Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bucking Bronco - Genesis 16:1-13

Genesis 16:1-13

NOTE: this is the relatively unabridged version of the sermon.  We actually did something else in the service than just me preaching. The congregation was divided up into four sections and each section was assigned one of the four roles in the narrative: Hagar, Sarai, Abram, and the Angel of the Lord.  The groups discussed the passage from their perspective and then shared/defended their perspective to the rest of the group, with David Anderson helping with the verdict.   This probably could/should have been the whole sermon portion, but I felt obligated to also deliver parts of "sermonette #2 and #3 below, which touch on being part of the household of abraham and domestic violence...WOW, try to squeeze all that in one sermon :). 

We begin a fall study of the old testament.
When’s the last time you picked up the bible and said, I’m going to read a little OT? 
And not just going to the Psalms or Proverbs.

A friend recently told me she doesn’t usually turn to scripture for guidance because when she did this in her past she ran into some OT passage that it just didn’t speak to her, or worse, left her confused or made her feel worse.  

There’s a reason Ben Franklin and many of us become selective about our bible canon,
but Harry and I and the group that meets for bible study on Tuesdays at noon thought it would be a fun fall challenge to check out the Hebrew Scriptures.
So they picked out some passages...
including this one...

So here we go into the Fantastic, Fearful, Far Out world of the Hebrew Bible!

Father Abraham, Mother Sarai, Mother Hagar, Son Isaac, Son Ishmael,--from Genesis 12 to Genesis 25--a drama of conquest, covenants, miracles, Sodom, Isaac’s near death experience, dreams, lies, faith, farming and feuding.   What a life!

Let’s hear part of the story..first in Spanish : Charles
Then we’re going to engage it in English together...

I’ve got three sermonettes I could potentially preach (but I divert due to a morning decision to engage the scripture collectively, with sections of the congregation identifying with the four characters in the story),

but I want to give you the option to cut it off when we’ve had enough.
We’ve got three weeks or so to hit on this section of the early patriarchs. 

Sermon 1: God promises future,
God desires reconciliation and wholeness in relationships

Patriarch of Biblical Studies,
Walter Brueggemann paints the big picture of the patriarchs like this:

“The mother Sarah, along with the mothers Rebekah and Rachel who come after her, were all barren.
They could not get pregnant, could not have a child, and so had no assured future. In generation after generation, at the last moment, in the fullness of time, God worked the impossible, gave an heir, created a future when none seemed available. 
...a memory to evoke astonishment. 
On the other hand, in every generation there was intense sibling rivalry, especially over land and water:
Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The quarrels were intense, because the disputes were about security and well-being into the future.
(that is what land disputes are always about).
Remarkably, in each generation, the younger, unentitled child makes a claim and receives the inheritance.
...the first [become] the last and the last [become] the first. 
[Yet], there is in the face of these tensions over land and water a [sense of] family.
When Abraham dies, Ishmael and Isaac together bury him and share the inheritance (Gen 25:9).
When Isaac died, Esau and Jacob shared in the death (Gen 35:29).
And when Jacob died there is a moving sense of reconciliation among the sons (Gen 50:15-21). 
In spite of conflict, this is a family whose members cannot cease to interact and to care for each other.” (Brueggemann:1993)

God is a God who out of the seemingly impossible, creates a future.
AND God is a God who, no matter how dysfunctional our relationships are, desires that we be on a road of reconciliation and wholeness in every relationship.
That the family care for each other

Such a good word for our time.
I’ve got more, but shall we stop here, or keep going?

Sermon 2: On to interfaith relationships
Let’s look a bit the family of Abraham--the Household of Abraham.
If God’s desire for our world is one of reconciliation and wholeness in all of our relationships, and that the family care for each other how are we doing in the family--
how is the household of Abraham doing with this?

Three religions claim to be part of Abraham’s inheritance:
descendants of Abraham.
Jews claim to be of the lineage of Abraham’s son Isaac.

Muslims claim to be of the lineage of Ishmael. 

Christians, mostly claim the heritage of Isaac, but why not Ishmael? 
Is he not a child of the covenant of Abraham?
God said to Abraham: your descendants will be as many as there are stars in the sky/ sand by the sea.

Is Ishmael not a child of God’s covenant with Hagar?
Hagar, despondent, isolated, alone receives this promise:
“I'm going to give you a big family, children past counting.”

Whose God is this?  
Who is our God?

There at the burial and receiving inheritance were Abraham’s son: Ishmael and Abraham’s son: Isaac. 

What does God desire for us as members of the household?

So much public and private talk:
--pitting members of one household against another---
siding with one household of Abraham instead of another,

is this really what God intends?
It certainly doesn’t seem to be biblical. 
Is this what God tells us to do in our heart of hearts?

I mean really, if certain members are going to be choosing sides, why don’t the Jews and the Muslims join together, as Ishmael and Isaac did at Abraham’s grave,
and exclude us problematic Christians?
I believe in no uncertain terms, that Jesus who is Reconciliation,
Jesus, who Christians claim to follow -
in no way wants us to take sides and choose favorites among this household of Abraham.
Nor does Jesus want us to exclude or claim superiority over any members of the household. 
I reject any notion that there is no holy war that we are to be part of. 
It is an absolutely absurd claim.

Our battle is against powers and principalities that would seek to divide us
not flesh and blood, especially when that flesh and blood is of our own family... 

And so instead, by grace, we may find ourselves in a position to be a bridge of peace in the complex global relationship between these households. 

When I pray in the household of descendants of Isaac--in a Jewish Synagogue,
I am free to feel at home, for I too am part of the household of Abraham -
Rabbi Marvin Schwab of Temple Beth Shalom has demonstrated this to me.

