Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Those who treasure God as Allah place much weight on the fact that Abraham’s first born son is not Isaac but Ishmael.  As we continue with the sequential reading of the Abraham story, this particular episode reminds us that God’s word is truth even when we humans see it another way.

As we learn from the Angel of God who appears to the distraught Hagar in the wilderness from Ishmael will come a great nation as well.  And we learn that he grows up, marries, and continues to live in the Wilderness of Paran in present day north eastern Sinai.

But we are in danger of missing the human drama between Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar.  This is a classic triangulation, to use a term from psychology.  Sarah is unwilling to have Ishmael co-inherit with Isaac.  She says, “Cast out this slave woman with her son…”  What she may have actually intended was for Abraham to take Hagar out and kill them both.  As it is, Sarah must know that a woman with a toddler in the wilderness will not last long.

Abraham clearly cares for his first son and yet he is caught in the middle.  God reassures Abraham that things will work out and to keep peace with Sarah.  I find myself wondering if Sarah ever thought of Hagar and her son and the type of death to which she had condemned them?  Makes you wonder about the mother of a great nation.  And yet we can see similar situations today when surrogate mothers are shoved out the door once their task of gestation is done.  Thankfully, I know of no such situation in this parish but it forms part of a nasty medical ethics dilemma.

Paul is also addressing a knotty problem with the Romans.  Some consider that they must sin so that God’s grace can abound.  How human.  I have often wondered if people throw trash out of their cars and leave disposable diapers in the parking lot at Wal-Mart so that street sweepers won’t have to worry about having work.

No, Paul writes.  Christians should take the opportunity to live in the new life provided by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  And it seems to me that the better way to live into that new life is surrounded by others in a faith community.

Recently the Pew Research Group published the findings of a major study of religious affiliation.  They concluded that the fastest growing segment is ‘unaffiliated.’

The unaffiliated are not just atheists and agnostics but people who have no steady religious ties.  It is as if churches have become irrelevant to the issues of life.  And yet churches have the resources and experience to deal with many of the issues that vex 21st Century Americans.

This past Wednesday I was the celebrant for the morning Eucharist at the Convent of St. Helena.  We remembered Bernard Mizeki, an African catechist who died at his mission station in Rhodesia during an uprising against Europeans and Christians.

Witnesses saw him stabbed to death but his body was never found.  Jesus’ words to his disciples were part of the gospel reading for Bernard.  For though his mortal remains were never found like those of many who died in the fall of the World Trade Center Towers, he like them lives with the saints in light.

But our gospel passage is part of the instructions Jesus is giving the twelve apostles before sending them out.  Jesus cautions them not to take on more than they should—good counsel for all of us.  He goes on to say that they should live without fear of the things that we can let control us—whatever fears limit us and our ability to live boldly.

He goes on to say that God keeps track of us better than we do ourselves.  And he says that the message he brings will be divisive.  And it has been and it will be.

What Jesus came to do was get humanity to change the way we look at things and at people.  He said that the way to live was to be less worried about things and more about people, to hold fast to the values that sustain a caring society—helping those less fortunate or who are desperately vulnerable, upholding those who serve rather than seek to be served.

Jesus is divisive because even the various parts of the church fail at times to be faithful to what he wanted.  Jesus proposed a radical welcome to all.  He grew to understand this as he came into contact both with the disadvantaged in society and when he encountered Gentiles and Samaritans.

And he looks to us to emulate him, to listen to his words, to pray to make a difference for this community and the world, needs us to make differences that we can.

Pray for the leaders who will gather in Jerusalem and at Lambeth that they may be open to the work of the Holy Spirit and the new ways that God is calling us to live.

For us this is a weekly opportunity to connect with friends and with the guests God sends our way and always gather strength for our journey together.