Fr Ian Morrison
Mar 6, 2018

The Visitors - Chapter 3

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Edited: Mar 6, 2018

Genesis 18.1-15

 

How does God ‘show up’ in your life?

 

Our story for week three of Lent is one in which God ‘shows up’ for Abraham. Actually, it is a feature of the Abraham stories that he meets and speaks with God relatively often. When Abraham meets with God they often speak easily, and relatively intimately, as friends. With Abraham there is little of the sense of being in danger that God’s presence seems to present to others.

 

The reader knows that it is God who has come to visit, but Abraham can see only men. These different levels of understanding, what Abraham knows and what the reader knows, are maintained throughout the story, so that even for us as readers it can become a little confusing.

 

Abraham is left to discover the identity of his visitors himself. This is important, because it means that at least at the beginning Abraham does not know who the visitors are – he only knows that strangers have arrived at his door.

 

The mystery does get cleared up by the end of the story, so that by the time Abraham is standing opposite God and bargaining with him to save the people of Sodom (Genesis 18.22–33), both the reader and Abraham know that it is God that Abraham is talking with.

Stories about offering hospitality to gods or semi-gods were prevalent in the cultures of the nations surrounding ancient Israel.

 

One of the things this story shows us is that the line between meeting God and meeting others can be rather fine. Christians have often understood the ambiguity about the number of Abraham’s visitors (one or three?) and their nature (divine or human?) as indicating that Abraham’s visitors were actually the persons of the Holy Trinity.

 

We honour the text when we read it on its own terms and try to free our perceptions of what we know came later. Further, I think that you run the risk of missing some of what the story has to offer if you are too determined to understand the visitors to be the Holy Trinity. For example, you miss the different levels operating in the story, in which you as the reader know one thing and Abraham sees another.

 

Offering hospitality to a passing traveller was a way of converting a potentially dangerous stranger into an ally.

 

While the host would be expected to offer the most generous hospitality he could afford, the guest was required to graciously accept whatever was offered, without asking for more.

The guest also had one more obligation relevant to Genesis 18– he was expected to offer some kind of gift in return for the hospitality he’d received.

 

Scholars love to argue about apparently minor details, and they have had a great debate about the quality of Abraham’s hospitality! Most scholars have been agreed that Abraham’s hospitality was lavish.

 

Having children is something that is programmed into us. The desire has to be strong so that we are motivated to take on the gargantuan task of raising another person. This can make it excruciatingly painful if we, like Sarah and Abraham, find ourselves unable to have a child.

Abraham’s hospitality also heralded unexpected change. heir. Childlessness was Abraham’s particular longing, but it had an unusual extra twist because without an heir Abraham did not see how any of God’s other promises could be realized.

 

Sarah herself attributes her barrenness to God (Genesis 16.2), so she comes up with a plan to overcome her affliction. She will send her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham in order that Hagar might have Abraham’s child on Sarah’s behalf. Surrogacy arrangements, like this one, IVF and donation of eggs and sperm are all methods that we use to try to help nature do its job.

 

Unfortunately, Sarah has not thought through all of the likely consequences of her plan. When Hagar duly conceives she apparently recognizes the tactical advantage that she has achieved over her mistress and she looks upon Sarah with contempt (Genesis 16.5). Sarah again turns to Abraham, who appears to abdicate responsibility for Hagar, pretty much as he had previously abdicated responsibility for Sarah during their sojourn in Egypt (Genesis 12.10–20). Abraham tells Sarah to do as she pleases. Sarah treats Hagar badly and the pregnant Hagar flees (16.6). Hagar is ‘found’ by the angel of the Lord by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel tells her to return to Sarah and submit to her. Just as there is ambiguity about the nature of Abraham’s visitors in Genesis 18, so there is ambiguity about the identity of the angel in Genesis 16.

 

By verse 13 it becomes clear that it is actually God to whom Hagar is speaking. God tells Hagar to name her son Ishmael, meaning ‘God hears’ or ‘God will hear’. Then, extraordinarily, Hagar gives God a name. She calls God ‘El Roi’, or ‘God who sees’.

The act of naming was thought by the Israelites to generate special power, so that the person doing the naming acquired a certain power or influence over the person being named.

