A Reading from the Book of Genesis (21:8-21)
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Psalm (86:10-10, 16-17)
1 Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, *
for I am poor and in misery.
2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; *
I call upon you all the day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant, *
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, *
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, *
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *
for you will answer me.
8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, *
nor anything like your works.
9 All nations you have made will come
and worship you, O Lord, *
and glorify your Name.
10 For you are great;
you do wondrous things; *
and you alone are God.
16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans(6:1b-11)
Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (10:24-39)
Jesus said to the twelve apostles, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
During the 1980s and 1990s, some people in the church (in other denominations, as well as our own) wanted to highlight the important role that women play in the Bible, something that we in the past have too often ignored. But in their eagerness to do so, some of them don’t seem to have looked very closely at the biblical stories themselves. Some began, for example, to idealize Sarah as she appears in the book of Genesis. In contrast to the domineering, sometimes violent men who appear in the scriptures’ pages, we were told to look instead at the example of our loving mother, Sarah. They obviously managed to skip over passages like the one that we had as our first reading today.
Here is a portrait of Sarah, jealously trying to ensure that her son, Isaac, inherits everything. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, would not only be cut out of the will (even though Ishmael was the first-born), but dear Sarah demanded that they be sent out into the wilderness and left to die there. Abraham appears as a reluctant accomplice, too weak to refuse; and so Sarah gets her way. In viciousness and heartlessness, Sarah could easily match any man around!
But we still remember her and count her among our spiritual ancestors. We will even be mentioning her, along with Abraham, in the Eucharistic Prayer that we are using today; but why?
One of the amazing things about the Bible, as compared with the sacred literature of many other religions, is its willingness to present us with a “warts and all” portrayal of the characters found in its pages. While some of the biblical heroes have been idealized at least to some extent, most of the people whom we encounter in the Bible’s pages are clearly a mixture of good and not-so-good – or, of good and outright evil. Yet God works through them anyway. It’s a good reminder of who is ultimately in-charge and of the sometimes mysterious ways of God.
But there is often more in these stories than just the human characters with their virtues and their vices. There is a portrait of God at work, caring for all people and, in particular, for those who have not been the “chosen ones”: for those who have been rejected by the leading figures in the cast of characters.
The ancient tradition, reflected in this story, clearly affirms that Isaac, not Ishmael, is the son of the promise. But God comes to Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness and saves their lives, providing them with water. And God remains with the boy, fulfilling in him the promise that God had made to Hagar to provide her with offspring “that… cannot be counted for multitude” (Gen. 16:10).
Notice God’s faithful concern and care for the son who was not the chosen one. As Walter Brueggemann puts it (Genesis, page 183), “God cares for this outsider whom the tradition wants to abandon. There is no stigma attached to this ‘other’ son. All are agreed on the preciousness of Ishmael – Yahweh, angel, Hagar, Abraham – all but Sarah. She has a vested interest which closes that reality to her.”
How often has that scene been repeated in human history? How often is it repeated in our lives? How often have our vested interests – the things that we want to hold on to, the things that we want to get for ourselves and maybe for those closest to us – how often do they still blind us to the preciousness of those who are “other” to us?
There are people in our society, including some who have been elected to public office, for example, who, looking out for their own vested interests, are determined to perpetuate the idea that those who receive SNAP benefits, also known as “food stamps,” sit back, unwilling to work, taking whatever they can get without having to make any efforts on their part. A recent issue of the newsletter from St. Paul United Methodist Church, whose Food Pantry we support, shows that notion to be a false one. The church and its outreach ministries, including the Food Pantry, depend on a group of people who work there as part of the requirements to get the government assistance. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t get the help. (We plan to include that article in the next issue of our own parish newsletter.)
National news this past week has been describing the large increase in the number of children and teens, traveling alone, unaccompanied by their parents, crossing over our southern border. Most of these children are from Central America and have come to flee the severe poverty and violence in their native lands. The youngest in the news this past week was a six-year-old girl, caring for her four-year-old brother who was sick with a fever: a young child caring for an even younger child. Some people, including again some elected leaders, have condemned these young people as criminals and demanded that they be kept in prisonlike quarters until they can be deported. But these are not dangerous criminals. These are young children, alone and hungry and scared. Yet people’s vested interests blind them to the needs of these young “outsiders.” Tragically, there are many “Sarahs” among us today, some holding positions of power, who are still willing to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness.
This ancient story from Genesis warns us against the danger of looking so much at what we want, at our own vested interests, that they blind us to the needs of others. But at the same time, it holds up to us a radically different example: the example of God in caring for the other, in caring for the outcasts of various sorts in the world in which we live. It describes God’s personal and direct concern for those who have not been “chosen.” It reminds us that they are precious in God’s sight. It calls on us to reject the distortions and outright lies told about them, along with the prejudices that we may hold against them. And it calls on us to care for them as God cared for Hagar and Ishmael, as God would later care for a disorganized group of slaves in the land of Egypt, as God continues to care for the outsider, for the abandoned, for those without a family or a home; for they are all precious in God’s sight.