Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Water and tears - meditations on this week's Sunday School lessons.

Reprinted from the newsletter.

This week, the children in the creche heard the story of God's promise of a child to Abraham.  With this story, the Bible narrative begins to move from primitive myths to the chronicle of a people and their heritage.  Abraham and Sarah are more three-dimensional characters than their mythological predecessors.  Sarah's response to God's promise of a child sounds more like a modern realistic novel than a fairy tale - she laughs.  Her pain and disappointment at so many childless years are understandable to anyone who has had prayers go unanswered.  But the visitation of the three angels before the birth of Isaac symbolises more than a promise that she will have her longed-for child - it symbolises God's presence with her even before he fulfilled her prayers.  God sent his angels to be with Sarah even in the midst of her pain and sorrow, and he did not judge her or punish her for her hardened disbelief that her wish would be fulfilled.  Sarah's cynical response - basically saying, "I'll believe it when I see it" is not seen as an act of faithlessness; it is a very human and very real response, and God understands.  Who of us has not been bitter or angry towards God at some point in our lives, when he seems absent in the midst of our pain?  God does not judge Sarah's bitterness - but at the same time, his angels are with her, even though she does not see them.

In the Sunday School, the children heard the story of Noah and the flood.  My meditation on this story when the creche heard it last week showed the importance of recognising how a single person or representative can stand in, in a myth, for a group or a whole - that children often first hear the story of Noah as one in which "all" the animals were saved, and in drawing children's attention to the possibility of the drowned animals and people misunderstands the ancient meaning of the story.  Children may eventually come to ask these questions on their own, but pushing a ghoulish interpretation of the story on them - when they will first come to it as a story of hope and salvation - is inappropriate.  Today I would also point out the difficulty of the final lines of the story - "seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, shall not cease" - in an era in which we have to face the spectre of global warming and inequality of resources.  God's promise was of a fruitful earth and a regular cycle of seasons.  How has human greed changed the earth which God promised could be fruitful for all?  How can we raise our children to feel compassion for those people who are the victims of those disruptions in the natural order, even if we do not feel the effects very strongly in our own country at the moment?

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