Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Time to Work with God

Image of a large cast iron pot filled with water and surrounded by flowers

People are weird, impulsive, and messy. Reading the story of Sarah getting Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael reminds me just how foolish we all can be. Sarah was, after all, responsible for Hagar getting pregnant by Abraham to begin with. Then when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac and Isaac and Ishmael get too close, Sarah’s own jealousy takes over. She doesn’t want anything to get in the way of God’s promise to Abraham. If Hagar and Ishmael continue to hang around, maybe God’s promise to make nations from Abraham’s descendants might not remain exclusively Isaac’s. Of course, God ended up giving Hagar the same promise so Sarah’s selfishness accomplished little, except maybe that she didn’t witness God’s promise to Hagar.

Sarah’s behavior is consistent with our own on so many levels. She treated God’s promise to Abraham as though it were pie, as though there was a limited amount and she wanted Isaac to have it all. We do this with many aspects of faith and society. We somehow believe we can control who God loves with all of our rules and doctrines and traditions. We treat justice like it is a precious commodity that must be held by the privileged few. How many have we banished to thirst in the wilderness because of our own shortsightedness? It’s not like God withdraws God’s love from those we deem unworthy. Nor does God share our views of who deserves justice. I don’t know if Sarah ever acknowledged her foolishness. However, I wonder if the current situation in the world will awaken us to our own?

In Romans Paul tells us that we share in Christ’s baptism and, also, Christ’s resurrection. In baptism we acknowledge we belong to God and recognize the grace that washes over us. We need not wait until we die to participate in Christ’s resurrection. New life is possible for us in this moment, right now. Perhaps more importantly, there is enough new life to cover every person on the planet. There is no shortage of redemption and resurrection. Such is the nature of grace. As Luther says, grace abounds.

Consequently, we can stop hoarding it. We can admit that we have been mistaken about who is “saved” and who is not. We can repent from our racist and white supremacist ways and work toward equality for all people right now. We can stop trying to say that the Bible addresses every aspect of modern life and accept that God is still at work in the world revealing the fullness of God in the wonderful diversity of humanity. Cis gender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, privileged maleness is not perfection nor a model for how to be Christian. Remember God’s love is not pie; there is plenty for everyone even those we think are flawed or sinful. Mental illness is not a punishment for sin. Neither is any kind of disability. Every person is made in God’s image and our understanding of God is incomplete without the amazingly beautiful diversity of humanity.

God is at work in the world in spite of our weirdness, our impulsiveness, and our messiness. It is okay to make mistakes and get things wrong. However, it is not okay to persist in these ways just because they are comfortable for us. When we learn better we are supposed to do better. Moreover, we are called to care for the vulnerable among us, not banish them to the margins of society. Jesus worked hard to wake people up to the need to speak truth to power and to reach out with healing hands to those cast out. We don’t need to keep making more Hagars and Ishamaels for God to rescue with living water. As the church, the body of Christ, we are supposed to be that living water.

Maybe it is time that we start working with God to fulfill God’s vision of unity in the world rather than maintaining our systems and traditions of judgement and division. Even in pandemic, even with uprisings continuing, we have all that we need to end our compliance with white supremacy and heteronormalcy. We have erred on the side of selfish foolishness that has sent too many people out into the desert for far too long. Grace, love, justice, mercy… these are all commodities that though precious exist in abundance, an abundance so great that we can’t possible use them up.

God is still working in the world to bring new life to those we have cast out. It is time we embrace the fullness of Creation and work with God rather than against God. May we step into the grace that flows like baptismal waters and live as people of resurrection and abundance.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Photo: CC0image by GGaby Stein

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Should We Continue?

family-2112266_1280

I was a sophomore in high school the first time I paid attention to the story of Hagar and Ishmael. After reading Melville’s famous line, “Call me Ishmael,” I looked up Ishmael’s story in the Bible. That simple sentence from Moby Dick was so purposeful, I wanted to know why. Reading the biblical story didn’t exactly answer that question, but it did make me feel something for Hagar, and Ishmael as well.

At 15 I had a lot of empathy for the unwanted and unloved Hagar who was cast out because of Sarah’s jealousy for her own son. I took the story to mean that maybe God cared for those cast out nearly as much as God cared for those who belonged to the in-group. As one who often felt left out or unwanted, it gave me some comfort to believe that God could care for people who were like Hagar and Ishmael.

Years later I read this passage for a seminary class and it struck me that Hagar had been given a promise much like Abraham’s – God would make of her son “a great nation.” She was the only woman in scripture singled out for such a promise. Of course, this interpretation gave me hope as a young woman going into ministry when still so many churches didn’t think women should be pastors. If God could promise Hagar, the same one Sarah had discarded, that descendants would become a great nation, then God could surely call one such as myself into ordained ministry.

