Blessings of the Dispossessed

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26.26-31
26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” 
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.” 
30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

Matthew 25.34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Reflection: Blessings of the Dispossessed
By John Tillman

Despite Abraham’s treaty with Abimelek, (Genesis 21.21-34) Isaac has difficulties with Abimelek’s government and people. 

Isaac is unfairly treated; he is forced by violence to move on; he is even relocated by government order. The closest (but still imperfect) modern parallel is the treatment of indigenous populations. 

Native Americans, and other indigenous communities, uniquely know what Isaac’s experience was like. All across the world, indigenous people faced powerful governments that continually violated treaties and moved native peoples off of the land they had been living on.

Rich Mullins wrote about this in, The Howling, a song of lament and faith.

“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears” 
— Rich Mullins, The Howling 

Non-Western Christians all across the world today also know this type of persecution and suffering. In many places, Christian communities face violence or relocation, either from militia groups or under the authority of their governments. 

Even in his suffering, Isaac blessed the land that he would one day inherit by digging wells that would water the land long after Isaac moved on. Eventually, Abimelek came to Isaac because he recognized God’s blessing on him and Isaac was able to confront Abimelek regarding his mistreatment and gain redress.

Actions of faithfulness and engaging with the difficult work of peacemaking will bring blessings to those around us. Avoiding violence and speaking for the truth will demonstrate that God is with us even if we must suffer for it.

We have been promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world. The level and severity of that “trouble” will vary. We may be targeted. We may be slandered. We may be “moved on” from places we feel we belong. Perhaps we will see partial justice in earthly kingdoms. Indeed, we are commanded to work to this end. But we also know that justice will only be completed in the coming Kingdom.

We are, in a sense, passive sojourners, like Isaac. We make our way the best we can in a land not yet submitted to God’s kingdom that we know is coming.

May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Music: Rich Mullins, The Howling (Live performance) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. — Psalm 67.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen – 4:31)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
What we say and how we say it matters because…Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts.

Read more about Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel

From John: Headed into this weekend, we look back at this post from 2019. Christ’s banquet and his forgiveness will include those whom none of us would expect. Therefore, we cannot fail to invite any and all to come to drink and eat freely.

Scripture Focus: Matthew 22.8
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.

Reflection: The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
By John Tillman

Meals during Christ’s earthly life were an important cultural ritual. They were more than just fraternity, but pedagogy.

When God wished the Israelites to remember forever what he did for them in the Exodus from Israel, he didn’t have them sit for an exam, but for a meal—the first taste of the first covenant. The Passover Meal is the source of the second covenant as well, for Christ’s last meal before the crucifixion was this same instructive dinner.

Today’s parable also provides a unique picture of the gospel. In Matthew and Luke, the king angrily describes his initial guest-list of no-shows as being undeserving of attending the wedding. These unworthies are described as being more concerned about their businesses and fields. Profit takes precedence over a relationship that should be a priority—a royal relationship.

It is hard to imagine turning down an invitation to an earthly royal wedding. It is not so long ago that most of the world stopped to view one. But we do turn down our King. We turn him down. For work. For divertments. For pleasures. For money. For lusts.

But our great king still calls for his banquet hall to be full. He sends out his servants to the far places, the poor places, the places where the sick gather waiting to die. He takes all comers. He takes us all.

God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust. He polishes the silverware for the impoverished, sending spoons and dishes home with the leftovers. He welcomes the wanderers, washing their feet as they enter. He dresses the wounds of the oppressed and broken, staunching their bleeding and soothing their pains.

This is how we, the undeserving, motley, scandalous louts that we are, find ourselves with our feet under Christ’s table. Christ invites all to the banquet. We will surprise someone by being there, and be surprised in return.

None of us deserve to come. Not those first invited, and not those brought in from the highways and hedges. We do not choose who dines at Christ’s banquet. For if we were honest about our own sinful hearts, we would not choose to allow ourselves there.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 23 (Listen – 2:34) 
Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen – 9:42) Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)
Genesis 25 (Listen – 4:18) Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

Read more about Unity and Diversity :: Worldwide Prayer
Unity cannot be achieved by defeating others but by embracing them.