 

The text doesn’t explicitly say that Hagar returns to Sarah and Abraham. It seems that she does so, however, and that she gives birth to Abraham’s ‘firstborn’, Ishmael. Abraham

and Sarah have the child they wanted. Everybody (other than Hagar) is now happy. It is hard to imagine, then, how Abraham feels in Genesis 17 when, thirteen years later, God appears and promises to give him a son by Sarah. Initially, Abraham is so surprised that he falls on his face and laughs!

 

One final thing expected of a guest – he was expected to give his host a gift. This was a way of ‘evening up the score’ (even if the gift was of no monetary value) so that there was no outstanding sense of obligation that might possibly lead to violence between host and guest. Here in Genesis 18 Abraham’s guests give him a gift.

 

In Abraham and Sarah’s case their concern about treating the two boys equally is magnified by the fact that God is determined to treat the two boys differently. God chooses Isaac, but excludes Ishmael from his covenant with Abraham and his descendants.

 

Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands. Despite several years having passed God had not given Abraham and Sarah a son, and so they took the initiative. Sarah’s plan can be thought of as just such a ‘setting out’. It would be an understatement to say that things did not initially go smoothly (especially for Hagar!).

 

But what was the longer-term outcome? (see next week’s study).Isaac will stand within the covenant and inherit the divine promises from Abraham, but Ishmael will not. In one sense, then, Ishmael is born into a situation of inequality. However, this is not to say that Ishmael is not important to God, or that he will not receive God’s blessing. Although Ishmael will not be a member of the covenant people, God does make promises in respect of Ishmael and some of them are the same as the original promises to Abraham!

 

Ishmael is by no means an interloper or second-class citizen in God’s long-term plan.

His existence transforms both Abraham’s legacy and the world that we know. This is the way in which God acts in our lives with, around and sometimes despite our actions. As I said back in Chapter 1, in God’s economy nothing is wasted.

 

The renewed promise of a son does not come to Abraham and Sarah in the context of something dramatic that they do. Neither Abraham nor Sarah reacted terrifically well to the visitors’ gift of a renewed promise that they would have a son.

 

What can we take away from the story of Abraham’s hospitality?

 

We have a God who is not limited by the things that limit us. t is important that we don’t try to limit God, but keep ourselves open to what he may choose to accomplish in us.

 

God works within the everyday order and activities of our lives. Loving others is part of loving God. This is so even if we are carrying with us long-term unresolved longings, unanswered prayer or unhealed illness. Nine times out of ten we will not be rewarded, apart from knowing that we are doing God’s will. Sometimes, however, just sometimes, we will find that we are entertaining angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13.2).

 

QUESTIONS

1. Is there a long-term longing, or unanswered prayer, in your life? Does it have anything to do with the journey you are currently on?

 

2. What is the hospitality code by which you live? Why do you live by it?

 

3. When has God ‘turned up’ in your life? What parts were ordinary? What parts extraordinary? Did you know that it was God, and how did you respond?

 

4. Does it matter at what point in the story Abraham realized that his visitor was God? Why?

 

5. Why did Sarah laugh? What does the narrator think of her laughter? How can you tell?

 

6. Influenced by this story, Benedictine monastics welcome all visitors to their monasteries as Christ. How might ordinary Christians incorporate this approach in their everyday life?

 

7. What do you think about Sarah and Abraham’s situation, with the promise of this new son?

 

8. Do you, perhaps, question whether Sarah and Abraham were right to pursue the surrogacy option with Hagar?

 

9. Does the renewed promise of a son suggest that they were wrong to try to find their own solution?

 

10. Is Abraham’s role in all of this perhaps a further instance of the scepticism, or lack of faithfulness, that he displayed in Genesis 15?

 

 

 

Fr Ian Morrison
Mar 6, 2018

Elsbeth writes:

 

1.

I think that the long term longing is for me to re-discover myself. I've been in such a turmoil over the past few years that I've lost sight of me. I need to catch a glimpse of the who I am now. It's not possible to just think that I'm the same as I was because that's not a possibility. My long term prayer is that I am able to be the best Elsbeth I can be, and I've taken this time so that I can see who I am.

