Sacrifice & Obedience

The Sacrifice of Isaac ~ Rembrandt van Rijn 1635

 

PREPARATION PRAYER

Lover of the unlovable, we are captives of the world. Recapture our loyalties, not by defeating our will but by drawing it to yours. Seize our spirits, not by forcing us into your grasp but by freeing us from our ways of sin…

Our ears strain for the sound of you, our eyes for the sight of you; our hearts tremble in anticipation of your presence.

Make us your captives Lord. Amen.

E Tilson & P Cole

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Last week while reflecting on the terrifying story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac (Genesis 22) we referred to Rembrandt’s painting of the scene which he did in 1635 (above). This bold 6 feet by 4 feet painting was done by Rembrandt in his prime.

In the painting we see that Isaac takes up the full foreground/half-naked/pale in the light/stretched open/vulnerable/neck exposed. Abraham’s disproportionately large left hand covers Isaac’s entire face. It doesn’t just cover — it smothers in a life-threatening manner. Abraham looks startled and puzzled by the angel’s “put down” — almost saying to himself “now where did you come from and why are you interrupting me?” The angel catches Abraham just in time. The angel’s left hand is raised signalling “stop” or perhaps even in rebuke “what are you doing harming your boy?” while the other hand has forced Abraham to drop the knife which is left in mid-air.

We then contrasted this painting with a small etching (6 inches by 5 inches) that Rembrandt did of the same scene twenty years later. The etching was done after Rembrandt had married, lost three children in infancy, and lost his wife after she gave birth to their only child who lived to adulthood.

Rembrandt’s 1655 interpretation of the scene is vastly different to his early painting. Here we are able to see the love Abraham has for Isaac who is kneeling next to him/head almost on his lap/held close. Abraham gently covers Isaac’s eyes wanting to protect him from seeing what he was about to do. Perhaps most interestingly, Abraham is holding the knife in his left hand — his weaker hand — such is his painful reluctance to go through with the killing. The angel is embracing Abraham — there is no sense of reprimand or force — a comforting hold and you can almost hear the words: “it’s okay … everything is going to be okay … spare the boy”. The angel’s wingspan almost touches the frame and certainly aims to cover the full multitude of Abraham’s anguish. Abraham is relieved but he is also scarred — never to be the same again.

In the first it looks to me as if the angel is focused on saving Isaac and in the etching it looks like the angel is almost more focused on saving/comforting Abraham. Only this week did I notice that the first is called The Sacrifice of Isaac, while the etching is called The Sacrifice of Abraham.

As our life experiences change I hope we too will see the scriptures — especially those most familiar to us — in new ways. May we never hold onto one interpretation so tightly that we cannot receive another.

Grace, Alan

Justice matters

PENTECOST PROMISE

At Pentecost, the church celebrates the coming of the Spirit – the outpouring of the sudden power of God to transform a wounded and disillusioned band of stragglers into a community that changed the world.

It was a power that was both awaited in obedience, and utterly unexpected in its energy and urgency. It generated both a deep interior fire, and immediate, compelling and outrageous public witness.

~ Janet Morley

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RAMADAN

I encourage you to observe Ramadan this year — or if you are unable to observe the entire month then choose a day or two per week. I encourage you to join your local Mosque for prayers and the joy of breaking fast together. In this way we affirm the faith tradition of others which is so important in today’s world where different religions are often a source of division and conflict in society.

To participate in another’s faith tradition on their terms is to do to others as we would have them do to us. It is to affirm their tradition as a means of God’s grace. We must always remember that the Christian faith does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. I firmly believe that we have so much to learn about the discipline of prayer and fasting from our Muslim faith family that we will be the richer for this experience.

The Holy month of Ramadan begins on 29 June. The fast from water, food and sex begins from sunlight (Sehri 06:18) until sunset (Iftaar 17:50). These times will get earlier (Sehri) and later (Iftaar) as the month progresses. By the last day of Ramadan Sehri is at 06:10 and Iftaar is at 18:06.

My hope is that during our fast we will grow in compassion and mercy for those who are hungry on a daily basis — those who are forced to fast due to poverty. My hope is that during Ramadan, we will have a heightened concern for the well-being of the community as we make more time for prayer and deeper devotions and courageous acts of compassion and justice.

Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month you should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to reflect on one’s personality and character — just as we are encouraged to do during Lent. Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during, or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast.

I invite you to journey through Ramadan with two passages of Scripture. May these Scriptures be for us a window through which we can see and reflect on our experience. Every morning and evening let us read Isaiah 58 and Matthew 2:1-11.

Strength for the fast!

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A couple of weeks ago Pope Francis visited Israel/Palestine. As one would expect he had a tightly managed itinerary with many “minders”. He made many stops at both Palestinian and Israeli sites. He prayed at the western wall of the temple like other popes before him.

The most memorable image of his trip was his unplanned stop at another wall. The wall that divides Bethlehem and which carves up Palestinian communities into ghettos.

Bethlehem-based photojournalist Kelly Lynn has written about Mohammed Abu Srour, the young Palestinian activist who sprayed the graffiti message in advance of the Pope’s visit. Apparently, Mohammed and his comrades played an extensive game of cat and mouse with IDF soldiers and PA security before he was able to successfully spray his direct message just in time for the Pope’s arrival:

A few minutes before Pope Francis arrived, spray cans surfaced and activists from the previous day’s action began to paint over the newly, newly-painted wall and gate. Mohammed climbed his friend’s shoulders and because of the frenzy, security personnel could not be bothered. “They painted all of the wall silver, you couldn’t see anything we did yesterday, so we decided to write again for the Pope. We want him to pay attention to our issues as normal Palestinians,” explained Abu Srour.

And then, in a glass-covered pristine white pick-up truck, he came.

“I didn’t expect the Pope to go down and start to read the sentences and meet the children and people there. He shocked us,” said Abu Srour.

I admire the persistent tenacity of the shoulder-climbing-spray-painting activists. And I just love the fact that the Pope stopped and prayed at this “unholy” wall – enabling his bowed head to be neatly framed by the activist’s pointed message: “Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice” and “Pope, Bethlehem look like the Warsaw ghetto.”.

From this parable-like event I am reminded that …

  1. No matter how confined we experience the itinerary of our life we can stop and break out of it. We do not have to be a victim to others setting the agenda for our life.
  2. The risky justice work of others beckons me to draw attention to it – sometimes without even saying a word.
  3. Where I pray matters. That praying next to an unholy wall may be the holiest thing I can do.
  4. That prayer at its best is political. It challenges the powers of domination in the world.
  5. That history is often repeated. That the victims of yesterday can become the oppressors of today.

Grace, Alan

We are all family

Cape Town is, without question, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it is the people of Cape Town that give the city its brilliant glow.

I have been in the city for just over a month, and my sojourn thus far has introduced me to the many faces of Cape Town.

I have met Thelma, a native South African, and found a sharing heart and a listening ear. By the end of our time together I felt that we were known to one another. I’ve met Gertrude, from Zimbabwe, via Dubai, who owns a prosperous business. By the end of our time together I was encouraged that, though the journey is difficult at times, and it IS difficult, God remains faithful. I’ve met Ziv, a Polish South African, by way of Israel, who has owned several successful businesses. Ziv was eager to talk to me, a minister, and to impress upon me the urgent need in society for moral instruction.

I have been greeted in isiXhosa and been delighted to be confused for a native daughter.

Mostly, though, I have been meeting you, CMM. Your kindness and hospitality have been so great as to allow no place for homesickness or lonesomeness. The cover of our church bulletin declares, “You are not a stranger or a guest. You are family.” I have, indeed, found this to be true.

My prayer for us, as we move through these cold winter days, is that I would not be alone in my experience. That Others would be drawn into the warm embrace of the CMM family. Let us be intentional in our efforts to include these Others at our tables, in our Warm Winter Worship, and in our prayers. And may we all encounter anew the life-changing fire of God on this Third Sunday of Pentecost.

Peace to you, Alease.