Read more about The Beautiful Feet of Lepers
This is the gospel—that terrorists can be healed and saved and the rejects of society can bring the news of salvation and the testimony of victory unimaginable to their city.

The Ram and the Cornerstone

Scripture Focus: Genesis 22.13-14
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 

Matthew 21.42-46
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone; 
the Lord has done this, 
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 


43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. 

Reflection: The Ram and the Cornerstone
By John Tillman

Our readings today highlight the symbolic sacrifice of Isaac and the first steps of the actual sacrifice of Jesus.

Jesus takes actions during the final week of his life that are intentionally provocative. His face is set like a flint toward Jerusalem. (Luke 9.51) He had been avoiding Jerusalem because of the existing plots against his life. (Matthew 16.21; 23.37-40; Luke 13.34-35; John 11.7-8) He had been cautioning many to keep silent about his miracles and his ministry. (Mark 1.42-44; 5.41-43; 7.33-36; 8.23-26) But, at the right time, Jesus reversed that low-key strategy. When Jesus showed back up in Jerusalem before Passover, it wasn’t quietly. He kinda kicked in the door a bit. 

When he arrived in the area, Jesus openly performed a dramatic resurrection of Lazarus, right outside the city, in the presence of his enemies. (John 11.43-53) Not long afterward, Jesus rode into Jerusalem receiving for once the true praise that was and is due him as king. (Matthew 21.1–11; Mark 11.1–11; Luke 19.28–44; John 12.12–19) Next, he cleansed the Temple of the animals that would be offered for sacrifices. (Perhaps in part, because he was there to replace them.) Then he told pointed and dramatic parables that embarrassed and exposed his enemies’ hypocrisies and failures.

Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountain top. He rammed his head into the thorns to ensure there would be no escape. He rammed his teaching into the foundations of the religious leaders’ security and pride, knowing what their violent response would be. The stone the builders rejected would be the cornerstone. Jesus knew he would be rejected. His final actions ensured it.

On the mountain of the Lord, he provides.

But there is a second analogy in Isaac. Jesus is not only symbolic of the ram in the thicket. He is also symbolic of Isaac, the son, willingly laid down for the sacrifice. Many commentators have noted that at Isaac’s age, he would have been strong enough to resist his aged father. If he did, scripture does not record it. We find him quietly bound and laying on the stone altar.

Willing Isaac on the stone and Jesus carrying his cross speak to us about our willingness to lay down our lives and desires for the benefit of others.

May we not reject the stone of suffering, of sacrifice, of self-control, or of truth.
May we reject instead the cushions of comfort, the banquet of indulgence, the flaunting of freedom, and the pleasing talk of false prophets.
May our only foundation stone be that of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) 
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
“Who is it you want?” — John 18.4
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

Read more about Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
How do we remain faithful without resorting to the weapons of shame or the strongarm tactics of anything-goes politics?

Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus

Scripture Focus: Genesis 21.2-24
22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” 
24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 

Matthew 20.25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Reflection: Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
By John Tillman

Abimelek was a pagan king with his own gods and sinful practices. His descendants would be Israel’s enemies. Yet, he is one of a very short list of people to whom God spoke directly in a dream. (Genesis 20.1-6) Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.

Rulers are established by God, (Romans 13.1-10) but establishing does not mean endorsing. Far from it. Rulers, good or evil, are used by God for good purposes, but every ruler will be held accountable by God.

As the “watchman on the wall” is responsible for the lives of those he serves, (Ezekiel 33.1-9) leaders will be held to account for evil, injustice, and violence under their rule. Whether evil is done at their command, committed by their followers, occurs through negligence, or merely remains unpunished, God will judge rulers.

Jesus’ assessment of Roman leadership is true of our leaders today. Indeed, most democracies around the world looked with rose-colored, Western-centric glasses, to the Romans and Greeks for inspiration in founding modern governments. They saw the ideals but not the dirty business and corruption that Jesus knew up close.