Earlier in my life I think I took for granted that I was given the marriage and the relationship that it had developed into and that was just my lot in life. With children, the way I wanted them to be was to follow my example and be honest and trustworthy. That was the hand I'd been dealt, and I just had to hang on and make the best of it as I could. My husband cheated and lied and I felt powerless to battle this because his story might have been true to a point. So I just went along the road, taking opportunities that came my way that I could use to help myself while staying in the relationship. And many opportunities did come, as well as negative situations.

2.

My hospitality code is one of being open to others, and that was what I learned from my mother and grandmother. And being open to others brought rewards and growth not imagined or realised at the time because I had gradually developed into 2 Elsbeths. One that was within the confines of marriage, and the other was in the outside world. It was confusing for me and the only way I could live my life was by developing strategies that allowed me to be one or the other Elsbeth. It saddens me that this was so. Yet I now realise how strong I was to continue to persevere.

I lived in this way because that was how I survived the pain and disbelief of what was happening. That was the only path I could see that was possible for me. I had to stay firm to protect myself and my children, not having relatives who I could turn to. And I knew that there were people who could see the real situation even though I did not allow myself to do so. St George's was an oasis of peace and truth, quite separate from my home life. It brought me into the richness of church life and I grew within myself, all the time remaining in a relationship with a husband who I no longer loved, but who 'saw' me as a loving partner. This was possible for him when he had his women 'friends'. Very confusing! I did not allow myself to realise that my strengths were what he used to bolster himself up.

3.

God has always turned up. Abandoned by my husband while I was having Chemotherapy I drove down Chadstone Road one day and there was a graffiti on a wall which said "Angels are Watching". I have seen it there twice only, but that time I felt a strong connection with God who loved me. It gave me courage to realise I was not alone. And quite a few years later I was able to divorce my husband and move on. I operated from my strengths then - finally!

When Xander was dying, I was rung unexpectedly by Warren, a dear friend who I did CPE with. He is a trusted friend and a Christian man who like me, has struggled with faith and believing. While having chemo and wearing a scarf, I'd lost my hair, Warren used to meet me at St George's and we'd go to Giorgios for a meal after he'd been into the church and prayed for me. This was after his work. He went with his partner Gordon to Italy one year and had arranged for me to go to a blessing service at a Roman Catholic church in South Melbourne which I went to. He and Gordon went to visit 'Frank', in Assisi.

I'm sure that when I'd go to Leeton to check on foster child Deborah that I was supported by The Holy Spirit. It was tough going there, but I couldn't not go. She'd been raped again and bashed again by a very nasty man, and his children were out to get her because she'd gone to the police with the help of an old horse trainer Bill, who had lived in Leeton and was well known . I think that he used 'horse' language to help her settle and keep her anger in check. When I went to check on her, it was to let the Griffith Police know that she belonged to someone.

Ian Morrison came to St George's and was someone I found interesting, something new for me. He taught me so much about myself, and I grew within myself in a range of ways as a result. I think that God was letting me see myself anew, leaving old negative feelings aside and taking on new attitudes that were positive. I will always be thankful that Ian came to St G's when he did, because although it was not looked for, I was able to see myself in a new way.

jenny
Mar 6, 2018

I would like to reflect on the way God turns up in my life through other people. For example the ideas, suggestions, and actions of other preople that have guided me along my journey towards Ordination and still do today. I even recall the day I laughed at God, when it was suggesged that I study for my Bachelor of Theology degree, ha haha, me do a university degree!!! What was God thinking?? I only just scraped through my school exams, and even had to resit part of my nursing finalls!

But nothing is imossible with God, and I continue to be amazed what he conatinues to accomplash through me when I am open to Him. By the way, I not only completed my BTheol, but also my Diploma in Ministry!

 

We may not always be aware of God turning up in our lives, so I think that it is important for us to take some time to sit quietly and allow ourselves to be open, to let the peace of God descend upon us and open our hearsts and minds to the times when He has been there even when we may not have realised it at the time.

