Sunday, January 30, 2011

In The Feet Of Father Abraham

With my attention focused on the ongoing unrest in Egypt - with Al Jazeera's coverage being superb - it was with a smile that I turned to today's lectionary reading and saw a passage from Hebrews 11.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.* 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Right now, even now, the people of Egypt are gathering by the thousands in Cairo, in Alexandria, in Suez, in Luxor, and cities and towns across the country, defying a curfew the government cannot seem to enforce. They are demanding an end to two generations of dictatorship, half of which has been under the heel of Pres. Hosni Mubarak. They want an end to failure and widespread, abject poverty. They want an end to authoritarian rule, the arbitrary rule of self-imposed "leaders".

There has been quite a bit of talk about what the people might want as an alternative. There have been the dire warnings concerning Islamic extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, a small, violent terrorist group with little base of support. There have been whispers of "Iran". One journalist, as I noted yesterday, insisted this was a crisis "to be managed".

What do I see? I see a people, at the end of their collective rope. They are tired, poor, no longer afraid even of being afraid. What happens if or when Mubarak leaves? There has been little discussion of that. Perhaps, like such groups, there are a variety of thoughts, including a more rigid Islamic state. All the same, the point for the moment at least is not "What comes next?" Thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands across the nation, are pouring in to streets and alleys, demanding nothing more than an end to what is. What will be? Well, they do not seem as concerned about that as those who are at a remove from their experience. Whatever may be, it seems, is far preferable to what is.

Abraham was called by God to leave his native land. He ventured forth from what was, to a new place promised by God, a place that would be his new home. He was promised an heir, indeed, heirs that would number greater than the stars in the sky. An old man, his wife barren and past child-bearing years, he took this promise, and gathered up his household and left the city of Ur, that magnificent capital of the Sumerian Empire, and traveled to a new place. He had no idea, really, what to expect. All he had was the promise of this God.

From that momentous decision - a decision, we learn from the writer of Hebrews, made in faith, without any understanding what the final outcome would really be - we have the three great faiths named in his honor. From his son Ishmael, born from a liaison with his servant woman, we have the people of Arabia; the Muslims see themselves as heirs of Ishmael, as surely as Jews and Christians count Isaac, his son with his wife Sara, as their ancestor. We are all linked by Father Abraham, whose life was one rooted in a trust in the promise of a God he did not know, in acts that had not yet occurred, and seemed impossible.

The people of Egypt, right now, even now, are demanding a new future. The present is a place of death, with no promise. They want the dead to understand that they are, indeed, dead, while they, the people, are very much alive. My fervent hope and prayer is their demand for the heavy hand of the present to be lifted is granted; that their living faith not be answered by bullets; that we not be world-wide witnesses to mass slaughter. My fervent hope and prayer is this step the Egyptian people are taking, a step in accord with Father Abraham's journey, is done with that same promise, that same hope, that same faith. May the God of Abraham be with the people of Egypt.

Virtual Tin Cup

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