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“The One God of All”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Genesis 21:8-21

 

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

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.
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.

 

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So 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.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But 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. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So 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.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then 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. And 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. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then 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.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

I’ve always found this story rather distressing.  In age-old feelings of jealousy, it appears Sarah decides Hagar and her son should go.  It says she didn’t want Ishmael to inherit with her own son Isaac.

In a land of plenty, in this family with no other heirs, Sarah’s jealousy is most disturbing; why can’t she share?  Does she not trust Isaac will have enough?  …Even though we are told that Abraham is a rich man?  Is this a class war, where she doesn’t want her son playing and associating with Abraham’s son by her slave Hagar?  Or could it be anger and resentment, since – as soon as Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child – we are told Hagar gloats and looks down on Sarah.  After all, Hagar had surpassed Sarah in her apparent “womanhood” with Abraham, or so the culture would have said.  There was (and even still is) a lot of shame wrapped in a woman’s inability to bear children.

 

But even more disturbing:  wasn’t it Sarah’s idea all along that Abraham sleep with Hagar in order that he might have a descendant that way?  And now she wants to undo what she did?  This feels audacious and cold.  And yet, as judgmental as I feel toward Sarah in this moment, what options did a wife have in those days?  Women were valued by their ability to produce heirs, and this was something she could not yet do.  She was nearing a century of life, without the blessing of having her own child.  Perhaps she turned to her servant Hagar, as her way of trying to fulfill her wifely duties.

 

Whatever Sarah’s feelings or her reasons, we hear that Abraham is greatly distressed by Sarah’s wish to send off Ishmael.  So God speaks into this moment and directs Abraham to do as Sarah wishes.

And so, despite his distress, Abraham does what he has done before.  He believes God.  He obeys.  He sends Hagar off with Ishmael and only bread and a skin of water by which to survive.

But God has told Abraham that God will indeed make a nation of Ishmael also.  So not only will Ishmael survive, but it would seem that he will indeed thrive.  He too will become numerous, having many descendants.  And so Abraham obeys.

 

And this is when we look upon the dire situation in which Hagar finds herself and her son – with no more water, and expecting the end for she and her child.  She leaves Ishmael underneath a bush, farther off, so she might not have to witness the death of her child.

But just as God speaks with Abraham when he is distressed of soul, so an angel of God speaks to Hagar in this moment of deepest despair.  The angel tells her not to fear; that God has heard the cries of her son, and that God will actually make a great nation from Ishmael.  Hagar is to go back to her child and hold him fast in her hand.  And when she obeys, as Abraham had done, God opens her eyes and she sees a well.  She goes and refills the empty skin full of fresh water, and she offers this water of new life to her son.

 

Can you imagine the emotional journey Hagar has been on?  Can you imagine being someone’s servant, their slave?  Can you imagine that someone telling you to sleep with her husband?  Can you imagine the fears that must have entered her mind?

Can you imagine the position in which she finds herself?  Truly she appears at the mercy of her masters.  She does what they will.  She sleeps with Sarah’s husband.  She bears his child.  And when tensions grow between she and Sarah and Sarah wants her gone, she is cast out to fend for herself in lands and cultures where not having a tribe means certain death.

 

But this is not the end of Hagar’s story.  God has a plan for Ishmael as well.

Hagar’s story, tragic on so very many levels, does not end with the death of she and her son in the wilderness.

…For God hears,
God speaks,
And God provides.

 

To this woman, used and abused, God speaks of a future for her son that is magnificent and hopeful.

 

Now I must say that I am still very uneasy with this story.

It seems that, as in so much of life, the rich get richer and the poor poorer, the powerful remain strong while the powerless are jerked around and mistreated.

 

But I am also encouraged by this story.

For God does not treat Hagar and Ishmael as disposable, as trash, as pawns.

For apart from Abraham and Sarah, Haagar and Ishmael will prosper.  Their stories intertwine, but her story branches off here in its own direction.

