Third Sunday in Lent Collect
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty
desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the
right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our
enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I grew up as a PK, a pastor’s kid. That meant that we moved around a good deal when I was a child. This was before the internet, so my father had a very large library full of books about the Bible and theology. I helped box and move that library so many times! Every time my parents announced that we were moving I thought, ‘Oh no! I have to move that library again!’ But it wasn’t just the library that was moving. We were moving. I never felt like I was from anywhere. As I have grown older I have tried to put down roots. I love my town in Virginia. I love my parish and my school. I want this place to be my home. I want these people to be my neighbors. Oddly, with the invention of the car and now the internet, our sense of place and belonging have been much diminished. As important as the Biblical command to love the stranger is, ‘diversity’ defined as combining all cultures into one does not increase community but undermines it. We are in our bodies, and our bodies take up space. Being from a place, loving our neighbors as ourselves, is not a platitude, but the most fundamental part of being human, and a Christian human at that.
We see that sentiment expressed in the last chapter of Genesis. Jacob was dying, and as he breathed his last he made his son Joseph promise not to leave him in Egypt, but to bury him with his fathers Abraham and Isaac in Canaan. What an astonishing demand! Jacob was now living in the lap of luxury in the finest pasture Egypt had to offer, while the Egyptians ruled the known world. What’s not to like! But Jacob said, ‘God didn’t give me this land. He gave me Canaan. My family is buried there. Take me back and bury me next to them.’ Is this just sentimentality? Well, as I’ve already said above, there is something positively good about loving the place we are from. But it isn’t just sentimentality. God had given Abraham and his descendants Canaan as a sign of his love for them. It was a sacred and holy place because it was to speak to them of that deeper promise from God. The Letter to the Hebrews says it this way, ‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ (11.8-10) The promised land wasn’t a good in itself. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all died in hope. Their hope wasn’t in the dirt of Canaan. Their hope was in God’s promises. This is the hope that reaches beyond the grave. It is the hope that looks forward to the new Earth that God will give to those who follow him like travelers in this life, knowing that there is a home that awaits in the world to come.
Liam, Oliver, Theodore and Declan for the boys. Charlotte, Amelia, Violet and Aria for the girls. Naming a dog or a cat can be puzzling. Naming a human being can absolutely daunting. Even Johnny Cash sang a song about a ‘Boy named Sue’. We don’t want to ruin our children’s lives with something antique, but we don’t want to label them with something so dated that we’ll regret forever. I once had a customer named ‘Dureen’. Llewellyn is actually a boy’s name. But we know better than to do that to our children. Right?
But to make sense of this chapter in Hebrews we need to understand the names. The whole story turns on the deeper meaning of the identities of all the players that come from Genesis and Levi’s role as priest comes from the next book, Exodus. This chapter refers to Abraham’s heroic rescue of Lot in Genesis 14. Four great kings of the region we know as Iraq had invaded the Jordan River valley, had defeated the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and the surrounding cities and had made off with hundreds of people and all their possessions. Among these prisoners of war were Lot and his family. Abraham led his own private army along with the cities allied with him. He defeated the invading kings and returned the prisoners to their homes. As he was returning south the king of Jerusalem, a priest by the name of Melchizedek, came out to meet Abraham. Abraham offered Melchizedek 10 percent of all he had taken from the invaders, a tithe. Melchizedek in turn offered Abraham bread and wine. This is an astonishing exchange. Melchizedek’s name literally means, ‘king of covenant faithfulness’ and he was king of the city of Salem, ‘the king of Peace’. The King of Peace is also the King of Covenant Faithfulness who is also a priest of the God that Abraham worships. Abraham, ‘the father of many nations’ offers him tribute, a tithe, acknowledging that he is a true priest of the one true God. But we’re just getting started! Levi, Abraham’s grandson, whose name means, ‘He [God] loves me’, was the father of Israel’s priestly tribe. They were the ones tasked with offering the right sacrifices to God. But our passage from Hebrews that he offered sacrifices to the true priest, Melchizedek, thru his grandfather Abraham. The inescapable conclusion is that all of Israel’s sacrificial system represented by Levi was inferior to that greater worship offered by the greatest priest, the King of Peace, the King of Covenant Faithfulness. So who could this Melchizedek be?