PENTECOST VI

Proper 7A Revised Lectionary

22 June 2008

Saint John’s Episcopal Church

Memphis, Tennessee

When I preach I read the lessons and then let my unconscious, which I hope is in conversation with the Holy Spirit, work on the mix.  Then some notions begin to ferment. After more study and reflection I sit down to write.  This is somewhat like watching sausage or cheese made in that dealing with the product is better than experiencing the process.  However, that being said, here is the product.

·        In Genesis we encounter the story of the Sarah-Abraham-Hagar triangle.

·        The Psalm tells us that the mercy of God extends even to servants and their children not just the special and privileged.

·        Paul tells the Roman Christians just what is it that we have in our baptism

·        Matthew speaks to the price and promise of following Jesus.

Whether we know it or not we come at life with expectations.

A woman is walking down the street with her two grandchildren. A friend stopped to ask her how old they were. She replied, “The doctor is five and the lawyer is seven.”  Trust me the children already knew her expectations.

There are many in the Christian church these days that will tell you that if you are a Christian that means that you will automatically prosper because you are special.  To that I say that no we are not special rather we are chosen and that is not the same thing at all.  As Woody Allen put it in an interview in Rolling Stone in 1976, “We were not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.”

What is my point?  Life is complicated. We find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control; with people we wouldn’t choose and often assume that we are helpless and hopeless.

The scriptures today allow that life complicated but that God is present to us in the circumstances beyond our control; works with the people we wouldn’t choose and in Christ assures us that we have resources and hope.

I believe that God wants humans to mature and that people mature by facing challenge.  If we are following Jesus to amuse ourselves, become successful and popular then we are in for a surprise.

The story of the triangle between Sarah, Abraham and Hagar is an interesting one.  A triangle is the basic geometry of human relationships consisting of three people or two people and an issue. There later kind is where we begin.  The triangle is Abraham – Sarah – The Promise that Abraham will be the father of nations complicated by Sarah’s infertility.  Sarah must have made herself crazy worrying and trying to find a way out of the box. But nothing did it.  She wasn’t getting any younger and she wasn’t getting pregnant either. Then one day it came to her, the solution, it was simple and elegant, this way out of her shameful dilemma: Hagar her good looking (I assume) Egyptian maid.

Abraham did as she asked and Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael and once she was pregnant she got a little uppity.  It was then that Sarah realized that her expectations of solving her problem were not working as she planned. She made Hagar miserable but she needed her so in her frustration she took out her anger on Abraham for doing what she had asked him to do.  The triangle began to vibrate vigorously and they began to do the triangle dance that is familiar to us all.

Woody Allen in his film Annie Hall says, “I thought of that old joke, you know, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, `Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, `Why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, `I would but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd … but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”
Annie Hall, 1977 

So on they dance but the steps are too much for Hagar and she runs away from home.  Out in the wilderness she is met by an angel who tells her to go back and put up with Sarah’s abuse.  She went and in the going she grew up, matured, facing the challenge of living with this neurotic threatened woman.  In last week’s Genesis reading the three men tell Abraham that indeed Sarah will have a son, named Isaac, meaning laughter because Sarah laughed at the news of her maternity.

Fast-forward to today’s reading where Sarah threatened by the very boy whose birth she had manipulated into being demands that he and “that woman” leave for good.  Abraham is upset but God tells him to let them go and out they went.

In my background I always read this story with the idea that Hagar and Ishmael were disposable because the covenant was through Isaac.  I no longer think this is so.  God says, “I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”  Hang on to that thought.

Again in the wilderness Ishmael and his momma run out of water and Hagar goes a little way from the bush where she has left her son so as not to see him die.  And she cried out and God called to her and told her to buck up for her son would be the father of a great nation and as he spoke he opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.

God did as he said and Ishmael became a great archer and his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.  This is the only time in the Old Testament that a woman got her son a wife filling the role of a man.  Hagar has become a woman with attitude in the best sense.  In facing challenge she has endured, matured and prospered.

She is remembered in the Psalm for today, “Give your strength to your servant; and save the child of your handmaid.  Just how are we saved?

The Roman Christians are informed by Paul just what we have in our baptism. The important thing is not just the pouring of water but participation in the resurrection of Jesus.  Luke Timothy Johnson in his work on Romans says, “Baptism is not just a sign like a stop sign; rather it is a symbol that participates in that which it signifies. A loaf of bread is a symbol of fellowship; …the reason is that bread gathers diverse members together, literally “inhabiting” them simultaneously. Bread symbolizes fellowship because sharing is what fellowship is. In similar fashion baptism is such a symbol, an event that activates within the community the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

What is that experience and what is to be our expectation? Matthew tells us in three comparisons:

1. disciple/teacher

2. servant/master

3. head of the household/household

WHICH means two things:

1. Jesus’ followers ought not to expect better treatment than Jesus.

2. Disciples are privileged members of Jesus’ own school and household – they are his intimates.

We will have conflict and it will erupt even in families.  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Jesus is not threatening anyone with violence but tells us what to expect.  So what do we know?

Life is complicated. We find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control; with people we wouldn’t choose and often assume that we are helpless and hopeless.

The good news is that like Hagar we can take courage knowing that neither we nor anyone else is disposable.  That when facing challenge and the water skin is empty and the milk of human kindness has curdled like Sarah – when we cry out to God we are heard and in our crying our eyes are opened to see a well.

For we do travel in the desert but there is always a well of sweet water.  Along the way we do grow up even if we don’t know we have and we mature – knowing that in Christ Jesus – we are his intimates, disciples of his school, folk of his very household.  And like Hagar we will find wives from Egypt when we must and become women and men of attitude, in the best sense of that word.

As someone has said, “Jesus promised his followers only three things that they would be absurdly happy, entirely free and always in trouble. And so we are.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.