Sermon preached on 28 Feb 2010

Here is what I said for Lent 2 last Sunday. The video camera holder seems to have taken the dropsy somehow so I look at little as though I am preaching from the Leaning Tower of Glasgow.

Abram’s Line, or Jesus’s Brood ?

This morning, the reading from Genesis which we had takes us back to the head of a rather large family tree. For the family of religious people who include the Jewish people, the Muslims and all the Christians look back at Abraham and place him fairly and squarely at the top of the tree.

Abraham (or Abram as he is still called in this week’s passage) comes at the top of the tree and gets called things like “the father of faith” or the “patriarch of patriarchs”.

There is quite a lot of effort being put into seeing Abraham as a figure who will unite people of faith. Its common when politicians face trouble between Christians and Muslims and Jewish people to appeal to Abraham as someone from whom we are all descended. “We are all children of Abraham,” they say, “don’t we all have more in common than we have that which divides us?”

I’m a little suspicious of this as I’m not sure I have that much in common with Abraham myself. Often the stories in Genesis elicit in my a kind of recognition. Adam and Eve seem to tell us so much about how men and women relate. The religious jealousy between Cain and Abel or the family jealousy of Rachel and Leah is all too real in the world I live in. The vanity of Joseph strutting about in his long sleeved fine robe seems, well, all too understandable to me!

But Abraham? What to make of him?

When we read this story of Abram this morning, perhaps we feel a little discomfort. Indeed, I rather hope that we do. For Abram is, to say the least a rather controversial figure in the way that he is presented.

Here are the problems:

• He comes from Iraq, to take the land which we might call Israel away from those who own it.

• His justification for this is that God told him so.

• He owns slaves

• He believes in a carnivorous God who seems to want the blood of animals, when the blood of human beings is not being shed in his name.

All this must give us pause for thought. Putting such a person at the top of our family tree is problematic. We have little time for land-grabbing leaders invading and capturing land in the middle east. We have little time for blood sacrifice. We have little time for those who would justify slave owning and the exploitation of women in the name of God. And the record of Abram’s relationships with women is particularly horrific. In short, as modern people looking back into the past, we do have a problem.

The language of patriarchy has infected the church and I dare say those other tribes who claim Abram as father, down the decades and caused untold damage to God’s people and God’s land. Reading the bible uncritically is a part of the problem. Reading the bible without asking hard questions perpetuates the problem. Reading the bible as though God were on the side of one tribal leader and not another is dangerous because unless we hold ourselves in check, we find ourselves doing the same thing.

If we read the bible like that, we can justify all kinds of things which are wrong. Stealing land. Exploiting women. Shedding blood in God’s name.

These things are not Godly. They never were. Not even when Abram did them. Isn’t there a better way to be?

The patriarchal mindset is religion’s shame. It is one of the reasons that people in the world just the churches harshly. Not least for they think that we are all preaching the same stuff all over again.

The interesting thing about this morning’s gospel is that Jesus challenges that whole mindset. You can hear the note of lament in his voice when he cries over the violence done to people in the name of Jerusalem. You can hear the sadness. The lament. The anguish. The prophets were killed there. Those who possessed the city stoned those who did not.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem. The stones are still flying in Jerusalem.

How often, says Jesus, How often have I desired to gather your children – all your children – together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings – and you are not willing!

And all this comes just after Jesus has said that they shall come from the east and from the west and the north and the south and sit down in God’s commonwealth.

What kind of family do you think you want to belong to? Descended from the line of violence, aggression and bloodshed or gathered with the rest of the brood, safe and secure under the warm wings of the mother hen.

Who are you? What is your inheritance. Who are you?

Part of Abram’s line?

One of Jesus’s brood?

The images which attract us are important. Some of those which come to us in the bible are no use now.

Patriarchy. Hierarchy. Male dominance. War. Violence

Safety. Security. Warmth. Comfort. Care.

We have choices to make.

This is a clear case where Jesus turns his face away from the hierarchy – away from Herod and his scheming – away from claims about land and kingship – away from those who have done violence in God’s name – away from those who have killed the prophets and throne stones in God’s name.

As time goes on, I think we discover that there are better ways to be. And the glorious task of God’s people is to discover them



  1. Andrew says

    Reading Genesis, it always struck me what a rotter Abram was. In modern times he would have been charged with trafficking women and child abuse. I was glad to hear you agree with this view.
    Maybe it is because the Abrahamic faiths have him in common that we are always at each other’s throats.

  2. Elizabeth says

    Leaning pulpit or no, I’m glad to have the opportunity to listen to this sermon. I find it intriguing, if somewhat troubling as well. The image of Jesus as mother hen is quite compelling to me, but I wonder what you think might be a site of commonality between Jews, Muslims and Christians if Abraham is problematic (for all the reasons you mention)?

  3. Elizabeth says

    Nods. That sounds like a good one.

  4. dmitri says

    At my seminary in Connecticut they have tried to promote the “Abrahamic religion” idea for many years. As a Christian, I have never felt comfortable with it. Muslims and Jews may trace their roots through Ishmael and Isaac to father Abraham (but not mother Sarah). The Christian gospel however begins with John’s warning: “Don’t say you are sons of Abraham. God can raise up stones to be sons of Abraham.”
    To say that the Abrahamic religions have much in common is to draw the circle a little wider than Judaeo Christian to include Muslims which seems like a good idea but only at the expense of seeing our commonality with Hindus and Buddhists and others. Not the best interfaith tactic after all.

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