God is with Ishmael, and he becomes strong with the bow.  He lives in the wilderness, and he marries a woman his mother finds for him from her homeland of Egypt.

They survive.

And they prosper. 

 

This is the character of the God we serve.

Imperfect servants of God, Abraham and Sarah,

They are still used by God.

God remembers that they are made of dust.

 

And yet God’s love doesn’t stop with the family of Abraham who he has chosen.

No God’s presence and love follows Hagar and her son Ishmael,

even into the lonely and vulnerable wilderness.

 

God has mercy on Sarah, who could never bear a child – her one main duty as a wife.  And God works in the life of Hagar, providing for she and her son in the darkest place of their lives, that they may one day form a nation of their own.

 

 

It is a common misconception that God’s choosing of Abraham means God does not love everyone else.  But it has always been for the sake of the whole world that God chose Abraham.  It has always been that THROUGH HIM all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  Abraham is blessed TO BE a blessing…to the rest of the world. 

For God’s love doesn’t stop with Abraham.  God’s love can be shown and grown through a servant like Abraham who listens, believes, and follows.  Through his obedience the families of the earth will find blessing.  But God’s love is for the whole creation, the people of every land and place, all those who wander and run themselves ragged in fear, like sheep without a shepherd.  God has mercy on us, despite our sins, and graces us with undeserved favor and blessing.

 

THIS is the God we serve:
The God who speaks to the rich nomad
and the spurned and abused servant girl,
making them both ancestors of great nations.

Despite all our human-divisions of power and vulnerability, gender and opportunity, wealth and poverty, …master and servant,

GOD is God to all.

 

We are alike,
beloved by the Most High God.

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

On this Father’s Day, let us speak aloud the names of those who are and were father figures to us. 

                                                (Psalm 72, excerpts)

Give to your Leaders good judgement, O God, and a sense of what is right.  May they govern your people with justice and do right for those who are powerless.  May the mountains bring peace for the people, and the hills bring forth justice.  May they defend the poor among the people, save the children of those who are needy, and crush the oppressor.  May they endure as long as the sun, like the moon through all generations; like the rains that fall on the early crops, like the showers that water the earth.  May justice flower in their days, and peace till the moon is no more. May they have pity on the week and the powerless; may they save the lives of the poor.  May they redeem them from oppression and violence and regard their blood as precious.  Let grain be abundant through-out the land, and wave on the the tops of the mountains.  Let the crops blossom like Lebanon and the people flourish in the cities like the grass of the fields.

(Iona Abby Worship Book)

Liberator Christ, you came into a holy place and read the sacred word about sight for the blind folk and freedom for prisoners.  Come to this place now.  Read these words to us till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked, and we can see the world as it is, and as it could be; till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously, and the visions of the young are valued, and the potential of the old is released; till you Kingdom is celebrated everywhere, and your church is good news to the poor.

Amen.

“Thy Kingdom Come”

Psalm 119:137-144

You are righteous, O LORD,
and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words.
Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.


 

I love Habakkuk. Frankly he gives voice to the cries of my heart: “How long, O Lord!” Why? Why do you make me SEE this stuff? Why does justice never prevail? Why does wickedness have the last word? Why? Why?!?

 

How many of you relate?

How many of you are troubled by the injustice and wrong-doing you see all around you?

 

I love how Habakkuk says he will stand watch and WAIT for God’s answer. He is a bold one. Seriously. He essentially challenging God.

 

I admire Habakkuk because I usually do not feel so bold as to pray like that – to challenge God to make Godself known, to answer me, to make things right.  But I love this because I feel all these things.  I too cry out from the depth of my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world crying, “How long, O Lord!?!?”

And what I love about this verse is how God answers.  What we just read of Habakkuk’s complaint is only a portion of it.  He actually goes on for a while longer, complaining.  But then GOD ANSWERS.  God assures Habakkuk that all will be made well.  God assures Habakkuk that evildoers and wickedness will not have the last word.  In fact, God will have the last word, and God entreats Habakkuk to write this vision big and boldly, so that even those hurrying by will see it.  God will make things right, and we are to wait for it with hope.

