I think one of the things that hangs us up as Christians is how we envision God. Psychologists have studied how we envision God and how that vision effects how we live our lives. I think one of the biggest problems is that although we mature as people, our view of God, well, has some “difficulty” in maturing. As we are growing, we tend to see God as Santa Clause, giving us things if we are good, or as a strict and intolerant dictator, keeping track of what we do right and what we do wrong. And even though we may intellectually move beyond these categories, in our heart, we often get stuck.
When we get stuck in these views of God, we can become frightened. Often, we look around at our life and our world and things seem to be falling to pieces. Sometimes, we look around, and it seems as if God is actually working against us! We look around, and instead of the blessings that we were promised, all we see is punishment.
If we think of God as Santa, or as a dictator, we can’t help but think of God as cruel. We look at the negative things happening in life and figure that this must be because of something terrible we did. But if we think about it, this is a very self-centered way to view our lives. It places us at the center of everything that is happening and doesn’t allow room for God to show any kind of love.
So how are we to see God? Aren’t we told that God is a God of justice? God is a God who will punish the sinners as they deserve? If we listen to the ones with the loudest voices, this is the general attitude that we hear. However, Jesus gives us a different way of viewing God. Jesus tells us in the gospel reading that we can, and should, think of God as a mother who is there to protect us. As such, we need to think of God, not as Santa, but as a wonderful parent; the most wonderful parent we could ever imagine. And hopefully, this image of the wonderful parent will help us to understand more about what is happening when life seems to go in directions we didn’t plan. Our scripture for today gives us some examples of how God is a wonderful parent.
In our first reading we have a kind of weird reading. My first thought about this reading is the image is of this pot of fire dancing down between the cut up pieces of animal kind of like some couple doing The Stroll at a 50’s prom. Why a fire pot is doing The Stroll between a bunch of animal corpses, I don’t know. But I don’t need to know the reason, or what it means; Abram knew what it meant and that is all that matters. See, that is what is important to remember, God-- as the most wonderful parent -- knows what we need! Now, what we need may not necessarily be exactly what we want, but because God loves us, God gives us what is best for us.
As adults, we know that sometimes our decisions are not the most popular with the younger folks around. But if we were to give in just because the kids were not pleased, we would not be doing our kids a favor. Part of our job is to keep the kids safe and to help the kids grow to their fullest. Helping our kids reach their highest potential is a very noble calling! And to our kids, we may seem to be doing all kinds of bad and nasty things, but we know that in the end, what we are doing is best for our kids.
Also, hopefully, as we have grown, we can see the wisdom in some decisions our parents made. We can see how our lack of maturity, or our impetuousness, or our stupidity, could have gotten us into a lot of trouble. And hopefully, we can now see the wisdom in our parents’ decisions and are thankful that our parents cared enough about us to incur our anger and stand strong.
God gives Abram what he needs to continue on; even if that something is a dancing fire pot. And God will give that to us to. Through God’s actions, Abram, in his old age, was about to put his faith in God and to continue on in this faith.
When we allow ourselves to change our understanding of God, we can relax into life. We can be assured that even though things may not be the way we would have them, that God, as the most wonderful parent, is watching over us. Think of what it would be like to be a child and not be able to count on your parents to care for you. It would be very scary; everything would become a danger. But when a child knows that the parent is watching and protecting, the child feels safe. Even though the child might not like the decision of the parent, the child knows that it is still safe. When we can’t trust in God, our world becomes scary, dangerous. But when we put our faith in God, the mother hen watching over us, we can be assured we will be safe.
We are entering a time of change. And, speaking for myself, it is kind of scary. It is not something that I would choose to have happen, but it is the way life is moving. The important thing to remember is that God is still with us, even in this time. As long as we keep our eyes to God, God will look over us. Jesus uses the image of the mother hen, and we need to think of this hen spreading her wings and giving us the protection we need. And if we keep our eyes open, God will give us the signs that we need. It may not be a dancing fire pot, it may not even be a giant billboard, but the signs will be there.
Just as we as parents know what to give to our children, God, the most wonderful parent, knows what we need to keep going. We just need to trust and to keep looking.
During this time of Lent, we practice our disciplines to help us to see the world in a new way. We practice our disciplines to sharpen our perceptions. We practice our disciplines to help us see the hand of God at work in our lives.
Our pastor also used the theme of the mothering hen image for her meditation.
Well done, Ben. Farewell sermons can be very difficult.
As for the sacrifices cut in two, etc., it has to do with the concept of "cutting a covenant" as God is doing here with Abram. The parties of the covenant would walk through the co-mingled blood of the sacrifices (the "blood of the covenant"). The firepot was an image of God's participation in that "stroll", not far removed, I think, from the image of God going before the Hebrews as a pillar of fire later during the Exodus.
Our pastor used God as Rich old aunt; we would try to be nice to in order to get things, but hope not to cross lest she get nasty.
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