Tag Archives: healing

September 19, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 9:00 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for September 5, 2021. Today we will learn the importance for Christians to not only live in to their faith, but to make sure that they are doing so genuinely.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 8: Ishmael

Read Genesis 21:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness.” (Genesis‬ ‭21:20a‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 8, Ishamel. There is nothing worse than seeing a child needlessly suffer. At the time of this writing, news is breaking about a terrorist suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert outside of the arena in Manchester, UK. At this point, at least 22 people are dead and dozens maimed and I just find myself heartbroken for those people. Ariana Grande, of course, is a pop star who is very popular with tweens and teens. Many of those children were at the concert alone, with their parents coming back to pick them up, which is a common practice in today’s time.

What kind of monster would do that to a child? Why would someone attack those who have barely even begun to live their lives? Why would one want to charm innocent children? These questions and more run through desparate minds as they try to make sense of what is ultimately senseless evil running amok in our world.

Yet, when we read the story of Ishmael, we barely even bat an eye. After all, he survived, right? Sure, he had his birthright stripped from him and he got thrown out to the wilderness by his father, but no harm no fould, right? It is amazing to me how we can glaze over and ignore the horrors in the Bible simply because it was done in the name of God and the presumption of God’s will.

Yet, if we pay close attention to the details of the story, Ishmael was not yet weaned from breastfeeding when he and his mother were banished from his home due to Sarah’s jealousy which was ultimately due to Abraham’s infdelity. This means that Ishmael was a mere 2-3 years old at best when he and his mother were sent out into the scorching, arid wilderness to fend for themselves. 2-3 years old! This was nothing short of a death sentence. This was nothing short of EVIL!

Yet, despite the way the author wrote it in the Bible, the reality is that God would not let that evil win. Despite the cold, heartless, cruel actions of Abraham and Sarah, God was with Ishmael and his mother. God would not let the injustice of his people go unanswered and uncountered. Instead, God provided for them. God gave them a well to drink from and, eventually, delivered them to safety. The Scriptures state that “God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer and settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from Egypt” (Genesis 21:20-21).

The first thing that needs to be stressed is this: God’s people don’t always get it right. In fact, God’s people sometimes get it very wrong! What’s more, even God’s people are not immune from committing attrocious acts of evil. Just because we think we are a part of the “in crowd” deos not mean that we are truly “in line” with God. God’s people often make the mistake of believing that God belongs to us. My friends, the TRUTH is that we belong to God, not the other way around; however, we only belong to God when we are aligned with God’s will, not just because we presume to know God’s will.

Secondly, it is important to make note of consistent pattern. God blesses people. People become complacent in their blessedness. Complacency leads to the belief that God belongs to us, and that belief leads people to do unjust things because they have effectively replaced God with themselves. These unjust, and often evil, things lead people to suffer in oppression. God hears the cries of the injust and aligns with them, and begins to counter the evil through prophets and others who work voice God’s outrage and judgment upon the oppressors, as well as work to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. God blesses the oppressed and liberates them, showing the world that THEY ARE GOD’s PEOPLE.

This pattern hopefully leads to shame and repentance among God’s wayward people, but sadly that is not always the case. Ishmael’s tale is the tale of the oppressed, and it is a cautionary tale for all of us. We’ve all played the part of the oppressed, and we’ve all played the part of the oppressor. We’ve all been given God’s blessing, and we’ve all turned God’s blessing into a curse for others. God is calling all of us to recognize this fact, to break the chains of this pattern, and return to being God’s righteous people once again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We should aspire to God’s righteousness not self-righteousness.

PRAYER

Lord, love me, bless me, correct me, forgive me, and use me as a blessing for others.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 7: Hagar

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 7, Hagar. What can be said about poor Hagar, a woman who most people haven’t really heard of or, if they have, they don’t know much more about her than the fact that she was Ishmael’s mom. All of the attention in the Abrahamic narrative is spent on Sarah, Isaac and, of course, Abraham. Yet, aside from all of the blessings we see bestowed upon Abraham and his family, there is a dark and tragic drama that exists in Hagar’s story.

