Sermon – 19 June 2005

The gospel reading that we have just had represents a collection of proverbs and remembered sayings of Jesus Christ. You can almost imagine people sitting round and each tossing in a memory of what Jesus had once said which made them think.

As such, it is not a terribly easy thing to preach on and I will be mostly concentrating on Abraham and Sarah?s story again. The gospel sayings are not things that Jesus said one day, but a patchwork quilt of wisdom picked up and sewn together by Matthew the editor of the gospel that we are reading.
Each of the sayings is probably best thought about on its own. These are things to ponder. Snatches of wisdom. There are jewels buried in these half remembered sayings.

But they are a bit too much of a hodge podge to make a sermon out of.

No, this morning, I want you to turn your minds again to the unfolding Abraham and Sarah soap-opera which we had in the first reading.

Just last week someone told me that they had announced that they would preach a series on the Faith of Abraham. Then, on actually reading the stories that we read at this time of year, had realised that these stories are not simply stories of faith. This particular one about the birth and rejection of Ishmael in particular made that preacher baulk. However, I?m not going to avoid it ? it seems to me to be important to think about difficult things.

Abraham as he is portrayed in some of the stories in Genesis does not always emerge as simply a figure of faith. It is always encouraging to learn that God can use people who are flawed and feckless as well as those who are holy and righteous. There are other examples that come to mind, but Abraham and Sarah are particularly flawed.

Life with these nomadic people does not seem much fun. Life in the camp of the travelling tribe seems particularly cruel this week. Abraham has had a child with his wife?s maid. There would have been nothing particularly unusual about that in those days. But neither is there anything unusual about Sarah?s jealously of that child.

Household relationships in biblical times seem to have been as endlessly complicated and as fascinating as they are today.

What are the right ethics for dealing with the son of your husband and your maid? The Bible offers few answers to such questions which go beyond compassion for the vulnerable and encouraging people to live faithfully within the confines of committed, intentional loving.

But, what do you do about the son of your husband and your maid?

Sarah?s own jealousy certainly got the better of her and the child was sent away to die. And we have this maudlin, melodrama as Hagar sits waiting for her child to die.

But of course, these stories are neither soap-opera or melodrama really. They are powerful myths.

Reading them as myth means reading them looking for the truths that they contain. Reading them looking for what they tell us about the world around us.

And we cannot read this myth without the knowledge that the Muslim people of the world look to their heritage as Abraham?s children coming through descent from Ishmael ? himself the father of the Arabic peoples.

Knowing that, we can see that this story is very potently alive.

For can you not hear the cry of that child ringing out over the middle east today.

As the family rivalries of the peoples of that part of the world have played out over the centuries ever since, the cry of the child has gone on.

It is innocents who suffer when those with power shirk their responsibility to bring reconciliation to the world. And reconciliation is little more than truth entwined with justice.

Let me say it again. It is innocents who suffer when those with power shirk their responsibility to bring reconciliation to the world.

And this story of the cries of Ishmael tells us that God knows that is true. Through the pages of Scripture we hear that God is on the side of the crying child, of the person without water, of the oppressed, of those who are the victims of violence and jealousy of others.

This is the God in whom we believe. This is the God of Abraham.

In a few weeks, when the G8 is happening just up the road from here, the voice of the protesters will be heard and within their voices, the voice of God saying, ?It is innocents who suffer when those with power shirk their responsibility to bring reconciliation to the world.?

We believe in that God who let Ishmael live.

And we are a people who must learn to be the God not only of Abraham but of Sarah too. We are a people who must learn to be the God not only of Isaac but of Ishmael too.

For I know that there is within Islam that which I share as someone who bears the name of Christ.

And I know that if we could search for it together there would be fresh water for the world.

The story of Hagar waiting in the wilderness with the child whom she believed would die tells us much.

It tells us that God is with those who are cast off as worthless.

It tells us that God is with people who are different to us.

It tells us that in living with Compassion, we live the life of Godliness which will one day bring fresh water to the world.

As someone called by Christ, I recognise in Jesus, that fresh water which brings nourishment, refreshment and peace. As someone who is one of the children of Abraham I want to share that fresh water with others and in turn be refreshed with water that they have drawn from their own wells.

As, over the next few weeks, the world turns its eyes to Gleneagles and to world leaders there, let us live as though God is in our hearts ? lives of compassion, justice and peace.

And let us pray for the life of the world.


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