Texts: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Writer: Jonathan Shively
Reflection on Faithfulness:
I have a friend who in her mid 40s has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. As pervasive as cancer is, I suspect you may have a relative or friend who has fought a similar battle. Maybe you yourself have stared into the face of this demon. I am learning from my friend what faith in God looks like in the face of pain, fear, and physical suffering. It’s honest and intense. It’s personal and yet it’s public. It’s persistent as well as consistent. It is amazing.
This week’s texts are about faithfulness. In the Genesis story, it appears that Abraham is being lauded for his obedience to God. He takes his son Isaac with him into the back-country. They are preparing a sacrificial altar to God. Imagine Isaac’s surprise when his own father ties him up and puts him on the pyre! God’s test of Abraham’s loyalty is complete when Abraham’s knife is readied to sacrifice his son. God intervenes, releases Isaac, commends Abraham’s faithfulness, and provides a sacrificial ram instead. Abraham, a man of great faith.
The Psalmist, too, speaks of faithfulness, demonstrating how in the face of realities that seem overwhelming God remains present and provides bountifully. The 13th Psalm focuses on the willingness of the Psalmist to trust in God despite a perceived absence of God, and in the face of suffering caused by enemies. “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5) In the passage from the 89th Psalm, the Psalmist David repeats the covenant which God made with him. “You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” (Psalm 89:3-4)
In Nigeria right now, Christians and Muslims are being killed by a radical Islamic group called Boko Haram. On April 14 they kidnapped 230 Christian and Muslim girls from a school. You may be familiar with the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. Many of these girls are part of a church that is connected to my own religious community. I have friends who know that school in Chibok, who know some of the families who are affected. Over two months later it seems unlikely that the girls will return. They are feared dead or sold into slavery.
As we receive updates from the leaders of EYN–Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), the consistent request that is given is to engage in prayer and fasting. As families mourn the missing girls, and as the violence of Boko Haram continues to take lives, destroy property, and disrupt communities, EYN persists in their reliance on God’s strength, the pursuit of peaceful solutions, and a steady faith.
Jeremiah speaks of the prophets of peace. We pray for the prophets of peace in Nigeria, that the ways of the Lord might overcome the brutality and terror of Boko Haram.
Challenges to our faith come in different forms and at varying times for each of us. Perhaps it’s in these most challenging times, like facing a crucial health crisis or being vulnerable to violence, that faith is truly defined. May we each be given the gift of faith for whatever challenges we will meet today. And may our faith serve as a witness to others around us to the faithfulness of God.
(additional information on the situation in Nigeria can be found at http://www.brethren.org/partners/nigeria/)
Hymn & Song Suggestions:
Great is thy faithfulness Chisholm & Runyan
God of Justice Hughes
Don’t be afraid The Iona Community
A mighty fortress is our God Luther
(William Massie, 1935 in Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans, James Melvin Washington, Phd, 1994, p. 159)
Lord, keep me from all bitterness, I pray.
In these perplexing days of doubt and strain.
When courage fails and faith and hope grow dim
Oh, let me not complain.
Oh, save me from the ever haunting fear
That clutches at my heart with wild demands,
That chills my love, that paralyzes faith,
That blinds my eyes to all God’s plans.
Lord, let me not feel pity for myself
But go my way with laughter and good cheer;
With head held high and eye and heart aglow,
With strength to scorn each tear.
Let me not feel that I alone do suffer,
I would not doubt the wisdom of God’s plan;
The world has ever groaned and sought release
From pain, since time began.
So let me face the future unafraid.
To-day is good: to-morrow taunts with fear.
To-morrow I shall find but God’s to-day
To prove anew His presence near.