we can possibly think of in our head over and over again, it’s usually the anxiety that doesn’t let us go. A dreaded meeting with our boss. That second opinion from a doctor. That text message we got from our partner saying that we need to talk. It’s not hard to be afraid of the future. Being anxious about the future - worried about things we can’t control - that’s a very human thing to do. Jacob’s worried too. But when his anxiety gripped him, grabbed him, drove everything he had away from him - when something new showed up, he didn’t let go. He didn’t try to overcome. When this man came to wrestle Jacob, the text doesn’t say that Jacob tried to put him in a half-nelson or try some move he saw on some pro-wrestling show to try and take this man out. No, Jacob doesn’t try to defeat the man who came to wrestle him. Instead, he doesn’t let the man defeat him. Everything Jacob has is gone. Everything that defined him as a wealthy person, as an important person, as somehow who could outwit and out trick those next to him - all of that is gone. Jacob only has himself - only has his God - but that’s enough. That’s enough to not lose. In the dark night of his soul, he meets God, and finds a way to survive until morning. And when the sun finally does rise, something’s changed. Now, Jacob’s situation is still exactly the same. His brother is still coming with 400 men and Jacob still has no idea how Esau is going to react. His unknown future is still there, exactly as it was before. But that anxiety, that unknowing, that reckoning with his past - no longer defines him. He belongs to God - and that’s enough to face whatever is about to come. 
 
God’s grace can sometimes look like 1 ton of grapes in 908 bottles piled 2 miles up in sky. But God’s grace can also be just making it into a new day. God isn’t only in the party, only in the celebration - only in those large gathering that go on for days. God’s also in the late nights, those times when we’re staring up at the ceiling, not knowing what the next day will bring. In our struggle, God struggles. In our wrestling, God wrestles too. Jesus isn’t afraid of our dark nights because Jesus knows that the dawn will come. The sun will rise. Our fears and our anxiety cannot overcome our reality that we belong to God and God belongs to us. A party 3 days long or a night that feels twice that long - there’s no where Jesus won’t go because that’s what grace looks like. That’s what abundant grace feels like. That’s why Jesus begins his story with a sign. Grace upon grace, love upon love. That’s the first thing that Jesus does. It’s also the second, third, fourth and fifth thing too. Because that’s the kind of love that God gives. That’s the kind of love that the world needs. It’s the kind of love that meets Jacob as Jacob is: alone and scared in the middle of the night. It’s a love that, when the morning came, helped him take a few steps forward - towards what’s about to come. He’s no longer hiding, no longer keeping his slaves and servants and family between him and his brother. Jacob didn’t know what was about to happen. But, with God, he was ready to face whatever might come. 

Amen.
 



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Named: A Sermon on Genesis, Abram, and Faith's Need for Doubt and Questions [Sermon Manuscript]

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Genesis 15:1-21

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Baptism of our Lord (January 10, 2016) on Genesis 15:1-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Whenever we hear the phrase “after these things,” we know that there’s a backstory we need to fill out. And that’s what today’s first reading needs. Our year through the bible has raced us through Creation, Cain and Abel, and Noah’s flood. We’re now with Abram who was called by God to leave his homeland in Ur, what is now Iraq, and head west, to the land of Canaan - to Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. Abram arrives in the land with his nephew, a few extended family members, and flocks of sheep and goats. He lives a semi-nomadic life, settling in one place for a little bit before packing up his animals, slaves, and family, and heading to a new place. His life has brought him all over Canaan, Egypt, and to the cities on the coast that are owned by the Philistines. And where Abram goes, God goes too. It feels like every time Abram moves, God visits him in a dream or through angels, making a promise that Abram will have children through his barren wife Sarai and that they’ll eventually own the land they live on. As Abram travels, meeting new people, visiting new places, and through some really odd episodes where he pretends that his wife is really his sister, Abram gets rich. He’s given animals, gold and silver, more slaves and servants. His household grows - his wealth grows - and he becomes so powerful that when his nephew Lot is captured in a war with five kings on one side and four on the other, Abram raises his own army, larger than the others, to free his nephew. Abram is a political and economic force in his corner of the world. But as the years go by, Sarai doesn’t get pregnant. He doesn’t get land. And so, it’s after he frees his nephew, after he’s defeated four kings and pushed aside the help from five - it’s then when our reading today begins. God visits Abram in a vision, starting with a promise, and Abram has the guts to question God. 

Right there, in our reading today, we have someone who questions God. And it’s not just anyone. It’s Abram; it’s Abraham; it’s the guy who will entertain the Holy Trinity when they show up at his tent and who will be so devoted to God that, in just a few chapters, he’ll take his son Isaac up a mountain, tie him up, to sacrifice. Abram is a big deal. He’s important. He’s one of our faith-filled examples to live up to. He’s willing to leave his homeland just because God told him to. He also has this one-on-one relationship with God, full of angels, visions, and conversation, a relationship that we’re probably a little envious of. He’s rich. He’s powerful. He can put kings in their place. And it’s this guy who calls God out, wondering when God’s promise will be fulfilled. 

