From My Perspective

Reflections through a Lens of Faith from Pastor Jen

Considering Sarah

Considering Sarah

There’s a tradition in Jewish studies called, “midrash.” Midrash is a way that
readers engage with biblical texts, reading what’s there but also what’s
missing. A large part of the Talmud is midrash – debating and asking questions
of the text. We preachers often use midrash in our proclamation. A seminary professor of mine, Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney wrote a book of midrash from the standpoint of black women (pictured above).

One biblical text that has particularly captured the interest of readers is from Genesis 22
– the binding of Isaac. We read about Abraham – how Abraham heard God call him
to sacrifice his son. But the Bible doesn’t mention the response of Sarah,
Isaac’s mother, at all.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November wrote a midrash on the text from the viewpoint of
Sarah. It’s Women’s History month, and what better time than do consider the
voices of biblical women.

Imagine Sarah at the end of her life, recounting the experience[i]:

“I remember lying quietly in our tent.
Abraham had fallen asleep beside me. My mind drifted, back to my favorite
memory of the day when three guests came to tell me I’d soon be pregnant. After
so many years! I actually laughed in disbelief until the Source of Life
reassured me it was true. With Isaac, God gave me one of my life’s great joys.

“Suddenly, Abraham began stirring and
called out, ‘Hineini, Here I am.’ He began to talk with God. As I often did, I
pretended to be asleep to listen in.

“At first what I heard made little
sense. Though I could only hear Abraham’s responses, I sensed that God
requested something involving our son Isaac. 

“Abraham’s steady voice suddenly
quivered. I thought I heard him say the word, ‘sacrifice.’ Had the Eternal
One just commanded that my husband sacrifice our only son? 

“Now why would God, who had given us
Isaac, take this special gift from me now? And without even speaking directly
to me! For a moment I wondered if this was my punishment for our treatment
of Hagar.

“Through cracked eyelids, I saw my
husband overcome with sadness. I had never seen him so sad, not even when we
were commanded, lech l’cha, ‘go forth,’ to leave his land and his
father’s house (Gen.

“Strangely, I could see in Abraham’s
face that he truly believed that God wanted him to sacrifice our son. I
wanted to urge Abraham to challenge to God as he had before at Sodom and
Gomorrah (Gen.
). But Abraham’s eyes burned fiercely and for the first time he
excluded me from contemplating God’s message. I felt
powerless to insert myself in what had passed between them. Finally,
Abraham fell back asleep, though fitfully as if struggling with a demon.

“I would give up my life before I
would let Isaac be harmed! ‘I would not offer my first born for sacrifice’. The Merciful One who had blessed us with a
child would not now take him away.

“I needed air. I stepped outside to
think. I walked aimlessly around the camp’s altar and spied Abraham’s special
knife. I trembled as I thought of that knife sliding against Isaac’s throat.

“What was God looking for? Why would
God suddenly seek reassurance of our commitment? I remembered God’s promise that
our offspring would inherit this land and become a great nation (Gen.
). I always assumed that Isaac and his future bride would follow in our
footsteps to lead as heads of the tribe, but I never considered just how they
would inherit our commitment to serving God. Abraham and I were not
getting any younger. If we were to pass on the covenantal responsibility, it would
have to be soon. Perhaps God was hinting that it was time for a journey
together, to meet God on a mountaintop and begin the transition of spiritual
leadership to the next generation?

“My heart began to pound as I realized
Abraham had misunderstood. God was commanding an offering to help
transmit leadership to Isaac. A sacrifice of the finest of our flocks was
called for, not a sacrifice of Isaac. I realized then, that the future of our
people depended upon me. I had to prevent a nonsensical death, and ensure our
continued covenant with God. It was on me.

“I hoped Abraham would figure this out
himself. But in case he did not, I had to intervene. So I went back to bed and
with my eyes closed, I planned my next step.

“Abraham got up early, gathered his
supplies, and took off with Isaac. He didn’t even try to wake me. No
explanation; not even a kiss goodbye.

“As soon as they were gone, I gathered
my supplies and took our finest ram. I followed carefully, hiding in the
shadows. At dawn on the third day, as they slept, I hurried up the
mountain, releasing the ram into the bushes.