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  • Fr Ian Morrison
    Mar 12, 2018

    Genesis 12.1-12 What we often forget is that Abraham had not one but two sons, and that he was called on to sacrifice both of them. This week’s story, found in Genesis 21.1–21, is the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his other son, Ishmael. Culturally there was an expectation that the firstborn would inherit, and this cultural expectation would later be reflected in the Torah (Deuteronomy 21.15–17). On the other hand, this firstborn is half Egyptian and God has already said that he will establish his covenant with the younger son, Isaac, and not with Ishmael (Genesis 17.21). This week Abraham’s journey leads us to think about the ‘other’, and about how our own stories can impact the fortunes of others. Such ‘others’ tend to invoke fear and mistrust in members of majorities, either because they appear to threaten the well-being of the wealthy majority, or simply because difference is unnerving. This level of fear and mistrust only serves to exacerbate problems of financial inequality and restricted access to education, health services, housing and employment. In most Western countries today Muslim populations find themselves a particular target of fear and mistrust as they are connected in the minds of non-Muslims with Islamist terrorism and violence. They have become the archetypal ‘other’, whether found ‘in our midst’ or seeking to enter from outside. Today Ishmael is seen as the ‘father’ of the Arab nations and Muslims look to Abraham as their father through Ishmael. Genesis 21, in a sense, represents the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and Islam on the other. That makes it, for us, a story with current implications. Prayers in church are often phrased like this: “we pray for those who are ….”. One of the effects of prayers of this kind, which is that we become the people who pray, while they are cast as the people who suffer. When we pray in this way we are able to exist in a kind of benevolent bubble in which we hold ourselves at arm’s length from other people who have been unfortunate enough to experience hardship. (?) The ‘other’ in Genesis 21. Prior to the arrival of Isaac it seems that Sarah and Abraham had learned to live with the idea of their half-Egyptian son, despite the initial tension with Hagar. Remember that names are significant in Genesis. ‘Isaac’ is no different. It is built on the Hebrew verb ‘to laugh’, which recalls the laughter of Isaac’s parents. Once there are two children everything becomes complicated again. The old rivalries between Sarah and Hagar re-surface as the issue of which of the two boys will become Abraham’s heir begins to bite. Now Ishmael’s half-Egyptian parentage becomes significant and his place in the family becomes precarious. This issue of ‘choosing’ between different characters recurs throughout Genesis. In order for one character to be chosen, another must be ‘unchosen’. This can sometimes be difficult for us, with our ‘egalitarian’ outlooks, to understand - to those with agricultural backgrounds – a family farm can only go to one child, because it would be simply impractical to divide it, especially over many generations – a family farm can only go to one child, because it would be simply impractical to divide it. The early Israelites told stories in order to understand and build their own identity . No doubt both of these phenomena – having children and then treating them both equally – were part of the ordinary lives of early Israelites, but they also have a lot to do with issues of identity. There were particular reasons why they became especially strong themes in early Israelite stories. Let’s think about the motif of the barren woman for a moment. It must have been tempting to think that the god of a fertility religion would have greater power to promote childbirth than Israel’s God. By telling stories about infertile women who became mothers, the Israelites were able to explore these temptations and to assert the power of their God. If the theme of the barren woman is really all about the Israelites choosing God, then the theme of the chosen son is really all about God choosing Israel. Telling stories about God choosing between characters and regularly choosing the smaller or younger character, often for no obvious reason, helped Israel to understand God’s choice of them and his non-choice of others. Central to the Israelites’ sense of identity was their conviction that God had chosen them to be his special nation. The Genesis stories are foundation stories that help to explain that choice. The sacrifice of Ishmael. Sarah demands that Abraham cast out both Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham’s reaction is significant. Genesis 21.11 says that Sarah’s demand was ‘very distressing to Abraham on account of his son’. This is perhaps the strongest statement of Abraham’s emotions that we see anywhere in Genesis. all. Sarah appears to have transferred her affections from Ishmael to Isaac. It is by no means clear that Abraham has done the same. God sides with Sarah in her support of Isaac at Ishmael’s expense. I wonder how you respond to this story. Do you catch yourself thinking, ‘It’s only Ishmael. It’s OK’? God does not appear here as the supporter of the marginalized and oppressed, as we might expect. You might remember that Ishmael’s name means ‘God hears’; God does hear Ishmael’s voice, and the angel of God speaks with Hagar. Having supported Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment, God comes and finds them in the wilderness, providing water that saves them from death. Clearly the well-being of Hagar and her son is important to God. Being ‘unchosen’ does not mean, for God, that Ishmael and his mother are not worthy of God’s attention. God speaks to Hagar for a second time (remember their previous conversation conversation in the wilderness after Hagar ran away from Sarah in Genesis 16). This in itself is extraordinary – God never speaks to Sarah, for example. What, then, does being chosen mean? And what does it mean to be ‘unchosen’? Israel’s own sense of herself having been ‘chosen’ (often referred to as the ‘doctrine of election’) is one of the aspects of Judaism that we Christians find most difficult, because of an accompanying sense that we are being excluded from God’s special favour. Clearly, in Genesis 21, being ‘unchosen’ does not mean living outside of God’s care and compassion. Some argue that ‘chosenness’ is not so much about being singled out for privilege as being singled out for a special vocation. The ‘other’ in our context When we tell our own stories, who do we cast, whether wittingly or unwittingly, as ‘other’? Just as the ancient Israelites told stories to understand their relationship with God, and through that relationship build their own identity, so do we (individuals, families, institutions and nations) tell stories to help us to build our identities. Just as Israel was focused on building and maintaining its identity through the post-exilic period, so twentieth- and twenty-first-century Jews have been engaged in identity-building, especially in the aftermath of the horrendous events of the Holocaust. One of their goals has been to establish an independent Jewish state. That goal has been achieved in the creation of the modern-day State of Israel, but it has arguably been achieved at the expense of Arab Palestinians, who have been repatriated into continually shrinking areas of Palestine and whose access into Israeli-controlled lands has been severely curtailed. 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  • Ian Morrison
    Mar 5, 2018