The disciples and the crowds that followed Jesus constantly thought Jesus would take over the government. Even right up to the moment of the ascension, they thought, “Now. He’s going to tell us to fight for him now.” (Acts 1.6-9) They were wrong.

Believers today who feel a religious compunction to political violence are serving an idolatrous, man-made religion, not Jesus. 

They are not following the same Jesus who left his disciples politically powerless. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his followers to wait for spiritual power instead of grasping political power. They are not following the same Jesus who commanded his friends to put down their swords and take up their crosses.

God’s people have lived peaceably under governments of all different kinds. God’s people have been faithful under rulers with vastly differing degrees of personal morality, honor, and respect for God. 

No matter the morality or immorality of our leaders, Christians are responsible to be servants of a different kingdom and to exercise power in the opposite way the world does. 

It is in serving that we will lead.
It is in suffering that we will conquer.
It is in dying that we will live.

From John: Writing this two days away from the inauguration of Joe Biden, tensions are high. Suspicions of violence are in the air. Personal friends and former ministry partners may be among those sympathizing with violence against the United States government. It has been a week of personal mourning and lament. We pray today that all believers would be citizens of peace, submitted to their governments in humility and grace. Only in the proclamation of the gospel do we have leave to obey God rather than men. In all other things, we submit. 

Photo Credit: Tyler Merbler from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59) 
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Misleading the Least
Woe to leaders who mislead…cause others to stumble…manipulate…foment sin…lie and deceive…

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
It seems more and more Christians are willing to whitewash politically motivated violence as necessary self-defense.

Waking Up With Pigs

Scripture Focus: Matthew 19.7-10
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 

Genesis 21.13
13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” 

Luke 15.16-17
16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

Reflection: Waking Up With Pigs
By John Tillman

Moses (not God) “permitted” divorce and Abraham sent his “slave wife” away (in tomorrow’s reading) for the same reason. This reason was explained by Jesus generations later:

“Because your hearts were hard…”

God offers grace even for our worst, hard-hearted mistakes in which we misunderstand or disobey him. Abraham and Sarah sought solutions from their own culture instead of relying on God’s promise. They twisted God’s plan to justify sexual exploitation and their sin produced a “slave wife” and a “son of a slave.” 

Their hearts were hard. They did not believe God fully and they rationalized that the ends justify the means. Then their hearts became harder. When they realized their error, they rejected the evidence of their sin by sending Hagar and the child away. Though they hardened their hearts, God did not. God saved Hagar from her situation and blessed the child produced from her victimization.

Each time a person rejects God’s heartfelt invitation, their heart grows a little harder. Each time they look away from his outstretched arms, their sight dims. Each time they tune out his calls and cries to repent, their sense of hearing diminishes.

Even Christ’s disciples missed the point of his message. They thought the solution to the question about divorce was not to marry. 

“If we don’t marry, we don’t have to be soft-hearted.” 

How foolish. The solution is, instead, to become soft-hearted children like our soft-hearted God.

God deals with hard-hearted people throughout the Bible. God is consistently calling, pleading with the hard-hearted to return to him. He holds out love and kindness to coax them. He grants them mercy and grace if only they will return. 

Our hard-hearted errors can be redeemed by our loving God, but the better lesson to remember is that our hard hearts can be softened again. In humbling, shocking moments the hard-hearted can come to our senses like the prodigal among the pigs.

Have Christians awakened to find ourselves among a trampling herd of violent pigs? Are we shocked awake to the shame of our state? Have we recognized our hunger for the pods the pigs are eating? Perhaps, having a taste of the pods can finally turn our stomach and wake revulsion for our wrongdoing.

Let us return to our loving father, quitting the pig-sty, abandoning our stubbornness. Let us humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and return home.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen – 2:39) 
Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)

Read more about Seeking Righteousness
There should be a clear and recognizable difference in the way that Christians interact with social and political unrest because we are not a people of unrest.

Read more about Leaders Against Oppression
May we work to ensure that the powerful are warned not to be abusive. May we live in such a way that others will not be dispossessed.

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