The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 18-19

18 09 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 18-19.

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

Reading these chapters, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, thousands of years later: “When you do it unto the least of these, you have done it into me.”

Also, Paul’s teaching to the Hebrews: “Some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

When the three men appear near Mamre at the beginning of Chapter 18, there is no indication that Abraham recognizes them immediately as angels (or even God Himself). And yet, he practices radical hospitality, preparing a feast for them with his best calf and an abundance of the finest bread. Then, in Sodom, Lot’s hospitality is ultimately what saves him and his daughters. When he invites the angels into his home, he does not immediately know that they have come to foretell the city’s destruction; he simply accepts them as his guests and protects them at all costs (even giving up his virginal daughters to the angry mob???)

We can learn from these example, practicing such hospitality to all who come across our paths, as well. I am particularly inspired by the importance that the New Monastic movement places on hospitality (i.e. the Rule of the Northumbria Community includes a vow of availability to the people around them; the Potter Street Community and other similar communities have procedures in place to welcome anyone who happens upon their house). It is much harder, I think, to practice such hospitality and openness as individuals. I’m reminded of an interesting article published last fall at Jesus Manifesto, which I read as a challenge to today’s church to rethink the way we do hospitality, especially in light of the current economic crisis.

Leaving aside the overall implications of Abraham’s dialogue with the Lord (which in itself is an amazing passage) I want to look for a moment at the word that keeps coming up over and over again: righteous. Abraham keeps pleading on behalf of the righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and God seems to be in agreement that the righteousness of 10 people would make up for the wickedness of everyone else. So what’s so great about righteousness?

I often tend to equate righteousness with legalism (i.e. the Pharisees, who obeyed the very letter of the law, were considered righteous). Righteousness is about doing right. Right?

Not necessarily. The Old and New Testaments agree that true righteousness is about faith:

“Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
– Genesis 15:6

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”
– Romans 3:21-22a

As a final note, I would like to say that reading these two chapters brought back great memories of Amity’s youth, and one in particular who always said that her favorite Bible story was about “Lot’s wife who turned into salt. That’s so cool!”

(originally posted 12/24/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 13-14

21 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 13 and 14.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
– Genesis 13:3-4

So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.
– Genesis 13:18

What is it with this guy?? Everywhere he goes, he stops and builds an altar to the Lord–and he doesn’t just leave them there, he comes back and revisits them. So, presumably, you could follow in his footsteps through this trail of altars. Which leads me to wonder: what kind of trail are we leaving? Bread crumbs? Footprints? Or … altars? Is worship our first impulse at every step of our spiritual journey?

Enough with the rhetorical questions. What really interests me about this passage is what Abram does once he gets to the altar: he “calls upon the name of the Lord.” He did it in the last chapter, too. (In fact, we are told in Genesis 4, that Adam’s children’s generation was the first to do so!) We’re back to this whole concept of names–only this time, it’s God’s name that is in question.

And, according to the scholarly view, Abram doesn’t even know God’s name (YHWH) yet! That doesn’t happen until chapter 15!

Over the past few years, I’ve wrestled a lot with the idea of a chosen people. It just doesn’t seem fair. If God originally intended to extend salvation to everyone (as we believe happened with Christianity), why didn’t he just do it to begin with? And why does Jesus say that salvation comes from the Jews? Why would Jesus endorse Jewish legalism, when it seems to be contrary to everything else he says?

But Abram is praised for his faith. His salvation does not come from his obedience–not really. He obeys because he is faithful. He brings salvation to his nation through his own faith. And the generations that follow are given a legal code which sets them apart. They obey the laws, and they go through the motions of worship, because they believe in this strange, omnipotent God.  The idea of “salvation by faith” is at the core of Judaism, too, it appears. It is a supreme leap of faith to allow yourself to be set apart as a nation.

I also have, at times, found myself questioning the fairness of Jesus’ coming so late in the Bible. What about all the faithful people in the Old Testament who came before Jesus? Were they “saved”?  I don’t have the answer, nor will I ever claim to, but I offer up this verse as food for thought:

“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
– Joel 2:32a

(originally posted 9/1/08 at

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 12

14 08 2009

Click here to read the text of Genesis 12.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going
-Hebrews 11:8

Every time I read this book, I am overwhelmed by what a wonderful story it is. Quite apart from its truth or falsehood, it’s just such a compelling narrative. What great characters; what a great plot! And the plot always thickens…

Because it’s not enough to just be a nation of people. Up until this point, it has been possible to become the patriarch of a nation simply by having lots of kids. Nations are families: human families.

But God is setting up something different. Abram has to leave his people, his family. He is to become the patriarch of a consecrated (set apart….chosen!) nation, and he must first separate himself physically from the others.

When God first calls Abram, he says “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (verse 1). At this point in the story, the land hasn’t yet been “Promised.” It’s just on display for Abram to see.

What the view might have looked like

What the view might have looked like

Can you imagine? Essentially, God is saying, “Come here, Abram. I have something to show you–you’ve just got to see this!”

And just like some modern tourist in the Big Apple, Abram comes to see the sites. But he’s letting God guide his itinerary. When he gets there, he immediately builds an altar to his Guide, even though he isn’t even quite sure where he is and what he’s doing there.

And maybe that’s the important part of this faith thing. To be ok with uncertainty. To trust God enough to drop everything and follow him to the ends of the earth, not for what you can get out of he deal, but because that’s what God asks of you. And because you just want to see all that God has to show you.

(originally posted 6/19/08 at