My Way...the Highway...God's Way?

The slightly longer version for 8 and 10am

 

The book of Genesis is one of the most important books of the Bible. In it we hear the ancient stories of our Judeo-Christian ancestors. These stories resonate with human experience through the ages. Tales of how the world began, of God invested in all creation, of human beings growing in self-awareness and wisdom, struggling through suffering, pain, and joy. These are family stories of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and brothers. They are ripe with emotions of jealousy, greed, love, anger, hope, faithfulness, risk, and what it means to be a people of God.

The stories in Genesis reflect the rich, mythic culture of Mesopotamia in the 6th Century BCE. An oral tradition of stories was shared and passed down through the centuries until they settled in written form about three thousand years ago. Ancient Israel emerged out of this culture of wise courtiers, wisdom traditions, collections of proverbs, and manuals for reading omens and interpreting dreams. Unique to the Hebrew people was their emphasis on a single God. Gone were the many gods of other belief systems in the region. The regional myths were recast through the perspective of a single God in relationship with God’s people.

Today’s reading jumps from the creation story we heard last week deep into the story of Abraham and Sarah, the first family of God’s people. We have skipped much of the Abraham and Sarah story. Now at the age of 90 they are facing a dilemma. Sarah, despite God’s promise was unable to have children. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, Sarah’s slave, resulting in the birth of Ismael. One legend says that Hagar was an Egyptian princess. When Sarah and Abraham were in Egypt, Hagar witnessed Sarah’s faith in God, which inspired Hagar to leave Egypt and become Sarah’s servant.

Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, the son of Hagar and Abraham, Sarah suddenly conceives and gives birth to a son. Thus, Isaac is born and God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham is fulfilled. However, Ishmael, as the oldest son, is supposed to be the one who inherits his father’s estate, but Isaac is the child promised by God to be the inheritor. So Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be sent off on their own. Although Ismael is not the son God chooses to build the Hebrew family,  God does not abandon Ishmael and Hagar. Instead, God builds another great nation through Ishmael - Bedouins and followers of Muhammed claim Ishmael as their founding father. Another legend claims that Ishmael’s daughter marries Isaac’s son, Esau. Esau is the twin brother of Jacob. Genesis has several stories of their sibling rivalry. In other words, this is a very complicated family dynamic.

The Hagar and Sarah story highlights the tension between human beings taking matters into their own hands with discerning and living into God’s desires for our lives.

Hagar and Ismael represent what can happen when human beings doubt God and take matters into their own hands. Doubting God’s promise Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar arrange for Hagar to become the birth mother of Abraham’s long awaited child heir.  Isaac represents the surprise of God intervening in unexpected ways, exemplifying what happens when we open ourselves up to God’s spirit.

This story invites us to reflect on a couple of points: God is with us and in God’s time we can rest assured that all will be well; doubting God and taking matters into our own hands is part of human nature; even when we our decisions are contrary to what God may desire for our lives, God remains with us and works to bring forth good in all ways.

As people of faith we have a responsibility to do our best to discern what God desires. Sometimes we will be off the mark, and misunderstand.  Other times we are too anxious to discern God’s desire. Discernment requires a willingness to take risks, to explore options, to pray, to listen, and to have patience.

The moral of the story: Trusting that God will work with us and our decisions enables us to live with less anxiety. Having less anxiety enables us to listen to God more closely. Listening to God more closely helps us follow God’s desires more intentionally. So let us remember that when we are getting anxious about something, the best response may be to consider all our options, take them to prayer, and  listen for the pull of the Holy Spirit.

Spend some time this week reflecting on the role you played in creating the Ishmael’s in your life, those times when you may have insisted on having your way instead of listening to what God was calling you to do.

The shorter version for the 9am outdoor service

The book of Genesis contains stories that resonate with human experience through the ages. Tales of how the world began, of God invested in all creation, of human beings growing in self-awareness and wisdom, struggling through suffering, pain, and joy. These are family stories of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and brothers. They are ripe with emotions of jealousy, greed, love, anger, hope, faithfulness, risk, and what it means to be a people of God.

Today’s reading jumps from the creation story we heard last week deep into the story of Abraham and Sarah, the first family of God’s people. We have skipped much of the Abraham and Sarah story. Now at the age of 90 they are facing a dilemma. Sarah, despite God’s promise, was unable to have children. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, Sarah’s slave, resulting in the birth of Ishmael.

One legend says that Hagar was an Egyptian princess. When Sarah and Abraham were in Egypt, Hagar witnessed Sarah’s faith in God, which inspired Hagar to leave Egypt and become Sarah’s servant.

Hagar and Ishmael represent what can happen when human beings doubt God and take matters into their own hands. Doubting God’s promise Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar arrange for Hagar to become the birth mother of Abraham’s long awaited child heir.  Isaac unexpected birth represents the surprise of God intervening in unexpected ways, exemplifying what happens when we open ourselves up to God’s spirit.

 

The moral of the story: Sometimes our impatience and anxiety cause us to take matters into our own hands and we end up with Ishmael’s, something that was not part of God’s desire for us. Trusting that God works with us and our decisions enables us to live with less anxiety. Having less anxiety enables us to listen to God more closely. Listening to God more closely helps us follow God’s desires more intentionally.

 

Spend some time this week pondering the Ishamel’s in your life.

Comments

Esperanza/Monica said…
wow! I hadn't heard all those 'legends,' Interesting ways to deal with a troubling story.

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