The chosen hymns for this week, Christ Be Our Light, His Eye is on the Sparrow and There is a Balm in Gilead be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
When I was teaching, it was not unusual for us to get memos about groups of friends falling out – frequently with unpleasant repercussions.
Frequently, these happen as a result of things posted on social media, and quite often have ramifications in the communities the children come from.
Frequently, it ends in a fracturing of relationships and one of the group of friends being banished - excluded from the group.
When we disagree with someone, instead of being in relationship with that person our tendency is to exclude, to shun, to ignore or even demonise.
Sadly, the behaviour of our children
seems to mirror behaviour in society.
Too often we see division in regards to things like race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, political opinion, or economic policy.
Instead of trying to understand the person, or entering into dialogue or asking questions, we push them away, ignore them or take a polarising position.
Society is divided. Even though we may be more inclusive in some ways than we were in the past, there is still an inclination to reject others not like us, who have a different view from us, who seem to threaten our positions.
The events of the past few weeks have thrown that into sharp relief especially with the Black Lives Matter protests.
Our Old Testament story brings this very human trait to the fore.
Sarah and Abraham have a longed-for son as promised by God. He is called Isaac which in Hebrew means laughter.
Isaac is now a few months old, and Abraham is going to throw a feast to celebrate his time of weaning.
But there is another child in the story, Ishmael, the child of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian maid. Ishmael means God hears, and he is now around 14 years old.
One day, Sarah sees Ishmael "playing," and she objects to this. Sarah demands that Abraham "throw out that child and her slave mother, too."
Abraham gives Hagar a bit of bread and water and drives her and her child, Ishmael, out of the camp, condemning them to death in the desert.
There is a lot in this small piece to wonder about. Sarah objects to his son playing with her son. Did you notice that? Already, there is division – his son, her son.
What is she objecting to?
Maybe she sees Abraham’s first-born son as a threat to her son and the covenant made with God.
Maybe she is afraid that she’d lose her place in Abraham’s heart to Ishmael.
Maybe she fears Ishmael is threatening her own status, power, and wealth within the family unit, prompting her to force Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael who threatened her proper place.
Division, jealousy, fear – the things which can lead to fractured relationships.
The second part of the story then deals with what awaits Hagar and Ishmael as they journey from the house of Abraham.
Hagar’s supplies, given to her by Abraham, have run out and she puts Ishmael under a bush, and then removes herself some distance from him - perhaps because she doesn’t want to watch his inevitable death, and she lifts up her voice in mourning.
But just as with Abraham, God hears their cries and comforts Hagar with the same reassurance of future nationhood for her son that eased Abraham's distress.
And just as Abraham had provided her with a skin of water, God provided a well of water
Did you notice that Verse 17 says that God heard Ishmael’s voice, not Hagar’s?
God hears the cries of one in need.
And so it is throughout the Bible.
God heard the cry of Abel’s blood, God heard Rachel and grants her a son, God heard the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt, and in this story God hears the cries of Ishmael.
The parallels in the telling of this story suggest that God is not only concerned with the chosen people of Abraham's descendants.
In God's initial statement of the promise, the purpose behind the choice of Abraham was revealed, namely, that in Abraham "all the families of the earth shall be blessed,"
The promise comes through Isaac, but there is blessing enough for all!
God hears the cry of the outcast, the victim, the one excluded.
When the people of the covenant, symbolized here by Sarah and Abraham, push others out God is still there with them.
But God also hears the cries of the discarded.
God will be with and provide for the ones that the in-crowd say is not good enough.
God is a God that works beyond our understandings, outside our fears and doubts.
When we who claim God as Lord, exclude, and push out the other, the one different, the one we fear, God is still at work.
God is a God of embrace, a God of mercy, a God of healing and wholeness and reconciliation.
God is faithful and just and hears the cry of those in need.
But also, when we make a mistake and exclude and push out those that are different, even with the best of intentions, God is still there.
God does not abandon us to the wilderness, if we will just be open to hearing God’s voice in the midst of our struggle and heartbreak.
God also does not forget his promises – he kept his covenant with Abraham.
God does not leave us to our hurts and jealousies and insecurities.
Do not be afraid, for God sees and hears. He knows.
As Jesus says, "Don't be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows."