Let My People Go: A Homily on Exodus 12

ADOTS Morning Prayer: Friday, 5 March 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A battle is raging across the pages of Exodus.  Confrontation by confrontation, plague by plague, it builds in intensity toward its climax in chapter 12:  the Passover and the death of the firstborn of Egypt.  It may seem like a battle of wills between Moses and Pharaoh, a clash between the interests of Hebrews and Egyptians.  But, that is only what we see with our eyes.  There are hints, and more than hints in Scripture — see Deuteronomy 32 and Daniel 10, for example — that conflict involving Israel is fundamentally spiritual in nature, a battle in the unseen realm playing out on earth:  as in heaven, so on earth.

It would be easy to read Exodus as political xenophobia:  Pharaoh responding to potential threat from the non-indigenous, Hebrew population.  It is tempting to read Exodus as social commentary:  a judgment upon the institution of slavery and even a call for reparations.  One could even perceive Exodus as the narrative of a Marxist-like, economic class struggle.  But this would be to misread the book, to miss or to twist its fundamental nature.  Exodus is the story of redemption, the world’s redemption played out first in the liberation of the Hebrews.  It is God’s response to all those spiritual powers and their earthly minion counterparts who stand athwart God’s purpose for the redemption of the world.

From the beginning, God’s call was unequivocal:

Exodus 4:22–23 (ESV): 22 “Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” 

This command becomes the insistent drumbeat echoing throughout Exodus, louder and louder:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  Instead, Pharaoh puts himself in the place of God and demands that the Hebrews serve him:  Pharaoh, the earthly representative of Egypt’s gods.  So God comes in judgment upon these gods, idolatrous representations of fallen spiritual powers, pagan deifications of nature:  the Nile, frogs, flies, the sun, and the like.  And with each plague we hear, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  One by one, God judges the idols of Egypt, coming closer to Pharaoh himself with each plague, until finally the unrelenting Pharaoh must himself be broken:  Exodus 12, the Passover and the death of the firstborn.

So, the real issue in Exodus — the real conflict — is not social, political, or economic, though each of these stem from it.  The real issue is the destructive nature of sin, exemplified in the idolatry of Egypt and in the pride of Pharaoh.

Egypt creates gods whom they can manipulate, whom they think they can manipulate for the people’s welfare.  Offer the right sacrifices to the Nile and the floods will come at the proper time to make the delta fertile.  Worship the sun, and its light and heat will grace the fields and bless the people with abundant crops.  But, the plagues reveal the truth:  all these false gods ultimately turn on their worshippers and bring them to destruction.  You cannot finally domesticate nature or control the fallen spiritual powers.  Nature will fail you, and the gods will destroy you.

Need I belabor this point, brothers and sisters?  Do we not see it clearly all around?  We have manipulated nature, treating it as commodity and cesspool.  And we are watching it turn on us:  fire, flood, storm, pandemic.  We have created gods of our own to manipulate for our welfare:  pleasure, power, wealth, honor, freedom, politics.  And we are now watching them fail us.  And all the time God is calling, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”

Pharaoh, in his pride, grasped for the prerogatives of God.  To God he said, “Your people will not serve you, but me.”  Need I belabor this point, brothers and sisters?  Do we not see it clearly all around?  Political figures of both parties who grasp our loyalty and demand we serve them and their agendas; ideologies to which we are bidden bow down, ideologies incompatible with the Gospel; causes we are commanded to embrace lest we be cancelled.  And now, we are watching these things destroy us.  And all the time God is calling, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”

These battles that we are fighting are not different in kind than the conflict we see raging across the pages of Exodus.  It is a spiritual battle for the redemption of the world and the salvation of our souls:  as in Egypt then, so here and now.  Idols are being revealed and judged.  Pride is being expose and will be cast down.  God is calling us out into the wilderness to serve him, and he is commanding all those who stand athwart his redemptive purpose for the world and his use of his people in that redemptive purpose:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  How many plagues must come?

In Exodus, the decisive conflict in the battle was the Passover and the death of the firstborn.  It is tempting to view the Passover meal as merely a symbol of that battle, and, in later years, as a memorial of it.  That may be, but only in part.  It was, I think, much more than that.  The Passover rite, and the meal in particular, were God’s ongoing invitation for his people to participate in his victory, to fight the good fight as fellow soldiers with God, and to enjoy the spoils of the battle.  In the Passover, God enlisted his people in the battle not just against Pharaoh, but against all the spiritual powers arrayed against God, spiritual powers opposed to his redemptive plan for the world through Israel.  And the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, its blood applied to the door posts and lintels of the Hebrew homes, the feasting on the lamb and unleavened bread:  all these were weapons in the battle, weapons through which God broke the bonds of slavery and trampled the gods of Egypt underfoot.  This is not just symbol or memorial.  All this was a participation in the battle for liberation and a foretaste of the ultimate victory of God’s redemption.

It is not then incidental that when Jesus was preparing for the ultimate battle against the spiritual forces that held all creation in bondage, he situated his actions in the Passover.  It is no coincidence, no quirk of timing, that Jesus gave his followers a meal:  not as a symbol of the battle to come, and not, in later years, as a mere memorial of it.  No.  The Eucharist is God’s ongoing invitation for his people to participate in his victory, to fight the good fight as fellow soldiers with him, and to enjoy the spoils of the battle.  It is all right there in the Eucharistic Liturgy:

In obedience to your will, he stretched out his arms upon the Cross and offered himself once for all, that by his suffering and death we might be saved.  By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet (BCP 2019, p. 133).

Jesus is the Paschal Lamb whose sacrifice saves us.  His victory — his resurrection — is our liberation from bondage to sin and death.  It is his victory over all the spiritual powers who thought to stand athwart God’s redemptive purpose — a victory that tramples these powers, Hell and Satan, under the pierced feet of Christ.

By eating the bread and drinking the wine — by feasting on the body and blood of the Paschal Lamb — we enter the battle along with him as we are incorporated into him, as “we are made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him” (BCP 2019, p. 134).  And we share with him the spoils of victory:  access to the very presence of God and life eternal in his presence, adoption as his own sons and daughters.

Every time we come to the Eucharist we are strengthened for the ongoing battle.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we engage in the battle against enemies within and without.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we proclaim Christ’s victory until he comes again.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we share in the spoils of Christ’s victory.  This battle commenced in earnest is Egypt with God’s declaration, “Let my people go, that they may serve me,” and with the Passover and the death of the firstborn.  It reached its climax on Calvary with the sacrifice of God’s firstborn, the Pachal Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  And it is now our battle in and through the Eucharist and in and through our Eucharistic living.

“Let my people go, that they may serve me,” God said.  We have been let go to serve him.

Amen.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

A Homily for ADOTS Morning Prayer:  26 February 2021

(Exodus 5)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

How you ask a question makes all the difference in the world:  tone of voice, intonation, stress, intent, even body language and facial expression.  In my previous vocation as math teacher, I had many students ask me this same question:  When are we ever going to use this?  Some asked it as a challenge to the importance of the mathematics curriculum, and even as a challenge to my judgment and authority as teacher:  When are we ever going to use this?!  Other students asked it as honest inquiry, trying to fit this new bit of knowledge into the whole scheme of mathematics:  When — with “how” implied — are we ever going to use this?  The words were the same, but the questions were different because the spirit and intent of the questioners were very different.  It was easy to tell the questions apart because of how they were asked.

 A few years ago my family enjoyed a television program called “Who do you think you are?”  It was similar to a current program, “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a show that invites a celebrity to explore his or her ancestry with the help of professional genealogists.  The show centered on the issue of identity, of self-perception:  Who do you think you are?  In other words:  What do you know about yourself and your heritage?  In the course of the show, there were often surprises along the family tree, so that it almost always ended with the celebrity having a new and often vastly different understanding of his or her identity.  Had you ever imagined that you were descended from the Queen of Lower Slabovia and that if you lived there today you would be treated as royalty? Some of the surprises were darker:  Did you know that you descended from slave traders? or Did you know that your ancestors fought for the British in the American Revolution?

The question, posed rightly as on the television program, posed with the proper spirit and intent, is an invitation to self-exploration and self-knowledge:  Who do you think you are?  But, I’ve heard that same question used quite differently, used as a weapon.  Have you?  Who do you think you are?  Can you imagine the Lord of an English manor addressing a cheeky servant with that question in a BBC drama?  Who do you think you are?  Or perhaps an employer to an employee who challenges a management decision. Who do you think you are?  Or — God forbid! — a frustrated math teacher to a challenging student?  Who do you think you are?  

One way of asking the question is an invitation to recover a lost, true identity.  The other way of asking is an attempt to impose a false, and often subservient, identity.

The two forms of this question are on clear display in the opening chapters of Exodus, and I would argue throughout the whole of Scripture.  They form the backdrop, the context, to our morning reading from Exodus 5.  This selection says it all, really:

Exodus 5:1–9 (ESV): 5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” 

Can’t you just hear that question behind everything else that Pharaoh says here:  “Who you think you are,” coming into my presence, making demands on me in the name of a god I don’t even know?  This is, at the heart of this story, the issue of identity — the identity of the Hebrews.  “Who do you think you are?” Pharaoh asks in word and deed.  And he answers his own question; remember, one of the purposes of this question is to impose, by intimidation and power, a false sense of identity on another.  “I’ll tell you who you are, Hebrews.  You are slaves.  You are workers.  You are mine.”  And the record shows that the Hebrews had begun to accept this false identity as their own.

But, Moses and Aaron come asking the question differently:  Who do you think you are?  What is your true identity?  And, in word and deed, Moses and Aaron take these Hebrews back through the twists and turns of their family tree, revealing and recapturing the true identity of a people.

You are not slaves; you are the free sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Abraham, our father, whom God called from Ur of the Chaldees.  Abraham, with whom God made covenant to grant him land and a multitude of people through whom all the world would be blessed.  And Isaac, the promised son through whom the covenant was continued.  Jacob, who wrestled with God and who would not let go until God blessed him — our father who strove with God and prevailed.  You are not slaves; you are the free sons and daughters of the Patriarchs, the chosen of God, a holy and blessed and precious people.

You are not workers; you are worshippers.  Your identity is not found in six days of labor — or seven days of toil here in Egypt — but in the Sabbath Day of rest and in worship.  Your identity is not found in Egypt, but at the end of a three day’s journey into the wilderness, in a sacrifice to the LORD your God, in a feast before the God of Israel.  You are not workers; you are worshippers.

You are not Pharaoh’s property, but God’s own possession.  Of all the nations on earth, God chose you, so that he rightly says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”  And though Pharaoh arrogantly says, “I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go,” know this:  Pharaoh will soon know the LORD, the LORD mighty in battle, the God of the angel armies.  Pharaoh will know, and in that knowledge he will be destroyed.  You are not Pharaoh’s property, but God’s own possession for whom God is jealous.

This is who you are:  not slaves, but sons and daughters; not workers, but worshippers, not Pharaoh’s disposable property, but God’s cherished possession.

Who do you think you are?  How that question is asked is important.  How we answer it is even more important.

I raise these issues because I think recapturing and retaining a true identity is one the most pressing challenges facing Christians today, as it has been from the beginning.  Paul grapples with this in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 12:1–2 (ESV): I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

This is the Exodus question — Who do you think you are? — brought forward a thousand years and even beyond that into our age.  And Paul proclaims once again — here and elsewhere — that we are not slaves, but sons and daughters; that we are not workers, but worshippers; that we are not the world’s commodity, but God’s own possession.  He exhorts us, he pleads with us:  Don’t be conformed to the world; don’t let the world dictate your identity.  Be transformed in your mind, in your thinking, in your self-understanding, to realize who you really are in Christ Jesus.

Beloved, the world is only too happy and too ready to tell you who you are.  We are not lacking in modern Pharaohs.  You are your bank account.  You are — for better or worse — your body.  You are your race.  You are your political party.  You are your sexual orientation.  You are your choice.  You are a producer of goods and services.  You are a consumer of goods and services.  You are nothing.  You are everything.

To all these lies Paul, like Moses before him, stands in opposition to Pharaoh and says to us:

Romans 8:12–17 (ESV): 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

Who do you think you are? the world asks us as it tries to answer for us, to conform us to its false identity.  And we need to be clear about the answer:  We are the sons and daughters of God and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and partakers of the divine nature; we are worshippers of the one, true God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and we are his kingdom of priests to his glory and honor, now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

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The Truth Is In Here

In the interest of full disclosure, I never watched the X-Files, the science fiction television series about an alien plot to destroy the human race.  But, the tag line of the show has entered the public sphere — The truth is out there — so I feel free to appropriate it.

As we saw in the previous essay [Believing Impossible Things], St. Paul would agree:  the truth of God — at least the partial truth of God — is out there and may be observed by all people, so that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20, ESV throughout unless otherwise noted).  This is an objective, rational knowledge of god that supplements our philosophical reasoning.

But, the truth is also in here, within each of us and all of us, a subjective rational knowledge that contributes further to our reasonable understanding of god.  In what follows, I draw heavily upon C. S. Lewis — with a nod toward John Henry Newman — and his masterwork of apologetics, Mere Christianity.  You would be better served by reading it rather than this, though this essay has the sole advantage of being shorter.

Human beings have certain appetites:  some physical, some emotional, and, I will argue, some spiritual.  We have an appetite for food, at a basic level (physical) merely to sustain us, and at a more refined level (physical and emotional) to please and satisfy us.  We have an appetite for companionship.  At a physical level this may manifest as sexual desire; at a more refined, emotional level as friendship.

It would be odd for creatures to evolve — or to be created, but that is still a good way off in our discussion — with appetites that could not be satisfied.  Why the craving for food if no food could be found?  Why, indeed, a stomach at all, if there were nothing to fill it?  Why the longing for sex or friendship if there were no others to share and satisfy these longings?

