Sunday Proper 7, Year A, Track 1, Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
Our world is not the world that prefers grace over punishment, protects the weak over the powerful. I’m not sure who the god of our world is, but Jesus called the god of his time Beelzebul. Beelzebul can mean Lord of the Flies and because of this name he was commonly mocked by the Jews as being a dung heap which attracts lots of flies. In some ways, times haven’t changed much over the years. We clearly see that where the world finds strength and power is not the way of our God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael.
Last week we had pity for Sarah because she was barren, and this week I still have pity for her. Because in her jealousy she has Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael. We greatly dislike this treatment of Hagar and her son and we often dislike God for allowing such an injustice to occur. Why would a loving God sit back and allow or even condone such a horrible act?
This is a great example of how bad things happen to good people. We know from our own lives how hard it is to witness good people living with or experiencing hardship that is beyond their control. We don’t know why God goes along with Sarah’s plan, yet at the same time nowhere does God say this was His plan or that this was what He intended from the beginning. In this horrible human act of jealousy, God makes a promise; a promise that a nation will come from Ishmael. It is also a continuation of the promise that God made to Abraham that Nations will come from his offspring. There is something redeeming about hardship. The stories of the Old Testament are full of hardship and redemption. Redemption is also what Jesus promises to us when we follow him through his life, death, and resurrection.
Life as a Christian is more than going to church on Sundays and generically being a good person. We can go to church and be a “good person” while, at the same time, our true allegiance is to Beelzebul, a false god. Imagine a person who lived their entire life in their house. This person never hurt anyone nor did they do anything that made someone else upset. They stayed in their house all day, every day, reading their Bible. Our society would probably say that this person was reclusive but a good person. I have no idea how God would react to the person on Judgment day, but I know this is not how Christ tells us to live our life, nor is this the life that Christ has modeled for us. I would find it hard to imagine, how a life in which we do not live in community with others, a life in which we are retreating from the world around us, is living a Christian life.
Similarly, a Christian life cannot be a life in which we are so deeply enmeshed in the world around us that our life as a Christian has almost no distinction from anyone else’s. We are called to be different from the world around us. We are called to do things together as a Christian community. We are called to point out, and work against the factors that cause hardship or harsh treatment for others. As Christ said last week “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” As Christians, we are to live our life in the world but not be of the world. We are to understand the boundaries between making a prophet to maintain a living versus making a prophet at the expense of others.
By seeing the world in a new way through Christ, we find our own sins. It is easy to find fault with others but it can be difficult to see how our actions or lack of action impacts others. By living in the world as the world expects us to live we often ignore our sin; the corporate sin that we become complicit in. We may find grace through Christ in the forgiveness of our sins but “should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” Should we continue to live our lives the same as we have always done? Paul says, “By no means!”
Both sin and grace abound all the time. We may not see it especially when life is going well and we are “in the groove”, or as others may say “on autopilot.” When we are in a routine we get used to seeing the same things over and over and we often miss the small miracles, or the injustices of life that do not seem to affect us. We take them for granted. We woke up today just as we did yesterday and the day before. We go to our jobs, visit our friends, and belong to the clubs just as we did last week and the month before. It is in times of tragedy that we tend to realize that God provides what we need. We may not understand why we lost our job, why we lost our spouse, but God is with us.
Hagar finds herself in the wilderness, and the water runs out, she is afraid and believes that she is witnessing her son dying from dehydration. She is ready to give up and she cries out. God responds and brings her comfort and reminds her of his promise, the promise that he will make a great nation out of Ishmael. And God also has made a promise to us. Through Christ, we have eternal life. Through our baptism into his death and through our baptism into his resurrection, we have eternal life. This promise is free; it is pure grace that cannot be earned. But it does come with responsibilities.
We have to change our lives. We have to be advocates for the harassed and helpless. We cannot go on with our lives by avoiding struggles and accepting the ill treatment of others as if we are not taking part in the sin around us. We have to be active, fighting against the terrible things that people do and helping those in need.