OT 12: 4th Sunday After Pentecost

June 25, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Genesis 21.8-21. Abraham and Sarah, unable to conceive an heir, have used Sarah’s servant Hagar as a concubine to produce a child, a son named Ishmael. But once Sarah has a son of her own she comes to resent Hagar and Ishmael, and has Abraham send them away. But God promises to care for them.

Psalm 86. We rejoice in God’s steadfast love and pray for an “undivided heart:” for singular mindfulness of God’s presence, undistracted by other things, and we seek to walk in God’s ways.
     —or: Psalm 17. The psalm cries out, as Hagar might have, for God’s compassion.

Romans 6.1-11. We die with Christ, leaving behind our self-centered lives, and we are raised with Christ to a new kind of living that is free from the powers that used to control us. We are “dead to sin and alive to God.”

Matthew 10.24-39. Jesus warns us that since people criticize him, they will also criticize us who follow him: “How much more will they malign those of his household.” But he reassures us that God, who cares for even the birds, will watch over us.

Preaching Thoughts

       From a self-serving stance we might claim this is a story about God continuing to preserve Abraham’s genetic line—but that’s exactly the sin we should confess: pretending that God wills other people’s suffering for our sake. Here’s the ugly side of our culture and even of our faith: we use and discard people for our own benefit, and attribute it to God, or at least to “the way it ought to be.” We perpetuate a triple evil: we use people selfishly, we exclude them and cause them suffering, and we blame it all on them as if it is all their choice, their wrongdoing. It’s the shadow side of the notion of “election,” that God has chosen Israel for a specific purpose in human history. “Election” is not “preference.” Israel is not chosen because they’re better or more important than other nations but because God has a specific task for them, which is for the world to be blessed by them (Genesis 12.3). Our error—our temptation—is to believe our mission or survival is more important to the world and to God than other people’s. It taps into the basic human sin of “pride”— thinking it’s all about us. It gives rise to unjust systems of privilege and exclusion. It’s the thinking that justifies slavery and war and rape and unfettered capitalism and all kids of evil.
        Delores Williams points out in her book Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk that Hagar’s experience matches that of black enslaved women in America. She writes, “Hagar’s predicament involved slavery, poverty, ethnicity, sexual and economic exploitation, surrogacy, rape, domestic violence, homelessness, motherhood, single-parenting and radical encounters with God” (p.4). Of course such experiences are familiar to contemporary Black women in America. More broadly, Hagar is everyone who is used and abused, who is discarded, judged, excluded or looked down upon, who is blamed for her troubles: victims of domestic abuse, the working poor, immigrants and refugees…. It takes some moral numbness to avoid seeing the image of Hagar and Ishmael wasting away in the desert trying to cross the US border. Where are the Hagars in your world?
      From Sarah’s perspective the story ends with Hagar and Ishmael disappearing into the desert. But that’s not how the story ends, does it? God accompanies them, hears them, tends to them, and promises the same thing that God promises Abraham: to make a great nation of them. As Delores Williams points out, God does not enact liberation for Hagar, but God does offer survival and quality of life. How might God be calling us to join in God’s promise and help care for the Hagars and Ishmaels of our world, to accompany the desert wanderers, to be the ones who hear and have compassion, who encourage and equip people to become great?
      This story isn’t exactly about domestic violence but it brings it up. It’s a story about a household that is not safe. It’s about one person’s will dominating another’s well-being.
       Click here for Domestic Violence worship resources.

      “Should we continue to sin?” I’ve actually been asked, “Since everybody is saved, why be good?” Seriously? Why be bad? The thing is, God’s love changes us. When we know how deeply we are loved we don’t want to sin. God’s grace is so life-giving we want to live in harmony with it. We want to be loving.
       Baptism is an invitation to that change. Baptism doesn’t magically change us, but it reminds us of God’s promise to give us new life when we give God our old ones. Baptism symbolizes the life-cycle of faith: our little self-enclosed self drowns in God’s love, and God gives us a new self made out of pure love. Resurrection isn’t just the after-life, it’s the now-life: when we surrender our lives to God in love, God gives them back to us as a gift. This death-and-resurrection cycle isn’t a one-time thing: we go through it every day, every moment, continually giving our life to God and receiving life anew. Like breathing. (This doesn’t call for re-baptism, but renewal of our baptismal vows. God has already claimed us. We’re the ones who need to renew our faithfulness, breath by breath.)

      In the context of sending out the 12 apostles, Jesus warns us, as servants of Jesus, that since people criticize him, they will also criticize us: “How much more will they malign those of his household.” Our faithfulness will be controversial: he brings not peace but a sword. The sword Jesus speaks of certainly isn’t advocating physical violence: he’s talking about controversy, opposition, the “sword” that divides. Think of Hebrews 4.12: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart..” That’s the sword Jesus brings.
       So we should expect opposition. But God, who cares for even the birds, will watch over us. So don’t worry about people who threaten you physically. Worry about what can bring death to your soul. If we are willing to let go of our place in society—if we take up our cross—we will find deep life. Having died and risen, as Paul suggests, we are free from fear for our physical well being, and have the courage to do justice, love radically, and serve boldly.