So, I suggest that these deeply fundamental human appetites/longings point toward the existence of that which is necessary to satisfy them.  Now, we must not push this too far.  There are certainly things which humans might desire —the ability to disappear, for example — for which there are no corresponding satisfactions.  But, these are whims, hardly inherent and fundamental appetites, and they do not impact our argument at all.

Here is the important point:  the universe exists in a form that satisfies these human appetites:  that satisfies them.  A meal, even an unpleasant one, can satisfy the body’s need for nutrition and can silence a rumbling belly.  We eat, we are filled, and we want no more for a time.  In the presence of a friend, our emotional need for companionship is satisfied.  Later, when our friend is absent from us, we may find ourselves lonely, but not in the friend’s presence.  What is available to us in food and friendship is enough to satisfy us.

But, there are other human longings that are at a different pitch altogether, perhaps more abstract, but no less real — goodness, truth, and beauty, for example.  Are these as fundamental as food, sex, and friendship?  I suggest that their centrality to human culture and their necessity for human flourishing answer yes, these appetites are as inherent and fundamental as any others.  But, there is an important difference.  These appetites are not — and cannot be — completely satisfied by anything present to us in this world.  At some point in a meal we may say, “I couldn’t eat another bite,” meaning, of course, that we are completely satisfied.  But, in the presence of beauty, we never say, “No more; I am full of beauty and can take no more.”  Instead, the beauty we see or hear fills us with a longing for more; these appetites are mere appetizers.  They do not satisfy, but rather stir up longings that cannot be satisfied by the things of this world.  These are the spiritual appetites.

I would still argue — and I do — that the presence of these universal, fundamental, and inherent human longings implies the existence of that which will satisfy those longings.  If the satisfaction is not imminent, present here with us — and it is not — then it must be transcendent, something beyond this physical world.  Satisfaction lies where god is:  not in or with beings in the world, but in the source and ground of being.  While we may not, in our argument, be ready to jump directly to St. Augustine, we can at least sense that he was on to something when he wrote in The Confessions:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Transcendent spiritual longings imply transcendent spiritual satisfactions.

But, there is more.  We not only long for goodness, truth, and beauty; we also long to be treated fairly.  Justice is another transcendent longing.  This is important.  If the longing for justice is one of the inherent fundamental human appetites — and its prevalence across cultures and times suggest it is — then the moral sense that underlies it, must also be fundamental.  We know when we have been wronged.  Think of a time yourself.  Would you have accepted this justification from the one who wronged you?

“Well, you think I wronged you, but I disagree.  You have the right to your opinion and I have a right to mine.  If you feel that my taking what belonged to you is wrong, that is just your subjective judgment, but it is not in any way binding on me.”

Of course not.  Because we believe — or at least we act very much like we believe — that fairness — right and wrong, if you will — transcend individual opinion and even cultural convention.  If we can even imagine a culture that had normalized rape, murder, and torture by cultural consensus, we would still judge those things to be wrong and that culture to be immoral, all their appeals to moral relativity notwithstanding.  

We do believe in fairness, which means that we also must believe in an objective moral standard that seems not to have originated with us, though all humans recognize and agree with its general outlines.  To bolster this claim, now think of a time when you did wrong to another or did wrong in relationship to another.  Perhaps you lied or promised something that you failed to deliver.  It need not be grievous, only wrong.  Here’s the problem.  No amount of self-justification let’s you off the hook — really.  You may tell yourself it was a minor transgression or that everyone does it, that even the truly good man next door would have done in your situation.  But, no good.  You know.  You stand convicted.  But convicted before what judge?  Not before yourself, or you would certainly let yourself off.  Not before your neighbors since you suspect they might have acted similarly.  No, there seems to be — and is — a transcendent judge before whom we stand, a judge whose representative we find within.  If a name is needed, we might as well use the conventional one:  the conscience.

Thus far, we have been speaking entirely about justice.  But even deeper within us there is the longing for righteousness.  Let me explain the difference.  Justice recognizes a wrong done and may even punish the perpetrator.  That is often within human power, though tragically it seems so often just out of reach.  A driver under the influence crosses the median into oncoming traffic and kills another driver.  Justice requires recognition of the wrong and a proportionate penalty.  But, what penalty is proportionate?  What we long for is the wrong be “undone,” put to rights again.  And that is precisely what typically cannot happen.  Once again we find ourselves with a transcendent longing, a longing whose satisfaction lies beyond us.

Why is this important?  It seems like the universe is not only physical, but spiritual (goodness, truth, beauty, etc.) and moral, as well.  And, if the universe reflects the source and ground of being which actualizes it, then it is reasonable to conclude that god is the source of the spiritual and moral.  Again, we have not concluded that this god — the ground and source of being — is the God that Christians worship.  But we have shown that postulating such a god is philosophically rational and corresponds to our experience of the world.  Further, we can show that the characteristics of god correspond, thus far, to the characteristics of the God revealed on the pages of Scripture:  goodness, truth, beauty, justice, righteousness.

Have we gone as far as we can using reason alone?  No, but perhaps we have gone far enough.  My purpose was never to prove absolutely the existence of God — I can’t — or that the Christian concept of God is correct, but only that the existence of god is a rational explanation for the existence of the universe, that we can reason from that universe — without and within — some of the characteristics of god, and that those characteristics correspond to God as revealed in Scripture.  We have not yet “won the argument,” but I think we have won the right to be taken seriously in any rational discussion of the nature of being.

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Believing Impossible Things

“There is no use trying,” said Alice;”one can’t believe impossible things.”  “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I think the Queen is right; I have seen people believe impossible —and impossibly contradictory — things as if it were nothing at all.  Nonetheless, it is with Alice that I want to take my stand.  I don’t want to believe impossible things.

In an earlier essay [Apple Pies] — following an argument by St. Thomas Aquinas — I suggested that a transcendent, non-contingent source and ground of being is not only rationally plausible, but philosophically necessary for the existence of a contingent universe:  not a being in the universe, but the very essence of being itself that actualizes the contingent universe and all beings in it.  I then tipped my hand by showing that Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — speaks of God in these same terms:  the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis, the Prologue of John’s Gospel, Paul’s speech to the Athenian philosophers.  That does not “prove” that the transcendent, non-contingent source and ground of being is identical with the Christian God, but it does show that, so far, the two are not incompatible.

I don’t want to establish false expectations which I cannot satisfy:  much better it is to underpromise and overachieve.  I cannot “prove,” as if by syllogism, that the Christian God is this source of being.  What I hope to do is much more modest.  I can show that Christians, rightly or wrongly, understand God to be this source of being, and that the characteristics we might expect this “un-caused cause” to have are precisely those characteristics Christians attribute to God.  Here, I will be following a path St. Paul blazed in his Epistle to the Romans:

Romans 1:18–20 (ESV): 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 

We’ll set aside wrath for a bit to focus on St. Paul’s larger claim:  that certain characteristics of god may be known by all men simply by observation and reason.  I have chosen to use god — lower case — at this point because we have not yet shown sufficient correspondence between this ground of being and the Christian God to justify use of God, upper case.