So if Abram can question God - maybe we can too. 

Now, I’m pretty sure that many of us here, myself included, have questioned God at one point or another. And I know it can feel awkward to do that. Questioning God doesn’t really feel like a very faithful thing to do. We usually believe that faith doesn’t include questions, that faith doesn’t include doubts. When we do question, it can feel dirty, feel like we’re showing that our own faith is somehow impure, imperfect, and not what it should be. We might keep our questions in the shadows, burying them deep inside ourselves. Or we might feel that speaking these questions out loud, we somehow, automatically, no longer belong in this kind of faith community. Our questions might show that being a disciple of Jesus, being a Christian, isn’t something for us at all. 

But here’s Abram, while speaking to God and knowing that God will speak right back - here he is, questioning God. He actually doubts a promise that God has made to him over and over and over again. He doubts he’ll have a heir through his wife Sarai. Even a victory in war, even saving his nephew from the enemy, even all of his vast riches and political power - none of that can erase his doubt in this God who claims to be with him. 

So God tells Abram to step outside. He tells Abram to look up, look into a night sky with no pollution or artificial lights or full moon hiding the stars and the galaxies that make up the universe. And I imagine that’s what Abram did. He stepped outside, looked up, and saw a vision of the sky that we cannot see here in our neighborhood. And then God does what God always does: God speaks the promise again. 

And Abram’s believes. 

There’s nothing in the text that says Abram changed his mind. Abram doesn’t ponder, or wonder, or reason out what God is saying. Abram believes. He trusts. The speaking of God’s promise builds that faith within him. That faith is one of God’s gifts to Abram. 

And that’s why I believe, that on this Sunday when remember the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, we continue to speak and share God’s promise. Every time we gather, every time we talk, every time one of us prays for someone else, we speak God’s promise. We continue to share that God loves us, that God loves you, and that there is something bigger here than all of us. Our God is walking with us in our questions, in our doubts, and even in our fears about what’s coming next. God is still speaking because God hasn’t given up on us. God is saying that, like Jesus, we’re beloved. God’s well-pleased with us not because we are perfect or that we’ll never make a mistake or that, somehow, God’s gift of faith will stop us from still being human. We know that’s not true and we see that in Abram’s story because in the very next chapter of Genesis, Sarai and Abram still doubt God’s promise, so Abram impregnates one of Sarai’s slaves, trying to make an heir. Faith doesn’t end doubts or questions. Instead, faith embraces those questions because there’s something bigger than our doubts - and that’s God’s love for each and everyone one of us here in this church, in our communities, and in our world. 

So, this week, I invite you to question. I invite you to doubt. I invite you to wonder just what God is doing in our lives and in our world. Be like Abram. Be like Sarai. Be like the countless members of God’s holy family who have wondered where God is and what God is doing. But make sure that you also share the promise. Questions and doubts need that promise and that promise needs those questions and doubts. So speak the promise. Tell yourself that God loves you. Tell someone else that God loves them. Look into the world, knowing that it’s loved, and figure out how you can love it too. Share God’s promise - share that each of us matters, that each of us is loved, and that Jesus walked into that dirty water of the Jordan - and up those dirty steps to the Cross because God gets into the dirt of our lives to to love us and even die for us. And not because we’re perfect - but because God is. 

Amen. 
 



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A reflection on Creation and the Magi

Today's first reading is Genesis 1:1-5.

This is how our Bible begins - with the beginning of the world. What better way to begin our year of reading the bible than with the first words in our Bible? These weren't the first words of Scripture ever created but they are the first words of our sacred story. And that's how we begin worship today, with a translation by Everett Fox. Fox crafted a translation that's brings out the poetry and motion of the original Hebrew. Our English translation can sometimes feel too dry and wooden when we're talking about God's creative act. God, in the act of creating life, is living out God's sense of creativity and beauty. And when God creates the world, describing what God does requires poetry. 

What strikes me today is how this text from Genesis matches with the story of the magi. The magi, scientists and scholars from the east, are observing creation and looking for God's activity. They are looking for a beginning. As the story unfolds, we hear how a light (star) leads them, how darkness (Herod) tries to over take them, and how a new day is created (God's love is opened to the Gentiles through Jesus). 

When God does new things, God acts like the beginning of our sacred story. God sees what's going on, speaks, and acts. God risks entering our chaos to bring love, forgiveness, and hope. How God acts and what that help will look like is difficult to predict. But we know that, like the beginning of the world and the beginning of Jesus' story, God is in the business of creating new things. And God is busy with us, right now, creating us into being a new people for the world. 



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