Old Testament: 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.
The Response: Psalm (86:1-10, 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
Included in the stack of mail that awaited my recent return from vacation was an annual request from a group who wanted to come to speak with us at St. Mark’s. Their organization focuses on providing copies of the bible to as many people as possible. In their letter, they mentioned specifically that they wanted to make sure that the youth of our area are taught “the Genesis creation account (not taught in our public schools).”
As many of you know, there are two major creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis. They are totally different from each other. And, in other parts of the Old Testament there are hints of other versions as well. There is no one Genesis creation story.
Nor is any one of them a story to take literally, as if it were trying to teach us science. Yet some people continue to claim that they are being faithful to the scriptures by trying to read it literally, without, as they claim, “any interpretation.” That statement in itself makes no sense at all, because choosing to read anything literally is itself an interpretation and not a wise one at all. In fact, every reading is an interpretation, conditioned by our own time and culture and experiences and presuppositions. As the great 20th-century theologian Karl Barth observed, “I take the bible far too seriously to take it literally.”
Sometimes, a particular interpretation, even if it serves a good purpose, colors the way that we understand a passage so much that we miss vitally important aspects of the story or teaching. That is the case with today’s first reading.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, cites part of this passage out of context in such a way that a reader or hearer tends to think that the demand “Drive out the slave and her child” is a command of God or of the book of Genesis, instead of realizing that it is the mandate of Sarah, a jealous and vindictive woman. Paul does this in an attempt to address a serious problem in the early church in Galatia and to emphasize his message of the free gift of life given to all people by God in Christ. His intentions are commendable, but the unintended consequences of his approach give us a distorted image of God and of Hagar and Ishmael.
To review the story told in Genesis: Abraham and Sarah were elderly and had no children. In keeping with the custom of that place and time, Sarah told Abraham to have a child by way of her maidservant, Hagar. He did, and she gave birth to Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn. Later, Sarah conceived and likewise had a son, Isaac. But Sarah was insistent that Ishmael must never share the inheritance with her son, Isaac. That is where today’s part of the story begins. Instead, she demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent out into the wilderness, where they will almost certainly die; and Abraham reluctantly goes along with her cruel plan.
Sarah is heartless and does not care whether Hagar and Ishmael live or die. In fact, she seems to prefer the latter. But God does care. The God revealed to us in the pages of Genesis is a God who consistently cares for the outcast: for those who are without a home, for those who are without resources, for those who seemingly are without hope.
Four times during the narrative, God promises that Ishmael, also, will be blessed by God. And Ishmael’s blessings will be far more than just the leftovers from Isaac. Just as God had promised that Isaac, the son of the promise, will become a great nation and will be the father of twelve rulers, so God promises that Ishmael, too, will become a great nation and will himself become the father of twelve rulers. Isaac has been chosen by God. He is the son of the promise. But that does not at all mean that Ishmael has been rejected by God. On the contrary, God’s promises to Ishmael clearly parallel God’s promises to Isaac. Abraham loves both of his sons, and, even more importantly, so does God; and God promises blessings for both of them.
All of us have been blessed abundantly in our lives. All of us are far better off in many ways than the great majority of people in our world. But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, “Let none say, ‘God has blessed us with money and possessions,’ and then live as if they and their God were alone in the world. Possessions are not God’s blessing and goodness, but the opportunities for service which God entrusts to us.”
The fact that we have been given so many blessings does not in any way mean that those who do not have them have been somehow rejected by God, any more than the fact that Isaac was chosen by God meant that Ishmael had been rejected by God. And the blessings that God has entrusted to us are given so that we might use them to serve the needs of others, not just our own. Those “others” include especially those who, like Hagar and Ishmael, find themselves without those things that we tend to take for granted: without a home, without resources, and apparently without hope.
The fundamental question for us as we consider how to use the many blessings, the many resources, that we have is whose example we are going to follow. Is it the example of Sarah, who adamantly refused to allow anyone but herself and her son to keep and use the blessings that they had received? Or is it the example of God, who has graciously entrusted so many blessings to us so that we might use them just as God would: to serve the needs of all? The answer that we give determines, not only the way that we as individuals and as families choose to use our resources, but the way that we as a society – as a city, as a state, as a nation – do as well.
The Hagars and Ishmaels in our community and in our world today, continue to cry out to God. God hears them and cares for them. God loves them and blesses them. God is ready to share God’s gifts with them. The question for us is “Are we?”