Prayerful Tuesday – Through Acts of Faith

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Reflection:  Hebrews 11:32-34 (The Message) 

32-34 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of Faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from Lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.

I have always found this chapter of Hebrews somewhat difficult and these 3 verses when read outside the context of the whole chapter are, I think, somewhat confusing. These 3 verses are also often used to justify the idea of “G-d is on my side in this war because I am more faithful than you are.”  But I do not believe that is what the author had in mind.

The writer of Hebrews is making a case for faith, a faith in what we cannot see.  Now that I get, and, for me the writer could have stopped at verse 3 of chapter 11 and his argument would have been made.

Hebrews 11:1-3 – The Message (MSG)Faith in What We Don’t See  1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

But he didn’t and so now I am left with chapter and verse that could be problematic when read outside the context of the whole chapter 11 and in fact the complete Letter to the Hebrews.  My difficulty isn’t with its premise it is with how it is interpreted and used in today’s world, the 21st century.  Yes Gideon, Barak, Samson, and the rest had faith in G-d and they used that faith to give them the courage to defend themselves and fight for a place to live.  Yes they are told by G-d and Moses they are G-d’s chosen people and that G-d would be right there beside them through thick and thin.  At least that is what is told in the Pentateuch, which was written during the Babylonian Exile sometime between 600 BCE and 580 BCE and not by Moses.

Now don’t get me wrong I actually love the Letter to the Hebrews.  The Letter’s central idea of Jesus as the High Priest, our representative who stands before G-d in our name as our advocate means we have a spokesperson on our side, something the disadvantaged throughout history rarely have.  That is an important metaphor to keep in mind.  It is also the root meaning of Chapter 11.

In the first three verses of Chapter 11 the author of Hebrews lays out the important points he wants to make: “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.”  The remainder of this chapter is a litany of heroes from the Jewish Bible.  They are examples of faith, combined with trust, obedience, and hope that supports the desire for a better place to live, a place to call their own where G-d is the planner and builder, a place where G-d is the central focus.  The memory of the prophets, kings and soldiers the author invokes is not about “whose side G-d is on,” it’s about being true to G-d’s teaching and message.  It is not the act of fighting or going to war that the author is writing about. The important point it is the faithfulness of those who were fighting to build a homeland and country.  Would Gideon have lost if they hadn’t had faith?  That is a possibility because they might not have had the courage to stand up for what they believed in. And, by invoking the heroes  of his Jewish faith the author is placing Jesus among the great and small who throughout history have listened  to G-d’s  call to stand up and speak G‑d’s message of justice, mercy, and  compassion (Micah 6:8).  To walk with G-d does not mean the road will be easy rather it means G-d walks with us into the “lion’s den” offering support and not making smoothing out the potholes.

As I contemplate these verses at  the dawning of Advent I am hearing G-d’s call to respond as Isaiah, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews to speak out in G-d’s name for justice, mercy, and compassion for those who cannot speak for themselves.   In the next 4 weeks as I, we, wait for the celebration of the birth of love in human form we need to remember why Jesus came.  He didn’t come so we could give gifts, or eat ourselves sick, or spend money with no thought of consequences.  Jesus came to bring us a way of life.  We are called by G-d to respond to those who are in need, to give out of our abundance. Because we have enough to live comfortably it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has enough to live comfortably.   To give joyfully and generously, whether it is material, monetary, or spiritually is to practice the teaching of Jesus when he walked among us.

Spiritual Practice

So this week’s spiritual challenge is not an easy one but one worth doing.  What would you life be like if you examined where you are on your spiritual journey and choose what you can give, how you might serve or where you can answer G-d’s call of service and walk in the path of Jesus?  In what acts of faith will G-d recognize your footprints

Ruth Jewell, ©December 3, 2013

A Prayer for the 4th of July, 2013

July 4, 2013
July 4, 2013
Holy Spirit, as we celebrate our country’s birth I lift up in prayer the people in our nation who are hungry and homeless, who protect our streets, homes and country here and in far places, our President who carries the burden of responsibility to guide us and his family. Please keep all safe from harm here and abroad. I also lift up our elected leaders in our cities where they walk the frontlines of budget with less funding, poverty, hunger and homelessness, and keeping our streets safe. I lift up our state leaders who struggle with budgets that are bigger than state incomes as they make difficult choices about funding education, infrastructure, and public services. I lift up in prayer our national leaders who are in such conflict with each other. On this day of celebration help them to overcome their differences to become the effective leaders we elected them to be. I lift up those who come to our shores looking for a better life, help them to discover their dream and find friendship and love in our community. Most of all, Abiding Spirit, I lift up our planet and ask for forgiveness for the damage we have done to your creation. Creator help us find our way to healing our relationship with the Earth, each other and you. Amen

TOO OLD?

