Sunday, February 14, 2021

Genesis 17.1-16: Multitude

 "This is my covenant with you," God says to Abraham. "You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations." (Genesis 17:4) We are familiar with the concept and with the promise stated several chapters earlier that Abraham's descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky and grains of sand on earth. That's a lot - though the question of whether there are more stars or more grains of sand has yet to be authoritatively answered. If you are team star, read here. If you are team sand, read this. There are many other articles, calculations, and rationalizations. 

What makes a multitude? The Century Dictionary splits some hairs about what is and isn't a multitude. According to their definition a multitude gives ample room to each person, however great the number may be. A throng or crowd is smaller than a multitude but gathered together. A throng presses together or forward. A crowd is close enough together to be uncomfortably in contact with one another. 

By a strict definition Abraham will be the ancestor of lots of people who all have ample room. Think about what that means for life on earth. Everyone has ample room. 

In 2012, based on 2010 data, mapmaker Derek Watkins developed a picture of the density of the world's population. Where do people live? Where are people most crowded? The image above is a still image, but at Watkins' website, the image has a slider that changes the areas on the map. The slider moves from areas where there is a population density of at least 5 people per square kilometer to areas where there are more than 500 people per square kilometer. The website is here.

Is there ample room for each one of Abraham and Sarah's descendants?

Sunday, February 7, 2021

I Peter 3.18-22: A Baptism Story

 A baptism story. Noah as a baptism story. The author of I Peter uses it as such to highlight the eight members of Noah's family who "were saved through water." (I Peter 3:20) This text is read on the first Sunday of Lent in Year B. In the early church, catechuments would have been preparing for their Easter baptism. So, a baptism story. Eight people were saved. 

We are used to seeing images of Noah's ark in baby nurseries, children's Sunday School classes, children's book illustrations. Cute giraffes stick their heads out of open windows. Elephants' trunks are visible. Birds of many kinds roost on the roofline of the ark. We've turned this story into a children's story because of animals and rainbows. 

Michelangelo had a different vision of the story. In the story as seen on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Ark is in the background. The focus of the story is the people in the foreground. 

Michelangelo Buonarotti. The Flood. 1509. Vatican: Sistine Chapel. 

People at the lower left are moving to higher ground, trying to escape the rising waters. They are carrying all manner of things. Some are carrying the things of this world: pots and pans, casks, bundles of clothing. In the middle ground at right another group of people are huddled on an outcropping of rock under a fabric shelter being blown by the rising wind. In the center of the composition a small boat begins to capsize.

The ark moves off into the distance, even as additional people stand on the raft base of the ark, imploring Noah to let them in. Noah, dressed in red, reaches a hand out of the right side of the ark, pointing to heaven. 

Where are the animals? Where is the rainbow? They aren't here. 

Michelangelo has made this story about human suffering. How does that fit with the idea of I Peter 3 as a baptism text? How do we acknowledge the saving nature of baptism and the continuing reality of human suffering? Do we baptize out of fear of divine judgement? The story is easier when we focus on the pandas and moose and zebras.