To St. Paul’s point:  through their perception (observation and reason) of the universe, man can infer god’s eternal power and divine nature.  If scientists are correct — and I have no reason to doubt them on this — the universe is some 13.8 billion years old.  This means that the universe itself is not eternal.  It is not the essence of the universe to be; it is contingent.  To the contrary, being non-contingent, god must necessarily be eternal, if by that we mean something like necessary, sufficient, and transcendent — outside of and not constrained or defined by time.  By observation we can know that god is old (at least 13.8 billion years).  By reason we can know that god is eternal.

Nor can we reasonably doubt that god is powerful.  In our argument from contingency, it is a mistake to consider the universe as a grand array of dominoes and of god as the “tipper” of the first in the series, who then “sits back” uninvolved, watching what will happen.  Rather, god actualizes the universe in each moment, in each particular.  As I write this, all the contingencies necessary for me to do so are being actualized by God, which means all the contingencies necessary for the universe.  As you read this, the same is true for you.  In god — and St. Paul will say, “In God” — we live, and move, and have our being.  The universe exists in each instant solely because all necessary contingencies are being — not “were,” but “are being” — actualized by god.  “Power” seems as good a word as any to describe the ability to actualize a universe.

St. Paul does not define here for the Romans what he means by “divine nature,” and we do not want to get out in front of him too far.  For now, it seems enough to realize that St. Paul is contrasting God’s nature with anything found in nature.  St. Paul’s god is not man writ large as were the Greek and Roman gods.  Nor is god a personification of various aspects of nature as were/are the pagan gods.  god is something different, of a different order entirely:  as we have said before, god is not one being among others in the universe, but is the transcendent “to be” itself.

So St. Paul insists — and our reason confirms — that god, the source and ground of being — is eternal, powerful, and other (transcendent).  Again, this does not prove that god is God, but it does show a significant correspondence between what must be true of god and what Christians claim is true for God.  But there is more, and for that we turn to science and to St. John.

The prerequisite for science — the necessary condition for doing science at all — is the regularity and rationality of the universe.  Carl Sagan called the universe “the Cosmos,” and he was right to do so.  Cosmos implies order, pattern, and structure and is contrasted with chaos.  If the universe were chaotic, unpredictably irregular rather than ordered, then science would be impossible.  Science — and reason itself — is predicated upon order and pattern.  No theory of gravitation would be possible if, for example, dropped objects sometimes fell and sometimes rose unpredictably.  No mathematics would be possible if when a = b and b = c, a is not always equal to c.  Order is a necessary condition not just for science, but for the existence of the universe itself.  Natural law is simply an expression of that inherent order.

The god who actualizes the universe is the god who actualizes its order.  That is, it is reasonable to infer that god is the source and ground of the order in the universe, which brings us to St. John:

John 1:1–3 (ESV): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

When St. John writes, “in the beginning,” he does not mean “from the beginning of the universe.”  Rather, he is emphasizing the eternal, transcendent nature of “the Word” which brought into being all things, i.e., god.  The English “Word” translates the Greek λόγος (logos), a philosophical term implying order, pattern, structure.  What St. John claims is that order is an inherent characteristic of god which is then reflected in the universe god actualizes/creates.  Once again, there is a correspondence between the god of our observation and reason, and the God of Scripture.

We still have quite a way to go, but we have made some significant headway.  We have not — and cannot — prove that the god of our reason is the God of Scripture, but we can — and have begun to — show a strong correspondence between the two.  There are characteristics of god that we can know through reason, and these coinhere with the characteristic of the Christian God.

Thus far we have looked without for knowledge of god; in the next essay it is time to turn our gaze within.

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Apple Pies

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

— Carl Sagan

I am old enough to to remember the first incarnation of Cosmos, written and hosted by astrophysicist Carl Sagan:  a visual tour of the physical universe conducted by a rather theatrical and charismatic popularizer of science.  The PBS series, and the book from which it came, opened — as I recall — with this:

The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.  Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height.  We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

It is clear from this bit of beautiful writing, that Sagan had passed beyond science as a discipline for exploring the physical universe to scientism as neo-religion.  That the “Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be,” is a statement not amenable to scientific verification.  It is an unproven axiom, a tenet of scientistic faith.  Whether it is right or wrong, science cannot even in principle tell us.

Just now, however, I find myself wanting an apple pie made from scratch.  And here, Sagan is right, or nearly so.  To make an apple pie you need the universe.  But why?  Why do I need anything more than a grocery store that stocks flour, sugar, apples and the other items in the recipe?  Sagan’s point — and a very good one — is that each of these ingredients is contingent, that its existence depends on something else, on a whole host of other factors.  Take the apples for example; Granny Smith would probably be my choice for the pie.  The apples are contingent upon proper growing conditions:  good soil, adequate rainfall, proper temperature, sunlight.  So, to make an apple pie, I need the earth, its climate, and the sun.  

But we cannot stop there, because each of these factors is also contingent.  Take the earth, for example.  It consists, in part, of heavy elements like iron, copper, and, well, every naturally occurring element “heavier” than helium on the periodic table.  But these elements were forged in the fires of ancient stellar explosions.  So, to make an apple pie we need a vast host of stars massive enough to produce supernovae.

But, we cannot stop there, because these stars are also contingent.  And back we go to the necessity of the universe itself.  So, it seems Sagan was right:  If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.  That is true not just for apples, of course, but for flour and water and you, the baker, and for any physical being in the universe.  If you want to explain the existence of any of these beings, you must first invent the universe, because every physical being is contingent.  Nothing in this universe is self-explanatory or self-caused.

Sagan pushed us back to all the way from apple pies to the universe itself, contingency upon contingency.  The entire universe is but a matrix of contingencies held in tension through the laws of nature, the physical properties which govern the interactions of physical beings:  chemistry, physics, biology.  But, Sagan stopped too soon, when things were just beginning to get interesting.  He cut the exploration short with his dogma:

The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.

But wait.  The Cosmos is simply the name for the sum total of all physical beings and the relationships that exist among them.  If all parts of the universe are contingent, then certainly the whole of them must be contingent.  That is, the Cosmos itself must be contingent.  It is neither self-explanatory nor self-caused; it is contingent.  We are left with the fundamental question:  Why is there something instead of nothing?  And, we are left with the realization that nothing that is itself contingent — not even the Cosmos — can be the answer to that question.  Science may bring us near the finish line of understanding, but it cannot help us cross it.  The answer — the fully rational answer — is supra-scientific; it transcends the epistemology of science.

If the contingent universe exists, and if nothing contingent can explain its existence, then the only rational explanation is that the universe exists because of a transcendent, non-contingent cause, a cause whose very essence is “to be.”  This cause is not a contingent being within the universe, but is itself the ground and source of all being.  It is this cause that we call “god.”