Genesis 12:1-4   1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

What does it mean to be “too old?”  That is a question I have been pondering for the last several weeks.   In early September I was supposed to travel to Switzerland to begin a four and half month period of study at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey.  I was accepted to the program by both the Ecumenical Institute and the University of Geneva all that I needed to complete the paper work was a visa for a temporary student residency from the Canton of Vaud.  Unfortunately the letter I did receive was that they were going to deny me a visa because I was over the age of 30 (I’m 65) and they normally didn’t give temporary student residency visa to those over 30.  They said I was already in the work force and therefore didn’t need to expand my learning skills.  Needless to say I was stunned at the letter and even though I appealed this decision they still denied me entry. 

I do not feel “old.”  In fact I have just completed my Master’s of Divinity Degree and am looking forward to whatever G-d has planned for me.  I still don’t know what that is but I’m sure G-d does.  So am I at 65 old?  Well yes, I am older than those in their 30’s or 40’s or 50’s but does that mean I should go and sit in a rocking chair?  I do have a very nice one and I love to sit in it and read but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that. I think G-d has more planned for me and that is something I have often felt when a change is in the air.   In fact I was adding up how many different careers I’ve had in the last 40 years and I think this is my 5th one.  This Masters degree is my second one and the one I am the most fond of, the one I feel the most blessed to have achieved.   I worked hard and earned this degree, it was never handed to me just because I was the oldest one in the room.  So when do we stop learning, when do we become unable to be a gift to those around us, to all creation?

 I don’t believe we ever stop learning or growing if we have the desire to do so.  I don’t believe that G-d ever intended us to stop being partners in creation.  The G-d I know doesn’t have a retirement plan and we never become redundant in the eyes of the Holy Spirit.  In scripture it is rare for a young person to be the one called on by God.  Abram, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, even Jesus were well into their adult years when they were called to be messengers and founders of our faith.  Mohammed and the Buddha were also called late in life.  It takes living to be able to understand the difficulties, joy, tears, and beauty of what it means to respond to a call of the Spirit.  I’m not saying someone in their 20’s can’t do it, I’m simply saying in general the more life we experience the more compassion and patience we have and the more willing we are to offer mercy. 

As a young adult I was very quick to make judgments and did not worrying about the consequences.  As I’ve grown older I recognize what is really important in my life, allowing the smaller more insignificant things to simply take care of themselves.  I have also learned that what I thought was important was not and that the important things are fewer but more precious.

I have since learned that age discrimination is not at all uncommon in Europe and that people who are of a “certain” age must retire and stop being productive citizens of the community.  Age discrimination is also common in this country, but, we are changing simply because within the next 10 years there will be more people over the age of 65 than those who are younger.  We in America are beginning to recognize the value of working long after what our parents and grandparents understood as retirement.  I am at the beginning of the Baby-Boomer generation and those that come after me will rewrite the rules for what it means to grow old.

A growing life does not stop unless you turn away from it and let it die and I have seen that happen.  I have seen educated productive individuals accept the image of age put on them, and let their advantage of wisdom wither on the vine.  I however refuse to let that happen to me.  I “will not go gently into that dark night” as Dylan Thomas so beautifully states it.  God is not through with me yet.  The Holy Spirit still has work for me and still speaks through me and my life.  I will not let some small minded bureaucrat in some small office in Switzerland decide for me when I am no longer useful to my world. 

So listen up people!  Life is never done until you close your eyes for the last time and only G-d knows that date.  Until then don’t listen to those who belittle you for being older.  Stand up and be counted among the partners of G-d.  Never stop learning; open a book, learn a new trade, start a new career.  Our bodies may no longer let us do the physical work we once did but that doesn’t mean our minds have to diminish. Apply your hard earned years of wisdom to those who need it most.  We, who have walked many rocky paths, have much compassion, justice and mercy to offer those who struggle in this world.  Offer your wisdom and enthusiasm for life to them, they will be grateful.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit we are a force to be reckoned with if we recognize the power we have in the life we give to others.  Don’t waste it by sitting in that offered rocking chair; life is too precious for that.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 8, 2012