The Humanity of People Who Serve

The Humanity of People Who Serve

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Rev. James D. Ross II is the Minister for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.


Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 (NRSV)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

Reflection: The Humanity of People Who Serve

Does God further diminish people who are marginalized to elevate the powerful?

Although many of us would immediately dismiss that as ridiculous, our behaviors and rhetoric often suggest otherwise, and a cursory reading of this text seems to agree.

Here is what we know: family lineage is important. Biblical texts typically introduce people through their genealogy. Likewise, God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” encourages people to continue their family lines.

But Abram and Sarai (whose names are not yet Abraham and Sarah) have a problem. God chose them to become ancestors to a holy nation. But time has passed, and they remain childless. Now they are both old.

Here is where things get messy. In this pericope, God comes to Abram in a vision, promising a great reward. Abram is upset that God has not given him offspring and wants to know what kind of blessing this could be. Reminding God that he has no children, Abram says that Eliezer of Damascus, “a slave of my house,” will be his heir.

It makes sense that Abram wants his own child. That also is consistent with the expectations of the culture and the mandate from God. Yet – though it is easy to miss with our distance from the original text and context -- this is a phenomenally dehumanizing way to reference Eliezer. In a culture in which progeny is everything, Abram has fully erased Eliezer’s genealogy, reducing Eliezer’s identity to the place where he serves.

“This description of Eliezer fits with an idea that sociologist Orlando Patterson says transcends many cultures: that the enslaved person is imagined as ‘socially dead,’ someone alienated from their bonds of kinship and lineage,” writes Justin Michael Reed of Louisville Seminary. “The urgency of Abram’s complaint comes from the fear that a slave, not even a full person, will inherit after him.”[1]

Like Abram, we often fail to acknowledge the full personhood of the people whose labor makes our lives easier. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have insisted that retail employees are essential workers, yet rudeness, threats, and even violence from customers have been common themes. Flight attendants feel under siege by passengers willing to attack them rather than comply with mask requirements. We sometimes treat the people who deliver groceries and prepared food to us, drive us around, and do so much of what we don’t want to do for ourselves as though they are slaves in our houses. And, as our history demonstrates, when we see people as less human than us, we can easily justify denying them healthcare, providing them with inferior education, and sanctioning violence against them.

When Abram complains that Eliezer will be his heir, God doesn’t challenge Abram’s bigotry. God simply says, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir."

Despite this, we know that Abram’s descendants will themselves be in bondage; through them, God will demonstrate God’s preferential treatment for the enslaved and the poor.

When we take this seriously, it can transform our relationships with one another, and especially with those who serve us and those on the margins of our society. That, in turn, can change our world.

[1] Reed, Justin Michael. “Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18.” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-genesis-151-12-17-18-5

 

PRAYER

God, when we are tempted to believe our own press and assume that we are superior to others of your children, remind us that we are all equally created in your image. Give us the courage and wisdom to work against the hierarchies we have created so that we can be in right relationship with one another and you. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at paged@sneucc.org

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the families and friends of more than 955,000 who have died due to the Covid-19 disease. [Editor's Note: with the US positivity rate below 4%, I will no longer post this request, though churches are encourage to continue prayers for all those impacted by this disease]
  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives have been shattered by war
  • For the family and friends of Sarah Johnson, long time Silver Lake counselor and summer staff. Sarah died Feb. 14 [Editor's Note: Sarah was on Camp Family in 1997, the year I was Camp Family "Dad"]

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For the Season of Lent
  • For spring-like weather as young plants begin to burst through the thawing ground

 This Week in History:

March 12, 2020 (2 years ago) Broadway theaters close for the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally thought to be a month long hiatus, the famous theater district remained closed for more than a year as the pandemic forced closures and restrictions throughout the nation and the world. Many schools and university halted in-person classes within days of this. Businesses and organization followed suit within weeks. [The SNEUCC offices closed the same day.] Today, 2 years later, many institutions continue to enforce safety restrictions today, while others attempt to return to pre-pandemic procedures and routines.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

jdr head shot .jpg
James D. Ross II

Rev. Ross is the Minister for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Southern New England Conference UCC.

March 07, 2022
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