“The rest happened so quickly. Abraham
was holding the knife, about to sacrifice Isaac. He seemed to be in a trance.
So in my voice that he often called ‘angelic,’ I called out, ‘Avraham,

“That broke the trance. Realizing what
he was about to do, he dropped the knife. He looked up, saw the ram that I
brought for him to sacrifice instead, and stepped toward it. Relieved at having
saved my son’s life, and grateful at having ensured the survival of our people,
I was exhausted. I cried and cried.

“Then I lay down on the ground for
what I sensed would be a long, long sleep.”




Faith in Things Not Yet Seen

Faith in Things Not Yet Seen

Faith In Things Not Yet Seen

By faith, Noah built the ark, gathered the animals, watched the waters rise, and received the rainbow promise. How do we have faith in things not yet seen?

It was Sunday, October 20, 1968 and the final day of programming at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.

Dick Fosbury was a 21 year old high jumper from Oregon State University. He was hardly a favorite to win the event. But in his third and final jump Fosbury clinched the gold medal and in the eyes of many, the event was changed forever.

You see, Dick didn’t jump the same way that the others did. The classic way of doing the high jump was to straddle the bar, facing down and lifting the legs individually over the bar.

It was a complex motion and Fosbury had difficulty with it, so he began to experiment with other ways of doing the high jump. Some described his attempts as looking like he was having some sort of an airborne seizure as he went over the bar.

Eventually he came to a technique that seemed to work for him – going over the bar backwards. It looked awkward – one Oregon newspaper ran a photo with the caption, “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” – the caption stuck, and the technique became known as the Fosbury Flop.

The defending gold medalist at the Olympics called Fosbury’s method an “aberration,” at first, but even he changed his mind. Today, among the 36 Olympic medalist high jumpers, 34 have used the Fosbury Flop. It is the most dominant technique in the sport today.

This week we began a series on Wednesdays in Lent from the book of Hebrews, called “By Faith.”

As we heard the familiar story of Noah, we know that all that Noah did was by faith. By faith, Noah built the ark. By faith, Noah gathered the animals. By faith, Noah watched the waters rise and eventually received the rainbow promise.

How do we have faith like Noah – in things not yet seen?

Dick Fosbury had never achieved a jump this high before. The most elite high jumpers in the world, his teammates, their coaches, the reporters are watching him. Most have never seen someone do the high jump like he did.

The crowd is on its feet as Fosbury makes his approach to the bar. He takes a deep breath and begins his run-up, building up speed and momentum. With a mighty leap, he launches himself into the air – backwards.

The crowd doesn’t know what to think. Is it even legal to make the jump in the way he did?

Fosbury had faith in that jump. Coaches and friends had tried to talk him out of it. It had never been done in Olympic competition before. But even though it hadn’t been seen, Dick Fosbury believed it was possible.

It wasn’t blind faith. It wasn’t that all of a sudden one day Fosbury decided to change his jump in the middle of a competition.

No…Fosbury trained, he practiced over and over again. And then, on that October Sunday in 1968, he ignored all the voices that said it couldn’t be done, it shouldn’t be done…and he jumped.

Noah built the biggest boat the world had ever seen when it wasn’t even raining. Did he and Dick Fosbury have something more than the rest of us? More courage? More trust in the possible?

I don’t think so. I think they both had simply practiced. We’re told in the book of Genesis that Noah was a righteous man (only one of 3 people in the Old Testament God calls righteous – Daniel and Job are the other two). Noah had practiced listening to God. Noah had practiced trusting God.

Lent is a time when we’re invited to practice. Practice giving, practice prayer, practice worship, practice spiritual reading.

Faith doesn’t come blindly. It comes through practice.

May our practice give us faith in the things that are not yet seen.

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

Letting Go

Letting Go
View from Camp Calumet, Lake Ossipee, New Hamphire

Marie Kondo, the household organization consultant, has been teased a lot this week because after years of sharing household de-cluttering tips, she’s decided that now with two children under three years old at home, her own house will be less tidy.

Despite the teasing, I’ve appreciated the simple advice Kondo has shared – namely, let go of the things that no longer “bring you joy.” That little helpful tip rings in my ears whenever I clear out closets or cabinets.

This past week, I attended the New England Synod clergy retreat at Camp Calumet in New Hampshire. Our closing worship invited us to think about the things we need to let go of in order to allow for the new to happen.

There are many things we hold onto because we think we “should,” but no longer bring us joy. What would happen if we said a prayer of thanks and then simply let them ago to allow space and energy and resources for something new, something more joy-filled?

In Christ,

Pastor Jen