The story of Hagar, at least where we come to know her, starts out with no drama whatsoever; rather, it is one that is filled with heartache and burden. She was a slave girl who was charged with serving Sarah. According to the Jewish midrash Genesis Rabbah, it was when Sarah was in Pharoah’s harem (thanks to her cowardly husband), that the Pharaoh gave her his daughter as a slave, saying, “It is better for my a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house.” The Pharoah probably did this after falling under God’s wrath made him realize that Sarah was not single, but married to the guy who claimed to be her brother (aka Abraham).

So, Hagar might have started off with a life of leizure, but her fate was to become the slave girl of a woman who would, eventually, use her and abuse her. How you ask? Sarah had been promised a child by God, but she was barren and she was old. How could she possibly have a child at her age, and especially since she was barren? So she “convinced” her husband (I put convinced in quotation marks because, though I am staying true to the narrative, who knows how this really went down), to have sex with Hagar in order to have her child through the slave girl as the surrogate mother. So, that is what Abraham did.

Hagar, at this moment, felt blessed, because she had gone from slave girl to mother of the heir of her wealthy owner’s husband. The only problem, though she was biologically the mother, that child belonged to Sarah as Hagar was technically only the surrogate mother (meaning she agreed to give up her rights over the child). What’s more, God did finally fulfill the promise made to Abraham and Sarah by making Sarah pregnant with Isaac.

This seemed great to Hagar, because now Ishmael was no longer the attention of Sarah’s eye, as Sarah had her very own child. On top of that, Ishmael was the first born and, according to patriarchal society, the oldest was entitled to the birthright and was heir to the father. Hagar grew a bit too confident in Ishmael’s place in Abraham’s family and, as a result, drew the bitter and heated jealousy of Sarah. From that moment on Sarah treated Hagar harshly, which we can only imagine means that she insulted her, threatened her and probably beat her as well. Sarah also successfully convinced her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. He agreed and kicked the two of them out of his camp, sending them out to the wildnerness to fend for themselves.

Yet, despite the multiple sins of Abraham and Sarah that were acted out against Hagar and her son, God did not leave them abandoned to the fate their owners consigned them to. Instead, God protected them and gave them food and shelter from the scorching sun. What’s more, God blessed Ishmael and, though he would not become the heir to Abraham’s camp, he did become the father of many nations. In fact, Muslims traces their roots back to Abraham via Ishmael.

Here’s what we can pull from this tragic story. No matter the tragedies in our lives. No matter what sins we commit and no matter what sins are committed against us, God never abandons God’s people. We are God’s people and God will always lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be. There are no human designs that can overwrite God’s design for us. Have faith and trust that, no matter the circumstances, God’s grace abounds.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we look at Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, we see that God’s grace can survive our three-ring-circuses of compromise, rationalization and weak faith.” – Carl Prude, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, no matter my circumstance, my sins, or my struggles, your grace abounds. Amen.

September 12, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 9:00 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for September 5, 2021. Today we will learn the importance for Christians to not only live in to their faith, but to make sure that they are doing so genuinely.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

Divided We Stand

Read Matthew 22:36-40

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8 NLT).

New York City 2021

Tomorrow, Setpember 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93. Twenty years ago tomorrow, the first attack on civilians from a foreign invader on American soil in over two centuries. What’s more, it was the day that changed the entire trajectory of a country.

From there we entered into two simultaneous wars, one in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq. The one has just come to a tumultuous end and the other ended years ago, but the effects of that war are still in play. From there we elected our first black president, and saw the rise of a new birth of racism and nationalism. We saw people vehemently oppose him and even question the president’s birth for fear he was a foreign national. Ugly stuff.

Still, that was not the end, was it? Nope. Instead, we elected another president, this time a leader who would play into our hugest fears and pit us against each other for his own gain. It worked. After twenty years, the United States of America, and dare I say the world, are in a far darker place than we were on that fatefully clear and beautiful Tuesday September morning.

Recently, I was listening to the song Undivided by Bon Jovi. The lyrics, in part, read: “One for love. One for truth. One for me, one for you. Where we once were divided now we stand united. We stand as one, undivided. Undivided. Undivided.” It’s a great song that was picking up on a sentiment that directly followed 9/11. Anyone who lived during that time knows that there was a sense of unity, a sense of being united, that was circulating in the air. In today’s terms, we were #AmericaStrong.

