Proper 7A

June 16, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 10:24-39

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Genesis 21:8-21

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Say what you want about the Bible but in its unabridged version, it pulls few punches.  Sunday school versions of any number of stories have been whitewashed and cleaned up and buttoned down to make everything look nice.  But in the actual Bible, you get the unvarnished truth.

    And often it ain’t pretty.

    This part of Genesis 21 is not pretty.   It is not pleasant.  It is not fair or kind and if there are any latter day so-called “Fruit of the Spirit” around, they lie rotted and shriveled along the margins of the narrative.  Goodness?  Gentleness?  Kindness?  Love?  Peace?   Sarah took the lot of such virtuous spiritual fruit and chucked them out onto the compost pile.

    It’s not the first time, of course.  It had started five chapters earlier after both Abraham and Hagar had done exactly what Sarah begged them to do; namely, conceive a child together seeing as Sarah’s chances of having a kid seemed just less than zero to none.  As Sarah could have figured, Hagar conceived a child easily and quickly (even though it seemed she’d seen her husband still coming and going from Hagar’s bedroom on a semi-regular basis) and no sooner did Hagar’s baby bump become apparent as she lounged around the house and Sarah could not stand the sight of her.   Since Abraham seemed more interested in a bit of domestic tranquility than justice, he told Sarah “Do what you have to do, then, my dear.”

    Sarah threw the pregnant woman out on her ear, but Hagar did not get far when God caught up to her and told her to go back, eat crow, say she was sorry, and work for Sarah after all with all due humility and respect.

    It’s hard to see why God did this at that point in Genesis 16 seeing as God (of all people) should have known what would come next down the road a piece.   Of course, the whole Plan B with Hagar was contrary to God’s will in the first place—if you are keeping a tally sheet of Abraham’s early failures to trust God and God’s promises, be sure to put a nice thick tick mark down for this one.  And so once God comes through and gives also Sarah the long-promised child, there is laughter all over the place in Abraham and Sarah’s household right up until Isaac is a toddler.

    Kids will be kids and so the day finally came when Sarah saw Abraham’s two sons playing together out on the swing-set only to hear the older child, Ishmael, poking fun of his younger half-brother Isaac.   Maybe Ishmael made fun of Isaac’s name: “Who wants to be called ‘Giggles’ all his life!  That’s a stupid name, kid!”   Maybe he made invidious future predictions.  “My Mom says God is going to make a great nation out of both of us but y’know what?  Some day my people are gonna beat the snot out of your people!”

    Who knows what it was but Sarah overheard it and blew a gasket.   Abraham was once again all hand-wringing and sorrow about the whole thing until God himself—the same God, mind you, who years earlier had told Hagar to go back to Abraham and Sarah—now tells Abraham to send her away for good but to not fret about it because God had the situation well in hand.  (If Hagar ever had occasion to sing the hymn “If You But Trust in God to Guide You,” she’d be able to tell us all a thing or two as to the ups and downs of just such divine guidance!)

    So that is what Abraham does: he boots Hagar and his own son Ishmael out once and for all, giving them just enough supplies to make it a little ways but not far.   Eventually all is lost for Hagar and her boy—dehydration, heat stroke, and starvation are imminent–but God swoops in, provides sustenance and water and re-assures Hagar that since there is something special about Abraham’s DNA, Ishmael too would be a success in the long run and would have a people to call his own.

    You won’t ever hear of Ishmael again in the Bible (though Hagar will make a famous, albeit textually quirky, appearance in Galatians 4).  The Ishmaelites get a shout-out here and there but Ishmael’s part in the Bible’s larger drama ends in Genesis 21:21 when we are told his mother found a nice wife for him from Egypt (of all places).

    It is not difficult to figure out that the whole Abraham story would be a lot nicer without this Hagar-Ishmael side drama.  And it’s not difficult to discern that some writers and editors of what became Genesis must have felt sorely tempted to leave it out.  I mean, nobody comes out smelling like roses in these narratives: Hagar got cocky, Sarah was petulant, Abraham was milquetoast, Ishmael was an unpleasant child.   Shucks, even God comes off as a bit inconstant.  Nobody here gets the rebuke they deserve for not trusting God in the first place.  Nobody gets called to account for petty pride and rivalry, and in the end God has Abraham cave in to Sarah’s invidious and jealous sinfulness.

    What in the whole wide world are these stories doing in the Bible?   We’re barely 20 chapters into the whole of Scripture and already we’ve got stories that are potentially off-putting for a whole lot of reasons.

    Of course, I don’t know exactly what wisdom of the Holy Spirit is at work here in inspiring these stories to get preserved as part of God’s Holy Word.  But give the Spirit and the Book the Spirit orchestrated credit for thoroughgoing realism.  The fact is that the story of God’s redemption of this cosmos is not a pretty story all the time.   It involves real people with real foibles, sins, and pettiness.   And in Genesis 16 and 21 in the stories involving Hagar and then also Ishmael, if God comes across at times as rolling with the punches and doing his holy best to make good come out of a fair amount of lousiness, that may itself be a sign of hope for the rest of us, including all of us in the church yet today.

    Flash forward to the Book of Acts, after all, and you will discover that also there the narrative provides no whitewashes of the truth.   The apostles sometimes argued, sometimes disagreed, sometimes refused to go on mission trips together.  People lied to their leaders even as those same leaders sometimes played both ends off against the middle to keep the peace (Peter, it is said, was known to eat kosher with kosher folks but was happy to indulge in a slice of pepperoni-and-ham pizza when keeping company with certain other folks).

    The story of God’s people and now of God’s Church is an eminently realistic one and if that does not necessarily make it any easier for pastors, elders, deacons, or anyone else to deal with the “Sarah vs. Hagar” struggles and squabbles in congregations also today, we at least can be re-assured that the presence of those situations and of those kinds of people need not mean the absence of God or of God’s working in and through his people.  Again and again in the Bible we find God to be endlessly nimble in bringing about his larger purposes despite all that we human beings do to thwart him, trip him up, and sometimes very nearly ruin the whole holy enterprise.

    None of this is an excuse for petulance, pettiness, envy, and the other things that tear at the fabric of any given congregation—of course not!   But insofar as we have yet to perfect this whole ecclesiastical enterprise, the idea that God abides over and above (and pretty often right in the middle) of all our fights and failures is one of the better signs of Grace you can glean from the whole wide witness of Scripture.

    And Grace will preach every time.

    Illustration Idea

    From Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who.  Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1979, p. 46:

    “The story of Hagar is the story of the terrible jealousy of Sarah and the singular ineffectuality of Abraham and the way Hagar, who knew how to roll with the punches, managed to survive them both.   Above and beyond that, however, it is the story of how in the midst of the whole unseemly affair, the Lord, half tipsy with compassion, went around making marvelous promises, and loving everybody, and creating great nations, like the last of the big-time spenders handing out ten dollar bills.”

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 6:1b-11

    Author: Stan Mast