 

So what does this say to us?  How does this conversation speak to you and to me?

 

Well, it reminds me to be bold.  If we do not speak honestly with ourselves and with God, we will not find the answers we seek.  If we don’t take the risk of asking, we don’t open ourselves to the possibility of hearing God’s answer to us.

So whatever is on your heart, speak it to God.  Do not be worried about offending God.  God already knows what is on our hearts.  We need to speak it.  We need to hear ourselves say it.  Half the time, our feelings and thoughts are not even real to our own selves until we hear ourselves say them.  Something actually changes in our brains when we give voice to our thoughts.  Speaking them out is an act of vulnerability.  And we need to be vulnerable with God.  In fact, who else can we most trust, and with whom we can be most vulnerable, if not God?!?

I encourage you to feel what you feel and think what you think.  And bring ALL of you, ALL of that to God.  We serve a God who is big enough to handle our anger.  We serve a God who is strong enough to handle our doubts.  We serve a God who is loving enough to see us for all that we are and still love us.

 

Therefore, may we bring our honest and heart-wrenching questions before our God in prayer.

Was Habakkuk chastised by God for his challenge?  What Habakkuk shamed for being angry and discouraged?  No.  Not at all.

When Habakkuk went honestly before God, speaking his truth and opening his heart – complaining to the God of the Universe – God showed up.

God answered.

 

We serve a God who wants to be in communion with us.  We serve a God who wants to be with us.  We serve a God who fashioned us to walk with God in the garden, speaking with God at the time of the evening breeze.  That is what we were made for but our ancestor’s gave up when they chose to eat of the forbidden apple and take things into their own hands.

We are made to be in conversation with God. 

This world is not fair.  It is not easy.  We have no guarantees that good actions will yield good rewards.  Too often we watch as the selfish plunder and pillage the selfless.  Too often we gaze helpless upon the rape of the natural world for our own ends and means.  Too often we watch as systems of inequality leave the vulnerable and wounded, more alone and more unseen.  Too often we watch as the haves get more and the have nots even less…

 

So let us praise God, that our hearts are breaking with God at injustice in the world!

Let us praise God, that we are not blind to the inequity in the world!

Let us praise God for showing us a better way – for showing us that all are worthy and cherished and of value.

Let us praise God for burdening our hearts for the hearts of our neighbors, near and far.

 

In the passage we see Habakkuk on fire for justice.  He is angry because he has God’s heart for the world.  And that is an honorable and good thing.  As painful as it is to look upon injustice, how much worse would it be if we didn’t see injustice for what it was.  How much worse would it be if we were defensive and hardened to the evil in our world.

So as we grieve, as we mourn, as we grow angry, as we are discouraged, as we long for healing and cry out from the depths, “How long, O Lord?!?” may we too hear God’s voice.

May we quiet ourselves to listen for God’s answer to us. 

 

And may we find comfort in knowing that Christ too grieved, Christ too mourned, Christ too was discouraged, Christ too cried out from the depths!

 

We are in good company.  And our discomfort is a sign that we are truly no longer of this world.  God has made us new.  We are in the world, but this world is not our home.  We are made for more, and we know it.  The world is God’s world, and the Kingdom of God is real.

Justice will come. 

If it seems to tarry, wait for it. 

It will not delay. 

“Getting Real”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 22
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;[b]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life[c] from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

 

2 Corinthians 12

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.


 

In this Psalm of David, we hear David crying out from the depths of his own desperation.  He is so malnourished, he can count all his bones.  His situation is so very bad that he imagines his bones vying for his pieces of clothing – as though they foresee his end is near and want to make sure they all get a cut of his remnants.  He is so thirsty, his tongue sticks to his jaw.  He feels God has laid him out in the dust of death!  Everyone who sees him, mocks him.  They respond with religious-sounding canned answers.  They imply that his situation is the will of the Lord.  He feels encircled by the strong, who open their mouths at him, like roaring lions, and his heart melts within his chest.  There is no one to help.

