Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't Half a Cow, Man - Genesis 15

Genesis 15
It’s funny to think about the common phrase, “Don’t have a cow, man.” It describes when someone panics or over reacts and is cautioned or consoled: Don’t have a cow, dude! When I was reading this story about Abram - AKA abraham, the father of faith, a model of righteousness-- As he’s getting his butchering on, halfing animals here and there. I had to wonder: is Don’t have a cow a folk etymology of Abram Halfing all those cows? Hey Abram, Don’t Half a cow, man! What is going on with poor Abram? He’s actually told by the LORD no less, to half not only three cows, but also three goats and a ram, plus a turtle-dove and a pigeon, oh but don’t half the birds please. Yuck. Here, we are reminded of the primeval nature of these sacred stories of origins. And if the butchering is not problematic enough about this story, there are elements of discrimination, conquest, and dispossession. The intrigue of the Bible.

But, Abram....What’s getting to Abram? Why is he halfing a cow? One has to empathize with him: He has certain expectations that have yet to be met. And what happens when our expectations aren’t met? Disappointment, which may result in us having a cow. According to the story, Abram-- different from most of our situations-- is not unrealistic in having his expectation. He had been promised by the LORD countless offspring, but alas, has been given none ....except for the child of a slave (that’s the discrimination part - the child’s mother is a foriegner and a slave...). And so he’s really upset. And like all rational individuals, when we get upset, we start whining and questioning, and doubting and cutting up animals (Good thing there were no PETA representatives around) . Abram has a personal direct line to God-- oh and for the record we clergy have this line as well -- so his conversation is back and forth with GOD. When Abram starts to panic - “Do not be afraid,” Says the Lord “What will you give me?” - whines Abram “Ahh Abram, here we go again...just Look toward the Heavens Abram, count the stars.” I think this was kind of a trick God used to get Abram to fall asleep when Abram started losing his temper. Like counting sheep. And so he does count, and he get’s tired, but not yet asleep, he gets into this butcher mode and who knows what’s going on emotionally with him but he begins halfing all these animals. Which probably had some calming effect? Gruesome. He counts more stars, a deep sleep falls upon him - terrifying darkness. Have any of you had those nights when you just cannot fall asleep because you’re just so upset? Depressed? Lonely? Disappointed? Wondering - what is my life all about? Why has this happened to me? What is the point of it all? Don’t we all go through this..these nights of struggle struggle with ourselves, with God, with life... not sure if we are going to make it out. Moments of great doubt. Which is okay. The biblical character Job doubted, The disciple Thomas doubted, Even Jesus on the cross said My God My God why have you forsaken me? Doubt seems to be a strong statement of faith. It is during our deepest darkest most doubtingest moments that our faith can often grow and transform us in mysterious ways. Church father Saint Augustine from his fifth-century treatise De Trinitate wrote of doubt, "Nobody surely doubts that he lives and remembers and understands and wills and thinks and knows and judges. At least, even if he doubts, he lives. If he doubts, he remembers why he is doubting. If he doubts, he has a will to be certain. If he doubts, he thinks. If he doubts, he knows he does not know. If he doubts, he judges he ought not to give a hasty assent." Abram is doubting, questioning. He wants to know for sure, Can I trust you God!? What’s more troubling for me in this passage than the dread and the animal halving, is the response from God. God, once again assures Abram he will have an heir, that his descendants will be as many as the stars Abram can count in the sky. But then Abram goes into a deep sleep, and deeper truth is revealed to him... a dreadful truth...yes he will have descendants, but they will be slaves, and suffer oppression for 400 years... A terrible revelation! At that point, why bother? Were I Abram I might have said, thanks but no thanks... and get fixed right then and there! No wonder he thought of sacrificing Isaac, as he carried the burden of that bleak future of the people. But the story doesn’t end... there will be liberation of the people, they shall prosper. It’s a powerful image of the reality of suffering... It will come, and when it comes, what choice do we have but to endure? 400 years of slavery. Generations endured the suffering... That is taking the long view, trusting that one day justice would take place. What was it like for African Americans who had endured 400 years of slavery to finally experience liberation? What was it like for Nelson Mandela in South Africa to be jailed and abused... To see the end of apartheid and to become President of the nation. Endure the suffering. We are told here in this passage, that through the suffering, God is there, and through enduring, there is a future. How do we know for sure? Now we come to the most fascinating aspect of this story to me. The mysterious powerful yet gruesome ritual - like none other we encounter in the Bible. The animals carcasses are split in two, except the birds, layed out across the ground marking a path... The stage is set for the ritual of self-obligation; In which the one passing between the halves of the animals is the one making the solemn promise, and if that promise is not kept by the one passing through.. he would experience a fate similar to that of the slayed animals. Here, the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch pass between the carcasses.. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch is the one undertaking the obligation of the ritual. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch is the LORD God. Through this solemn, gruesome, ritual Abram is told very clearly and powerfully… God is a God who keeps promises. [3 - Richard A Puckett, “Genesis 15” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2. p. 55 ] And as heirs of Abram, which we claim through faith we are recipients of that promise as well - GOd is with us... god will never leave us...God promises a future... GOd keeps God’s promises. What have been your deepest darkest nights of struggle? Perhaps they have yet to come? St. John of the Cross in the 16th century identified these dreadful nights as dark nights of the soul. The darkness represents the hardships and difficulties the soul meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. This detachment comes in the form of suffering--the painful experiences that people endure--which can then result in spiritual maturity and intimate union with God. I think about Martin Luther King... as the civil rights movement was getting more and more risky. Threats were coming to his family and his home. And one night, after having just put his children to bed, he received a threat, he was terrorized. He got scared. He wondered if it was worth it. Putting his own life in danger was one thing, but that of his wife and children? And after a long period of sleeplessness He heard from within that reassuring voice... Martin, I’m never gonna leave you. Never gonna leave you. In the book, Sleeping with Bread, the story is told of thousands of children who were orphaned and left to starve as a result of the bombing raids of World War II. “The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But, many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow." Jesus said, I am the bread of life.... We learn from Abram - Half a Cow, man... One of the most beautiful aspects of life come as a result of the most dreadful experiences... We can be assured there will be dreadful times-- which by God’s grace, may turn out to be the times when we grow in deepest union with God. During this season of Lent May we face the crosses we are to bear with conviction and courage. God has made covenant to always be with us - in life and in death. Thanks be to God.

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