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Posts Tagged ‘plan’

Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.

He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.

It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.

Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.

Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”

Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt.  He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.

The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.

Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.

Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.

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I recently picked up N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began. Admittedly, I loved it as soon as I read the title. I loved it even more after being pulled into the biblical storyline and enjoying Wright’s ability to pull me into the narrative. Here is an excerpt from the first page; “Another young leader had been brutally liquidated. This was the sort of thing that Rome did best. Caesar was on his throne. Death, as usual, had the last word. Except that in this case it didn’t…” He goes on “Something had happened that afternoon that had changed the world. That by six o’clock on that dark Friday evening the world was a different place.”

Crucifixion was intended to demonstrate who holds the power. And that the powerful were willing to use extreme pain, brutality and shame to make that message clear. Crucifixion was designed to stop a revolution in its tracks. Wright tells us that when Jesus told followers to carry their cross, they would not have heard this as a metaphor. In opposition to the worlds displays of power, the shame and horror became part of the meaning. The biblical storyline became clearer for the followers of Jesus.

The biblical storyline is not the only thing that helped shape the meaning of the crucifixion. There were already existing meanings of the cross as a death instrument that were influential. Wright gives three meanings for crucifixion in the first century. 1) The cross carries social meaning. Simply, we are superior and you are inferior. 2) The cross had political meaning. We are in charge here and you are not. 3) The cross had theological meaning. The gods of Rome and Caesar (son of a god) are more powerful than your gods. As Jesus hung on the cross, these meanings were heard loud and clear and appeared to be true.

Wright spends significant time talking about the themes and narratives that early Christians would have already had in their heads that allowed them to make sense of the crucifixion the way they did. We might ask, alongside Wright, “Why did they not see this as an end of a potential Jesus based revolution?” Instead they saw crucifixion as the beginning. The New Testament insists that when Jesus of Nazareth died, something happened that changed the world.

Early Christians started talking as if this shocking, scandalous execution launched a revolution.  They began to see this as the pivotal event in the story of God. In fact, this was the vital moment in all of human history. God had put his plan in operation – his plan to rescue the world. They saw the crucifixion as the inauguration of God’s plan. The early Christians insisted that followers of King Jesus became part of the difference. The New Testament, with the cross at its center, is about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. According to Wright, the first sign the revolution was underway was the resurrection.

Wright wants us to recognize the cross as more than allowing for personal salvation, more than a ticket to heaven. He does not deny personal meaning for individuals, but wants to be clear that the cross carries significant meaning for the wider world. Wright wants us to know that Jesus died so that we could become part of God’s plan to put the world right. Welcome to the revolution.

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In Genesis 12.1 God tells Abram to “Go” so we may not be surprised to read later in verse 4 “So Abram went.” Suddenly we find ourselves in a travel adventure “And they set out for the land of Canaan.” When we arrive at verse 6 we find that “Abram traveled through the land.” And at verse 8 “From there he went toward the hills east of Bethel.” In verse 9 “Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” By the time we arrive in verse 10 “Abram went down to Egypt.”

These travels have meaning for us because we are told that wherever Abram goes in chapter 12 he goes as the recipient of a promise. This promise is given as a plan devised by God that involves a partnership between God and His chosen people that will be a blessing to all the people of the earth. After getting directions to his location in Canaan “as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh” (such directions may cause us to want to stop and ask Miss Belle for some of her sweet tea). With the promise in mind it is worth noting that in Canaan Abram “built an altar there to the Lord.” It would not be a stretch to say that he practiced the promise among the Canaanites. Then again, in the hills east of Bethel “He built an altar to the Lord.” And again, we might say he practiced the promise while there.

Yet something entirely different takes place in Egypt. Perhaps Genesis wants us to know there is something opposite to the promise. There are plans not devised by God that are intended for self-survival and personal blessing without concern for others. Here Abram makes a plan to maximize his chances for personal blessing and survival. While he does survive and is treated well, Abram has no concern for others and the Egyptians are not blessed. In fact, they are afflicted with serious disease instead of blessing. Genesis wants us to know from the start that the Lord is serious about this promise. God is serious about this plan and the partnership with His people.

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