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Open Spaces

Chapter 26 

Good Monday Morning to this week 26 of 2021 


Last week we farewelled a few people out of our staff. In writing the cards for them I came across this passage in Genesis 26.22. The three leaving invested over ten years in our church and “dug many wells”. Now in their leaving my wish for them is that they get to the well called Rehoboth – “open spaces”! 

He moved from there and dug another, and they did not quarrel over it. He named it Open Spaces and said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land. Genesis 26.22

Having moved some distance away from the main population of Gerar, supposed to in Wady er-Ruheibeht about 20 miles south of Beersheba.  Isaac’s men have dug two wells so far. In both cases, they were challenged by the local herdsmen over the rights to the water. Isaac named both wells to represent the disputes that came from them. The first was called Esek, the second Sitnah, meaning “contention” and “quarrel,” respectively. This choice seems to reflect a passive attitude on the part of Isaac since he’s clearly powerful enough to keep those wells by force if he so chose.

The third well, however, brings no dispute from the locals. Perhaps they gave up challenging Isaac once they realized he would just keep digging wells. Or, perhaps Isaac’s family has moved far enough away that it’s just not worth a challenge from the locals anymore, we don’t know, but Isaac appears to be satisfied. He names this well Rehoboth, which means “broad places” or “room,” “open space”  and he gives credit to the Lord for providing it.
Specifically, Isaac notices that the Lord has made room for his enormous estate to settle in the region. Nothing would now stand in the way of the fruitful growth of all of his possessions.

This my wish for you all this week, that as you dig new wells, you can say, the Lord has made room – new open spaces – a place to be fruitful in the land you cultivate!

Philemon 

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Sojourners

Chapter 25

Good Monday Morning to this week 25 of 2021

Middle Eastern cultures are famous for their hospitality. For example, Abraham invited the angelic visitors into his tent and provided a lavish meal for them.  Even so, strangers among the different tribal groups were looked at with suspicion, often conned or taken advantage of, and not treated well, especially if they were poor. God’s instructions were countercultural. Jesus follows the Old Testament pattern and takes it a step further by saying that how we treat strangers indicates whether we are his followers. We are to invite the stranger in if we are his disciples.

Maskoun was a privileged but average young man in Syria before the war broke out. His father owned an international jewellery business in Aleppo and his mother was a professor of Arabic. He’d already completed his engineering degree and his siblings seemed ready to follow in his footsteps. “I had everything that I needed,” Maskoun says in fluent English. “I had my education, I did my engineering, I had my car, my friends, the little house I thought I’d get married in one day.”

Then, suddenly, he didn’t. It was a clear choice: flee or be killed.

The Maskouns fled Syria and made their way across borders and nations, mercifully safe and eventually together to the outskirts of Paris. By being granted asylum in France, Maskoun had a chance to start a new life. But at first, it was hard to feel anything but lost, and lonely.“The refugee is a broken person when he arrives in a new country,” Maskoun says.

The foreigners residing among you must be treated as native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.—Leviticus 19:34

You won’t find the term “refugee” in the Bible but it has plenty to say about people called “strangers” and “sojourners” or “foreigners” referring to people who were from other ethnic groups and had chosen to live with the Jews in Israel.

For instance, Ruth the widow from the tribe of Moab who chooses to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel and live there with her. We see her ask Boaz, in whose field she is gleaning, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?” She understands her status as being outside the tribe of Israel.

Right after Maskoun arrived in France he did receive much, but quite soon after he started to give. He made friends and invited them to his home to eat Syrian food. When he was recruited for an internship and later an enviable job as a project engineer, he always looked for ways to extend opportunities to former classmates. He paid his taxes, and got involved in political life. He taught math and physics to refugee kids for free.

“They call me refugee, but I consider myself a guest,” Maskoun says. “I start my lectures in French so they think I’m a French person,” he says. “Then I switch to Arabic, tell them my story, tell them I was in their place, didn’t speak French, got two masters, learned the language and inspire them. I quote Maskoun: “The main thing we try to work on is to empower refugees, and make them believe in themselves and that they can do it again, “They are here, they are alive. With some effort, they can do it again. We tell them their first responsibility is to the country that took them in. The second is to their own country, to gain skills to take back.”

Refugees, strangers, foreigners, sojourners should be viewed as people, not a crisis. With an effort on everyone’s part, they can be a value added to society. Maskoun feels at home now as he walks through the streets he feels that France is his country. But he has not forgotten Syria. And although he is as much a part of French society as the next monsieur, he reminds himself that he is still a guest. Because someday, he hopes, he will return to his homeland.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.—Hebrews 13:1-2

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. Ephesians 2.19

This verse lays out how we are also the “foreigners” and “strangers” a used metaphor for our condition before our new found faith. Now because of His grace we are now part of God’s community — strangers who have been welcomed in.

Praying for displaced persons, refugees, migrants, immigrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons and many more fitting one of these many categories.

Wishing a good start to this new week.
Philemon

That divine Darkness

Chapter 24

Good Monday Morning to this week 24 of 2021

God is his attributes in infinite measure. He is maximally alive; he could not be more alive than he is eternally. The church fathers liked to make this point by calling God pure act (actus purus). He cannot be more perfectly in act than he is, otherwise, he would be less than perfect, finite and in need of improvement.

Isaiah famously foretold prophecy was the Savior’s birth, the birth of Immanuel, and the works of Jehovah through him, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives. The book is full of symbolism and poetry making much of his teaching veiled, yet understandable with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah was the last of the major prophets to teach all of the twelve Israelite tribes before they were scattered to the north and east.

Hebrew poetry plays with repetition as an artistic device. Everywhere in the Psalms and prophets you can find two to four to six lines of “rhymed meaning”. Starting with two:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth (Isaiah 1:1) 

Often more than a simple repetition. The mention of ear is more concrete than the first to hear.

The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib (Isaiah 1:3)

From a silhouette of a farmer to a definite picture of a donkey and crib.

They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 1:4)

To “despise” is not a more definite picture than “forsake,” but it says something more intense.

In the poetry it goes from a pair of successive lines to a succession of four lines that have alternate rhymes.

For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted:

and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen.

For your shall be like an oak whose leaf withers,

and like a garden without water. (1; 29-30)

The first two lines with its oaks and gardens parallels are followed by the second with its oaks and gardens. Within each we find the familiar dynamic of concretization and intensification: the generic “be ashamed” becomes the more concrete “blush”; the more preliminary stage of “delight” becomes the further, hardened state of “choose”.

(ashamed becomes blush, from delight to choice)

Or even a more elaborate structure of text: / / Enter into the rock, \ and hide in the dust / from before the terror of the Lord, \ and from the glory of his majesty. / The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, \ and the pride of men shall be humbled; \ And the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.

Notice how Isaiah balances a single line against all three previous. “And the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.” This solitary line standing in contrasting parallel to all three before, it emphasizes with this one line, so much structural weight and emphasizes how exalted the Lord’s will will be done.

This is the effect poetry can have: you do not simply know about God’s majesty, but you feel that it is in front of you like a mountain or a tree. You feel that you could close your eyes and still know where God’s majesty is, the way you can locate furniture in a dark but familiar room. It is not a knowledge primarily of the mind, not knowledge of an object, but a kind of sympathy or connection by nature with the known, knowledge in the mode of a subject.

That divine Darkness is the unapproachable light in which God dwells. Into this Darkness, rendered invisible by its own excessive brilliance and unapproachable by the intensity of its transcendent flood of light, come to be all those who are worthy to know and to see God. We pray that we may come unto this Darkness which is beyond light, and without seeing and without knowing, to see and to know That which is above vision and above knowledge. Dionysius

Coming from the poetry of Isiah we landed at mystical contemplation with Him the God of all Darkness and Light who transcends all being and all knowledge.

Wishing a week with a deep sense of this God and creator being with us.

Philemon 

Convivencia

Chapter 23

Good Monday Morning to this week of 23 of 2021

Convivencia – Coexistence

The Mezquita–Cathedral of Córdoba is located in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Due to its status as a former Islamic mosque, it is also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba. According to traditional accounts, Christian Basilica of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, originally stood on the site of the current Mosque-Cathedral. The Great Mosque was constructed on the orders of Abd ar-Rahman I in 785. The mosque was converted to a cathedral in 1236 when Córdoba was captured by the Christian forces of Castile during the Reconquista. Starting in the 19th century, modern restorations have in turn led to the recovery and study of some of the building’s Islamic-era elements.Today, the building continues to serve as the city’s cathedral and Mass is celebrated therein daily. This amazing building leads me to some thoughts on coexistence.

Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgement on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4

There is so much that divides us nowadays. This current pandemic has highlighted this in many more ways that we would have liked to be true. Its as if there was always something to disagree on right now.

A few years ago there were many attacks on Christians in Egypt. Many churches were vandalised and looted. During all of this an this image by and Jesuit writer is communicated, showing Muslim leaders backing up Christians. The picture shows several Islamic men standing in front of a large church, protecting congregants as they attend mass.

Located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is the Oasis of Peace (‘Neve Shalom, a Jewish-Arab community founded in 1970. The village is composed of about 50 families; half are Jewish, half are Arab, and the majority are secular. The Oasis of Peace serves as an example of the possibility of coexistence in Israel. The name “Neve shalom” is taken from a passage in Isaiah 32:18: “My people shall dwell in an oasis of peace.

I call for more coexistence, for the pursuit of peace, for seeking that with unites and not divides.

In Mark 4: 39, Jesus rose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be at peace, and they had to obey him! He also wants us to be at peace. Many times in the scriptures, God instructs his children to be at peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is the source of peace. Jesus shared with his disciples of how he would arrange peace with Holy Spirit: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Wishing you a week of blessed coexistence with much peace !

Philemon