Friday, February 8, 2013


Please notice three expressions in this story of Abraham  in Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. ...'and the word of the Lord came to Abraham', 'Do not be afraid' and 'Abraham believed(or more accurately trusted)'. The sermon, following some background, will focus on the first of these.

How do we 21st century Christians make meaningful application of such Sacred stories coming from out of the misty ancient past? Surely that world thousands of years ago was very different from ours and it can be argued that humans ourselves are quite different, especially are we more conscious in many respects than our ancient counterparts. Surely we must be careful in how we use such stories as a way to inform ourselves for living a more spiritually responsible life in our day. These Old Testament stories were passed on orally for hundreds of years before being written down. Yet it is my belief, and that of many, they remain potentially living Sacred stories for our church and even for a large part of our American culture. However they got here, they are here and, for good or bad, have been informing our spiritual and moral lives for centuries. Some are disturbed to realize these stories have at times destructively influenced our culture's moral attitudes as they also at times have been most redeeming. Bible passages have been used to support institutionalized slavery, sexism and discrimination against people of color, mentally ill people, women and gay/lesbian persons for centuries. But there has also been another, and more redeeming, appeal to scripture which has brought about great strides in justice and moral perspective in church and culture. Such appropriate and sound interpretations of the Bible have helped make  remarkable  progress in social justice possible 
 There were no Hebrew Manuscripts Of The O.T. until  1947.

Bible stories surely must be speaking of things that are so deeply a part of what it means to be human that they can be very applicable, even corrective of our present day assumptions about human living. They have in common descriptions of the human being as having his/her feet in two worlds or parts of reality at the same time. One of these we generally refer to as outer reality, the world of mater, of flesh, blood  and physical energy; the world we are able to be directly aware of through our marvelous senses, what we can touch, see, smell, hear and taste. This is surely a fascinating wondrously lush world which through science has opened up technologies and views of the subatomic and galactic worlds which Abraham or even Abraham Lincoln could have never imagined.

The other part of human experience and reality is sometimes called the 'other' world, something real that may be related to the senses but brings something which is definitely more and different. It is our very real inner world that we all can potentially become more aware of. We experience this world in ways that simply 'come to us' as beliefs, feelings, creative intuitions and attitudes. In the past this inner world, so prevalent in Bible stories, has come to humans by the nightly dream and daytime visions. Today it may also be experienced in one's indescribable love for a child, friend or lover or even a work or project. It includes the real world of psychological energies and in religious language .....the spiritual.
The Negative  Irrationals Of The Spirit World Invoke Themselves

Individuals and cultures throughout history are always in some balance, or lack of it, of experiencing these two worlds of reality. Only by these being in practiced balance are humans able to arrive at the most healthy and ethical states of mind. In ancient times, before our age of more objective scientific learning, the balance was far more toward the spiritual and irrational; often so much so, that without a strong awareness of physical realities, cultures and religions were victims to superstitions, many of which were harmful and misleading. Today's world-wide violent dispositions, including America's home grown high tech massacres like Sandy Hook, are a spiritual irrational yet deadly reality. Such happenings indicate serious cultural imbalances of spiritual-material, inner-outer realities. But on the other hand a consciousness of spiritual inner forces, balanced with strong material awareness, has guided persons and cultures to devote lives to serving , healing, freeing, and elevating the quality of human life and of the planet itself. Much more of such personal and collective consciousness is now needed in our world, to respond to our biggest challenges.

In our day, especially over the past 400 years, Western culture has shifted far to the side of the materialistic-outer reality where we highly value reason, control, competition and amassing various materialistic and self-serving trophies. So much so we easily lose a living touch with the world of the spirit, of the dream, of a living image of the world as something far more than can be grasped with our senses and our pure reason.
Challenges Of High Tech, Subatomic And Galactic Knowledge

Sacred stories are timeless in that they show us the human in touch with and honoring both the material and the spiritual world. They often amazingly well depict the balance of the two human realities. So this story of Abraham can likely point us to a more balanced life, one that is more in harmony with our deepest human nature. Notice briefly one of the ways we are informed here of what it means to be more spiritually/materially balanced persons and communities.

It says simply that the 'Word of the Lord came' to Abraham. This is implying that it is natural for the voice of the Sacred or God to simply come to a human being. That beyond our senses our hearts and minds can be touched by a prompting from God. This clearly suggests that the 'Word of God' is not only or primarily something that is written and read and held in our hands, which is how our materialistic religion thinks of 'word of God.' We can instead see it is true to human nature that at times- by intuition, by hunch, by a flash of awareness or a nightly dream that we are informed by God. I realize that to say God's voice comes in such direct ways sounds dangerous for we might also be mislead into superstition or even into unethical behavior. But with such a materialistic and limited definition of Word of God we most assuredly will get lost. It requires our trust in Spirit and full use of our reasoning skills to correctly relate to and discern the much needed  'messages' of the Spirit.
Abraham's And Our Experience  Necessarily That Different?

Our Sacred stories clearly admonish us to be keenly aware that sometimes the most needed answers to individual and collective life problems can only come to us in just this way... by the Word of the Lord directly coming. So here Abraham is depicted as a human with a healthy balance between the material world and the world of the Spirit. Surely you and I can be informed by this story to aspire to a more well balanced mind in our day. I hear this teaching in the  United Church of Christ saying that 'God Is Still Speaking' , speaking to us beyond any of our more respected reasoned and rationally approved ways.

You are likely expressing an awareness of the world of the spirit when you say, " I was in a very difficult situation and I  suddenly became  aware of what was the right and necessary thing to do. Or, I had exhausted every resource of how to handle my problem and out of the blue the right direction came to me. Or, physical things came together in such a timely, meaningful and unique way that I deeply felt it was not merely coincidence." We no doubt have all had such spirit based experiences. It is healthy for us to consider them as just that and to not reason them away.  Of such moments we can truthfully say, 'The Word of the Lord came to me." We are freed by this story to live more expectantly of such a balance between the world of the Spirit and our outer material world.

Also, Abraham is encouraged in the story to 'not be afraid.' The greatest resources for a human to not be overly influenced or overwhelmed by fear is not the only the voice of logic and reason but a spiritual voice. The same kind of voice when a parent intuitively knows it is right to tell a child when physical danger is all around, "You will be O.K." Sometimes what is most deeply and spiritually true is not logical or capable of being 'seen' or understood by our human reasoning capacities.

In similar fashion Abraham, as the human he must have surely been, was given permission from the highest authority that he could 'believe or trust' life and its direction for him. To believe for Abraham was not to give reasoned consent to the statements of any creed or a list of things he should accept even against his best rational thought process about the material world. To believe was to be assured from a spiritual reality that he would be most human by allowing himself to trust the direction of life and to cooperate with it, not fight against it.

Yes, just like Abraham, you and I, though much further down the road of human evolutionary history, can still open ourselves to receiving directly a " word of the Lord.' We too are given in this story permission to trust that we can live not fearing, beyond a healthy and creative level, but living effectively this wondrous experience of life, a life that is one of balance between our amazing outer world and the even more mysterious yet real inner world of the Spirit.

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