As we celebrate the bitter-sweet journey from Good Friday’s crucifixion to Easter Sunday’s resurrection we might also think of another journey of a nation to Hebron. Hebron was just a piece of land, but it also represents “an inheritance” , an experience of the divine promises.
Easter has also brought its season of difficult news from around the world. I cannot help being gripped by the tragedy that is being worked out in Central African Republic at the moment. Friends are being molested and persecuted and unburied bodies have littered the streets like refuse. It is not the full story of this beautiful country which has so much potential.
I think of happier days pioneering a mission movement amongst the Pygmy tribes of this nation – a gentle, artistic people in tune with earth and sky, and intimately acquainted with the God who sends his holy breeze to rustle the leaves of the trees and to carry colourful butterflies in flight. They are discovering this same God of Easter, who, beyond his historic Jewish incarnation, took on Pygmy flesh. No chocolate bunnies for them, only the naked wild worship in dance and song which encapsulates their forest offerings. I shared in their story for a few precious moments, becoming one with them in a dance offering around a huge, life inspiring fire which sent sparks, like prayers, into the star filled African nights.
People are now dying in Central Africa…and Syria…etc
What do we die from?
I’m glad that although many die, many also live and find even greater life as the Gospel is brought to them by faithful servants of Christ. Central Africa possesses such servants in abundance. The Gospel was brought for the first time to the Pygmies by the faithful African apostles of Nations en Marche. They were not part of the tribe that lives long on the couch of comfort in front of screens and illusions, stretching out the years in selfish survival. They were the warriors of the moment, living a precious life each day with the coming and going of light and birdsong; a people of cosmic community, investing their lives for the greater good of the tribe. Fires are being lit in heaven, and the little igloo leaf houses are putting the pearly gates to shame.
I would like to think that the anonymous sacrifices in Central Africa and beyond have some meaning and value. My prayer is that all those associated with the “Hebron tribes” principle, those committed to investing their lives into the greater good of seeing indigenous mission movements born and nurtured, will be somehow encouraged and inspired. “Death is at work in us” cried the apostle Paul, “but life is at work in you.”
The following is my own inadequate homage to the Central African people who have found a greater life in a greater forest.
I am part of a mission movement which speaks about the “Hebron principle”. Our family principles handbook says the following about it.
“In Chronicles the different tribes came together to make David King over all Israel. We aspire to see many people and ministries come together in their diversity and uniqueness to make Jesus king over all nations. We are called to start or facilitate new indigenous movements of mission.”
I believe that we are at a kairos moment of opportunity to strengthen this value in the Body of Christ today.
So, over these next two articles (today and Easter Monday), we will take a closer look at this place called Hebron.
“The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you….So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.” Genesis 13:14-18
The Lord had a word for Abraham at a painful time of division and separation in his family. He told him not to focus on the problem but to lift up his eyes and receive fresh vision. We may be suffering our own various difficult partings at this time, and no work is ever immune from division. Never be dominated or discouraged through division but hear the Lord speak afresh to bring a new perspective. “Lift up your eyes!”
Having found the courage to move on, he also found a fresh impetus to worship, as his shepherd’s hands placed stone upon stone to build an altar to the Lord. Allow the Lord to bring together all the strands of your personality, carefully meshed with a new sensitivity and hunger for the Holy Spirit, in order to build your own special place of intimacy. Hebron was renowned for the goodness of its stones. An old Jewish saying goes:
“You have no stones in all the land of Israel harder than at Hebron; hence they buried the dead there.”
Build the altar with field stones.
A place of Weeping and Sacrifice
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” Genesis 23:1-4
Abraham’s title-deed for his first patch of promise land was stained with tears. The promise bearer died at the threshold of the land of promise. Do not be surprised if the road to your dream, your inheritance, leads you to an eve of weeping. Over the last years my own heart has been inwardly weeping as I have felt that a context or mechanism for mission building in the Church has been strangely absent. Like Sarah, a movement which once gave life, may find itself growing old. However, death is also the prelude to new life. Perhaps the moments of death we experience, our personal “Good Fridays”, may well give us fresh access to our own tear-stained title deeds of our dreams.
A place of Warfare and Inheritance
“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.)…Then the land had rest from war. Joshua 14:10-14
Are you still up for it? How’s your spiritual vigor? Are you still dreaming of possessing your mountain, your “hill country,” your Hebron?
Caleb could have grown bitter during the long waiting and wandering in the desert. He could have sunk into self-pity, blaming circumstances and others who had negated his faith through their unbelief and fear. Unbelief and fear in myself and others drives me bonkers! I don’t think God is too pleased either! However, there is a place beyond frustration. It is a place that hangs on and believes in the promise no matter what. Caleb found that place and became better rather than bitter. He found a place of wholehearted devotion to God which transcended his circumstances.
After forty-five years of dreaming about crushing Anakite heads, he was finally unleashed to take his inheritance. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the first man in his way! Those who have learnt to wait are also the most aggressive in the battle for their promise land…
(to be continued…)
You can find another Easter article at Neil Rees’ Eating with Sinners blog