Friday, April 04, 2014

Abimelech, Genesis 20, Noble Generosity of Spirit in the Face of Dismay

"Abraham Receives Sarah from Abimelech", by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem (1620-1683)

In Genesis 20, Abraham tells an untruth and, believing that what Abraham said is accurate, Abimelech acts upon that information. And then God comes to Abimelech in a dream and explains that the information is not true.

Abimelech's Response When a Prophet Says Something That is Not True

He does not lose faith. However he understands that the prophet has said something that is not true and that if he had acted upon that untruth doing so would have caused himself to sin. So he chooses not to act upon it.
It is notable that Abimelech comes to recognize the error after God comes to him in a dream. This determination is not just something that he just assumed based upon his own personal experience. His understanding comes from personal revelation.
Even if the prophet had continued to declare the falsehood he personally would not have lived as though it were truth. He would choose to act according to the personal revelation that he had received.
He was dismayed by the prophet's pronouncing something untrue, but not dismissive or rejecting. He does not accuse. He does, however, seek an explanation.  
When the explanation is revealed and it becomes apparent that there isn't even an inspired reason, but that the prophet has based his declaration upon false assumptions Abimelech treats Abraham generously and hospitably in spite of those false assumptions and the lie and, even more impressive, he values the prophet's subsequent prayers on his behalf.
This is a classic example of a noble and appropriate response of a well-intentioned imperfect, good person to a well-intentioned, good,and imperfect prophet (or other ecclesiastical leader).when an erroneous statement by the latter is perceived by the former, by divine revelation, to be damagingly wrong.
Abimelech calls it like he sees it without malice or faith crisis, seeks to understand why the untruth was stated, recognizes the sin that he might have been led to commit if he had assumed that the information was correct, and avoids committing that sin. And he is generous to the prophet and willing to continue to work with him in spite of the prophet's error and he welcomes the prophet's prayers on his behalf.
This is kindness, truth, calm and brotherhood amidst the initial dismay and recognition of error.
In this case that is particularly impressive because the erroneous assumptions Abraham made which led to the lie were about Abimelech himself, something that in most cases would serve to exponentially increase the sense of offence.

Abimelech's response to Abraham is sober and serious but it does not cause him to reject Abraham's prophetic mantle. And his response to his recognition of prophetic error is, ultimately, the moral high ground of kindness, generosity, and hospitality in spite of the error made as well as continued, realistic, appreciation for God's continued calling for Abraham and continued seeking to work with him, rather than against him.  (See Genesis 21)
The passage in Genesis 20 refers to God telling Abimelech that Abraham will pray for him after Sarah is returned to her home.  And it is clear that those prayers are healing for Abimelech and his household.  I have a feeling that after all of this revelation and discussion that Abimelech probably prayed for Abraham too.

In the ensuing months and years both ruler and prophet would benefit from each other's prayers, dignity and desire to do right in spite of Abraham's failure to always do it perfectly then and Abimelech's failure to do it perfectly (he failed to be aware enough of the misdeeds of his bullying servants at a later date) in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When we are offered a job at the end of the day and invited to the wedding feast

We will be offered the job and I hope we are prepared for it. And we are already at the wedding feast.

There is a discussion going on over at wheatandtares.org about the recent actions of the Ordain Women movement. As I read through the responses there, I think the question is not whether or not women should be ordained. The question is what is a christian response to the question about the ordaining of women, particularly on the part of those who believe that it should or will occur. (The question of what the christian response of those who do not, would be is a very good one too but I won't address it here.)

I personally believe that women in the church should be prepared to officiate in priesthood ordinances. I believe that some of us are prepared to do so and some of us are not. Those of us who are not should prepare. When we will be asked to do that officiating, I have no idea. But it's clear to me that failing to be prepared to do so is foolish.

I also believe that celestial life is one of full equality. “Joint heirs” with Christ means equal amounts of everything, (including equal responsibilities and equal godly power that we call priesthood and every other good thing) if you have to quantify it, which, if you are celestial, you probably don't need to. But none of us are celestial, yet.

I think two of Jesus' conversations particularly apply to the current OW movement as well as many, many other similar situations.

The first is the parable of the lord of the vineyard who hires workers to work in his fields for the remainder of the day. (Matthew 20) He hires them at various times, some in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at the end of the day. And then he pays every single one of them a full day's wage. (To the great dismay of the workers who had been working since the early morning.) Whether the worker is hired early in the day or an hour before quitting time makes no difference in the wages/blessing/gifts/results for the workers. And the lord of the vineyard is the one who decides who gets hired when for that job. I think in a situation like that the workers in the marketplace hoping to be hired who had to wait until the afternoon or the end of the day were probably anxious or upset or hot or concerned about unemployment and money for themselves and/or their also-waiting workers or something similar as the day wore on. But they did get hired and did work, and they did receive, for that work, the same benefits from the lord that all the other workers received.