 

I cannot imagine things getting so very bad as David is experiencing them, without the rescue of the Lord.  We hear in God’s word that he rescues those who love God.  We hear God saves our feet from the trap.  We hear that a thousand arrows will fall to one’s left and one’s right, but that none will touch the Lord’s beloved…  So why do we have these experiences?!?

Why does God let us get to the dust of death?  Why do we call out yet find no rest!?!!

 

Sometimes I feel like God is not keeping God’s Word to us.

(As though I’ve ever kept up my end of the bargain)

 

Sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing enough.

(As though I possess the wisdom to counsel GOD)

 

And I feel ashamed of these feelings.  I try to hide these feelings.  I do not give them voice…

And yet they rise up within me!

 

Why are the innocent suffering?!?

Why are children dying!?!

Why are our relationships so broken!?!

Why are entire lives wasted?!?

 

Why do the just suffer?

Why are the giving, exploited!?

Why are the tender-hearted abused?

Why are moments of beauty so momentary?

 

I am learning something new from David.

David was very clearly at the end of his rope.  David HAD BEEN crying out to God!…

And yet he cried out still!

Truly, he persevered in prayer, with a God, for whom he felt both love and anger, trust and bewilderment!

He KEPT CRYING OUT to God.

 

Second, David does not soften his feelings toward God.  He accuses God of forsaking him.  He complains at God for bringing him no relief, though he has cried out, day after day.  David knows God to be the one who does not forsake his children, the faithful one who hears, the one who cares…and yet none of this feels true in his life at the moment and he brings this up with God.  David confronts God.

How many of us do this?  Do we feel too ashamed to be that real with God?  Do we know the “right” things to say and feel…so much so that we do not even know the REAL things we are feeling or needing to say?  Do we trust God to still love us even if we let it all hang out?  Do we trust that nothing, indeed nothing, can separate us from the love of God?

 

A third thing I am observing is how David fluctuates between doubt and faith.

In one moment, he is complaining at God for forsaking him, for giving him no rest and in the next, he is remembering God’s faithfulness to his ancestors, God’s mighty acts and deliverance.

In one moment, he is complaining at how he is mocked and scorned by all who see him.  He quotes their prescriptions of spiritual wisdom – they who talk but do not help – and in the next, he remembers how faithful God has been to him, since his birth.

In one moment, he describes, in great detail, just how very bad things are and how alone he is.  In the next, he begins again to cry out yet again for God to save him.

We see a man wrestling with what it means that God is faithful and that he himself is suffering, that God provides and yet he himself is lacking, that God hears and yet he himself feels forsaken!

And I relate.

 

And then, when we see just how truly low David is, we hear this turn in his Psalm,

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

In the middle of this Psalm, there is a turn, God delivers, God provides, and David is filled with praise saying “the Lord has done it!”

 

And in all this, David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

This David

Who trusted and feared,

Gave thanks and complained,

Remembered God’s faithfulness and questioned God’s faithfulness…

This David

 

Perhaps there is hope for us.

 

I want to share with you a story by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.  A physician and a woman living with a chronic illness herself, Rachael is a counselor to both physicians and patients.  In this story, she shares the crisis one young man brought to her (p 39).

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 39

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 40 41

 

We can expend all our energy trying to be what we think God wants us to be,

Trying to feel what we think God wants us to feel,

Trying to act how we think God wants us to act.

But this is not what we see in this honest, raw, passionate Psalm of David.  And God does not abandon him in this, rejecting him for his anger and doubt, despising him for his weakness, …but rather God delivers him!

 

Perhaps, WE are enough.  Perhaps our anger, our questions, our faith, our hope, our disappointment, our feelings of betrayal, our feelings of abandonment, our swells of overwhelming joy and rejoicing….

Perhaps

We

Are enough.

 

Perhaps we can stop striving

To be

To say

To act…

And just be,

resting in God’s unending love for us,

And knowing that WE are enough,

because GOD is enough.

 

Amen.