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Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 22: Mandrakes, fortune tellers, breeding sticks and household idols

Today's Reading: Genesis 30-31

So this was my morning: My husband's in the hospital with a potentially life threatening blood clot. My daughter's far away at college, very worried about her dad, and has a horrible cough the opening day of her opera. I was to preach a funeral my husband was supposed to preach for a family I didn't know. As I'm heading out the door to meet and comfort this family, my son's school calls to tell me he has already thrown up three times and probably has the flu.

There are days when you wonder, "Why in the world, Lord, did you overbook my page in your daytimer calendar with trouble?"

Today's reading is filled with people who felt desperate and overwhelmed with the trouble of their lives. These are people of faith whose daily routine straw's were breaking a herd of camels' backs. Faithful people who in their desperation, do not turn to God, but instead turn to a whole slew of superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

Two sisters, torn apart by jealousy and competition, end up making a pretty strange deal over some mandrakes. [Now for those of us who have never seen a mandrake, it is a "love potion #9," apple like fruit...an aphrodisiac.] Both want to get pregnant by their shared husband, and instead of waiting for God's word to come true in their lives, turn to superstition, and bargain with and for love.

Their father, who sees his young son-in-law prospering, turns to a fortune teller who shares with him that his "good luck" is totally dependent upon his son-in-law. The two of them start cheating, deceiving and mistrusting one another.

The son gets some sticks, ties them together in some sort of secret breeding trick, places them by the watering hole and claims this puts his rams into some sort of studly state.

And if this isn't enough superstitious conjuring for two chapters, one of the sisters grabs a household idol before she leaves her father's home and sits upon it [as if to hatch some good fortunes of her own.]

We read these chapters in our "Holy Bible" and wonder, "What the heck is the matter with these people!" How can they be so ridiculously silly and trust all this hocus pocus!

But I have known some very faithful people to do some similar very "silly" and drastic things. Though completely appalling to God and banned by God, believers turn to horoscopes, fortune tellers and tarot cards, and practice superstitions which are deeply and culturally generated. We trade the true God and grab our idols, sitting on them, hiding them, and vowing they will keep us safe and sound.

The call to God's followers is faithfulness, even when and especially when times are desperate. When troubles come in threes, fours, or hundreds, we are to remain calm, look up and declare, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

We have some great resources.

Here are my three favorites: Prayer, Scripture and the Body of Christ.

I'm amazed that even the godless call out an "O my God!" or "Jesus!" when they are shocked, surprised or in trouble. Prayer is my first response. Sometimes it is as simple as "Lord!" or "Help!" I find as soon as I turn to God, I am heard and swift help comes. And how does it come? Through Scripture.

Last evening, when my husband called to tell me he was admitted as an emergency patient, the song from the previous night's choir practice came flooding into my mind. It was a scripture song from Isaiah:

"Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in Him and not be afraid,
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And He will be my Savior."

As I drove to the hospital, I sang this over and over. The Holy Spirit within me was calming my soul, which was desperate and out of control.

As I tried to think of a sermon for the funeral, I begged God, "Help me!" Immediately, a phrase from God's Word came to mind. I looked up the passage, read it in context and discovered it was the perfect passage for a precious saint of the Lord who died believing in the power of the resurrection.

And what would I do without the Body of Christ?

I telephoned what I call "point people." These are people who know how to spread the need for prayer and who can calmly reassure me of my faith. Soon, a ripple of prayer and support from the Body of Christ joined me in petition to the Lord. Christ's faithful disciples are the people who know how to counsel you, remind you of what you already believe and readily drop everything and say, "how can I help?"

The day which started with desperation is now over. Joy fills my heart for I have been sheltered by the Lord. Before the funeral, my brothers and sisters in Christ lent their aid and their encouragement. On the way to the funeral, my daughter sang, "You'll never walk alone" to me. During the funeral, I met new friends and felt God's Holy Spirit working through me in a way I knew could not be credited to me. And when I came home, my son was resting comfortable. I had the opportunity to delight in the salvation of my Lord who saved me from despair, and instead filled me with rejoicing.

May the Lord never find me hiding some household idol under my skirt or in my jean pocket. Lord, keep me from whatever would be false or idolatrous.

And thank you for the day, Lord...for turning my mourning into dancing.

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