Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Canon within the Canon: Sermon Preparation on Gen. 17

If you place more emphasis on one part of the Bible over another, it is said you have a canon within the canon. In general, I read the Old Testament more carefully than the new. I read the Gospels more than anything. Above all, I believe God is love (1 John 4:8).

While doing some homework today, I had to "prepare a sermon" on Genesis 17:1-14. I didn't actually have to write the sermon, I just needed to do some sermon preparation based on my professor's requirements.

Genesis 17:1-14 talks of God's covenant with Abraham and the sign of circumcision. I was concerned with the women not mentioned. After v. 14, Sarah is mentioned, but not any other women. What is their part in the covenant? Why don't they get to have the sign of the covenant?

And how is circumcision a sign of the covenant when so many other people had circumcisions? Claus Westermann noted many of the peoples surrounding Israel practiced circumcision. The Egyptians did it. The peoples of Canaan did it (except the Philistines). If anything, circumcision made the Hebrew people blend in, not stand apart (until the exile).

If the people of Canaan also bore the sign of the covenant, then why was God giving their land to the Hebrew? According to Amos, God called the Philistines to the land, so why kick them out for the Hebrews? Earlier in Genesis, God made a covenant with all creation, so why make a covenant only with Abraham and his descendants? And why does Ishmael get such a bad deal? He is a son of the covenant, but his people are ignored in the rest of the Bible. And why does God further limit the covenant between Jacob and Esau? Why is God limiting divine love?

The last question on this worksheet asked how I would preach the sermon. After thinking about this passage and other parts of the Bible, I yielded to 1 John 4:8. I figured this passage of Genesis must have been one interpretation of God's love, which was influenced by a people in exile (assuming the text was written while in exile).

And I figure the interpretation of God's love was too narrow, too bound by its time and culture. In a large moment of pride, I figure my interpretation is better. In the tradition of scripture, I look at history and life around me and I look for God's involvement and God's love. I simply do not know a God who limits divine love. I could be wrong, but I hope and pray I'm not.

And so my sermon would say. It would deconstruct the traditional interpretation of God's love, an interpretation ignoring women, Ishmael, Esau and any part of reality that is not Israel. It would portray scripture as interpretation of history, a search for God. It would learn to search for God in this life, seeking inspiration to be scripture, to be God's love today--including a love beyond gender, genealogy, and religion. A love not giving way to supersessionism, but inclusion.

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