Faith and Fate – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Genesis 17:1-8 

The ancient land of Canaan, promised by God’s covenant to the children of Abraham, includes modern-day Israel and Palestine and territories beyond: a huge swath of geographic, cultural, and religious diversity, then and now.[i] Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike claim our heritage in the Abrahamic covenant.

A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract is a transaction; a covenant is a relationship. A covenant presumes a transformative change can and will happen in all parties if we respect our common heritage and listen to one another. And for the world today, the stakes are so very high, don’t we know? Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not share the same faith; however we do share the same fate.[ii]

The English word “religion” comes from the Latin, religare, which means “to hold fast,” to be steadfast. Religion is a spiritual “ligament” which holds the parts together. The word religion also comes from the same etymological root as our word “rely” – rely not just on God, but rely on one another, for the love of God. I’m speaking about appropriating this “vertical” covenantal relationship with God also in “horizontal” ways with one another: to share our needs, hopes, and fears in faithfulness to one another, to do together what we cannot do alone. It is to share the Abrahamic covenant with the other Abrahamic traditions.

We here are far from Jerusalem, what the psalmist calls “the center of the world,” and right now the center stage with so many world onlookers, some of them malevolent.[iii] What are we to do? I suggest two things:

  • Listen to the other. Wherever we find ourselves in an oppositional posture, to lower our own “dividing wall of hostility” so as to be able to see and listen to the other.[iv] Not to correct them, or to change them, but to listen to them, which bequeaths dignity.
  • Pray for peace. It’s to take Jesus at his word that he has given us his peace, from the inside out.[v] Where we experience absence of peace:

Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the strife; breathe out peace…  

Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace.
Breathe in the fear; breathe out peace…

“Come, Lord Jesus.”[vi]


[i] The ancient land of Canaan includes modern-day Israel and the West Bank of the Jordan River, much of Lebanon, and portions of Syria, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula (now controlled by Egypt).

[ii] I am drawing on the teaching of Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), “The Relationship between the People and God,” presented by Rabbi Sacks at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July 2008. Rabbi Sacks served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth 1991-2013.

[iii] The Holy Land is a tiny pinpoint on the world map; however the psalmist proclaims (48:2): “Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, the very center of the world and the city of the great King.”

[iv] In Ephesians 2:14-17, we read that Christ Jesus “is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…”

[v] John 14:27.

[vi] From 1 Corinthians 16:22, the Aramaic word Maranatha: “Come Lord Jesus.”

Hoping Against Hope – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25

The promise first came to Abram when he was already 75 years old!  God said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…. In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).  It was unthinkable even then, unimaginable, impossible, given his age and the barrenness of Sarai’s womb.  But Abram believed God.

The second promise came eleven years later, when Abram was 86 years old!  This time, Abram questioned God, “You have given me no offspring… [Is one of my slaves to become my heir]?” (Gen. 15:3) and God replied, “[No]. Your very own issue will be your heir… Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.  So shall you descendants be” (Gen. 15:5). And, once again, Abram believed God.

But as time went on and there was still no heir, his faith wavered.  Abram and Sarai decided to help God out by taking matters into their own hands.  So, Abram slept with Sarai’s servant and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael.  But this was not God’s plan.

The third and final promise came thirteen years after the second.  Abram was 99 years old and Sarai 90.  Still, they had not conceived.  Their dream of having a child had withered over time and finally evaporated completely.  They knew it was now physically impossible.  They had no reasonable hope.  But God insisted, “You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:4,6). This time, Abram laughed (Gen. 17:17). Read More

The Life We Share – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist1 Thessalonians 5:11

If you have the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land, you inevitably experience a great diversity of people.  Among them are Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all of whom lay claim to both the land, and to their own particular narrative of history: what has happened there down through the centuries, and why.  Though there is a common ground, there is not a common creed, as we well know… except that all three faith traditions look to the same place and time and person, the first person to be invited into a relationship with God.  And this is Abraham and his wife, Sarah, with whom God establishes a covenant.

A covenant is not the same as a contract.  A contract is a transaction, but a covenant is a relationship.  A contract is about interests, but a covenant is about identity.  And that is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.  Covenants transform.  We are covenanted people.  I am drawing here on the teaching of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sometime Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congrega­tions of the Commonwealth, who spoke about ten years ago to the Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference.[i]  In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity and the integrity of the other, come together in a bond of love and trust, to share their interests, sometimes even to share their lives, by pledging faithfulness to one another, to do together what neither can do alone.  A covenant is about relationship, a relationship that invites and presumes a transformative change will happen in both persons, both parties. Read More

Choose Life! – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21-37

When I first began to study the lessons appointed for today, I couldn’t help but to think back to one of my favorite commercials from the 1990’s.  The setting is just outside a desert fortress where a criminal is tied to a pole and is facing a firing squad.  The chief executioner questions the condemned man: “Would you like a blindfold, Messieur?  The man answers quickly, “No!”  The executioner then asks, “Would you like a cigarette?”  Again, the man answers, “No!”  Finally, he is asked, “What do you want on your tombstone?”  The man pauses briefly to think before answering resolutely, “Pepperoni and cheese!”  The commercial was for Tombstone Pizza which not only offered you convenience:  a full sized frozen pizza served piping hot in just minutes with all natural ingredients, but also a panoply of choices suited for all tastes.[i] As Americans, we LOVE choices!  We do not like to be boxed in with no options.  We want to make the decision with the most concise information and with as little serious discernment as possible.  We are highly individualistic and want to feel like every option is personal, tailored specifically for our convenience.  Read More