Scripture: Genesis 21:1-21
One of the most painful things about being a follower of Jesus Christ is listening to folks who have been brutally wounded by the church. I didn’t grow up in the church, but when I was a teenager, I was invited by a friend to come to youth group. There I found both the love of God and the unconditional tender welcome of a whole multi-generational community. The folks at Crestwood United Methodist Church claimed me as one of their own and surrounded me with love and belonging.
But many people have a tragically different story. When they wandered into a worshipping community they were met with suspicion and hostility. Or, perhaps worse, they were initially welcomed, claimed and included only to be blindsided later by hatred and rejection. These stories are so hard to hear, but we must listen.
We’ll hear one of them in this Sunday’s scripture–Hagar and Ishmael. God promised Abraham and his wife Sarah that they would have a son who would become the father of a mighty, holy and blessed nation. But when years passed and the promised child did not come–Abraham and Sarah decided to include Hagar, their servant, into the promise. It was common in that age for men to father children with many different women, so the couple decided Abraham would have a child with Hagar. They named him Ishmael, claimed him and raised him as their legal and spiritual child, the carrier of the promise. And then Sarah had a biological son, and no longer needed or wanted Ishmael. She demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert. They were no longer part of the promise. They were no longer chosen.
This is a brutally common story–chosen people choosing to reject those they see as threatening or unnecessary. Chosen people who believe God only cares for those they care for. Chosen people who think that being chosen gives them the right to choose. Abraham and Sarah sent Hagar and her son out into the desert to die. They didn’t need them anymore, so they didn’t want them anymore.
But God did. God heard the cries of a suffering mother and child and sent an angel to comfort them and to guide them to water. Then the angel announced that the chosen people were wrong, that God still chose Hagar and Ishmael–that they were forever a part of God’s plan and God’s promise and no one could take that from them.
We are surrounded by people who only know church as the community that used and abused, hated and rejected them, people who believe that since they weren’t chosen by God’s people, they aren’t chosen by God. God hears their cries and send messengers to find, comfort, serve and include them. As we move deeper into our worship series ‘Again, Lord,’ we rejoice that God still seeks out and heals those suffering wounds of rejection. We pray that the Grove will be a source of living water where everyone discovers that they are chosen.
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