Archives: Proper 7

Listen Hard in the Dark

In today’s scriptures we have a tragic story, an absolutely key synthesis of our entire faith, and some very hard sayings.

We begin with the story of Hagar being cast out into the wilderness, driven out by Sarah’s jealousy and Abraham’s cowardice, left to die with her son in the desert.

Then we have Paul in Romans giving the most succinct summation of death and resurrection as embodied by baptism in the entirety of the New Testament.

And finally, we have Jesus telling us he might potentially deny us before the Father in the heaven, that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that family conflict is 100% a part of following him.

How are we going to put all that together?

We must begin where we always begin—by putting ourselves into the story.

We can start by identifying where we want to turn away with disgust from what’s happening, and that’s with Sarah and Abraham.

It’s a godawful mess.

Sarah could not bear a child, so she told Abraham to “go in” to Hagar, which is Bible-speak for having sex, and Hagar got pregnant.

Hagar had no choice in this scenario, she was exploited twice over, first by being used as a sexual object by her master, and then as a brood mare to produce an heir.

Sarah quickly regretted her decision, but not out of human decency. She was jealous and bitter both of Abraham having sex with Hagar, and also of Hagar’s ability to conceive.

Sarah took it out on Hagar multiple times, until now she goes to the extreme and essentially condemns Hagar and baby Ishmael to death.

She tells Abraham to send them out into the desert, and to his eternal shame, he does.

It’s an ugly, ugly situation, and incidentally, that is one of the remarkable aspects of the Hebrew scriptures. The writers in no way shy away from telling the truth about what happened, no matter how repulsive it is.

These ancient writers are not afraid to attribute reprehensible moral conduct to the ultimate patriarch and matriarch of the nation, Abraham and Sarah.

This reflects a tradition that is able to be self-critical, that is able to see God at work even in human weakness and sin. That is one of the great gifts of Judaism to us, one of their daughter faiths, and to human religion at large.

A great clue as to what lies unredeemed in our own hearts is what causes a strong negative emotional reaction in us.

If you want to see where you’re in denial and where you need spiritual growth, simply pay attention to where you get defensive.

It’s a surefire way to see your shadow.

I think most of us would react against Sarah and Abraham’s actions in this story, and justly so.

But as soon as we say, “I would never do that!” we have to think again. Continue reading

Orlando: A Letter to My Great-Granddaughter

Dear Great-Granddaughter,

This is your Great-Grandmother Whitney writing to you from the far away and strange land of 2016.

I know the technology you’ll be using will be so advanced that I hope you can still access and decipher a humble old Word document that is a letter from your recent ancestor. But I have faith.

It’s been a hell of a week.

I know these events will be ancient history for you, but for me and my parishioners, they’re brand new and fresh. We’re still reeling.

Last Sunday, a gunman entered a gay nightclub in Orlando and shot over a hundred people, 49 of whom died.

It’s the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, and in a culture where mass shootings have become agonizingly common, that’s saying something.

Then there seemed to be something in the air, because terrible things kept happening.

A two-year-old boy was eaten by an alligator. A singer was shot and killed signing autographs after her concert. A British Member of Parliament was shot and killed meeting with her constituents.

A dear friend of mine from childhood received news that her father had been swept out to sea while kayaking with family in Honduras. Luckily, he was recovered safely after 18 hours alone at sea in a kayak, but most of the people in the news this week didn’t have happy endings.

And the climate of fear and anxiety and conflict has filtered down to all of us.

In church, at work, we are struggling not to pick fights and bring up old grudges and tear ourselves and one another down.

The reason I decided to write to you was because I was thinking of my own great-grandmother. Continue reading

Charleston: Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?

I have felt physically weak ever since I heard the news out of Charleston.

Nine shot down and killed at Bible study by a white man because they were black.

It is as though another gun violence massacre has drained me of all hope.  I don’t know how to say, “We cannot let this happen again,” without it sounding like a cruel joke.

And then I read our gospel again for today and felt like I’d seen a ghost.

The words, the story, already powerful in their own right, struck me to the heart when I thought of them in conjunction with this tragedy.

Scripture can sometimes be our only solace in times like this.

I believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, but I’m not sure I know how to find it today after what has happened this week.

But just like the victims at Emmanuel AME church, we are people of faith, and just like they were doing moments before they died, together we will go to the Word of God in search of truth and hope. Continue reading

The Slave and The Virgin

Jesus in the gospels is like that friend who 50% of the time is awesome to be around and 50% of the time is saying the most awful, awkward things that no one wants to hear.

We get a little bit of both in our gospel story today.

We have the beautiful teaching of the value of the sparrows and the hairs of our head being numbered, and then the somewhat less beautiful teaching of Jesus coming to bring a sword instead of peace and the guarantee that dysfunctional family life will continue well into the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

It is passages like this that make me admire Mary, Jesus’ mother, even more than I already do.

She has seen Jesus act out this very teaching. From his seeming lack of politeness at the wedding at Cana to asking people who are his mother and brothers and sisters, appearing to reject her entirely, she has seen it all and still sticks by him all the way to the Cross.

But we know of course that Jesus loved his mother, even valued her highly in the leadership of the disciples, in which she took an even greater role after his ascension.

The gospels don’t tell us of the more tender moments between them, we have to imagine those. Continue reading