That is a common response to trauma, is it not? When times get tough for people across the board, people tend to come together and unite in order to survive the ordeal. That is an awesome part of humanity, that we tend to gravitate toward community in times of struggle. With that said, let’s be honest, that song has NOT aged well. It was literally a response to the moment; however, that unity didn’t even last a year.

Twenty years down the road, and what do we have to show for it? We are more divided now then we were before those attacks. Divided we stand. In fact, the truth be told, 9/11 simply exposed the underbelly of America. It caused us to look at our foreign policy over the years as a country, how that has caused issues around the world that can’t be made right by a simple apology. It has also exposed how selfish, entitled, and fearful we are as a people as well.

Sure, the attack on 9/11 itself did not do that. But the attacks did spark fear within us, and that fear has grown to epic proportions…so much so that it is now at the point where we demonize each other instead of uniting with one another. More tragically, this has seeped into our lives at all levels. It’s in our religious beliefs, our politics, our families…it runs deep! Friends, divided we stand because we have fallen so far away from the ONE who truly unites us.

I cannot speak for people of other religions, but I can speak for Christianity and it is clear to me that we have fallen away from our Lord, who calls us to be peacemakers and compassionate caretakers of others. We are literally called to love God and love neighbor as ourselves; yet, sadly, we are not doing that job very well. Truthfully, people never have. We are sinners after all, and that is WHY WE NEED A SAVIOR.

Friends, Christ is calling us away from divisiveness. If you want to honor those who died senselessly on 9/11, let us give way to our sin and allow Jesus to once again revive love, hope and light with in us. Let us move away from standing divided and let us unite under Christ to serve others the way Christ has served us. That is what we are called to, servant leadership. Let us respond to Christ in the way that Isaiah did, “Here I am Lord, send me.”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be a unifier and a compassionate presence in your church and in the world. Amen.

September 5, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, September 5, 2021.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for September 5, 2021. Today we will learn the importance for Christians to not only live in to their faith, but to make sure that they are doing so genuinely.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaac

Part 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

August 22, 2021 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Livestream

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)
on Sunday, August 22, 2021.

Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service for August 22, 2021. Today we will learn the importance for Christians to back up their words with actions.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

God’s People, part 4: Noah

Read Genesis 6-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

noaark

Part 4: Noah. The story of Noah is exciting, devastating, tedious, complex and even horrific. It is all of those things wrapped up in a four chapters. When the name Noah is heard, most people think of him as the guy who built the really large boat, boarded animals on it two-by-two, and went on a 40 day cruise to Mount Ararat. During the cruise he and his family sat around a lantern lit room, with the smells and sounds of animals joining in their family Christian camp song sing-a-long. Then add in the images of ravens, doves, an olive branch and, finally, dry ground.

Upon land, we remember that Noah was so stoked to be on ground again that he built an awesome altar, upon which he celebrated with his animal and fowl friends from the boat by slitting their throats, draining their blood down the altar and burning their flesh. This scent of burnt flesh and blood, of course, was to God what Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Men is to me: intoxicating. God loved it so much, that from that time forward God realized he had made an “oopsy”, and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never, ever flood the earth again.

Okay, so that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it does pretty accurately sum up the story of Noah as most people recall hearing it in Sunday School. Granted, the Sunday School version is missing all of the blood and sarcasm; however, that is the gist of the story as it is commonly remembered.  Yet, if you took the time to read Genesis 6-9, I am sure you came across elements you didn’t even know existed in there.

Focusing on Noah as a character, the Bible says that Noah found favor with God. God was so upset with how corrupt humanity had become that God was desiring to destroy all of Creation. The flood, in essence, are the tears of God pouring down over a people who are so wicked they could care less. What were the people’s sin? The only thing that is mentioned is their violence.

We can only guess why Noah was so favored by God as the Bible does not give us any clue. One thing is for sure, Noah was not favored by God for being perfect. In one of the more obscure passages in the Bible, we find out that Noah had a bit of a drinking problem and, when he passed out in a drunken stupor, one of his sons saw Noah’s nakedness.

There has been much scholarly debate as to what was meant by Ham “seeing his father’s nakedness.” The story is written in a way that leads one to take it literally, that Ham literally saw his father naked. But without getting into narrative, theological, or cultural debates, we can focus on Noah’s reaction to that instead.

