The Promised Clan

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - November 24, 2013 A reflection on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Listen to the audio recording

Our scripture, from the fourth book of the Bible, belongs in a liturgical setting. It is recited aloud by the Jewish communities each year as part of their Spring Thanksgiving Festival of Weeks. Hear it as a creedal summary of their central story and belief – a story that repeats through the ages, telling of how the people endure oppression, but with God’s saving presence, survive to thrive.

I will read Deuteronomy 26: verses 1 to 11. Please all join your voices with mine, when we come to verse 5, and the words appear on the screens.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…”

Mine…and yours too! Jacob, the wandering Hebrew referred to in this liturgy of thanksgiving, is a spiritual ancestor to all of us in the Judeo-Christian clan.

So how does it feel to recite that ‘creed’ together? Do you have some resonance of belonging to a long, strong line of survivors? Perhaps a sense of safety as descendent of that ancient clan, who experienced God in the promise and fulfillment of freedom, homeland and progeny? Does ‘remembering together’ renew your hope for generations of our tribe to come? And do you feel gratitude stirring in your heart?

That is the intention of this recitation, recapping the central saving story of the Older Testament books, called variously The Torah, The Tanak, The Pentateuch and The Five Books of Moses. Can you recite the names of the five books together, like we did on Monday evening at our Be-Loving the Bible Again group? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers. Maybe our biblical literacy is growing again?

These five books tell the inherited stories of a people reaching back to Adam for their roots, and down through the blood lines of Abraham and Sarah, claiming their ancestry. The Hebrew genealogy wanders across the desert with Jacob, and into exile in Egypt with Joseph, where slavery, alienation and oppression marked their tribal memory forever. The people who believed they were God’s – no matter what – survived to exalt in the Exodus triumph – crossing the Red Sea to freedom, by the grace of God, under Moses’ leadership. Even then they had to endure wandering again for a symbolic 40 years in the desert wilderness before they made it, at last, to a land of promise.

These hand-me-down stories survived millennia, because they helped the people to survive – recalling them to God’s promise, again and again; focusing the community on their shared identity and pointing them to a far horizon that shone with freedom and fulfillment – fueling hope. The overarching, archetypal Hebrew family story, from promise through exile, to exodus and fulfillment, plays out over the biblical generations in many variations. As it plays out in our own generations, with family storylines repeating right through our times.

On Monday evening, we sketched out what each of us knows of our own family trees, and shared some stories that have been handed down through the generations of our family lines. Like the biblical stories, these family memories relay meanings that underline who we are, how we cope, and where hope triumphs over adversity, in time.

Do you have family stories of trials and triumph, of exile or emigration, violence or alienation, that eventually gave rise to a generation who knew safety at home? Does your genealogy reveal repeating plots and values, memories with inspiring characters and themes? And what is the faith-line in your family like?

Family stories, genealogies and heirlooms are treasures when they deepen our sense of belonging to a line that is longer than just our time. Stories that remind us to remember how a tribe is ultimately stronger than the tragedies they face. Our hand-me-down stories stretch our vision to seeing that big picture, where all darkness is lightened by God, and in the long run, our people always survive.

And we really need that today, don’t we? We need to borrow hope from our past to lend to our children’s children. We need a promise that we can honestly hand down to the next generations.

Our biblical stories help us remembers God’s promise. That God was, is, always will be present in our life stories. The Torah tales of exile and return, oppression and freedom, barrenness and fruitfulness, brokenness and healing, plot a way forward for us still, and their narratives can get us past these times of impending disaster. The Torah memories and myths remind us of God’s infinitely creative and compassionate presence, with us through history, accompanying us now, and promising a way through the present distress, so that our great-grandchildren might find fulfillment too.

Even enslaved by the avarice of our times, these stories pattern us to keep on walking towards justice. We are wandering Arameans – and so we hope. That with God, our great-great-grandchildren will live, not wandering lost in a desert of oil and money, but in a land of milk and honey.

And so we give thanks, for the promise fulfilled through God with us – God in us. For the promise in each generation of humanity, all of us the promised clan.


Child of Blessing, Child of Promise VU # 444




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