The second is Jesus remarks to his disciples about choosing where to sit at a feast. (Luke 14) He tells them not to expect or head to the seats at the upper table where the more recognized guests were seated, assuming that such is your due. He says it is wiser to seat yourself at the lower table and be subsequently invited to the upper than it is to insist on sitting at the upper and be asked to move.

Both the parable and the piece of advice fly directly in the face of what one would assume when one is in the process of trying to attain something, be it good wages or a seat at the upper table or anything else.  But as in-efficacious and contrary to current cultural norms as they may seem, and whether or not you think they should apply here, I think they are what Jesus hopes of us.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The goal

The goal isn't to be able to do things.
The goal isn't to make a difference. 
The goal isn't to be needed, or respected or appreciated.
Those are all nice.
But
The goal is to be wise and to do good.
Every single day.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Mustard Seed

"Faith as a grain of mustard seed" being enough to move mountains is a concept that is familiar to a reader of the Bible.  I think it gets misconstrued.  Or at least, I think I've misconstrued it in the past.

It easily can be interpreted as something like this:  If you aren't [moving mountains/realizing what you hope for/accomplishing what you feel God calls you to do] then it's likely because you don't have enough faith. If your faith was as big as a mustard seed it would be enough to effectuate the desired results.  So therefore, the remedy is to muster more faith that you have now.  

But I think "enough faith" is an incorrect concept.  Look at how the mustard seed sized faith is discussed in Luke 17.

"The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!"
So, who is speaking here?  The Lord's apostles.  The ones who have been faithfully sacrificing much and following him around and trying to live his teachings for years.  To do that would require faith in him.  But they obviously think that they lack enough faith and need more.  

"The Lord said, 'If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this sycamine tree, 'Be rooted up and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.'"
In other words, a tiny bit of faith (which is probably what the apostles would have admitted they had but which they were worried was not enough) is actually enough. It is enough to do any amazing thing that the Lord requires.  Once you have determined to follow Christ and to do his will and are doing so, as those apostles were trying to do, you do not need to be anxious about quantities of faith, you don't need to beat yourself up about not having enough or plead for a greater quantity in order make happen what needs to be done, you simply need the faith in the Lord that you have.  And even if it is only as big as a mustard seed, it  is enough.



Hmm, faith....seed...Alma 32 anyone?  There too, a seed is enough.

But what about the times when you exercise faith and what you feel called to effectuate doesn't happen????  Isn't that an indication that you didn't have enough faith?

Actually no.  If that is the case then every Old Testament prophet who was called to cry repentance and did so in spite of derision and persecution and hardship and the people ignored him and actually became more entrenched in their wickedness (and there were a number of those) didn't have enough faith.  Such an interpretation of those circumstances is rather ridiculous.

The simple fact that those prophets responded to the call and worked hand in had with the Lord and devoted their energy to the work was an indication that they, like those apostles in Luke 17, had "enough faith".  In Luke 17, Jesus is saying, "even if it feels only as small as a mustard seed to you, with God it is enough."

In the verses that follow Jesus makes an analogy, comparing our service to God with that of a servant's consistent, unheralded service to his master, and closes it with,"So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say We are unprofitable servants we have [just] done that which was our duty to do." 

I think Jesus is saying that he knows that his apostles feel that simply doing the faithful work that they've been called to do is not enough, that it's unprofitable, that because it is simply what God asked them to do and is expected of them and not wonderfully accompanied by praise and recognition or any remarkable or obvious manifestations of success, that their faith is not enough and that they are not doing enough.  But Jesus' message is that they are trusting and following their master and serving as they are asked to to the best of their abilities and that is what God expects.  And they should continue to do so. Even if the faith to do just what they are doing seems small to them,. With God as their master and with his grace it is enough.

If you must use a definition of increasing your faith perhaps it is best defined as as it is used in a rhetorical plea to God once said by Gordon B Hinckley: "And so, dear Father, increase our faith in Thee, and in Thy Beloved Son, in Thy great eternal work, in ourselves as Thy children, and in in our capacity to go and do according to Thy will and Thy precepts. "

Trust God and Jesus and their work, trust that you are God's child/servant and can do what he wants you to do regardless of the responses of others, and trust that his precepts will teach you how to do it in a godly way.

And though that may feel just about the size of a mustard seed to you, it is enough.













Thursday, March 06, 2014

Sorting Through Luke 16

The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-15) is obtuse in the KJV, and in the past I've found it confusing and just sort of tossed it in the "I don't get it" pile.   And then I encountered it again yesterday.  So today I took some time to read up on it and tease it out and translate it into a clearer form so that I could better understand it. 

