Tuesday, June 17, 2014

March of the “Abrahamic Faiths”
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The Revised Common Lectionary brings Genesis 21:8-21 for Proper 7, which is assigned for June 22nd this year.

It is the passage in which Sarah urges Abraham to get rid of his female slave Hagar and her son Ishmael, fathered by Abraham before God blessed Sarah with the birth of Isaac.  Isaac (and then his son, Jacob) will be blessed as heirs to God’s covenant promises to Abraham and to all humanity, in which they stand in the ancestry of Jesus, the Savior of all.

The lesson ends on a touching note, as God responds to Hagar’s distress,
And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”  Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
“Ismaelites” becomes a term for Arabs,  and, although we are reminded that “Many Muslims are not Arabs,” Ishmael becomes a key figure in the development of Islam.

Contemporary Christians, especially those of the liberal persuasion, like to call Judaism, Christianity and Islam “the Abrahamic faiths,” sibling approaches to the same God.  Yes, this costs Jesus his worship as the only Son of God, reducing him to just one among several “descendants of Abraham,” but it gains buy in for what really matters, like gun control and moral equivalence as the apology for global Islamic violence.

So it’s a fair bet that many, many pewsitters will spend Sunday morning hearing a sweet message about how God founded all three faiths through Abraham, and that we shouldn’t think of one as more true than another, that adherents of each have found “a way that works for them,” that “all paths lead to the top of the mountain,” “Coexist,” etc.

All of which requires the preacher (most culpable) and the hearers to completely ignore the same Sunday’sEpistle and Gospel.

In the former, Paul writes of baptism into new life, defined as being “united with Christ in a death and resurrection like his.”  This is not “one path up the mountain;” it is the only way.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It is not a path based on a prophet, teacher or ethnicity, but upon the unique identity of Christ Jesus, who died for all and by divine power rose to new life.
And in the Gospel, Jesus speaks unambiguously,
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
The “path up the mountain” is not marked by points of moral consensus or religious aspiration, but by the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only one to travel the path and open it to others.

The incoherence of the “Abrahamic faiths” approach is manifested in Jesus’ warning to his first followers, who were Jews,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
He knew that those who acknowledged him as Messiah would be in immediate conflict with their families, and have to “take up a cross,” a sign of “unclean” death among their own people.  The way to God would not be by ancestral identity or the righteousness of expected religious works (Paul’s exposition of Hagar and Ishmael, by the way), but by faith in the one who was calling them to himself.

I grieve that so many congregations will be hearing the “equality of Abrahamic faiths” business this Sunday.  It’s dishonest.  It’s not true to what Jesus said, did and does.  And it’s not really all that inclusive, as it simply ignores Eastern religions, Native spirituality and all sort of other approaches to ultimate questions that don’t trace themselves to Abraham and his God.

The “Abrahamic faiths” approach, were it honest, would look in the mirror and see itself as a reflection of current American culture, in which one cannot love or be good neighbor to another without “affirming” what they believe, say and do.

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