St. Thomas Aquinas gave us this rational argument for the existence of god, the argument from contingency.  It is not yet a Christian argument; it doesn’t end with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But it is a serious, rational challenge to scientism, to the notion that only that which can be known and proven through the scientific method is valid and true.  It is philosophy, and, in that it ends with god, it is theology.  Can we get from this starting point to the Christian god?  Could this abstract, non-contingent source and ground of all being perhaps be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ?  That is still a long journey, but there are some signposts along the way, some hints that Jews and Christians understand god in precisely this way.

John 1:1–3 (ESV): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Clearly, John, echoing Genesis, considered God as the source of all contingent beings, existing before creation, and thus existing outside of — transcending — the cosmos.  When Moses asked God’s name, God replied enigmatically:  “I Am.”  This is less a name than a philosophical axiom:  God is not another being in the universe that can be named and exhaustively known, but rather is the essence of being itself:  I Am — self-explanatory, non-contingent.  And then, there is Paul’s unparalleled address to the philosophers in the Areopagus, which is well worth reading in full:

Acts 17:22–31 (ESV): 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for 

  “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; 

as even some of your own poets have said, 

  “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

At the heart of this address is Paul’s assertion that “in him [the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] we live and move and have our being.”  God is not a being as we are, but rather is the source and ground of being, the actualization of all contingencies.

This is not yet proof of the Christian concept of God, but rather a demonstration that it agrees with the rational answer to the question: Why is there something instead of nothing?  And, it postulates a god far different than the ancient or neo-pagan gods that are beings within the world or personified expressions of powers within the world (lightening, wind, rain, etc.).  It is far different than Sagan’s deification of the Cosmos.  And that is an important first step in our understanding of God, and an important first step in our apology for our faith.

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The Blessing of Judah

ADOTS Morning Prayer:  Friday, 19 February 2021

Fr. John A. Roop

The Blessing of Judah:  A Meditation on Genesis 49

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Not so very long ago we read the account of Isaac blessing Jacob (ref Gen 27), which was really the account of Jacob and Rebekah conspiring to steal — from an old, blind man — the blessing of the firstborn that Isaac intended for Esau.  Esau’s response on learning of Jacob’s trickery and his own loss, is one of the most heart-rending passages in Scripture:

Genesis 27:34–38 (ESV): 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. 

Earlier, Esau had been pretty cavalier about selling his birthright, but here there is genuine anguish in his heart and voice over losing the blessing.  Why?  Because the people of Abraham understood that blessings are not mere words; they are speech acts, words that have the power to accomplish what they communicate.  Think of God speaking creation into being — “Let there be light,” and there was light.” — and you get the idea; speech-acts creates reality.  Of course, only God’s words are intrinsically speech-acts, for God alone has the power to speak reality.  But, God calls others to participate with him in this creative act.  When a priest pronounces an absolution, for example, the penitent is forgiven, not by some inherent power of the priest, but simply because God has promised to act in and through the words of the priest to create a new reality.  When a priest speaks the Words of Institution over bread and wine, they become, for the people of God, the gifts of God, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus:  not by magic nor by the power of the priest, but by God’s promise to honor the words of the priest and create a new reality.

Do you begin to see why Esau was so anguished?  His father’s words mattered and the blessing was now lost to him.  There was no possible take-back.  There was no do-over.  When those words of blessing were spoken, reality was created.  The word of the patriarch was the word of God:  God speaking through the patriarch to reveal his plan, to create reality.  Words matter, especially words of blessing.

With this background, we come to our appointed reading, Genesis 49.  This text is a bit ironic.  Jacob, who stole the patriarchal blessing, is now the patriarch bestowing the blessing on his sons.  He clearly understands what he is about to do as speech-act; listen:

Genesis 49:1–2 (ESV): Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. 

 2  “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father. 

These aren’t just words; they are either prophesy or creative act or both.  Either way, to adapt a phrase from Cecil B. DeMille’s film The Ten Commandments:  So let it be spoken, so let it be done.

Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, might expect the preeminent blessing; it was fitting in that culture.  But, no:  Reuben was as unstable as water.  He had disgraced his father by sleeping with one of Jacob’s wives, in what was a disordered love, an overwhelming lust, or a family power-grab.  No matter which, he had forfeited the preeminent blessing.

Next in line are the brothers Simeon and Levi.  In a cold, vengeful rage they had conspired to murder an entire city full of men for the sin of one of them.  You don’t turn your back on this angry and violent pair; you don’t join their company.  Best to separate them, to keep them far away from one another.  So, in his blessing, Jacob scatters them.  When land is finally apportioned, Simeon is isolated in the far south of the land and Levi receives no territory of his own at all; he is scattered throughout the land.

And that brings Jacob, and us, to Judah.  We might not expect much here either; like his brothers, Judah was far from squeaky-clean.  The whole, sordid Judah-Tamar affair — and I use the word “affair” intentionally — is found in Genesis 38.  Judah deals disgracefully with his daughter-in-law Tamar, hires her as a prostitute, and threatens to burn her to death when her pregnancy — with his own child — is revealed.  To his credit, he does finally acknowledge his sin against her and her comparative righteousness in the matter.

So, Jacob’s blessing of Judah comes as a bit of a surprise.  Here are some excerpts:

Genesis 49:8 (ESV): 8  Judah, your brothers shall praise you; 

your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; 

your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 

Genesis 49:10 (ESV): 10  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, 

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, 

  until tribute comes to him; 

and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 

Genesis 49:11 (ESV): 11  Binding his foal to the vine 

and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, 

  he has washed his garments in wine 

and his vesture in the blood of grapes. 

Let’s look at three particulars.  First, Judah will be preeminent among his brother, his tribe over theirs.  Second, Judah will rule, not just in Israel, but over the peoples.  And, third, all this is connected in some unspecified way with garments stained, at least symbolically, with blood.  You see where this is going.  From the Gospel according to St. Matthew:

Matthew 1:1–3 (ESV): 1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac [and Ishmael, for that matter — but that doesn’t matter for our story], and Isaac the father of Jacob [and Esau, for that matter — but that doesn’t matter for our story], and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers [but they don’t matter for our story], 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron….

And so it goes, all the way to Obed and Jesse and David, all of the tribe of Judah:  to David, the great king, who makes Judah preeminent among his brothers, who elevates his tribe over theirs.  To David who receives from God the promise of an everlasting kingdom over which his son and Lord will reign for ever, and to whom all the nations of the world will bring tribute.

And the genealogy of Judah continues from David to Solomon to Rehoboam.  Generations later it continues with Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, and finally “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Mt 1:16b).

This is where it’s been heading all along, from an old man giving his sons their blessings to God giving the world his blessing.  This is the reality that Jacob spoke into being — through the foreknowledge and power of God — all those years ago.  This is what God saw in Judah — what God saw clearly, what Jacob glimpsed in shadow, and what we could not see at all.

And there is more to come; Jacob’s blessing of Judah has not played out fully even yet.  But we see it afar, in a vision, at the end of all things, when the final chapter of history, written on God’s scroll and sealed with seven seals, is unveiled.  John writes:

Revelation 5:2–5 (ESV):  3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 

There he is, at the end of all things:  Judah and his offspring — the Lion of the tribe of Judah, preeminent among his brothers, a lion that looks different than what we expect.