Call to Worship

1. [Matthew]
Leader: In this world of struggle and conflict we turn to God.
All: God of love, we need you.
Friends, not a sparrow suffers without God knowing,
and you, beloved, are worth more than many sparrows.
God of love, we trust you.
Those who cling to their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it.
God of love, we give ourselves to you.
Receive us, transform us, and fit us for your service,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2. [Genesis]
Leader: Glory be to you, God of all people,
you who have made us as siblings in one family.
All: Thanks be to you, Christ of compassion:
when we were lonely and cast out, you claimed us as your own.
Praise be to you, Spirit, for when we were in danger you saved us.
Come again, and make us your own.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

3. [Matthew]
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
Alleluia! Christ, you call us to follow,
through difficult times and choices.
Grant us faith and courage. Alleluia!

4. [Psalm 86]
Leader: Listen, O God, for we are poor and needy.
All: Save us, for we rely on you.
We open our souls to you. Give us joy.
For you are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who turn to you.
Be gracious to us and give us your strength.
For you are merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Alleluia.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, giver of life , lover of all beings, we live within your embrace, and our hearts are filled with wonder at your presence. We set aside this gentle time to listen to you, and to rest in your care. Speak to us, and shape our hearts by the power of your Word. Amen.

Loving God, you have baptized us into Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we may live new lives. Death no longer has dominion over us. Remind us again. As we tell the story of your love, let us die to sin so that we may freely and fully live for your sake, not for our own ease. As we worship, speak your good news to us, so that we may follow Jesus with faith and courage, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

God of love, may your grace give us faithfulness.
Christ, may your love give us courage.
Holy Spirit, may your presence give us trust.
Loving God, in a world that is afraid of love,
help us to be loving. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Like Hagar under a tree in the wilderness,
in solitude and need,
I sit with the infant of my hopes.
Hear the voice of my heart
and speak to me.
Lead me to the well of your love.

Prayer of Confession

Most merciful God, we confess our sin
we have not been the people you created us to be.
We have suppressed wonder and gratitude;
we have withheld love;
we have lived by fear.
Receive us, forgive us, and heal us,
that we may truly be your children,
and truly be sisters and brothers of all people,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       We trust in God, the maker of all things, source of all life and Mother of all children. Our life is in God, and in God we are one with all beings.
        We follow Jesus, the Christ, the Revealer of God, who taught us to love, who gave us courage to trust God’s grace, and who bid us to take up our cross and follow him. In his life and ministry and his death and resurrection, he has shown us that in losing our lives we find them. He who was crucified is the Ruler of the Universe.
        We rely upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, the unity of the church, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the reality of eternal life.
        Therefore we devote ourselves to disciplined practice of the Way of Jesus in our daily lives, so that we may grow in faithfulness, and serve God in humble, confident love for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.

         We love and trust God, Creator of all things, heavenly father and mother, of infinite love, wisdom and power, ruler of all that is and all that is to come.
        We follow Christ, God’s chosen one, who loved and served humbly, who chose to die rather than kill for the sake of the healing of all Creation, and who was raised by God to new life. We believe that he calls us to humbly follow him and obediently serve him for the sake of proclaiming God’s grace. We trust that he accompanies us and will help, guide, heal and defend us through all difficulty and suffering.
        We believe the Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us and sustains us as servants of God’s grace. We live as the body of Christ, in the power of forgiveness and the reality of resurrection, and the light of eternal life. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page.)

             Songs addressing domestic violence:

For Households
(Tune: Blest Be the Tie that Binds…
downloadable file also includes a version set to
DETRIOT, Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive.)

For homes where love is shared we give you thanks, O Lord,
where all your children hear your grace and know they are adored.

We pray for homes where fear and hurt and loneliness stay.
For those abused, unsure, not free, your blessing, God, we pray.

As when from Egypt slaves escaped and crossed the Sea,
God, make a way and go with those who are becoming free.

God, give us hearts to speak, to break the silent shield
that covers the hurt, protecting the sin: so violence may be healed.

God help your church to be a home, a healing place,
where all are free and whole and blest and honored in your grace.

When Fear Lives Close      (Tune: GIFT OF LOVE / The Water Is Wide)

We pray for those who live in fear,
where secret hurt and shame live near,
that they may know your loving grace,
and find their way to freedom’s space.

And God of love, we pray for those
whose inner darkness overflows,
that those who wound, control or use
may be healed, too, their demons lose.

We pray, O God, that we may be
your gentle ones who set them free,
with deep respect, with love and prayer,
create a world of gentle care.

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