God Hears the Cry of Those Cast Aside, June 21

God Hears the Cry of Those Cast Aside

Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Rev. Catherine Schuyler

Catskill, Simpson Memorial, and Quarryville UMCs, online; June 21, 2020

 

God first calls to Abram in the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis.  “Go. Go from your country and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation.  I will bless you and make your name great.”  So Abram went.  Abram and his wife Sarai claim this promise from God as their own.  They believe God’s word and the rest of their lives are built around living into the truth they believe, that Abram will be the father of a great nation.  In that twelfth chapter of Genesis, Abram and Sarai have no children. They are old and childless.

 

Abram speaks with God frequently, as Bible conversations with God go, about this apparent problem.  In order for Abram to be the father of a great nation, he has to have a child.  On Father’s Day we remember how concerned and hopeful Abram was to be a father.  In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abram asks God about this promise, explaining that, at the moment, Abram’s head servant, his butler, his head of staff, Eliezer, is the one who will inherit all that Abram has acquired.  Is he the one who will carry out my legacy? asks Abram.  Nope, says God.  You will have a son. 

 

In the sixteenth chapter of Genesis, Sarai comes up with a suggestion.  Since I’m too old to bear a child, why don’t you sleep with my maid, my slave, my handmaiden, as the KJV translates it.  We were told in chapter thirteen that Abram and Sarai were presented with slaves as gifts when they traveled in Egypt, in the northeast corner of Africa.  Human beings, made in the image of God, were given to our heroes, Abram and Sarai, as if they were things to be owned.  Hagar belongs to Sarai, as the story tells it.  And Sarai give Hagar to Abram so that he might father her child.  The owner’s logic is that she owns Hagar, so she will own Hagar’s child as well.  The plan works, to a point.  Hagar gets pregnant.  We who are watching this play out are not surprised at what happens next.  We’ve watched soap operas, or perhaps we’ve seen something like this happen in our own lives, or in the lives of people we love.  No matter what Sarai thinks, Hagar isn’t simply a piece of property; she’s a woman, and now she’s about to be a mother, and Sarai is not.  There is jealousy and Sarai still has significant power.  She treats Hagar with contempt, and Hagar runs away.  An angel finds Hagar in the wilderness and sends her back to Abram’s camp to bear her son in safety. 

 

Hagar’s son Ishmael is born, and Abram is thrilled.  Again, Abram asks God, is this now how the promise will be fulfilled?  Nope, says God.  The covenant I establish with you will be through a child born to your wife, Sarai, whom I now name Sarah.  You are now Abraham.  Sarah eventually becomes pregnant and has a son, named Isaac.  Isaac’s weaning is the setting for today’s reading.  Sarah feels threatened by the presence of Ishmael, and she insists that Abraham banish Hagar and her son.  Abraham isn’t happy about this, but God assures him that Ishmael will not be forgotten.  So Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away from the camp, into the desert, away from the community and away from any hope of home.  For Abraham, Hagar was a back-up plan, in case God’s promise of a child for Sarah didn’t work out.  Both Abraham and Sarah conveniently forget that Hagar is not a plan nor property; Hagar is a human being, made in God’s image, and precious in God’s sight. 

 

God doesn’t forget.   That’s the good news at the heart of this story.  God hears Ishmael, God speaks to Hagar and calls her by name (no-one else in Genesis calls Hagar by name), and God gives Hagar and Ishmael a promise of power and a great nation of their line as well.  Sarah and Abraham may have decided Hagar and Ishmael were of no account, but God has no such thoughts.   To God, Hagar’s life matters.  Ishmael’s life matters. 

 

This story might sound familiar.  It’s not the only time an African slave has been used by someone with greater power and then tossed aside as if she were garbage to be disposed of.  And it is not the only time that God came to the slave woman’s aid, heard her cry, and reminded her of her worth and her legacy. There are those who hear echoes of this story in the history of this country.  People with power and wealth have used other people, including enslaved people from Africa, as if their lives were of no worth and then cast them aside to the ravages of poverty and racism.  Workers today are not paid a living wage, so families need two wage-earners, working more than one job, often, in order to keep their head above water.  We haven’t built our society as if those lives matter. God still says that these lives, forgotten or inconvenient, matter.  Black lives matter to God.  Migrant workers’ lives matter to God.  Vagrant lives matter to God.  Prisoners’ lives matter to God.  Poor people’s lives matter to God.  Hagar and Ishmael are cast aside from the center of the story, but God does not forget them.  God blesses them. 

 

Although Abraham and Sarah are celebrated as the ancestors of our faith, they are imperfect human beings just like the rest of us.  And slavery did not offend their sensibilities; it’s how people of means lived in those days.  Abraham was a well-to-do head of household.  He had sheep and goats, donkeys and probably a chicken or two, and he had slaves.  Slavery today appropriately offends our sensibilities, but we still abide significant and pervasive injustice in society.

 

People who are out on the streets with signs are speaking out for Hagar and Ishmael.  They are raising their voices for George Floyd and for Breonna Taylor, not because George and Breonna were particularly excellent humans, better than other humans, but because they were treated as if their lives were of no account, expendable.  Black lives matter is their cry because that holy truth is not evident in our nation’s practices far too often. 

 

If we are to be those who hear the voice of God calling to us, calling us to hear as God hears, and to care as God cares, we will be those who listen for the voices of those who have been cast aside.  We all have neighbors who feel as if they have been forgotten and deemed unnecessary to the working of society.  They are those whom God is calling us to love and serve. 

 

God heard Ishmael and Hagar’s cries.  We are asked to open our ears and our hearts to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters, to listen to their stories to confess our complicity in their pain, and to do better, to address the injustices in our system. 

 

Abraham is the father of our faith, the father of three major faiths across the globe, through Isaac and through Ishmael.  As we celebrate fathers in our lives today, and as we rejoice in the love of our Father God, who sees even the sparrow fall, and loves and cares for each of us even more deeply, let us not forget that God hears the cries of the poor and cast aside, those who are not in the center of power.  And God asks us to hear, to care, and to act.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Genesis 21:8-21

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

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

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

 

Psalm 86

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.

You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.

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.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.

In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,

     nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you,

     O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;

     give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

     and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

     you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the insolent rise up against me;

     a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,

     slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant;

     save the child of your serving girl.

Show 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

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore 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. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We 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. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So 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; 25it 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. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So 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; 33but 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. 35For 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; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever 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; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

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