June 21, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, except that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW p. 40)

Genesis 21:8-21

8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 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.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 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. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”

14 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. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 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. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael, 1637

Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17

 1Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.
2Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who trusts in you.
3Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long.
4Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 

5For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, and abundant in mercy toward all who call upon you.
6Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, and attend to the voice of my supplications.

7In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, for you will answer me.
8Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, nor anything like your works. 

 9All the nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, and glorify your name.
10For you are great; you do wondrous things; and you alone are God.

16Turn to me and have mercy on me; give your strength to your servant, and save the child of your handmaid.
17Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame; because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. 

Romans 6:1b-11

1 Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 10:24-39

24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 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! 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 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. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 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; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

This morning I am going to open up the story of Hagar and Ishmael, a story that does not get a lot of room in story Bibles but has a great deal to say to us today. But first I want to spend a few minutes explaining how it is that this text from Genesis 21 is read on the same day as our gospel passage from Matthew 10. Understanding the three-year cycle of scripture passages may not hold good news, but since we will be reading Genesis and Matthew for much of our summer and fall, I think it is worth your understanding the logic.

This year, the year of Matthew’s gospel, our semi-continuous Old Testament selections come mostly from Genesis and Exodus. The idea is that, since Matthew relies so consistently on the tradition of Moses, during the year of Matthew, we read from the books Moses supposedly wrote and which he figures highly in. We do not start the semi-continuous readings with the creation story or the great flood. We started our journey through the semi-continuous readings last Sunday with God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah. God promised them land, to make of them a great nation, and they would be blessed and be a blessing.

This morning we deal with a wrinkle in that covenant. Sarah and Abraham are old and Sarah is barren. At the initiative of Sarah, her Egyptian servant Hagar is given to Abraham to enable him to bear children through her. There is no indication that this move is a lack of faith, for the identity of the mother has not been made clear by God and this means of bearing children was common in the ancient Near East.

Abraham becomes the father of a child through Hagar (named Ishmael at God’s directive), and the story strongly suggests that he is a fulfillment of the divine promises. During Hagar’s pregnancy, Sarah regrets her decision and deals harshly with her. An angel of the Lord finds her in the wilderness and instructs her to return to Sarah, but also promises that her son will be the father of a great nation.

This brings us to our text for today. In the wake of the birth of Sarah’s son Isaac, a conflict within the family emerges again, perhaps especially since Sarah is concerned about the place of her son Isaac’s inheritance. Hagar and Ishmael are excluded from the family and wander at deep risk to their lives in the wilderness. But God comes to them where they are and preserves the lives of these outsiders.

One of the most striking dimensions of these narratives is that God makes extensive promises to Hagar and Ishmael. These promises are very similar to those given regarding Isaac. What does it mean for God to speak such promises to outsiders and to commit the divine self to this unchosen community?

According to some ancient near Eastern conventions, Abraham either had to claim the son born to his slave girl as his own, or give him his freedom. It seems likely that this is what is going on here. Abraham wants to claim Ishmael as his son. However, God has other plans for Hagar and Ishmael, using the situation as an opportunity to give them their freedom.

Those of us reading through Genesis so many years later are left wondering why the Hagar and Ishmael stories are here among the narratives of Abraham and Sarah. What do they add to our understanding of God and God’s mission in the world? The main theme of the ancestral narratives of Genesis is the fulfillment of the promises God makes to Abraham and Sarah—for descendants, land, and blessing.

But we would be mistaken if we believed that God only had eyes on those who were selected to be God’s chosen people. Scattered throughout the stories of God’s elect are the stories of Lot, Hagar and Ishmael, Esau, and more. In each case, God is very much present in their lives.

I am so grateful that the lectionary does include today’s story about Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar may not figure prominently in the story bibles most of us grew up with. However, Hagar has become many things to many people.

Phyllis Tribble writes, “Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in [Hagar’s]. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the residential alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.”