Revelation 5:6 (ESV): 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….

The Lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb of God slain from the foundations of the world, a lamb whose garments are washed not in the blood of grapes as Jacob saw in shadow, but in his own saving blood.

And at the revealing of the Lamb a great song breaks out in heaven, sung by living creature and elders and angels and myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of voices — every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea:

Revelation 5:9–10 (ESV): “Worthy are you to take the scroll 

and to open its seals, 

  for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God 

from every tribe and language and people and nation, 

 10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, 

and they shall reign on the earth.” 

Revelation 5:12 (ESV): “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, 

  to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might 

  and honor and glory and blessing!” 

Revelation 5:13 (ESV): “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb 

  be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 

What started in Jacob’s blessing of Judah has led us here at last:  to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, to the Lamb who was slain and who has redeemed a people with his blood, to an everlasting kingdom of priests from every tribe and language and people and nation, to Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing now and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

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A Reckoning for Blood

ADOTS Morning Prayer:  Friday, 12 February 2021

Fr. John A. Roop

Now Comes a Reckoning:  A Meditation on Genesis 42:22

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Genesis 42 is the very human and poignant story of the reunion of disaffected brothers:  once arrogant Joseph, sold into slavery, now become viceregent of Egypt, with his ten, once jealous brothers, now reduced to near starvation by famine.  They were responsible for his misery; he will now take responsibility for their salvation.  It’s a good story, whether you’re reading it for the first time or for the hundredth time.

The emotional and theological climax of the chapter lies in the brothers’ confession of their sin against Joseph and of their acceptance of culpability:

Genesis 42:20–24 (ESV):  21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. 

It’s this phrase that does the heavy theological lifting in the story:  “now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”  This takes us back to near the beginning of the human story, to the first recorded example of ancestral sin.

Genesis 4:8–13 (ESV): 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.

This is the first reckoning for blood:  not blood for blood or life for life, but futility in labor and exile from home and from the presence of the LORD (cf Gen 4:16).

Within eight human generations of this first reckoning the human “experiment” seems to have failed utterly.

Genesis 6:5–8 (ESV): 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 

There’s no need to rehearse the rest of this story in any detail; you know the general outline well enough.  It is the aftermath of the flood story that’s pertinent, what happens when Noah and family exit the ark.

Genesis 9:1–6 (ESV): And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. 

There it is again, a reckoning for blood.  This time, having seen the depravity of man, God declares the shedding of human blood — the taking of human life — to be a capital offense.  This is the reckoning for blood:  “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen 9:6).  There is a strict proportionality between offense and reckoning.  Is this what Joseph’s brothers expected and feared?  They had confined Joseph in a pit; now they are in prison.  They had sold Joseph into slavery; now they may become slaves in Egypt.  Perhaps Joseph had been killed through their enmity.  Perhaps they will now be killed as spies.  Proportionality, reciprocity:  “So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

We move forward in the story some four centuries and we see new facets of this reckoning, a significant change.  Moses has met God on Sinai, and God has given newly liberated Israel a Law for corporate life and worship.  And in this Law there is a most significant reorientation from reckoning for blood to reckoning by blood.  That is the heart of the sacrificial system:  reckoning by blood — the reckoning for the sin of man by the blood of bulls and goats.  Of course, there were still capital offenses in the law, but the theological essence of the Law was animal blood reckoning for human sin.  It was foreshadowed in the Passover lamb whose blood — smeared on doorposts and lintels — spared the Hebrews plague and destruction in the land of Egypt.  It moved out of the shadows in the regulations for sin offerings; read Leviticus 4.  And it came to the fore in the blood sprinkled by the high priest in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.

And so it goes throughout the years.  But, beginning perhaps with the Psalms, we get a hint that all is not well with this reckoning for the sin of man by the blood of animals, that it is somehow inadequate, that something more, something different, something better is on the horizon.

Psalm 50:12–15 (ESV): 12  “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. 13  Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? 14  Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, 15  and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” 

This gestures toward a qualitatively different sacrifice:  not blood, but obedience and thanksgiving.  The trouble is that people are not able to be obedient; hence the necessity of sacrifice in the first place.  Then there is this:

Psalm 40:6–8 (ESV): 6  In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.  

7  Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: 

 8  I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” 

Apparently, there is someone — Who is speaking here in the Psalm? —  apparently there is someone who actually delights in obedience, for whom the Law is not a set of external commandments, but a living presence written in the heart.  And the implication of this Psalm is that this someone might spell the end of burnt offerings and sin offerings, that there just might be a different kind of reckoning for human sin than the blood of bulls and goats.

Who is this someone, and how will he put an end to reckoning for blood by blood?

Hebrews 9:11–14 (ESV): 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

Like the high priest of old, Christ enters the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, but not the blood of bulls and goats, and not repeatedly year after year.  He enters the Holy of Holies — the very presence of God — to pour out his own blood, once for all.  This is not a reckoning for blood.  It is not quite even a reckoning by blood, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4).  It is the final reckoning through the blood of the Lamb of God, by which we have been sanctified once for all (cf Heb 10:10).  For by this “single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).

And that has changed the story:  no, not changed, but fulfilled.  We are no longer Joseph’s brothers fearing the reckoning for blood.  We are no longer children supervised by the Law, bound under the Law to a reckoning for sin by the blood of bulls and goats.  No; we are the sons and daughters of God now reckoned righteous before him through the blood of Jesus.  And that has consequences.

Hebrews 10:19–25 (ESV): 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

This is our hope.  This is our assurance.  This is our salvation.  This is our vocation. This is the Sacraments.  This is the Church.  This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What can we say to all this?  Words fail, but for doxology and blessing:

Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV): 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. 

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Your Name Shall Be Israel

Genesis 35:  Your Name Shall Be Israel

A Homily for ADOTS Morning Prayer: 5 February 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Prospective parents face many difficult decisions.  One of the weightiest is this:  what to name their child.  “What about Emma?” the father asks.  “I’ve always liked that name.”  And the mother-to-be almost snarls, “No!  I went to middle school with an Emma.  What a pretentious snob!”  And then she continues, “I was thinking maybe Caroline.”  The father-to-be blushes and shakes his head.  “Hard pass on that one.  I dated a Caroline and that did not end well.”  And so it goes through a list of potential names and a litany of reasons why none of them is any good, until…until one of the parents broaches a name and the proverbial light bulb goes on.  Yes, yes, that’s it.  That’s who we want our child to be.

Names are more than just labels we hang on people, more than just tags by which teachers call the roll.  In ways we can’t quite put our fingers on, names shape us; they both reflect our identity and form our identity.  Names aren’t interchangeable.  My brother, the family’s first-born son, carries on our father’s name as a “junior.”  I don’t.  And I think that probably made a difference in his identity and in mine.  Names matter.