Now, decades later, I am hearing something else in this passage. Yes, there is a promise of God’s love for the outcast, even the unwanted woman. These meanings don’t go away just because I’m seeing something new here. It’s possible that my reading of the story is heavily influenced by a week of vacation Bible school with the theme of “Blessed to Be” and emphasizing God’s love for all people. It’s possible that I’m reading this passage with some desperation to find a way through all the hatred and fear that is swirling around in the midst of a Pride weekend. It’s possible that what I’m thinking about this passage is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Whatever it is, what I’m hearing now is a declaration of kinship. God claimed Ishmael as surely as God claimed Isaac. Perhaps God listens (the meaning of Ishmael) as much as God welcomes laughter (the meaning of Isaac). And God expects the same from us.

It’s the kinship idea that has grabbed hold of me this week, though. Ishmael and Isaac were brothers and received similar promises from God. Why do we not see this kinship in each other? We follow Sarah’s example rather than God’s. Sarah in her fear and jealousy and need to ensure that only her son would inherit what his father had to offer, urged Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert never to be seen or heard from again. Abraham did so after God assured him that God would take care of them. And God does. God claims Hagar and Ishmael as God’s own. Why have we not learned this lesson?

Today the world is divided between those who belong and those who do not. Those who are Christians and those who are not. Those who are heterosexual and those who are not. Those who are white and those who are not. Those who are gender-conforming and those who are not. Those who are “Americans” and those who are not. Those who are wealthy and those who are not. Those who are healthy and those who are not. Those who are able-bodied and those who are not. The list goes one. We find any number of ways to cast people out, to define an us versus them.

Of course, if you’re reading the text from Matthew you may feel that you are justified in doing this. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes some outrageous statements about bringing a sword rather than peace and how family members will rise up one against another. This passage was meant to reassure those who were losing everything for their faith in Christ. It was not meant to give permission to hate and dismiss and destroy those who are “different.” Jesus, who taught loving God, loving self, and loving neighbor in the way that he, Jesus, loved, would be horrified at the hatred spewing out of the mouths of those who claim his name.

In Romans Paul asks if we should continue in sin so that God’s grace may flow. He answered his own question with a resounding, “No!” As we told the children at VBS this last week, we are blessed to be blessings to others. We are loved by God so we are to love one another. It really is that simple. Sarah may have hated Hagar and Ishmael, but God showed them great mercy and love and claimed them as God’s own. When will we welcome the outcast, the refugee, the immigrant, and all others we label as “different” or “unwanted” with the same kind of love and mercy and claim the kinship God intended? Like Paul, we must ask ourselves if we should continue in sin. By the grace of God, may we all answer with the same resounding, “No!”

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 25, 2017
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Photo: CC0 image by Gordon Johnson

Categories
Prayer

A Prayer for the Hagars and Ishmaels

Incline your ear, O Lord,
   and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
 
Preserve my life,
   for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
 
You are my God;
   be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.

Merciful God of all, it is so easy to forget that you hold this world in your hands. We think it is ours to do with as we choose. We think that we can decide who has your favor and who does not. Yet, if we listen to your Word, we know this is not true. We know that you call us to much greater things. You would have us care for the earth and welcome all people. You protected Hagar and Ishmael, claimed them as your own. Will you do the same for those who now wander in the wilderness?

Do you hear the voices of those cast out of their homes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa and other places where the violence of war makes new refuges every day? Do you hear the cries of those who wander without homes in every city and town? Do you see the tears falling from the eyes of hungry children everywhere? Do you feel the anguish of those who live with unrelenting symptoms of mental illness? Do you know the pain of rejection felt by LGBT youth no longer welcome in their homes or churches when they claim who their identity? Do you witness the foolishness of racism that harms so many innocent lives? The voices that cry out to you are more numerous than I can bear. Will you claim them all as you did Hagar and Ishmael so long ago? Will you call to them and show them that life is possible even in the midst of the desert when death looks like the only option?

Patient and steadfast God of life, I hear you even as I add my own cries in the wilderness. As I ask you what you will do, if you will claim these suffering souls as your own, you ask me the same. You tell me that they are already yours and ask when those who claim your name will act accordingly. You have shown us how to be merciful and loving when you saved Hagar and Ishmael with your love and grace. You offered them life beyond their imaginings. You wait for us to hear your Word and follow you with our whole lives. You desire for all your people a life of abundance beyond our imagining. Will your steadfast love endure until no one wanders in the wild places cast-out, forgotten, waiting for death?

Have mercy on those of us who think ourselves righteous because we live in homes apart from war, poverty, hunger, and disease. Open our lives to the cries of our neighbors that we might claim with your love, name them sister or brother. Teach us the way of gratitude and mercy that benefits the whole of creation.

SONY DSC

 

Gladden the soul of your servant,                                              (photo from unsplash.com)
   for to you, O Lord,
I lift up my soul.
 
For you, O Lord,
   are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love
   to all who call on you.

Amen.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday After Pentecost – June 22, 2014
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39