And, like other times when I've done this, as might be expected, I found it sobering upon reflection.

1. A rich man had a steward who was accused of managing the estate wastefully.
2. So he called in the steward, told him to give an accounting of his stewardship and told him he was being fired.
3. The steward was understandably alarmed. The prospect of unemployment and unemployability with a bad recommendation from his current employer was imminent.
4. So he decided that he'd better go to work making arrangements necessary to be able to manage when that happened and made careful plans to do so
5-7. He called his master's creditors one by one and, in a friendly gesture, generously arranged to reduce their debts to his master by half. (They were obviously pleased and felt grateful and kindly disposed towards him as a result. They would certainly be inclined to help him find employment when he lost his job.)
8. When the master found out what the steward had done, rather than being upset at the reduction of the amount he was owed he was impressed at the steward's careful and savvy arranging of finances in order to manage his impending unemployment. Jesus says that in this world often the dishonest people pay more attention to details about money and make more effort to manage it carefully in order to prepare for the future than those who seek to follow and prepare to meet God.
9. So, he says, pay attention to money the way you would pay attention to a friend (be aware of the money you have, treat it with wisdom and do good with it); so that when you fail (die), you may be received into everlasting habitations (heaven).
10. Money isn't very important but just because it isn't important, you shouldn't ignore your stewardship over it. People who are careful and faithful in stewardship over unimportant things are generally careful and faithful in stewardship over important things. People who are not careful and faithful in stewardship over unimportant things are often not careful and faithful in important things.
11. If you haven't been a wise steward with your own money (used it according to God's purposes), how can you expect to be entrusted with stewardship over more important things?
12. If you haven't been careful and responsible with things that another man has entrusted you with, how can you expect to be entrusted [by God] with things of your own to manage for him?
13. You cannot serve two masters; you cannot have two main purposes that are at odds with each other. If you try, you will end up favoring one and resenting the other. You cannot have your main purpose be serving God and also have your main purpose being spending your money in ways that primarily benefit yourself.
14. And the Pharisees, who liked the idea of spending money on things that primarily benefited themselves , were derisive of this idea.
15. And Jesus said, you are justifying to others your desires to spend money for those things and those experiences and making that sound acceptable or virtuous, but God knows your heart. Men may be impressed by your justifications and laud you for them, but what you are advocating is shameful in God's opinion.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

"That is the only source of healing."

One of my (non-biological) sisters, who is recovering from an awful abusive marriage and raising her children solo, wrote a piece that moved me when I read it yesterday.

It's here if you'd like to read it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Wor

For me a lightbulb went on years ago when I realized that worship is becoming more in tune with God by being a vehicle for the carrying out of his will.

In other words, worship is work.

Before, I though worship was supposed to be transcendent enlightenment and communion with the divine, the kind epitomized by singing in the glorious choir in an echoing cathedral and peaceful rest listening to a holy sermon.



Or the energy of community harmony in study of the word with like-minded  disciples  



I'd work hard all week and hope and expect that time at church would be the source of the transcendent respite I needed that week.  But though those kinds of transcendent experiences are sweet, and seeking and finding such transcendent moments is worthy and refreshing for the soul, they are not the full meaning of the word "worship", the thing church meetings were for.

Having figured that out I now attend church knowing that it's going to be work; good work, but work nonetheless.  It is praying for those speaking at the pulpit, extending charity to the struggling teacher, helping children manage sacrament meeting, listening kindly to the ones I disagree with, thoughtful social interaction in the halls (so hard...), and being a conscious, warm welcomer.  It's all WORK with, sometimes, the pleasant gift of a flash of divine inspiration because of a comment made, or a person listened to or some quietude for the 5 minutes the sacrament is passed to the congregation, (but only if the children don't need help right at that moment as well).


And yeah, it's not relaxing.  So of course I come home tired.  Work makes me tired.

Once I figured that out and consciously made time for the other more restful spiritual things I sought (good theological discussions, contemplation, good music, peaceful fellowship or transcendent interaction with the divine) at times other than the three hour block, my relationship to church attendance changed.

So now I don't go to find peaceful respite.  I go expecting to have to work, and sometimes to have to work hard.  And I consciously set aside time to do the (also essential) transcendent communion moments at other times during the week.

Just for fun, there are some interesting etymologies involved in the word "worship", some a bit of a stretch but pleasant to play with if you are inclined.

"Wor"  a word in Geordie (North East England) dialect, an affectionate form of "our".
It's a sign of affection, of belonging in an emotional sense. It can be in a family, or it can be in the wider community. Either way it's a warm, positive, welcoming expression.

"Wor", from the Old Saxon "woero", meaning "worthy".

"~ship" from  the Old English "siepe" meaning "condition of being" and Proto-Germanic "skap" meaning  "to create, ordain or appoint"