In our Western culture, names have associations, but not typically meanings.  So, “How did you get your name?” is a reasonable question, but “What does your name mean?” is more likely to be met with confusion.  Google tells me that John, my name, is a “theophoric name originating from the Hebrew name Yohanan” meaning ‘Yahweh has been gracious.’”  I’m sure my parents didn’t know that.  They just liked the name John and perhaps associated it with someone they knew and liked:  association but not meaning.  But, in Scripture, names have meanings — meanings that reflect, bestow, and shape identity.  When someone is given a name in Scripture, and especially when someone’s name is changed in Scripture, that is a significant moment, and we do well to pay attention.

We see that in our reading this morning from Genesis 35:

Genesis 35:9–10 (ESV): 9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel.

“Your name is Jacob,” God says.  But why?  What meaning does that have?  For that we need the birth story of Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 25:24–26 (ESV): 24 When [Rebekah’s] days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 

Esau the firstborn, was also called Edom, a nickname meaning “red” for the color of his hair and the red stew for which he traded his birthright.  Jacob was born holding his brother’s heel, trying to pull his brother back into the womb so that he might be born first, so that he might cheat his brother out of the birthright.  His name, Jacob, sounds like “heel” or “cheater” in Hebrew:  Jacob the heel-holder, Jacob the cheater.  There is no indication that God gave these names; these are human choices, made, it seems, almost in jest:  the twin brothers Red and Cheater.  It sounds like the beginning of a Southern joke.  Of course, in Jacob’s case, the name was either formative or prophetic; Jacob cheated his way through life, at the expense of his brother Red.

After years of exile in his mother’s territory — on the run from his brother Red — Jacob the cheater returns home.  The night before he faces Esau, Jacob faces God.

Genesis 32:25–29 (ESV): 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 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. 

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel:  one who strives with God — no longer the one who cheats man, but the one who strives with, who struggles with God.  This is a watershed moment, a climax in the story-to-date.  The name Israel not only reflects Jacob’s new character, but will form the identity of all his offspring throughout all generations to come.  It becomes the unique vocation of a people.  Israel is that people — alone of all the earth — whose unique calling, whose unique vocation, is to struggle with Yahweh, with the God who created heaven and earth, with the God who made covenant with Abraham.  Other peoples will create civilization:  art, philosophy, literature, science — the Greeks perhaps foremost among them.  Other peoples will conquer and rule, stamping their image on the world; Rome comes to mind.  But not Israel; these are not Israel’s vocations.  Israel alone will be the people who struggles with God.

That struggle will take them into Egypt and subject them to slavery there.  That struggle will deliver them from slavery into a wilderness experience.  That struggle will dominate their keeping and their breaking of the Law.  That struggle will persist throughout the formation and dissolution of the kingdom and will drive them into exile, right back to Rebekah’s homeland.  That struggle with God, that struggle to become a holy people, a kingdom of priests, will evermore dominate the experience and define the identity of Israel.  Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.

There is something holy about the struggle, something that honors God and elevates the strugglers into his presence.  Jesus responded to such struggle when he saw it; perhaps he even delighted in it.  Listen to this:

Matthew 15:21–28 (ESV): 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. 

Even though this woman was a Gentile — a Canaanite — she was in this moment Israel, and even better than Israel.  She struggled with God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and she prevailed.  Like Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok, she would not let go until God blessed her.  And later, when Jesus was approaching Jerusalem for the final time, he went out of Jericho accompanied by a great crowd:

Matthew 20:30–34 (ESV): 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. 

Hush! the crowds told these men.  You’re embarrassing us and yourselves.  But these blind men paid them no heed.  They were in a battle, not with the crowds; they were struggling with God:  “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  These two blind men were, in that moment, more Israel that all the Scribes and Pharisees, than all the priests and Sadducees put together.  And Jesus stopped.  And Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And Jesus restored their sight.  These blind men would not be silent until God blessed them.

Examples abound in both Old and New Testaments, but you get the point.  God has chosen a people whose unique vocation it is to struggle with him — not so much to struggle against him, though that did happen — but to struggle with him toward holiness, and in that way to be the light of the world and a blessing to all the nations.  In Christ, we have been grafted into the rootstock of Israel, which means it is now our vocation to struggle with God:  not to strive for power or honor or pleasure or wealth, but to struggle with God toward holiness.  It is our unique vocation among all the peoples of the world.  In this lies our salvation and the salvation of the world.

Time fails me now.  I cannot explore with you the implications of this identity, of this struggle.  But I can, and I do, challenge you to continue to work it out for yourselves with fear and trembling.

What does it mean to struggle with God in worship?

What does it mean to struggle with God in prayer?

What does it mean to struggle with God in service?

What does it mean to struggle with God in faith and hope and love?

What does it mean for us to be Israel?

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.  Amen.

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Thin Places

Thin Places:  A Reflection on Genesis 28:10-22

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thin places we sometimes call them, places where the veil between heaven and earth is gossamer, or where the curtain is pulled back a bit and the audience sees the stage manager at work.  I have no deep theology of such places, but I do have deep appreciation and even reverence for them.  I have experienced thin places, and I have the witness of Scripture and the saints to testify about them.  They are foretastes of the new heaven and new earth — of heaven and earth as they were always intended to be — where,

“…the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3).

Scripture is adorned with thin places from beginning to end, from the Garden to new Jerusalem.  The LORD was once accustomed to walk in the Garden with the man and his wife — Adam and Eve — in the cool of the day, at the intersection of heaven and earth, the first thin place.  After sin had thickened the veil and the earth had become more opaque to heaven, the men of Shinar tried to create a thin place of their own by building a city and tower with its top in the heavens (cf Gen 11:1-9).  They learned too late that heaven is a locked door that may be opened only from the inside, that only God makes places thin and his presence known.  Abram found thin places all along his sojourn, often in groves of terebinths:  the oaks of Moreh or the oaks of Mamre.  For Moses it was mountaintops:  Horeb/Sinai and Pisgah.  For Jacob, it was Luz, a Canaanite village.

Jacob was on the run, fearful for his life.  And rightly so:  he had schemed and lied and stolen both birthright and blessing from his elder brother Esau — things which the Lord would have given him justly in God’s own good time.  Esau had his own justice in mind, perhaps after the death of their father Isaac.  So, Jacob was sent away, ostensibly to find a wife from among his mother’s kin in the old country, but really to give Esau time to cool down.  One day, as the sun set, Jacob neared Luz, and, weary from his journey, he bedded down for the night.  Little did he know that he slept in a thin place.

Genesis 28:12–17 (ESV): 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 

Jacob’s thin place:  there will be others, like the Jabbok River — but this, Jacob’s first thin place, offered an unparalleled vision of God and the conveyance of the covenant.  What the men of Shinar had hoped to erect — a tower to heaven — God showed Jacob, a ladder set on earth reaching to heaven, connecting heaven and earth, God making himself known and accessible.  Angels ascended and descended the ladder, mediating between God and man.

Now, come forward in the story some two millennia, to a descendant of Jacob.

