Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Road Less Travelled

Many years ago M Scott Peck wrote a best-seller book called “A Road Less Travelled.”  I want us to embark on such a journey for the next little while.

Usually on Sundays I preach a sermon based on the Gospel reading.  I might refer in passing to the First reading, or the Second or the Psalm.  Most often my thoughts for you are focussed on the Gospel.

A couple of weeks ago I took advantage of a “Preachers’ Day Out” organised by Elizabeth Smith.  The Dean of Studies at Wollaston led us through the First Readings for the remainder of the year.  All these readings are from the Pentateuch or what the Jews now call their Torah.  These are the first 5 books.

Inspired by all this I wondered how I would go using these stories for inspiration for my preaching.  This is certainly a road less travelled by me.  But we will be exploring some wonderful stories.

These are the foundation stories of The Great Family.  Abraham was called into relationship with God through a covenant.  It is through this Covenant that the God-Human journey began.  That journey reached a climax in the coming of Jesus – the Son of Man / Son of God.  And ever since God has been seeking us out to be in relationship with him.

In order to help make some sense of this I encourage you all to read the stories yourself.  I have copied a page for you with the set readings from now till Advent.  But don’t just read them.  Start at the beginning of the Abram story – Genesis 12. 

We will be reminded of the Isaac story with Hagar and Ishmael at the heart of it.

We will spend a few weeks on the Jacob story.

We will spend a couple of weeks on the Joseph story.

Then we will travel with Moses and the people of Israel into the wilderness for many weeks until Israel crosses over the Jordan.

As you read these stories take note of the names of people – especially in those boring little ancestry lists.  I am sure you will come across some unexpected names. 

Notice the names of places – for example BeerSheeba.  It crops up repeatedly.  Consider the meaning given for the name.  That should be in a footnote of your Bible – otherwise check it on the internet.  Think about who goes there.  What happens there? 

When we gather for Morning Prayer in Thursdays, I will offer the text for the following Sunday for discussion there.  So if you are available why not come and see what we can learn together.

What I want to do for you in the rest of my time this morning is give you some idea of how to read these stories.  I want you to be able to get the most out of them.

To begin with I want to say that I am discovering in later life that seminary was really a bit like going to pre-marriage counselling.  It was a necessary part of my preparation for ministry, but I am not sure I remembered much of what I was told.  I think I might even have thought some things were entirely irrelevant to modern ministry.

You might be surprised to know that the OT was not written down until about 500BC.  Now it is generally agreed that the Abraham story began about 2000BC
And the King David story about 1000BC.  So the stories we are considering had floated around as oral tradition for a very long time before someone wrote them down.

They were written down after one of the most significant times in the life of Israel – the Exile in Babylon.  There they learned something about God that was a bit like what Buzz Aldren said on the moon: “One small step for man.  A giant leap for mankind”.  From then on the people of Israel had a different idea of God.

Prior to this experience, the people of Israel shared the world view of their neighbours.  Most people believed that each nation’s God was only effective within the nation’s borders.  This meant that when a country was overtaken in war, the best way to disempower the people was to take them away from their God.  All you had to do to do this was take them back to the winner’s country.

While the people of Israel were in Babylon they got a consistent message from God through the prophets.  They were told to settle down and live in the land.  If they did that God would bless them and the nation in which they were being held prisoners.

So, when Daniel came along with his three young friends, the Babylonian King promoted them to positions of power and influence.  When their enemies tried to cut them down to size, the King discovered something amazing about the God of Israel.  Daniel was saved from the lion’s teeth.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved from the fiery furnace.  If the God of Israel could do this so far away from Israel, then that God must be the greatest of all Gods.

It is after this mind-boggling event that the people of Israel return to rebuild Jerusalem and take up residence in Canaan again.  Even then during this time they were under the control of foreign powers in their own land.  The Greeks and the Romans in particular.

I think what we will find two things again and again in the stories we read over the next few weeks.  Firstly we will see a gradual reorienting of the people to the idea that God’s blessings are for all the nations, not just Israel.  We will also discover how central hospitality to the stranger is in all these stories.  I trust we will all have something to look forward to.

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