“Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)
In the name …
Do you know that it’s almost impossible for a person to walk in a straight line for any appreciable distance without some kind of marker like the sun or the moon?We’ve all heard stories of people getting lost in the woods and how they kept walking in circles.I know when I’ve heard stories like that I always said to myself that it should be relatively easy to just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking in some sort of a straight line.But there have been actual tests performed on people.Without the sun or the moon to guide them, the participants were left off in a deserted place and asked to walk in one direction for several hours.What always happened is that the volunteers ended up walking in a circle.They’ve even done the test in a gymnasium with blindfolded volunteers.Sure enough they started walking in circles.Our internal compass is really not very good at all.
In today’s reading we meet up with Abram.It’s so early in his story that he hasn’t even received from God the name of Abraham.It’s just Abram at this point.Last Sunday he was referred to as:“My father was a wandering Aramean.”(Dt. 26:5)This is because Abram was called out of what is today modern Iraq.He was called by God to leave his home and his family and travel to the foreign land of Canaan, which is modern day Israel.Abram was asked by God to break out of the cycle of a normal lifestyle, to leave behind the natural circle of life, to leave all that was familiar behind and to trust primarily in God’s direction.When Abram was 75 he finally reached the land of Canaan.The Lord spoke to him there; called him out into the night.There, beneath the star-filled-sky, God revealed that Abram’s descendents would be as numerous as the stars he saw that night.
This Abram is the last common ancestor of the three world faiths that have emerged from the ancient Middle East.God’s promise of descendents has proven true.After Abram the Jewish people have traced their lineage through his son Isaac, the Muslims have come to follow the line of Ishmael, and of course Christians will break off with the coming of Jesus Christ, but still Abram is our last common point of contact.He is the spiritual father of us all, and by all of us he is called righteous because he put his faith in the promise of God above all else.Abram broke out of the cycle of his life and his world.God placed him on a new path, a path to the destination of the Promised Land.And Abram is called righteous because he was brave enough to listen and to follow God instead of instinct.Righteousness means the right attitude toward the promise of God.It means breaking out of the circular history and logic of depending solely on our usual experience, and letting God point us in a new direction, His direction.Since it’s been shown that we favour the circular, this break-out is far from easy or natural.
This past week I was reading about the conviction of the man who killed a bar patron over in Florence last January.It happened at the Silk City Tap Room.A friend of mine lives right around there, and I’ve played pool up on its second floor.The patrons are just ordinary people.These two guys who got into a fight, the one who died was a family man and firefighter, the one charged with his death worked at a family business in Northampton, these are not bad people.They’re ordinary people.Their fight started over the fact that the first guy grabbed at the second guy and broke the chain around his neck, and the chain held a gold cross.That struck me a year ago when I first read it, and I was reminded of it when he finally pled guilty this past week.One ordinary guy lost his life and another ordinary guy ruined his life, and it all started over a cross.The sad irony of this struck me both times.There is the cross’ example that points in the new direction of sacrifice and forgiveness, but there is also the all too common circle of human life that keeps us repeating mistakes of anger, violence and having to get even. Righteousness means to follow the direction that God offers, but it is no easy matter to break free from the circle of our own common human experience, and this will always make the cross feel unfamiliar.
Even in the space of a basketball court, we can’t help but start walking in circles.Maybe our nature just carries us in endless circles.The Frontier eighth graders spent last week in Washington, D.C.One of the highlights of the trip was the HolocaustMuseum and their interview with an actual Holocaust survivor.This elderly Jewish woman brought history to life for them.It’s important that we hear these stories and remember these tragedies so that we don’t become complacent – because they will try to happen again.Read history and see how many times we humans have done the same savage things to each other.Read the newspaper and just change the names and the dates and see how similar are the stories of our crimes.We just keep going in the same self-destructive circles.
Abram is righteous because he’s different.He listens to and follows God’s direction.He aims at God’s destination.He steps out of the ordinary circle of his experience because of his faith, and this becomes the definition of righteousness for all of us.Righteousness isn’t all about the completion of the journey either; it’s there as soon as we start.The example of the gold cross that led to the ruin of two men’s lives is a reminder in the extreme of how ordinary it is for us to resort to a get-even attitude, but it highlights for us how often we get caught-up in this circle, how we will not forget or forgive, nor will others, and the circle continues. The example of the true cross, and the purpose of Lent, is to get us out of this tragic circle of repeated transgressions, and to point us in the new direction of righteousness, which begins as soon as choose to break the circle. This is where Lent can become so important.It can offer us a real chance to follow the new path shown to us by Jesus of generosity, forgiveness, kindness and a life filled with the presence of God.May this be our Lenten prayer in His name.Amen.(+)