Imagine, if you will, the Hagars of the world who most need to pray today’s psalm. Just imagine as you hear these words: “Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving-maid. Show me a sign of your favour, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”

How does the community of faith respond to these Hagars of our world? It depends, I suppose. We might make judgments on appearances and brush them aside. If life circumstances put us in close contact with one of these Hagars of our world, we might soften. Instead of seeing all that they are not, we begin to see the person inside. She or he no longer represents so many people in her group. We see the beloved child of God. This is the way towards bridging the cultural divides that are so deep and high right now.

But this is only the first step. Because there are so many people who identify with Hagar. Hopefully they all meet someone, or multiple people, who see him as a beloved child of God. But what if that does not happen? What if they remain hidden, in the shadows, in the gap? Who speaks for them when no one knows their name?

Our text today does affirm that God chooses the line of Isaac, not that of Ishmael. This is a strong claim and it poses a question for those of us who claim to be descendants of Isaac. Remember, Abraham and Sara were chosen so that all families might be blessed through them, all families. How do we ensure that blessing, not curse, comes upon all peoples?

If that question does not overwhelm you, I do not know what will. And yet person by person, day by day, that is the call, to bless as we have been blessed, to make sure that all the people who identify with Hagar, not just the ones we meet, are indeed blessed.

When Hagar was in the wilderness the first time, pregnant and all alone, God told her to call her son Ishmael, which means “God hears.” That was one naming. God heard the cry of Hagar in the wilderness.

But Hagar also named God. The scripture says, “Hagar gave a name to the Lord who had spoken to her, ‘You are El Roi,’ by which she meant, ‘Did I not go on seeing here, after him who sees me?’” (NJB). God is a God who sees people who have been cast out.

Hagar encounters our God who both sees and hears. I find that both a challenge and a comfort. It is a challenge because I know there are so many voices who I do not hear, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. Not unlike trying to follow Jesus, who always saw and heard the people everyone else seemed to ignore or neglect, seeing and hearing requires some intentionality and accountability. There is so much information coming at me every day, that if I really want to see the Hagars of the world and hear their voices I may have to build new relationships, dig for different authors, even mix up my Netflix queue.

Yet the fact that God always sees and hears the Hagars of the world also gives me great comfort. In the midst of the pandemic and economic hardships and protests, life goes on for members of our congregation, for their families and even for me. And life includes hard things like surgeries for parishioners in which we cannot guarantee the outcomes, recovering alone in the hospital because of COVID-19, medical treatments, depression, loneliness, families that don’t always get along, job loss. All of the normal really hard stuff of life continues. Anybody who lives on this earth has times when they are in the metaphorical wilderness and it is hard.

When we cry out to God, either on our own behalf or on behalf of others, God hears us. When we are struggling, alone, isolated, grieved, God sees us.

What comfort there is in knowing that God sees and hears you most especially in those times. You also can claim the words of the psalmist as your own, “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…Gladden the soul of your servant, 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.

Prayers of Intercession

Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world.

Expansive God, you bring diverse voices together to form your church. Open our hearts and unstop our ears to learn from one another, that differences might not overshadow our baptismal unity. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.
Providing God, your creation shows us that life comes from death. Renew the places where our land, air, and waterways have been ill for too long (local environmental concerns may be prayed for). Direct the work of all who care for birds and their habitats. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Protecting God, sustain and keep safe all who work to defend others across the world (especially). Revive and strengthen organizations dedicated to caring for refugees and migrants while their homelands struggle for peace. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Loving God, you promise to be with all who are persecuted for your sake. Guide all who speak your word of justice and console any who are tormented or targeted for being who they are. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Compassionate God, you are with us and we are never alone. Bless all fathers and father figures who strive to love and nurture as you do. Comfort all who long to be fathers and all for whom this day is difficult. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Reigning God, you bless us with guides and caretakers in the faith. As we give thanks for all those who have died, increase our care for one another until we walk with them in newness of life. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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