Guide for Worship
June 21, 2020

Call to Worship:

“More than ever we feel like wandering strangers in a fast-changing world. But we do not want to escape this world. Instead, we want to be fully part of it without drowning in its stormy waters. We want to be alert and receptive to all that happens around us without being paralyzed by inner fragmentation. We want to travel with open eyes through this valley of tears without losing contact with him who calls us to a new land. We want to respond with compassion to all those whom we meet on our way and ask for a hospitable place to stay while remaining solidly rooted in the intimate love of our God.” – Henri Nouwen

Song of Praise

Joyfully

Click on this text to view the lyrics of the song and sing along.

 

You lead me by the waters still
You lay me down to rest upon your faithfulness
My Shepherd, simply take my hand
Your song restores my soul
For Your name, You make me whole

[Refrain]: Joyfully I lift my voice in praise to Thee
With heaven watching over me I raise my hands up high
Your Majesty gently washes over me
Makes my heart begin to sing joyfully

No shadow ever shall I fear
Your peace, my heart will know
My cup it overflows
Your goodness chases after me
Your mercy and Your grace will be my dwelling place

[Refrain]

I will sing from the mountain top
I will sing, I am overcome, I will sing making melodies
I will sing from the valley low
I will sing because of Your love I will sing
You’re my King, I will sing

[Refrain]

Scripture – Genesis 21:8-21

8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Meditation

Listen to the sermon using the player above, or click this summary to read the complete text. An archive of this and other sermons is found on the Yates sermon page.

 

Today, we hear a story of Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose role it is to provide Sarah and Abraham a child. She is selected for Abraham like a horse breeder might procure the services of a mare to carry a prize stallion. And because she is a slave, Hagar is in no place to grant or withhold consent.

Sarah and Abraham do not come off as the noble characters we want to remember. Instead, they are a lot like we are – demanding, selfish, impatient. They are impatient with themselves. They are impatient with their circumstances. They are impatient with God. God promised Abraham descendants like stars in the sky (Gen 15:5), but decades had passed without a single child between them. So, in chapter 16 of Genesis, Sarah sends her slave, Hagar, into Abraham’s bed in order to conceive an heir.

There is no way to beautify this scene or call it other than what it is. This is a story of human slavery, of the powerful using the bodies of the powerless to achieve their own goals without regarding the inhumanity of it all. In a toxic context like that, we should expect nothing less than deeply conflicted results.

Everything comes undone almost immediately. Hagar makes snide remarks about Sarah’s infertility. Sarah is outraged and Abraham tries to wash his hands of any responsibility for the way things are. Sarah brutalizes Hagar, Abraham looks the other way and Hagar flees to the desert.

In the wilderness, Hagar finds an oasis. There, a messenger of God tells her that she will have a son named Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because God has heard of her misery. Even more, the angel tells how the relationship that God makes with Hagar reshapes her identity and circumstance. Yes, she will return to Abraham and to Sarah, but she won’t return as she left. She is no longer “just” a slave. Now she is an heir to promises she has received directly and personally from God.

Hagar responds with trust and praise. She even gives the Lord a nickname. Did you know that Hagar is the only woman in Bible history to give Lord a name like that? She calls the Lord El Roi, “God Who Sees.” “You are the God who sees me,” she declares, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:13)

Now all this is context for the story that we hear today. Fast-forward in time, to Ishmael’s teenage years. Across the years, God has also given a child to Abraham and to Sarah in their old age. His name is Isaac.

But that new addition only brings more conflict and deep competition to the household. It all comes to a head when Sarah sees Ishmael’s interaction with young Isaac. What exactly transpired is debated. Whatever happened, Sarah clearly views Ishmael as Isaac’s competitor for God’s promise and insists that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael. She doesn’t even call them by name, but only their status: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son,” she demands, “for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” (Gen. 21:10)

Abraham relents, and the two are abandoned in the wilderness of Beersheba until the modest supplies that Abraham sent with them run out. They are famished. They are depleted. In despair, Hagar leaves her child under a bush and sits a bowshot away so that she will not have to see him die.

And God works in two powerful ways. God’s messenger calls Hagar by name, and assures her that God has heard the child’s cry. She should get up and take the child’s hand, for “I will make him into a great nation” (Gen. 21:18). Then Hagar’s eyes are opened and she sees a well of water nearby that will nourish them. Today’s story concludes telling how Ishmael grows up under divine care, he becomes an excellent archer and marries a nice Egyptian girl.