When Noah finds out that Ham has seen him naked, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan. What an odd thing to do. Why would Noah curse his grandson over the fact that the boy’s father saw him naked? What’s more, whose fault is that anyway? Was it Ham who got his father drunk? Was it Ham who unclothed him and laid him spralled out naked on the ground? Not according to the story! Yet, Noah forces Ham to bear the guilt of his own shame!

Despite all of this, Noah is still remembered as being favored by God. No doubt, Noah was favored by God, even if he didn’t always live up to God’s standard. Then again, which one of us live up to God’s standard?  Which one of us always gets things right? If we are honest, we know that none of us do; yet, God favors us.

Let us learn from Noah. Let us learn what it means to be faithful, even when God seems to be asking for the outrageous and/or the impossible. Let us learn to be obedient and to do as God has asked us to do. Let us learn to take responsibility for our own sins and repent of them. Let us learn to hold ourselves accountable, rather than scapegoating others in order to sheepishly hide ourselves away from the blame. Let us, indeed, learn from Noah, who is but one person among God’s people.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.” – Unknown J
“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” – Howard Ruff

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only read the Bible, but see myself in it. Help me to follow the examples of faith and learn from the examples of weakness and sin. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 3: Cain and Abel

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” (Hebrews 11:4 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

cain-and-abel

Part 3: Cain & Abel. I could not devote two devotions to Eve and Adam and not follow up with one on Cain and Able. In fact, a lot could be written about these two brothers, for there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy for me to focus on how Abel was rigtheous and Cain was a murderer; however, I do not think the story is quite that simple. In fact, in Hebrew, there is definitely some nuance going on here.

Let us start with Abel. The English word, “Abel”, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, הֶבֶל, which is pronounced heh’-bel ( I bet you didn’t see that one coming). It is the same word as the Hebrew word, הֲבֵל, which means emptiness or vanity; something transistory or unsatisfactory, which is often used as an adverb. I am not entirely sure why Abel is given that name, in light of his character of faithfulness in the Bible; however, the ancients did nothing accidentally.

What I love about Abel is that there is room to speculate on him. Perhaps he was given that name because of his unsatisfactorily short life due to being murdered. Perhaps he was given that name because the author wants us to recognize a character flaw in him, which all the more heightens the mysterious grace of God who favors Abel for an act of faithfulness despite his flaws. Those are two possibilities, though I think there is one that is much more likely than those.

I believe it is the author’s way of showing how sin has crept in, even into the family structure. Cain was the first born and, thus, would have all the rights and inheritance afforded to him when his parents died. Abel would only get what was left over. The human system of Patriarchy had begun to take root, and the effects of that would ultimately kill Abel and harm many others like him, as well as women who were not considered to be equal to men.

That, then , leads us to Cain, who was the first born and oldest brother. Because of his privileged position as the eldest brother, Cain expected to be favored over Abel. He felt entitled to that. Cain quickly learned that God doesn’t play favorites off of human-made systems of  oppression. God favored the younger of the two brothers and, in essence, gave the blessing to Abel and not to Cain.

This, of course, enfuriated Cain and, as we all know very well, he plotted to murder Abel and carried it out in a field when no one was looking. Cain’s entitlement left him bitter toward Abel. What’s more, he was jealous of the fact that God favored Abel over him. That jealousy led to the murder of his own brother. Yet, God proved Cain’s jealousy to be unfounded, for God never rejected Cain at all. Even after Cain murdered Abel, God still chose to show mercy and grace. The story doesn’t exactly word it that way, but the grace is certainly there. Cain got to live a full life out, and was ultimately protected by God against anyone seeking vengeance over the death of Abel.

This story is very much relevant to us today. Most of us may not murder our siblings, but we do support and uphold oppressive human systems that bring harm to others. We often do so without even realzing it and, even if we did realize it, we feel justified because our social standards favor us instead of those who are being oppressed. Think of immigration laws, or welfare, or anything that most of us don’t have to deal with, all the while being very judgmental toward those who do. The story of Cain and Abel, should teach us that we are no more worthy of favor than anyone else. God created and loves us all. If we choose to be proud and entitled, we only do so to our own detriment. For God will show favor to the meek.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Those who stand tall have the furthest to fall.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and teach me to be meek. Amen.