Monday, March 27, 2017

Preparing to Encounter God

As I have often commented in the past few weeks, the Great Fast is all about preparing ourselves to encounter God. This week the readings from Genesis continue the story of Abraham (formerly Abram) as he prepared to encounter God. God promised Abram that his descendants would be so numerous they would not be able to counted, and He promised Abram that as far as he could see, he would be the master of everything. That must have sounded quite intimidating, but Abram immediately moved his home to the place where God planned their encounter. It is at the Oaks of Mamre that Abraham would encounter the Holy Trinity. It is this encounter, by the way, the Church considers as the “authentic” icon of the Holy Trinity. We call it the Hospitality of Abraham.

But before Abraham could host the Holy Trinity, he first had to trust God enough to move his tent on nothing more than a “few words.” Today we refer to this as a promise, but Abram had to move on faith in a vision of a God with whom he had very little experience. Nonetheless Abram stepped out of his comfort zone and put God’s words to the test.

God has made you a promise too. His promise is for you to enter the kingdom of heaven, and live forever in His loving embrace. Like Abram we have limited direct experience with God, but we still need to respond. As we walk together for our fifth week of Great Lent, I invite you to consider that while you may not have extensive personal experience with God, the Church knows His intimately. Every time we read from the Holy Scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament, we are reading about that experience. The Church knows it isn’t easy to always trust God. Through prayer and fasting and reading the Holy Scriptures, you can learn from personal experience that God has prepared for you to have an encounter with Him. I hope you’re prepared!

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 37:33-38:6 (RSV) - "Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege mound against it.  By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, says the LORD.  For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David."  And the angel of the LORD went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.  Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went home and dwelt at Nineveh.  And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, slew him with the sword, and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.  In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover."  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, and said, "Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in thy sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:  "Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.

Genesis 13:12-18 (RSV) -  Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.  Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants forever.  I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.  Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you."  So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.
 Proverbs 14:27-15:4 (RSV) - The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.  In a multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined.  He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.  A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot.  He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors him.  The wicked is overthrown through his evil-doing, but the righteous finds refuge through his integrity.  Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools.  Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.  A servant who deals wisely has the king's favor, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.  The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.  A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

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