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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ABRAHAM: MEETING GUESTS, MEETING GOD

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From The Old Testament
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Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.
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 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw [them], he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground,

 and said, "My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.

 "Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.

 "And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant." They said, "Do as you have said."
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 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, "Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead [it] and make cakes."
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 And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave [it] to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it.
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 So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set [it] before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
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 Then they said to him, "Where [is] Sarah your wife?" So he said, "Here, in the tent."

 And He said, "I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." (Sarah was listening in the tent door which [was] behind him.)

 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; [and] Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 
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Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"

 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I surely bear [a child], since I am old?'

 "Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son."
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Genesis 18: 1-14
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The following passage is from the
 Foreword by Karen Armstrong to
THE TENT OF ABRAHAM -
Stories of Hope and Peace for
Jews, Christians, and Muslims
by
Joan Chittister, OSB
Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti
Rabbi Arthur Wasko
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[Even though this book came out five years ago,
its stories, its message, is more important now than
it has ever been.]
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The story of Abraham, explored here by the authors from
the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish perspectives, is a story of pluralism that is sorely needed in this time of religious hatred.  In the Christian tradition, Abraham is often called the father of those who believe, but he has none of the hard certainties of dogmatic faith.  Instead, the Bible repeatedly shows Abraham in the dark, asking questions of God and getting remarkably unsatisfactory answers.  At a time when we have seen too much certainty, The Tent of Abraham reminds us that the kind of confusion, fear, and dismay that so many of us are experiencing can be the start of a new religious quest.
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Yet Abraham did have one luminous encounter.  Genesis 18 tells us that one day while he was sitting outside his tent at Mamre in the broiling heat of a Middle Eastern afternoon, he saw three strangers on the horizon.  Strangers in the ancient world were potentially lethal people, because they were not bound by the local laws of vendetta and could strike with impunity.  Even today, very few of us would invite three total strangers off the street and into our own house.  But this is what Abraham did.  He ran out eagerly to meet these people, who did not belong to his ethnic or religious group.  The text emphasizes his haste; he is not dragging his feet, approaching these travelers with reluctance, but runs out to greet them, prostrating himself before them as though they were kings.
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  He then tells his wife to prepare an elaborate meal to refresh them after their arduous journey.  And during the ensuing conversation, it transpires quite naturally that one of these strangers is Abraham's God.  The act of practical compassion led directly to a divine encounter.
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This is a strange story to find in a Jewish scripture,
because later Jewish teaching would be wary of seeing the divine in human form.  But it expresses a religious truth found in all the major traditions: it is compassion, not righteousness and doctrinal certainty, that leads us into the presence of what monotheists call God but others have termed Nirvana, Brahman, or the Tao.  Greek Orthodox Christians have always loved this story, regarding it as an early manifestation of God as Trinity.  A famous icon of the fifteenth-century painter Andrei Rublev depicts the three travelers as angels, representing Father, Word, and Holy Spirit, and has transformed Abraham's meal into the Eucharist.  The message is clear: the mysterious revelation of the Trinity will only make sense in the context of the liturgy and of generous communion with our fellow human beings, all of whom are sacred emissaries.
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It is of the utmost importance that Abraham's three visitors were strangers.  In Hebrew, the word qadosh (holy) means "separate, other."  It is the otherness of the stranger - even perhaps the initial recoil that we may feel when confronted with people who seem alien - that can give us intimations of the holiness of God.  Religion was implicated in the catastrophe of September 11.  Monotheists must reclaim their traditions from murderous sectarianism and return to the compassion that is the core of their faith.
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We are all children of Abraham,
 Abraham We are all children of Abraham 
 Vast as the stars of heaven, Abraham, Abraham
Blessed be ye nations, Abraham
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Cross the burnin' sands, Abraham
O'er to Cananns land, Abraham
He kept the course, Abraham
Faithful to the voice, Abraham
Abraham, we are all children of Abraham
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Blessed are the nations, Abraham, Abraham
Who honor his creations, Abraham
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And then one day, Abraham
He heard God say, Abraham
Leave this land, Abraham
Cross the burnin' sand, Abraham
And you will find, Abraham
Peace of mind, Abraham
That only I, Abraham
Can provide, Abraham
Yes, Abraham, Abraham, Abraham
So he was blessed, Abraham
By the ultimate test, Abraham
Never doubtful of, Abraham
The living God, Abraham
He heard the call, Abraham
To heed the law, Abraham
Of God above, Abraham

The God of love, Abraham
Abraham, Abraham, we are all children of Abraham

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Although it may be an error to speak of "chosen people,"
it is not a mistake to refer to Abraham as
a chosen individual.
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THE URANTIA BOOK
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