And when I pray in the household of descendants of Ishmael--and an Islamic Mosque--
I am free to feel at home,
for I too am part of the household of Abraham.
And when I have done so, I have been welcomed, as if I were at home--
Imam Abdur Rauf of Taha Mosque has demonstrated this to me.

And when one of my brothers or sisters from those households comes into this house of worship, how might we respond?

Last week Bo Keppel--a member of the Temple, who lives near the church
, attended here, bringing a friend,
she helped care for the children in the nursery because Leslie was sick.
What a blessing from a sister within the household... 

That’s a good word for us this day, is it not? 
I’ve got more here, but shall we stop, or keep going?

Sermon Three - No Abuse
The hard part....

Over the whole course of one’s life, which stories are told?
 Which remain? the most memorable ones which are often the ones which were the hardest to endure or make sense of.

In the grand spectrum of the life of Abraham and Hagar and Sarah, here, we find one that is perplexing. 
As a brother told me, this is heavy, but beautiful bro......(Micah)....

- Sarai, perhaps feeling guilty about not having given Abram a child, or feeling pressured over the matter, gives her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram, so that she may bear him a child...

How do we interpret this action of Sarai?
Clearly there are some complex feelings going on with her:
wanting to please her husband, Abram, while despising the method by which he was pleased.

- Hagar, a slave girl, had no say in the matter it seems. 
She submits to Sarai’s will when she is given to Abram.
And afterward she is subject to the emotions and abuse of Sarah and the aloofness of Abram.

Abram’s response to the conflict building within the household?
...”You deal with her Sarai, as you please, she’s your slave.” 
I’m going outside to chop some wood....
 Really, Father Abraham?

When the abuse becomes unbearable Hagar flees.
an alleged angel of the Lord comes to her in her pain...
     and tells Hagar, “to return and submit.” 

What kind of angel--which means messenger--brings this message?
Hagar obeys.

I have real trouble with this.  

I mean maybe it can be a lesson for all of us that sometimes when we’re in tough situations and we want to flee and run away because we think things will be easier somewhere else...
to instead return and trust that God will be with us,
That in some way, through the hard choice of staying, we will grow deeper in our faith.
And that’s great lesson to learn...

But this story is about abuse...domestic violence....
Why would God send her back to that? 

If there is anything that redeems this story for me,
it’s that God is present in a mysterious way, and Hagar can take comfort as an outcast abused slave woman that God is with her. 
I hope that anyone suffering from abuse can have an experience with God that may bring them comfort, and that may help them endure harsh circumstances from which they cannot escape.

But, I want to make one thing very clear.
If anyone is the victim of domestic violence and abuse of any kind, under no circumstances, will I condone those actions.
TO anyone who is the victim of domestic violence and abuse of any kind, I would never say, nor would I believe, that God wants him or her to return to the situation and submit to the abuser. Never.
At least not until some serious treatment has been done and the patterns of abuse have ceased;
which can happen by God’s grace and love....

We don’t know the type of abuse Hagar suffered,
but abuse that manifests itself in a physical way, is only one aspect--
and usually one of the last manifestations--of the cycle of abuse. 
Abuse is emotional and psychological, in which the abuser seeks power and control over the abused,
Abuse is displayed through financial control, verbal belittling, and intimidation. 
Abuse is not what God wants to occur in our relationships. 

It is interesting from a psychological perspective how Ishmael is described in our story:
Hagar is told by the angel,
Ishmael “[will] be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought,
Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.”

Not a very complementary description.... 

These stories were told and finally written well after the actual events and people being described were long long in the past.
Ishmael may have been a bucking bronco to be sure. 

But look how he was raised:
- an abusive stepmother
- an aloof father who finally kicked him and his mother out with little regard (at least according to the Hebrew Scriptures)
- Finally he’s raised by a single mom--a former slave, in a foreign land...#
Think Ishmael had some issues?

But what happens when we stop the cycle of violence and abuse?

What happens to the bucking broncos when we Fathers and Men are responsible, and stand up to abuse and are never the abusers?

What happens when we Mothers and Women are compassionate toward other mothers and their children? 

What happens when we Christians, and Jews, and Muslims--instead of pitting ourselves against one another or taking sides--work together to provide safe havens in our communities for victims of abuse and domestic violence....and take action to prevent it. 

God redeems this situation,
God fulfills God’s promise and gives a future.
Hagar was graced to, in her words, see God and not parish

And Hagar, in a position of powerlessness and confusion, was reassured that God was with her. God saw her situation and was at work in the the world to bring comfort. 

And in the end, Ishmael and Isaac stand side by side at their father’s grave....
What a story of reconciliation; of future!

God sees. God sees. God hears. God hears.
God is on the side with the weak,
the outcast, the downtrodden, and those who think there is no hope...

and by God’s grace, may we be on God’s side as well through our care and love in the world. 

That’s a good word....
Shall we pray?

“On Reading Genesis 12-25” by Walter Brueggemann

You are a God who awes us and astonishes us.

You are a God who selects a
dysfunctional family to carry your future

You are a God who dwells with barren women
    who become mothers in Israel.

You are a God who makes promises with no
    evidence at hand or in sight.

You are a God powerful in purpose,
    hidden in performance,
    faithful over time.

And we are among those drawn into the orbit of
    your life;
    a life teeming with possibilities
            so hard to trust,
            so impossible to explain,
            so precious to treasure.

Give us this day the freedom to be amazed
    and to trust your way among us,
        even when the world seems closed
            to all futures.

We praise you, future creating God. Amen.

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