Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

Bless, blessing, blessed: the definitions

December 9, 2018

Bless, blessing, blessed.  These are such common words in the Bible and in conversation. They are also words than carry big concepts. Concepts that shape how we understand the world and God’s presence in it. So how do we start to get some sort of understanding of what these words mean? One place, of course, is the dictionary.

Bless.

Blessed

Blessing

  The definitions overlap and yet there are also a variety of meanings within each definition. Each of these words can be something we do, something we ask or something we receive, something we give. God can be involved, or not. Context and the intent of the speaker matter.  The dictionary really didn’t clear much up for me. How are we supposed to use this word? What does it really mean?                    

When you read the Bible, it seems to me that Israel and the early Christians had the same problem. It’s one of several big conversations we find in the Bible, along with “What is salvation?”, “What is God like?”, “What do bad things happen?” What does it mean to be blessed, to be a blessing, to bless? The text goes back and forth on these questions. The people of God have always debated and wrestled with these questions. 

If we step back and try to look at the big picture, can we gain some clarity? I think so. Our first clue about blessing comes early, when God blesses Abram. 

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:1-3)

Here, we may be tempted to think that God’s blessing is about making Abram into a great nation and making his name great. But if we read carefully, the blessing is about something different than fame and wealth. It’s repeated, which is our clue that it is important. “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing.” and “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

Abram is blessed not simply because God wants Abram to have land, descendants and wealth. Abram is blessed so that through that blessing everyone else is blessed. The blessing is for others. Abram is to extend the blessing by what he does.

This is a remarkable charge to Abram. This is not how tribes, and kingdoms, and empires act. In the Bible, we find  Israel struggling with the idea that they don’t exist simply for themselves and their own well being. In the “real world” tribes, and kingdoms, and empires exist for their own well being. Actually they existed for the well being of the royalty and elites. The well being of peasants didn’t matter to the elites as long as the peasants healthy enough to grow food and do work for them. 

All of us, from kings to peasants look and round and see that there is only so much land in the world. Only so many resources. Only so much rain. What if I don’t have enough [ fill in the blank] because you have some also? 

God sees something else.  God’s intention, right from the start, is that there is enough. Abram’s blessing isn’t supposed to stop with Abram and his family. Abram is charged to pass on the blessing. There is enough so that Abram, can share the blessing. There is enough. 

Abram, if you read his story, struggles with this. He’s only human. We all fear being hungry, enslaved, homeless. The nation of Israel struggles with this. They have Torah and later the prophets to help them remember how to live generously, blessing each other. But it is hard. Israel gets confused and thinks the blessing means God likes them best. They worry that there is not enough for everyone. They worry that some other nation will be bigger, stronger, wealthier. 

All these centuries latter, we worry about the same things. Is there enough? Will someone take what is ours away? We get is so wrong that Jesus has to take a few loaves and fish and feed the multitude. But our fear runs deep. The disciples see Jesus feed everyone and they still don’t believe. We so misunderstand how blessing works and what it means to be blessed that Jesus has to preach the shocking and bizarre Sermon on the Mount. 

I wonder. What blessing do you have, do I have that we are supposed to share? What blessing does our city have, our state, our nation? What if we lived to share our blessing? What could the world look like?

We do not travel alone

April 23, 2017

 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:1-5a  NRSV

I have an unfortunate tendency to think the call of Abraham only involved Abraham. Periodically the text reminds me that Sarah traveled with him. Less frequently the text reminds me that Lot  and many others also went with Abraham.  But mostly I focus on Abraham.

For modern Americans to focus solely on Abraham is easy to do. Our typical way of thinking and understanding the world concentrates and celebrates the individual. We love stories about the lone person who perseveres, triumphs, saves, or overcomes. We admire and revere the “One”. Many of us secretly want to be the “One”. Or perhaps, we are waiting for the “One” to save us, protect us, love us.

But if we read Abraham’s story carefully, we discover that Abraham doesn’t travel alone. His call affects others. And others participate in his call. And of course others benefit from his calling.

In the ancient world successes and failures, joys and sorrows were communal events. How an individual’s actions affect their family and community were important considerations. The stories in the Bible remind us that our lives are not our own. Our lives and actions affect the lives of people we know and people we don’t know.

From Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, to Moses’ demand  “let my people go”, to the prophets’ insistence that we care for the widow and orphan and stranger, to Jesus’s teaching about caring for the “least of these”- over and over again we are told we must be concerned about the larger community.

That means that my faith cannot be simply or only about my relationship with God. My relationship with God compels me to be concerned about others, in my home, in my city, in my country and around the world.

The way our modern world functions means that my concern is often called “political”. I don’t apologize for that.  It has to be. Reading the Bible seriously means I must take the well being of others seriously and consider their needs before I consider my own. When I vote, I think about which candidate will be best for the poor and excluded, for the food insecure, the sick, the homeless, the children, the aged.  When a millage comes up, I vote for what I think best benefits the entire community, not just me, and not just what keeps my taxes low.  When I march for a just immigration policy, it is not because my immigration status is a risk or is even questioned by anyone. I march because the Gospel compels me to work for a society that care about and for immigrants and refugees.

We are, as children of Abraham, called to be a blessing for others- for all the families of the earth. To be sure, this makes my life more difficult. There are a lot of people I need to think about, people I don’t know, people I will likely never know. As I try to learn and understand all these different people, who live in different places and in different circumstances, I learn wonderful things and terrible things. My heart sings and breaks. So much joy and yet so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Fortunately, God has created a world where I don’t have to do it all and you don’t either. We help each other. We help people we know and they help us. We help people we don’t know and they help us.  And the Spirit is in the middle of all of it- opening our eyes to see, our ear to hear, our heart to love. Nudging us to a bigger, deeper, richer life.

We do not travel alone, Thanks be to God.


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