Unjust Peace

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2017

Listen to today’s gospel reading and sermon here:

8The child [Isaac] grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So 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.” 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But 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. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14So 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.
15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then 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. 17And 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. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then 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.
20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. – Genesis 21:8-21

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”- Matthew 10:34,39 (from the Gospel Reading Matthew 10:24-39)

Sarah just wanted peace in her house. She caught the anxious stares from Hagar. She caught the subtle insubordination from the woman whose child claimed the rights of the first son over her own newly-born miracle child. People with small children who wake up at all hours of the night are not always the most rational in reacting to stress. Sarah just didn’t want to put up with it anymore. She just wanted Hagar out of her house.

You see Sarah and Abraham had waited and waited for the child God promised them. They got so tired of waiting for God that they – together mind you – decided that Abraham should have a son with Hagar, a servant in their household. And so Hagar’s son, Ishmael, was Abraham’s firstborn and with that came an elevated place for the servant-woman who bore him. This was after all, God’s promised child. Or so they thought until Sarah had a son, Isaac. That’s when the trouble started.

And like so many others, Hagar was considered disposable. She was a servant. Her role was to make their life manageable without being too much of a presence in that life. Like the people who clean the public spaces we go in and out of every day, the people who construct our homes and our streets. She was disposable like the people we lock away in prisons or who we imprison with hunger and lack of housing. She was disposable like the people who pick our produce or who make our clothing in far away places. She was disposable like the ones caught up in today’s industry of global trafficking. These are people who make our quasi-peaceful lives possible, and in many cases we can’t or don’t get to know them too well lest we let their stories shatter our sense of well-being. They are disposable not because we would be willing to do the work ourselves, in most instances, but because there are others who will take their place – other nameless, faceless people who will help our lives move smoothly along.

And so Abraham and Sarah together throw Hagar, along with young Ishmael, out into the desert. To die. Abraham is upset, but not upset enough to stand up for what is right, to stand up for this girl and her boy they are sentencing to death. In trying to save his life, he loses the very life he wants to save. But he has to admit they have a certain kind of peace back in their house again. They can go back to living the life they dreamed about. But we who get to see the whole story know that it is not real peace, because it is not peace for Hagar and Ishmael, who are thirsty and distraught, alone and afraid.

Perhaps that is what Jesus is talking about: “Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus does not come to make life easy and nice, because easy and nice is not peace. The God who counts the hairs of your head and who minds the sparrow grieves at every pain and distress present in creation. This is a God who weeps over the tiniest of creatures lost, and therefore a God who does not willingly send Hagar and Ishmael out to die. A God who refuses to grant peace unless it is peace for everyone. Jesus comes not bearing niceties but bearing the power of God to transform our disposing of people, our satisfaction with easy answers and unjust peace.

And for the moments when all we want is peace for our own aching and distressed hearts, this story of Hagar and this harsh-sounding message from Jesus sound like anything but Good News. This Jesus who comes not bringing peace, this story of people disposed of for the sake of convenience, they make us uncomfortable, they shatter the world we construct for ourselves to make it through the day. The story of Hagar reminds us that we sometimes treat other people as disposable.

Which, to be honest, we do in part because we fail to honor the fullness of humanity in ourselves. We fail to consider ourselves worthy of love. We fail to consider our gifts as valuable. We fail to acknowledge the power that we have within us, thinking of ourselves as too small to make a difference, too small to matter. We carry our own wounds of having been made to feel small or unimportant, times that we have been cast aside and left empty and alone.

But the God who counts the hairs of your head and who cares for the smallest of sparrows does not leave you alone. In the wilderness, in the moment of despair, the voice of God’s messenger: “Do not be afraid. You matter to God. You who have been rejected by your own family, who are considered disposable by others – you matter to God.” And with the message of love, water appears where there was none before. And with it life and hope and possibility and a promise. God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation. Now from this disaster and despair, from our human brokenness, our failure to treat one another as valued human beings, a new promise emerges to make of Abraham not one nation, but two. Out of human selfishness God finds an opportunity to double what has been promised.

We do not get to hear the end of the story. We hear only the darkest part of Hagar’s journey and just the beginning of what is to come for them in the future before the story returns to Sarah and Abraham. But thankfully, in that brief moment we see the God who hears the cries of children dying in the desert, the cries of refugees without a home, the cries of people forgotten and disposed of, the cries of the earth longing for relief, the cries of the tiny sparrows, the God who hears your cries and mine. And God responds to those cries with a peace that heals not only our own wounds but the wounds we have inflicted on others. Not only the peace I so desperately long for but the peace my neighbor so desperately longs for as well.

In the moment when we think that all is lost, or in the moments when we come to the realization that we have inflicted that loss on someone else, we find there God coming to us not with peace but with the power to transform our driest, darkest, most despairing places into springs of water that wash us to new life. That is the baptismal promise in which we live. The promise of God to comfort and to make uncomfortable until every last sparrow and every last one of us is part of God’s flourishing reign of peace.

-Pastor Steven Wilco