Longing For Spring: Our Stories

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 11:27-12:4

In our text for this week we first hear of the covenant God makes with Abram. God promises Abram property and progeny – all the land he can see and more children than the stars he can count. God makes this promise and God delivers.

We like to see the delivery or fruit of promises. What we are told awaits us is even sweeter when it is in our grasp. The great fulfilled promise of the Easter season is the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are times when the promises are standing right in front of us and we still doubt. Our belief still waivers. Consider Thomas. The Fourth Gospel writes,

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’” (Jn 20:24-29).

To trust God’s promises seems to require so much faith…and yet Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.

A most holy time offered in each of our healing services at TUMC is the time when folks are invited forward for prayers and anointing. I am so humbled by the persons that come forward for prayer. I so admire their courage to share their personal requests with me. There was a common theme through many of the requests I heard. I heard requests for relief from grief, sorrow, and pain, but what really caught my attention were the requests for the strengthening of faith.

“Help me to be the kind of Christian that would make my parent proud of me.”

“Help me to hand hardships over to God and not pick them back up again.”

“Help me to trust. Help me to believe.”

Help my faith so I may fully receive God’s promises and recognize the ones that are already in my life.

I grew up singing “Standing on the Promises” – a hymn about how God’s support never falters. And that’s the funny thing about support – about foundations – most of the time we do not see them, but we trust they are there. Just for a moment feel your body supported by your feet or the chair on which you are sitting. Now become aware of the floor supporting your feet or the chair. Now become aware of the earth supporting the floor. And finally become aware that it is our God who is supporting it all.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created all that was, is, and ever will be. God supports it all. God supports us. From the beginning of time God made this promise. This promise is blooming everywhere we turn. We do not have to doubt, and God still loves us when we do. I believe as our trust and faith grow so does our recognition of God’s promises in our lives – promises we have been longing to receive for what seems like eons and other promises we did not know we needed but are so thankful to have.

Our God is so good. God’s promises are good. And because of our God and God’s promises, we are good.

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God. Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal 374.

Fright Nights ~ Daughter of Jephthah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 11:29-40

This week is the last week of our Fright Nights series and we will spend it with the Daughter of Jephthah.

When we shake down this text to its core we uncover the sin that seeds the terror.  The sin is an unfaithful vow and the terror that results is child sacrifice.

In Genesis 22 we read another story of child sacrifice, but it is stopped before the dagger meets flesh.  Abraham is instructed to take his son Isaac – his beloved long-awaiting son Isaac – and sacrifice him.  Abraham is obedient.  He builds the altar.  He gathers wood for the fire.  He binds his son and draws back the blade.

(dramatic pause)

And God provides a ram in the thicket.  The animal is sacrificed.  The boy is spared and father and son journey down the mountain.

God does not intervene to spare the daughter of Jephthah.  This does not mean that God cares less for women than men.  Rather, as commentary writer J. Clinton McCann writes, “the literary and theo-logic of Judges 11:29-40 does not permit God to intervene.  In Genesis 22:1-19, God proposes the test, not Abraham.  In Judges 11:29-40, Jephthah proposes the vow, not God.  Abraham’s faithfulness in response to God’s test shows that God does not will human sacrifice.  Jephthah’s unfaithfulness and self-assertiveness in sacrificing his daughter also show that God does not will human sacrifice” (Interpretation: Judges (Lousville: John Knox Press, 2002) 86).

McCann suggests that God intervenes in the tale of Abraham because God set up the scenario.  God cannot intervene in the case of the daughter of Jephthah because the scenario was completely Jephthah’s own.  In making his unfaithful vow Jephthah limited and revoked God’s ability to act.  Jephthah made the vow; Jephthah had to carry it out.

I think McCann’s suggestions raise some interesting questions.  God set up the scenario with Abraham; so, God can intervene.  The Genesis text is pretty clear to reveal that Abraham knew what he was supposed to do.  God gave Abraham the procedure and Abraham was completely committed to pull the trigger but then didn’t have to at the last moment.

But what about us?  I am sure we would all prefer to have constant direct communication with God like Abraham did.  “Okay Sarah, now I want you to do “X” and this is your procedure: #1…#2…#3…”

It’s not always that way is it?  More often I think we may fall into the line of thinking that Jephthah did.  We set up scenarios.  We create opportunities.  We execute activities and then reap the consequences good or bad.  We do this because God blessed us with the faculties, the knowledge, the gifts, the abilities to reason, to dream, to scheme, to act.

So how do we guard ourselves from falling down the slippery slope of Jephthah – how do we stop from falling into disobedience and making faithless vows?

I believe we are able to stop ourselves because of God’s grace in our lives.  God’s grace is an expression of God’s love for us.  And with that grace and that love God will never compel us or force our hands.  God wants us to use the gift of free will to make our own decisions, to create opportunities for ourselves, to seek our own way.

BUT!!!

God wants us to do so with our foundation being in God’s grace.  If we vow out of God’s grace, if we decide out of God’s grace, if we live and move and breathe and steward out of God’s grace then we will be guarded from disobedience and faithless vows.  And our decisions will not limit or exclude God from intervening because we will have been with God – as God intended –  from the beginning.

Reflection: What will you have to change about your decision making process or your creation of opportunities process to make sure it is grounded in God’s grace so that God can intervene and guide?  Will this be an easy change to make or a difficult one?  Recall a time where you cut God out of a decision or an opportunity.  What did you learn from that experience?  How could grounding that decision or experience in God’s grace have altered the outcome?

Prayer: Great God, we seek to be a people of grace.  By your grace ground us, shape us, guide us.  May our decisions and opportunities flow from you and be rooted in you.  Forgive us when our decisions and opportunities exclude you.  Redeem our disobedience and in doing so, draw us closer to you.  In your name we pray, Amen.