Sarah laughed when the three holy visitors reminded her of God’s promise to have a son. She had already sent her servant girl Hagar to bed with her husband to produce the heir he longed for, but the visitors were, of course, right. Sarah gives birth to Isaac, and Abraham celebrates with great feasting once he is weaned. However, Sarah foresees all sorts of problems with inheritance, with Ishmael, being the eldest son. There is jealousy between the two mothers, jealousy brought about by Sarah’s hopeless desires for Abraham to father a child, and her decision to make things happen, when waiting for God to be faithful took too long.
So here she is, taking matters into her own hands and demanding that Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael. So he does. He takes a little pity and sends them with food and water, but the reality is that they are destitute. Hagar expects her son to die. God though has plans for Ishmael: he directs Hagar to water, looks after them as Ishmael matures and Hagar finds him an Egyptian wife. From Isaac the nation of Israel is born, from Ishmael the Arab nation is born. Read it here.
This is our human history: division between siblings which grows out of all control. For Abraham his two sons torn apart in childhood would come to represent two nations at enmity with each other.
Jesus speaks of this many hundreds of years later, this brokenness of relationships, but it is difficult to understand, to come to terms with what Jesus is saying; the prince of peace who laid down his life, who healed the ear of the soldier that was cut off during his own arrest, now says that he will bring a sword. Read it here.
People will disagree about the gospel. It will split even the closest relationships.The apostles will be hated because of the message they bring. But they must proclaim the good news clearly and bravely. The only person they need to fear is God. There is a Spiritual battle: evil is being challenged, secrets are being exposed and eternal choices are being made.
We are in such times, and they bring with them violence and danger. The faith that has grown out of Ishmael’s heritage is being perverted and pitted against that which has grown out of Isaac’s. We have our own sense of ‘family’ loyalties, which will run deep, but Jesus calls us to something new. Jesus calls us away from our allegiances to our family clans and into an allegiance with him.
Paul speaks quite clearly of the sacrifice that is called upon Christians in choosing to follow Jesus. We are to ‘die’ to all that has gone before – whether that is sinful actions or addictions, or false or damaging loyalties. In putting such connections in our life to ‘death’ we become free to live Christ filled lives – which sounds a bit pious. We become free to live out of love instead of hatred, to choose to invite in those who are different from us rather than cast out, and to breathe love instead of hate, peace instead of fear. All of which, may of course become costly. We may lose the respect of family if we choose to break away from cultural identities of them against us, we may be cast out from our friendship groups, we may indeed be called upon to pick up our crosses in following Christ. Read it here.
In the past weeks, as atrocity after atrocity befalls our nation, we have seen people choosing love not hate, we have seen people forming sibling relationships which might previously have been viewed as alien. We have seen Sarahs and Hagars providing love and support for each other. But not always. This week we have also seen a ‘revenge’ attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, choosing a time when local Muslims would have been most vulnerable. We have also heard calls to ‘send them all back’ in order to protect our homes, forgetting that for our Muslim brothers and sisters this is also home.
There are those who would ‘cast out’ our neighbours rather than love them, out of a misplaced sense of fear, just as Sarah cast out Hagar. In seeking to make life better, safer for her own son, Sarah made life more fractured, broken and dangerous for generations to come. We get to choose whether to follow in Sarah’s footsteps or to pick up our crosses and follow in Jesus’. Jesus who even as he hung from that cross spoke forgiveness to those who hurt him, and welcome to the outsider who wanted a place in his Kingdom.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- Can you remember sibling rivalry between yourself and any other brothers, sisters, cousins as you grew up? What was the worst and best outcomes of such rivalry?
- How do you think Hagar felt when God spoke to her and led her to the well?
- How do you think Sarah felt when she realised that Ishmael lived to grow into a leader?
- Seeing how torn apart Abraham was, how do you think our Heavenly Father feels about the incidents that have taken place recently?
- In these times what does it mean to take up our crosses?
- How can we put ‘love not hate’ into practice right now?
- Tom Wright writes: Deep kinship loyalty is not normally our problem, where then are our deep loyalties, and how does this call of Jesus put us on he spot?
Something to pray:
Sovereign God, we come to you to acknowledge you – to declare your greatness, profess our love and commit ourselves to your kingdom – but we know that this by itself amounts to little unless we acknowledge you equally in our daily life, declaring your name there also, professing our devotion and committing ourselves to your service with equal candour and sincerity.
Teach us to value you as much as you value us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen