Third Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 7 June 21 2020
Genesis 21:8-21,Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. We have heard this proclaimed in many times and places. Do not be afraid. When the angel announces to Mary that she is pregnant, when the shepherds hear the proclamation of the birth of Jesus, when the spirit enters the room in which the disciples gathered after the resurrection. And each time, do not be afraid is followed by Good News. So why does the proclaimer precede the Good News with do not be afraid? I think because that Good News is not the same old news. That Good News harkens to a profound change in the way things have been. That Good News may sometimes be hard, transformative, Good News.
Let's take a look first at the reading from Genesis. This is the story of Hagar, Sarah's maidservant. Sarah is married to Abraham. They are very important people in Hebrew scripture. The story tells us that Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people, the progenitor, from whom all of us come. But in this point of the story, Sarah has not gotten pregnant and now she is very very old, beyond the days in which she could get pregnant. Sarah knows how important it is to have a child, God has promised that the entire Hebrew people will come from Abraham, and Sarah takes that promise seriously, and yet, no baby. The pressure's on. Sarah tells her husband Abraham to lie with her handmaiden Hagar, so that at least Abraham can conceive a child.
I tend to think that part of the reason Sarah wasn't getting pregnant all those years is that she was so stressed out and afraid about being the mother of the Hebrew people that it just wasn't happening. That's one of the things the doctors tell us, isn't it, just relax, don't be so worried about it, you'll get pregnant. What do they know? Hagar, Sarah's handmaiden gets pregnant by Abraham, and that child is named Ishmael. So now the pressure's off, and Sarah indeed gets pregnant, and Sarah and Abraham's child is Isaac.
But even Sarah becomes jealous and envious and afraid. She casts Hagar and her son Ishmael off to wander in the wilderness and find their own way. Like it or not, that's the story. Sarah is really not much different than any one of us, is she? Which one of us has not gotten jealous, or envious, or even afraid, with the people and circumstances in our lives? That's the power in these stories, you and I fit right in.
Is there good news here? This is not one of Sarah’s best times. So much fear, and Hagar fears for her life and her son’s life. We can close our eyes and our ears to it, but the truth is whether literally or figuratively, there are those we cast off for fear of who they are. Actually, we do this a lot. Maybe you haven’t actually cast off someone, literally, but we still do it all the time. We cast people off when we discount their skills, or their gifts, or their abilities. We cast people off when we decide the color of their skin should keep them out of the neighborhood, or the school, or the store that you shop in. But the good news is here. The good news is that Hagar’s life matters too. Hagar and her child Ishmael were sustained in the wilderness by the water God provided, and Hagar became the grandmother of a great nation.
And then we have this passage in Matthew in which Jesus speaks of fear. Jesus has commissioned his twelve disciples and is about to send them out on a mission of their own, a mission during which they both exercise great authority and need to demonstrate profound trust. For while they will have the power to cast out demons and heal the sick, they are to take no money or extra provisions but rather depend upon the grace of God as shown in the hospitality of others. Do not be afraid disciples, your world will be turned upside down and inside out, but do not be afraid. Your assumptions about blood relationship and social relationship will be completely demolished, but do not be afraid.
Yeah, right. Fear dominates our lives -- fear for our loved ones, fear about an uncertain future, fear of disease, fear of upheaval in our streets and communities. Or fear of economic downturn, fear of where our next meal or rent payment will come from. It seems like sometimes fear surrounds us. But listen to these words, do not be afraid. And this passage from Matthew shakes us up, and sets us back down on our heads. There is nothing about this Good News that is easy. And yet we believe with every fiber of our being, that we are God's beloved. We believe with every breath we take in that it is God's love that wins. We believe with every breath we breathe out that God's spirit moves among us. And in those moments, and hours, and days of doubt and fear, we say the prayers, we gather virtually in hope that there will be a day when we can gather physically, we love and support one another, and again we glimpse the hope of God's way, God's love, God's healing, God's reconciliation, God's kingdom.
We create a new world with God, each time fear of the other is turned into compassion for the one who is different. We create a new world with God, each time fear of the unknown becomes a bold embracing of the new. We create a new world with God, each time fear of losing our job or our income, becomes the birth of a new idea. We create a new world with God, each time fear of losing our children or our family becomes the opportunity to say I Love you. We create a new world with God, each time acting out of prejudice becomes forgiveness and new relationship. We create a new world with God, each time our words bind and heal, and our actions invite and feed.
Be fearless for God. Be bold, be courageous. Be the change that this world needs.
Do not be afraid. You are God's beloved. Amen