Happy ending notwithstanding, this is a very difficult story for me to read. I know it’s ancient history, and we like to leave the past in the past. But I realize it’s not just a part of the past. It’s also about our families and our communities, too. How many of our families are touched by the talk of first husband, second wife, surrogate parent, children and conflict? How many of us know how hard it is to negotiate between “your” kids and “my” kids and “our” kids? Here is a story of a single mom (maybe the first single mom!), a stranger in a strange land with no resources struggling to survive with her child. And here is a boy who is abandoned by his father.

It’s about the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. It’s about abandoning personal responsibility. It’s about those personal agendas that make us feel better but drive us further apart from others. It’s a painfully modern situation in so many ways and at so many levels. But we have to learn its lessons, or history will continue to play out the same way again and again.

Maybe you even hear the story today and say to yourself: “I don’t feel chosen, either. I feel rejected. I feel lost. I feel neglected. I feel overlooked. I can identify with this forsaken woman’s tears and her dying child.” If not you, have you heard it in the outcry in our community these days?

I think this is why Genesis takes us on this side road, that we turn from the longer story of the chosen to spend time with the outcast and the lost. To be chosen is a great honor. But never forget that to be chosen is not a sign of exceptional favor over and against others. To be chosen, to be called by God, is to be called out and appointed to do real work in the world, to do God’s work.

That’s how Jesus put it: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)

So the God who chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God of the tribes and nations of the earth. The God who saw the burdens and heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and saved them is the God who also sees the rejected child in the desert and hears the bitter tears of the Egyptian slave. El Roi, “God who Sees,” tenderly brings them to water and promises that they are under God’s love and watchcare, too.

We know it’s not about nations. We know it’s not about tribes or clans. It’s about people. It’s about us. When we are forsaken and forgotten, when dreams wither all around us and we are in the desert, that’s when we remember Hagar. We need her testimony, that God sees the tears of an outcast woman, the desperation of the forsaken child.

God sees. God hears. God acts.

Fred Craddock tells a story of a time when he and his wife went to the mountains for a little vacation weekend. They stopped in at a little restaurant to eat. As they sat down to eat, there was a man circulating around the restaurant greeting all the diners. When he came to the Craddocks’ table and then he learned that Fred was a minister, he insisted that he sit down and they hear his story.

He had been born just a few miles away, across the mountain. His mother was not married when he was born, and so the judgment that brought from that small community – it was directed at her, but it hit him, too. His schoolmates had learned from their parents how to ridicule, and so the boy just kept to himself at lunch and at recess. The insults were just too hard to hear. Every time they went to town, he and his mother could feel the looks, they could see the wagging heads. He couldn’t even count the number of times he heard the question, “I wonder who the father is?”

When that boy was about twelve, a new pastor came to the church nearby. People talked about his preaching, and the boy wanted to see what all the fuss was about. He enjoyed the services, but he was always sure to arrive a little late and to leave a little early, because he didn’t want anyone to ask, “What’s a boy like that doing here?”

One Sunday, he got so caught up in the service that he forgot to get out before the benediction. As he was trying to sneak his way out, he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and when he turned around, he was face-to-face with that new preacher. The preacher asked him, “Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?” And the boy just hid, receded, slunk into himself. But after a brief pause, the preacher brightened up again. He said, “Now I know. Now I recognize you. The family resemblance is unmistakable. You are God’s own child!” He patted that boy on his head and said, “You’ve got quite an inheritance, son. Go and claim it.”

That old man told the Craddocks, “That one statement meant the world to me. It literally changed my whole life.” He then told them that his name is Ben Hooper and he was twice elected governor of the state of Tennessee. He had lived a successful and very respected life, and it was made possible because a small-town minister saw him with God’s own eyes, and encouraged him.

God sees. God hears. God acts. But not only for us.

God sees. God hears. God acts. Will we?

Response Through Giving

Softly and Tenderly with Draw Me Close – Nyssa Collins

We encourage you to give your offerings online through Pushpay here, through the Yates app, or by mail (2819 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, NC, 27707). We are growing into new ways to be the church together and your giving allows us to keep being the church, even in the absence of our physical presence.

Hymn of Presence

St. Patrick’s Song

Click on this text to view the lyrics of the hymn and sing along.

 

Christ beside me, before me, behind me
Christ within me, beneath me, above me
Christ beside me, before me, behind me
Christ within me, beneath me, above me

You are always with me
You are always with me
You are always with me
You are always with me

This song is from the Reality Ministries “I AM FOR YOU” Worship Album:

BenedictionA Fransician Blessing:

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.”

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