This morning’s passages are challenging and somewhat unsettling. Two women caught up in protecting their sons, both powerless to change their perceived predicaments, totally dependent on Abraham’s response for their very survival. Jesus seemingly telling his followers they must walk away from family and friends, give up their personal safety, even their lives, to be his disciples.
Neither passage bringing a warm fuzzy, let’s read it in our most difficult times, feeling.
Yet both speak to God’s faithfulness. Of God offering hope in the midst of chaos. Both call us to “Let it Go!” and to trust God
As we join Abraham and Sarah this week they are celebrating the weaning of Isaac. Abraham is throwing a party recognizing this important step in his son’s life, something that was a custom in that culture. I suspect Sarah may not have felt as much like celebrating. Nursing her only son kept them connected in a unique way. Now he can go places and do things without having her nearby. He is starting that journey toward independence in a tangible, undeniable way. It is a transition which seems to put Sarah on edge, eager to make sure she creates an environment that protects this child she waited so long to have.
She sees Isaac and Ishmael playing. She sees the first-born of Abraham as a threat to her son. It didn’t matter that Ishamel was the son of a slave, the culture of the day gave all of the inheritance and power to the first-born, and that was Ishamel. If he was present, he would have significant control over the future of Isaac. She seeks a solution to the problem she sees, interestingly enough a problem she created by not waiting for God’s time in the first place. She seems to have lost sight of God’s faithfulness in giving her a son as promised. Again she takes things into her own hands, focusing on the protection of her son even if it is at the expense of another son her husband also loves.
Again her plan involves Abraham. The first time she encourages him to have a child with Hagar, seeing it as a way to fulfill God’s promise of fathering nations. Now she demands that Abraham throw Hagar and his own son out to fend for themselves, unprotected and without community for support. It was a request for all intents and purposes of a death sentence for them both. In that moment Sarah is focused on one thing – protecting her child and in the limited perimeters of her perceptions of what that takes, she is blind to God’s proven faithfulness as well as to the implications to Abraham, to Hagar and Ishmael,. She is unable to grasp that God has it under control, that she needs to let the fear and distrust go, that she needs to let go of Isaac’s future because it is in God’s hands anyway.
Can you imagine this conversation with Abraham? Ismahel is a teenager by this time, they have had a number of years of father-son time: of sharing likes and dislikes, discussing ideas about sheep herding and the family business, of figuring out what brings joy and what brings heartache to the other, of building a deep father-son relationship. A relationship that did not go away just because Isaac was born. A relationship that was important to Abraham. He was greatly distressed over this demand from Sarah.
Then God calls Abraham to Let them Go! – to trust God’s promises to protect Hagar and Ishmael, making him into a nation as well. Abraham takes God at God’s work, so much so he not only sends them away in spite of his despair over that action, but he sends them with very little in the way of provisions. He doesn’t load them up with what he thinks they will need he gives them a start and trusts God to handle the rest. That may seem illogical, as if he wasn’t doing enough, yet Abraham had multiple experiences with God fulfilling promises in the midst of what seem to be impossible circumstances. His relationship with God allowed him to let what he may have thought was best go, and to respond in the way God called him to respond.
Hagar, like Sarah, hadn’t caught on yet that God is faithful. Once her supplies, as she understood her supplies to be, were gone, she was afraid and convinced both she and her son were about to die. Leaning on her own understanding, and not on God’s faithfulness, she could not see what was already available to her to sustain life. Once God opened her eyes, she could see the resources of life restoring water. God’s faithfulness providing Ishmael with the ability to learn new ways of survival, becoming an archer and adapting to a new environment where the nations of his heirs would develop.
God was faithful to Isaac as well, fulfilling his promise to make him into a nation.
Difficult conditions exist throughout this story. There are no quick fixes, magic wand kind of moments. God’s faithfulness was experienced over time and required decisions to “Let Go” of personal agendas and limited understandings of what could be.
In the Matthew passage, Jesus is preparing his followers to be weaned from his physical presence. To let go of the safety of talking to him directly, of being able to push for explanations about what he was teaching.
That preparation includes calling them to be like him, to teach others what he has shared with them. To not be afraid of challenges that come with being faithful to God, but to be afraid of things that encourage us to think we can do it on our own, to discount our need for God’s grace in our lives.
Letting go of our personal, limited agendas may seem counter to what we think is the safe, protected way to go, yet Jesus is clear that to follow his agenda means that often the world, our community, even our families won’t understand.
Living as Jesus calls us to live. Setting our priorities and seeing our circumstances from a God view rather than a self-protection view moves us into uncomfortable places where we have to let go and trust God.
Both of these passages lead us through chaotic, messy life transitions which offer opportunities to see signs of God in what seems a no-win scenario.
Both give us insight into the realty that God is with us through all the times of our lives, even when we make questionable choices or face challenges due to decisions over which we have no control. God is faithful to help us through, to provide people and messages which help us make increasingly better choices, to head in new directions when necessary to building the kingdom.
We all have a tendency to what to play it safe, to not share the gifts God gives us to build community. It is scary to look outside what we understand to be true to embrace a bigger picture, to see God at work in things that challenge us.
We risk not being understood, loved, honored by a world that puts self-interest above God, when we trust in God’s ways and promises.
When we look at Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and listen to Jesus teach us how to get through challenges we face as disciples I think we see that:
“God is with us – inviting us to trust in God more than in ourselves.
God is with us, offering us grace so that we may have the faith to trust in God.
God is with us, allowing us to fall down and urging us to learn form iur mistakes so that we will not repeat them.
God is with us, sometimes saying and doing things that are confusing and difficult to hear, let alone, understand.
God is with us, watching over brothers and sisters in our own Christian faith and our brothers and sisters in nations born to the cousins of our faith.”*
When we “let go” of all the things that call us to trust in ourselves or others more than we trust in God – God is with us – guiding, directing, protecting, loving us – bringing us out of chaos into the kingdom community filled with grace and peace beyond anything we can imagine.
I encourage you to just “Let it Go.”
* Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries UMC June 25, 2017