Readings: Psalm 86:1-10, Romans 6:1-11,Matthew 10:24-39, Genesis 21: 8-21
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, June 25 2017
Not that I’m an avid watcher of them myself, but there are those who find themselves faithful devotees of afternoon soap operas with titles such as “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “Bored and the Braindead.” There have been occasions when I’ve watched an episode, and I’ll be honest, it’s hard to figure out what exactly is going on.
All those relationships and so-and-so having something going on with somebody who is actually somebody elses half sister twice removed and then some dark figure from the past appears and upsets the whole thing… and all this in just the first five minutes.
Yet truth can be stranger than fiction, and our Bible reading this morning gave us a plot just as thick with twists and turns as your average afternoon soap. A tale of family betrayal, jealousy, separation and survival against the odds.
There is Abraham, the man of destiny, but a man who couldn’t always wait for his dreams to be fulfilled and tried to force the issue. There is Hagar, the mother of his firstborn son, Ishmael, a lady scorned by Abraham’s first wife, Sarah. Sarah has become increasingly jealous of Hagar and is fearful that her son, Isaac, will never inherit the promises she hoped would be all his.
And so, at a family celebration that should have been a time of great rejoicing, Abraham is convinced both by his wife and the intervention of God, to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Dispatched into the desert, Hagar struggles to survive, but all is well. Ishmael turns out to also be a child of promise. And in next weeks episode….
Of course it’s not the plot of a soap opera, it’s an account from the Word of God and therefore has a whole lot that it can reveal to us about our lives, as individuals and as a community of faith. It speaks to us and the situations that come our way.
- Even with the best of intentions things can go terribly wrong.
- Even with the highest aspirations we still mess up.
- Although things go wrong and we mess up, God is the Redeemer.
Even with the best of intentions things can go terribly wrong.
As we go through our lives day by day we don’t set out with the intention of making everything go wrong. We don’t get out of bed and think, “Let’s see what we can make a total disaster of this morning”. Oftentimes the worse acts are done with, what seems to their perpetrators, the best intentions.
It was no different with Abraham. Abraham had entered into a covenant relationship with God in which God had promised that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. His wife Sarai was childless and the years were moving along. So, together, Abraham and Sarai agreed that Abraham should take Sarai’s maid, Hagar, as a wife and bear a child for them through her.
When Hagar proved fruitful and became pregnant, Sarai, far from being pleased becomes bitter and treats her unfairly, causing her to run away. After an angelic intervention Hagar decides to return and in due time a son, Ishmael is born. Abraham presumes that Ishmael is to be the child of promise through whom his line would be established.
Not so! The unthinkable happens. Sarai in her old age now becomes with child. This child is to be the one through whom Abraham’s line is established. After Isaac is born, Sarah’s enmity towards Hagar returns and Hagar is forced to separate from them and go her own way.
This wasn’t the first separation among Abraham and his kinfolk. He has been having a long running dispute with his nephew Lot. Such was the nature of their disagreement that they mutually agreed to go their separate ways, even though their paths were destined to cross again.
All of which I share with you to point out that in families, even families of faith, things don’t always run smoothly. If you’re looking around this morning at your family or somebody else's family and you are thinking, “Good Lord, what a mess!” I encourage you to take heart and not to feel that your situation is unique or unforgivable. Families have always been complicated. Don’t beat yourself up over things that seem to be part of the way life is! Which brings us to our second observation.
Even with the highest aspirations we still mess up.
Sarai/Sarah was a woman of tremendous faith. She did indeed turn out to be the mother of all Israel. Yet her relationship with Hagar was disgraceful. She used her. She was abusive towards her. She was jealous of her and eventually got rid of her.
Abraham was without doubt a man of tremendous faith. But he also made some tremendous mistakes, because whilst he trusted God most of the time, there were those other times when he thought he could do a better job than God and tried to sort things out in his own way.
Back in Chapter 12 you can read of how, when Abraham journeyed to Egypt, he was afraid that the Egyptian’s would find his wife Sarai so attractive that they’d kill him in order to take Sarai as their own. So he pretends Sarai is his sister, not his wife. It turns out that the Pharoah does indeed find her attractive and takes her to his house, rewarding Abraham with servants and material possessions.
Sounded like a good plan, but Abraham lost her in any case, so it backfired. Even worse, God is on the case and Pharoah’s household starts to be subject to all kinds of plagues, and they can’t understand why, until it is discovered that Pharoah’s latest wife wasn’t Abraham’s sister but actually Abraham’s wife. High aspirations, best intentions, but Abraham messed up.
He messed up when he fathered a child through Hagar. Again, that was him trying to take control of a situation God had all figured out. He shouldn’t have listened to Sarai’s idea, he should have kept trusting God, but, no, as we do so often in our lives, it was a case of, “I’m sure God’s Word is right… but I’ll do things my way, thank you very much.”
Was it not Frank Sinatra who had a hit with “I did it my way”? Very commendable, if by doing things ‘our way’ we mean taking responsibility for our own actions. Not so commendable if doing things ‘our way’ means neglecting to seek for our lives to be guided by God and nurtured by God’s Holy Spirit. ‘Our way’ can be the wrong way.
The bible plainly insists that we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Even though we have the highest aspirations, we still mess up. The Bible story also insists that with God there is the hope of redemption.
Although things go wrong and we mess up, God is the Redeemer.
In spite of Abraham and Sarai’s mess ups and moral failings, Abraham did indeed become the father of a geographical nation and a spiritual father to many people of faith. God’s plans were not thwarted by their misunderstanding or disobedience. Maybe things may have taken a different course had their faith expressed itself in different ways, but that’s always going to be one of the “Well we just don’t know” moments of history.
Nowhere clearer though in this account is God shown to be the Redeemer than in the situation of Hagar and Ishmael. They are not among the chosen people. They were not considered the inheritors of God’s promises by those who thought that God’s ways were something exclusive to them. A child seemingly born in circumstances that were not the will of God. A mother who is little more than a slave at the whim of Sarah’s manipulations. Their fate is uncertain and they languish in the desert, desperate for nourishment.
Hagar cries out to God. God answers. God tells her that she too is a child of promise. That her son Ishmael will also know God’s blessing. That there is room in God’s promises and within God’s covenant for all people of faith. Eventually things work out for Hagar and Ishmael in unexpected ways. Under God’s blessing they prosper.
Life may not have dealt us the best hand. We may well mess up and make wrong decisions that cause our selves and others harm. Our families, our relationships, our homes, may not be the places of refuge and picture of harmony that some would expect of people who know God.
So remember this. God remains the redeemer. God has sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior. Jesus Christ demonstrated through His life and works that every human life is of concern to God, even those lives whom others have little time or respect for. Know yourself loved by God, in spite of the fact that you make a mess of things and so often try and do things your way instead of living God’s way.
God is the Redeemer. Seek then for the Holy Spirit of God to redeem the times of your life. Ask Jesus Christ to help you through whatever the coming week may bring your way. The same God who heard the cry of Hagar and Ishmael knows the needs of our hearts and lives.
Do not then be afraid to commit your life to Him.
Seek the way of the Lord and live for the service of Jesus Christ,
to whose name be all
glory, honor and power
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.