    Genesis 15. Is God really travelling this journey with you, and will God be there at the end? You might begin to wonder whether God’s promises can be relied on and whether this journey really has a point. At the beginning of the chapter Abraham has a problem that is causing him to doubt God’s promises. How could God give him many descendants, and give the land to them, if he doesn’t have even one? The kind of flagging energy, or niggling doubts, to which we can be prone in week two of Lent can, of course, arise at many other times also. In particular, they can occur at times when it seems to us that God hasn’t taken care of the prerequisites (page 20) . Abraham, who had been promised a future by God but who lacked the resources to live it, and whose confidence, in himself and in God, had taken a hit. Christians tend to think of Abraham as something of a champion of faith –a man who is exemplified by his extraordinary faith in God (21) . ‘And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.’ (Genesis 15.6) For Paul, according to this interpretation, Genesis 15.6 expresses something of the very essence of Abraham, and also of the very essence of the idea of ‘justification by faith’. According to this tradition, the true descendants of Abraham, and the truly righteous, are those who believe what they have been taught, and not those who are focused on keeping the law or on attaining righteousness for themselves through their own deeds. There has been recent scholarship often referred to as ‘new perspectives’ on Paul’s epistles (22). Is this highly influential tradition of Abraham as a champion of faith is really supported in this chapter? If you are a person to whom belief comes easily, then this Pauline model of the believing Abraham may be a great encouragement and a confirmation of your sure faith. If you are not one of those blessed people, you might find the traditional Pauline Abraham more difficult. How helpful do you find it to be told simply to have faith and to believe? Can you ‘be like Abraham’ if you have in the past experienced deception or betrayal at the hands of people you believed or trusted? Genesis 15 is really more about God than it is about Abraham, and more about God’s faithfulness than it is about Abraham’s faith (22) . Having an heir was vital in the Canaan of Abraham’s time. It was through descendants that a man made his mark on the world, and God’s promise, in Genesis 12, to make Abraham a ‘great nation’ reflects this reality.But what is the point of God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring if Abraham doesn’t have any? Abraham’s story was probably edited in the years after Judah’s return from exile in Babylon in order to reflect something of Judah’s own situation and concerns. Post-exilic Judeans were able to see in Abraham’s adventures and dilemmas their own experience, and the biblical editors wrote with this in mind (24) . The reality they encountered on their return, however, was not as they had imagined it. Judah turned out to be not the well-to-do home they remembered but a small, struggling backwater when seen in the light of the Babylon experience. Such disappointments and dashed expectations inevitably lead to bouts of soul-searching (25) . Judah’s prophets, however, had preached that these military defeats were actually signs of God’s strength and fundamental commitment. This theological reading of their situation had served the Judeans well in exile. Now they had returned to their ordinary lives, however, the cracks were beginning to show. If God had failed to keep that promise, who was to say that any of God’s promises would prove to be reliable? (26) Abraham responds to God’s promise of a multitude of descendants, not with thanks, but by voicing his worries about his lack of a son. God responds in return by telling Abraham that he will have a son to be his heir. This is the point at which the text gives us the celebrated statement of Abraham’s belief, and the reckoning of it to him as righteousness. But the story is not over here. God repeats the land promise, telling Abraham that he is the one who brought Abraham out from Ur of the Chaldeans, and that he did so in order to give him ‘this land’ to possess. ‘O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ asks Abraham – not the kind of show of faith that St Paul suggests is reflected in verse 6. God responds with another practical demonstration, this time a very odd one indeed. For twenty-first-century readers this story is very strange. What are we to make of this antiquated and frankly unsavoury ritual? And what are we to make of the complaining, uncertain Abraham? There is a great deal going on under the surface of Genesis 15 that is mostly unintelligible to us but that would have conveyed important information and messages to its first audiences. Familiarity with the necessary background context can be vital for making sense of text. The action of passing through the parts of the calf is part of a curse that befalls the covenant partners who break the covenant. The smoking fire-pot and flaming torch that pass between the pieces in Genesis 15.17 are symbols of God. It is God who is depicted as passing through the parts of the animals, and God who takes upon himself the curse of non-fulfilment of the covenant (29) . This is a unilateral covenant. Here the promises and responsibilities are all on God’s side. It is Abraham who drives away the wild birds with his breath (‘ruach’) - the roles are completely reversed – God takes on the role of vulnerable covenant partner while Abraham assumes the role of protector. God takes every step possible to reassure Abraham that God is trustworthy and that the promises are reliable. Judah’s disillusionment in light of the failure of the Davidic monarchy, and God’s broken promise that there would always be a descendant of David on David’s throne is not forgotten. Something not obvious to a twenty-first-century reader of Genesis 15 is that the chapter is full of royal language that alludes to David and the Davidic promise (30) . ‘Walking’ before God is what is required of kings. God promises David that when he dies God will raise up offspring after him, who will come forth from David’s body (i.e. your very own issue) and to whom the kingdom will be given. By alluding to the failure of God’s promise to David, the narrator implies that God’s promise to Abraham will not fail. By using royal language and incorporating phrases and images from earlier biblical texts, Genesis 15 acknowledges the failure of the Davidic promise at the same time as it revitalizes and renews the promise by addressing it to Abraham (31) . Genesis 15 is not so much about Abraham’s extraordinary belief or trust as it is about the measures taken by God to assure Abraham that belief or trust is the right response. The focus of the chapter is not Abraham’s faith but God’s faithfulness. Ironically, it is Abraham’s uncertainty, or even doubt, that makes this possible. His doubts and questions allow God the opportunity to show the lengths to which he will go to assure his chosen servant that he, God, is trustworthy and that his promises are reliable (32) . And for us? The driving force of the story is not Abraham’s belief but, rather surprisingly, his fears and vulnerabilities. Our fears and vulnerabilities are also driving forces in our lives. If we are able to understand that Abraham is like us in this regard, and that God remained faithful to him not because of his great faith, but despite his rather ordinary limitations, then Genesis becomes for us a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness and reliability. What is extraordinary here is not Abraham’s great faith, but the lengths God goes to in order to make his love known to his chosen one (33) . This story reminds us that our relationship with God is not wholly dependent on us. God is faithful to all his people, no matter if they lose sight of that for a while. The crucial elements of the story are God’s promises to Abraham and his response of love to Abraham’s fears and vulnerabilities. Like Abraham in Ur of the Chaldeans, God chooses us simply because we are his creatures, and not because of our attributes. This is something we all need to remember, because there are times when God just seems to be absent. Sometimes, however, quite unexpectedly, God shows up. Questions 1. What Lenten discipline have you set yourself? How is it going? Have you been experiencing ‘week two’ syndrome? If so, has it led you to lose faith in God? 2. Can you remember a time when you thought that God had forgotten you, and when neither your own efforts nor prayer seemed to help? What happened? 3. Which Abraham is more a helpful journey companion for you –the Abraham who is a champion of faith, or the one who is a mixed bag of strength, doubt and vulnerability? 4. Have you set up any rules for your group –such as rules about confidentiality (not speaking of the details of group conversations with outsiders, for example)? What would the group do if a group member broke these rules? Would that member be asked to leave the group or experience some other punishment? If not, how is the integrity of the group to be maintained, and its rules upheld? 5. How does Question 1 relate to Genesis 15 and the covenant agreement between God and Abraham?
  • Ian Morrison
    Feb 26, 2018

    Genesis 12.1-18 There are many points at which the Abraham’s story resonate strongly with the New Testament and might resemble, resonate with or challenge your own story. [1]Would you recognise a call from God? “It is extremely important that I get as much clarity as I can about my own desires, fears or unacknowledged agendas, in order to work out whether the ‘urge’ I feel is simple self-seeking” (page 5). A call may not be a ‘bolt from the blue’ but a discernment in the context of a confused mess of our own plans and those of God for us. Some of the urge or push towards a new direction is from God, but some of it also belongs to us. We may find that we are already somewhere along the way to the place where God is calling us, or perhaps we have started to run in the opposite direction – like Jonah. It doesn’t matter too much if it later proves to be the wrong direction. The momentum that you build will enable you to catch the next gust and recalibrate (9) . The process of discernment and response to God’s call is not an easy one. “God speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives and through our own cares and passions. We see God’s will in actions, events and coincidences that could be explained just as effectively in perfectly ordinary everyday terms. It takes some careful attention, and a dash of confidence in ourselves and in God, to see it” (8) . You are likely to see the gifts you have received along the way of each of your ‘diversions’ and how these gifts are now woven into the fabric of your emotional vocation (9). We first hear about Abraham and his family at the end of Genesis chapter 11. It is Abraham’s father, Terah, who has taken the family from ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ to Haram, where they settle. It is after Terah’s death that Abraham receives God’s call. Canaan becomes the destination that God has chosen for Abraham and Abraham becomes the person chosen by God for Canaan. We don’t know anything about Abraham that could explain why God chose him. The first thing we notice is his obedience – a faithful response to a God whom he has only just met (10) . Nothing is said about how the presence of the Canaanites and God’s gift of the land are likely to impact on one another. The stories about Abraham in Genesis paint a very different picture of the relationship between ‘locals’ and ‘foreigners’ (generally much more peaceful) than that found elsewhere in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). Abraham travels as far as Egypt, whose relatively efficient bureaucratic planning for times of drought, plentiful water supplies and verdant soils, was often a fallback option for those unable to feed themselves adequately in Canaan (11) . Abraham becomes worried that as Sarah is still a beautiful woman, his life might be in danger, so he asks her to refer to him as her brother. Note that he doesn’t seem to be concerned that this tactic might place Sarah in danger instead of himself (12) . [2] What are we to make of Abraham and why might God have chosen him to be the father of his chosen nation Israel? (12) Today members of all three ‘faiths of the book’, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, look to Abraham as a common ancestor - through Isaac for the Jews and Christians and though Ishmael for Muslims (13) . Most Genesis scholars believe that our text for this week (Genesis 11 & 12) was edited during the period of the Persian occupation of Judah (from the late 6thto the late 4thcentury BC) so as to depict Abraham as having travelled from Babylon (Ur) just as the exiles had (14) . The returners, who wanted to claim Abraham as their ancestor, added the tradition that Abraham had originally come from Babylon to Canaan just as they had (15) . [3] What expectations do you bring with you to lent and easter? How have your previous experiences helped to shape these expectations? [4] What ‘new’ things did you learn about Abraham in this chapter? What questions di they raise for you? [5] In the past, how have you gone about discerning God’s acll and God’s will for you? Do you have stories or tips to share?