John 1:43–51 (ESV): 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” 

And there it is, the allusion to Jacob’s thin place, the fulfillment of Jacob’s vision.  As it turns out, the thinnest of thin places, the thin place where God is most present to man, is not a place at all, but a person:  Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the ladder connecting heaven and earth, the one ministered to by angels ascending and descending.  He is the one through whom God makes himself known, the one through whom God fulfills the old covenant and conveys the new covenant.  He is the intersection of heaven and earth; in his person divinity and humanity inhere.  

Jacob’s words upon waking are significant:

Genesis 28:16–17 (ESV): 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 

With how much more reverence, awe, and fear we should come into the presence of Jesus:  not just the house of God, not just the gate of heaven, not just a thin place between God and man, but Emmanuel, God with us.  How we should rejoice to draw near those thin places where Christ draws near to us:  in Scripture, the Word written; in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ made present and attended by angels and archangels ascending and descending; in the deepest place of the redeemed human heart where the Spirit of Christ dwells; in the Church, the very body of Christ; in the least of our brothers and sisters — the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners — those with whom Christ explicitly identifies.  Beloved, thin places abound, and we do not have to travel to find them.  God traveled to us:

John 1:14 (ESV): 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This lies near the heart of the Gospel:  that God became the thin place, that God destroyed all barriers that separated man from his presence, and that he did so in the person of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

One last point, one implication of all this.  Having encountered God in Christ, we are now to become the thin places for the world.

Matthew 5:14–16 (ESV): 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 

Is that not a description of a thin place, a place where the light of God shines into the darkness of the world, so that the world might both see the glory of God and give glory to God?  Do we not want the world to look upon the Church and upon all who bear the name of Christ and say in wonder:  “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it”?

How blessed we are to have seen Christ, the thin place of God, and to become thin places to his honor and glory.  Amen.

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The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac:  Genesis 22

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV): 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

All Scripture — even the genealogies with their tongue-twister names, even the Proverbs that sound like unsolicited advice from a know-it-all uncle, even the self-righteous and error-filled speeches of Job’s friends, even the mind-bending and imagination-straining symbols of Revelation — all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for man.  But, let’s face it, not all Scripture is created equal.  If you honestly stick with the Daily Office Lectionary all throughout Leviticus, I am thoroughly impressed.  And the long slog through Job or the repeated litany of failed monarchs in I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles?  None of this is unimportant.  But little of it is particularly inspiring either:  inspired yes, inspiring not so much.

But other texts are holy ground; we sense, we know, that we are in the very presence of God.  We approach them with fear and trembling, with joy and wonder, with reverence and awe.  We put off our shoes, cover our mouths, and bow our heads.  Some such texts may rightly be described as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans:  a mystery that is at once so dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming that it repels the reader, and yet so beautiful, glorious, and redeeming that it irresistibly attracts the reader.  The binding of Isaac (Gen 22), our reading for the day, is one of these.  It horrifies me.  It thrills me.  It confuses me.  It blesses me.  It confronts me with the awe-ful demands of a righteous God and it reveals to me the awe-ful grace of a merciful God.  It asks questions that I don’t want to answer, and it won’t let me go until I do: mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

The text starts with this:  the God who tests man.  

Genesis 22:1–2 (ESV): After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

If that notion of God’s character — the God who tests man — doesn’t shake you, you haven’t been paying attention to the story.  It’s not just Abraham, but Adam, Noah, Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther, Mary, Peter, Paul — all tested by God.  Those whom God chooses, God also tests.  And the tests aren’t pro forma; they are profound, soul-shaking, demanding, costly challenges to the identity, to the essence of the one who would follow God.  We tell ourselves that God wants us to be happy, when God tells us that he wants us to be holy.  And the consistent witness of the story — Old and New Testaments — is that holiness demands testing.  So James writes:

James 1:2–4 (ESV): 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing?  Don’t answer too quickly.  Be careful how you answer.  But know this, if you choose happiness over holiness you may or may not achieve happiness, but you will never achieve holiness.  If you choose holiness over happiness, you will — in the long run, though not necessarily in the short term — also get happiness, joy, and contentment thrown in, as it were, for free.

There is a real counting of the cost that must take place in the life of a Christian; Jesus said as much.  When you sign up for this story in baptism, you take your place not in some sweet Winnie the Pooh like tale, but rather in a Lord of the Rings like saga of redemption, where not even the heroes emerge unscathed:  better, yes, but tried and tested and often broken first.  The collect that we will pray in just a bit reminds of this if we listen to the words we pray:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

First the cross, then glory.  For us, first testing, then holiness.  There is no other way, no better way; if there were, God would do it instead.

Understand this:  everyone, Christian or not, will be tested by life.  Christians share in those common struggles of all men.  But, beyond those, there are unique tests that come to us from the hand of God or that are allowed in the providence of God, tests meant not to break us, but to re-make us in the image of Christ.  And even the ordinary tests common to all men we receive as from the hand of God, knowing that he can and will use these, too, for our sanctification, if we but submit them and ourselves to him.

So, the text starts with this:  the God who tests man.  But it doesn’t stop there.  It assures us that the God who tests man is also the God who provides:

Genesis 22:10–14 (ESV): 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” 

This is the heart of the story of the binding of Isaac:  that God provides the offering for the sacrifice; that God does not ask Abraham to plunge fully into the depths of this test, but that God himself goes all the way down into the abyss of human sin and misery not just to provide the sacrifice, but to become the sacrifice.  God tests Abraham, in so far as Abraham can stand it, on Mount Moriah.  God submits himself fully to the test, in so far as only he can stand it, in Gethsemane and on Mount Calvary.  What Father Abraham and his son Isaac could not do — what God would not finally ask them to do — God the Father and God the Son did fully.  Our God is the God who tests man, but he is also the God who provides.

The God who tests man, the God who provides, is also the God who blesses:

Genesis 22:15–18 (ESV): 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

God’s tests are never capricious, never arbitrary, never cruel.  They are always the necessary means to the end, and the end is blessing.  God is not just Emmanuel, God with us; he is always God for us, too.  And while God’s blessings are always personal — to us — they are always instrumental, also — through us for the world.

Testing abounds in the morning’s Gospel lesson, too:  Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, the disciples, the Jews — all tested in different ways.  Among the riches of this text, there is this insight into the character of God:  the God who tests man, the God who provides, the God who blesses, is also the God who raises from the dead, the God who cries out to those of us in the tomb, “Come out!” — the God who is himself the resurrection and the life, our resurrection and our life.  And that is the purpose and end of all our testing:  resurrection and life.

We cannot, we dare not, diminish the life-shattering difficulty of the test of Abraham’s faith and obedience.  To do so is to diminish God’s sacrifice of his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves.  We cannot, we dare not, diminish the difficulty of the tests that we and others may endure for the sake of Christ.  But we must remember that all such tests are for us and for our salvation, that we may become steadfast, complete, perfect, lacking in nothing.  We must remember that what we lack to enable us to endure the test, God will provide.  We must remember that the test results in blessing.  We must remember that the purpose and end of all testing is resurrection and life.  Does any of this make the testing easier?  Honestly, I don’t know.  But it does make the testing meaningful.  And for that I say, thanks be to God.  Amen.

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