Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sermon: June 22

Now that school is over, its time to take a pop quiz! I know its not fair, but pop quizzes never are…

So let’s set the tone for your biblical questions.

[Music: Wide World of Sports Intro]

Question 1: What was the name of Abraham’s 1st born Son? And who was the mother? {Ishmael & Hagar}

Question 2: Who bore the son called “He will Laugh”? What was so surprising about his birth? {Sarah, She was quite old when she conceived and bore him, beyond child bearing age.}

Question 3: Who did Abraham marry after Sarah died? And were there any sons born? {Keturah and they had 6 sons.}

So the sons of Abraham by wife:
1. Hagar - Ishmael
2. Sarah - Isaac
3. Keturah - Zimran (& 5 others)

Final Question: whom did Abraham love best?

OK, that question isn’t fair, but the question certainly arises as we look at the passage from Genesis: 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.

We must back up a bit to understand what is going on. Abraham married Sarah but they were unable to have a child, so Sarah gave Hagar who was her servant to Abraham and was made his wife so Hagar could bear children for him. And she bore a son, Ishmael who was Abraham’s first born son. Sarah became jealous of this and you can begin to see the rivalry…

Now when Abraham first heard that Sarah would indeed become pregnant, at which he fell down laughing at the idea since they were both old, his first response after this was to say: “O that Ishmael might live in your sight.” (Gen 17: 18)

And God hears Abraham’s compassion for his son, and tells Abraham, Ishmael will also be blessed and will also become great. But Sarah does not want such a rivalry amongst the sons in her household and wants Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Such a move could be fatal and Abraham is worried, but God tells Abraham not to worry, Ishmael is blessed and will be OK.

And the story of the chosen one Isaac, in fact the Bible does not continue until we know the fate of Ishmael. When all looks lost for Hagar and Ishmael, it is then an angel comes on the scene to remind us all that indeed Ishmael will be blessed and they find water in the wilderness and they are refreshed.

[Oil Painting of the angel’s visit from Univ. of Mich. Museum of Art]

For me the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, are both about compassion, for God has compassion on Abraham and Sarah and delivers the promised child, but God also hears the cries of Ishmael in the wilderness even as God heard Abraham's cries for Ishmael at the promise, and Hagar and Ishmael are not forgotten and 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.

Such compassion is part of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all of whom look back to Abraham as their ancestral father.

For Islam, “All human creatures are God’s children, and those dearest to God are those who treat his children kindly.”

For Judaism, “The world stands upon three things: upon the Law, upon worship, and upon showing kindness.”

For Christianity, I think of Jesus telling the Parable of the Good Shepherd and asking which was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves, and they answered him, the one who showed mercy (or compassion), and Jesus said, go and do likewise.

In many ways, Abraham loved them all. He could not forget Ishmael his first son with Hagar even as he celebrated the birth of Isaac with Sarah. And at his death, we are told that Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father Abraham. It is such kindness and compassion that we are called to exercise in our lives.

As Henry James put it, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

Let me end with a story …

Long, long ago there lived a saint so good that astonished angels came down from heaven to see how a mortal could be so good. He simply went about his daily life, diffusing virtue as a star diffuses Light, and the flowers perfume, without even being aware of it.

Two words summed up his day: He Gave And He Forgave. Yet these words never fell from his lips; they were expressed in his ready smile, in his kindness, his forbearance and charity.

The angels said to God, “Oh, Lord, grant him the gift of miracles.” God replied, “I consent; ask what he desires.” So they said to the Saint, “Should you like the touch of your hand to heal the sick?” “No”, answered the Saint, “I would rather God should do that.”

“Should you like to become a model of patience, attracting all by the luster of your virtue, and thus glorify God?” “No, “ replied the Saint, “If others should be attracted to me, they would be estranged from God. The Lord has other means of glorifying himself.” But the angels insisted. “You must ask for a miracle or one will be thrust upon you.” “Very well,” said the Saint. “That I may do a great deal of good without even knowing it.”

The angels were greatly perplexed. They took counsel together, and resolved upon the following plan: Every time the Saint’s shadow should fall behind, or at either side, so that he could not see it, it would have the power to cure diseases, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow.

And so it came to pass, for the Saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as a star diffuses Light and the flowers perfume, without even being aware of what was happening.

And the people respected his humility and kindness, followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracle. Little by little they came even to forget his name and called him only “The Holy Shadow”. (from www.helpothers.org)

Let us in what we do, cast a Holy Shadow, and share our compassion and kindness like Abraham. For “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us, so let us be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.” Amen.

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