The second Sunday after Trinity
21 June 2020
Genesis 21. 8 - 21
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Romans 6. 1b - 11
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Matt. 10. 24 - 39
‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth"
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, in front of a massive civil rights protest, a member of the National Guard goes on bended knee. Leader Pelosi and several senior members of the House of Representatives do so too very publicly for a significant 8 minutes, the time it took a policeman to asphyxiate Mr Floyd. They are pilloried by the press. The president fearing disorder declares "Dominate the streets", threatens to bring in regular soldiers, and gets himself filmed standing before St James' Church holding up a Bible.
Out of context, it is too easy to use Biblical texts to justify the unjustifiable and abhorrent. Today's Genesis and Matthew readings used that way are potentially dangerous.
The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, lamented by Abraham, sowed lasting division in the human family. Did Sarah think that keeping the boys together would disadvantage Isaac in some way? Were the best of intentions for her son the core of the tragedy?
Whatever the reason for this ancestral mother's decision, the historical catastrophe is still acted out in the Middle East and beyond. We can barely imagine what God made of it. We are only told that He blessed Ishmael, provided water for him in the desert, and promised that he would found the great (Arab) nation (Gen 17: 20).
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth"
Both Matthew and Luke report this saying of Jesus implying that they found it to be relevant and authentic. Matthew is the more dramatic using not "division" but "a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father..". (Matt 10: 34-35). Luke begins and ends his gospel with peace, and Matthew with the assurance of God with us. How then are we to understand these harsh sayings sandwiched in a gospel of redemption?
The context is Jesus warning his newly appointed apostles of the hard road ahead. The mission is clearly focused on the kingdom of God and peace on earth. It seems likely that the new recruits may have had too simplistic an idea about Jesus' leadership. Perhaps they thought political oppression would be overcome by the overwhelming power of God. They were backing a winner. It would be easy! They may not have understood that conquest never leads to peace. Nor could they anticipate the necessary betrayal, rejection and violence that would come first. The warning for them hangs in the air, only to be understood later.
Matthew is writing for a persecuted church almost certainly after the Jewish revolt, and when the Messianic movement (later known as Christian) was being expelled from Synagogues. The family rift seems final and painful. Apostasy is deadly. Matthew sees Jesus' warning applying afresh to Christians in his own day, more than a generation after they were first spoken.
What of us in our modern world? Humans develop and understand their deepest personal identity by exploring difference and contrast at every level. Me and mine tested against you and yours, and them and theirs. Infants demonstrate this from very early. Any parent with the privilege of having a two-year-old will know all about the defining tussles over autonomy as the new small person emerges. Adults are more nuanced but presidents of the USA and readers in the C of E are formed the same way.
Jesus knew what his disciples were like. He knew their unique distinction, their personal formation and potential, just as He knows us. He was fully aware of the fractures in his society and in ours, and the rifts within and between people. Crucially, the way to peace exposes the very friction that forms us and that we ourselves manipulate. The peace that he proclaims, on behalf of our Father, embraces our God-given uniqueness and everything that went into fashioning it. The hymn by the American Frederick Hosmer (1840-1928) recognises the latter and touches a nerve. Note the order:
The day in whose clear shining light all wrong shall be revealed,
and justice shall be throned in might and every hurt be healed.
Peace is not the absence of hostilities or some kind of Western social tolerance. It is not cosy, nor is it cheap. Peace is a matter of the heart, where our distinct selves are reconciled to every other person and to the Lord of life. We value it when we know in truth what it costs; the bearing of rejection and the offering of forgiveness in return. The more appalling the rejection the greater the need for reconciliation and the cost of forgiveness. If God in Jesus is put on trial, tortured to death and still offers reconciliation and peace, so too his disciples should be prepared for painful division and the ability to forgive and be forgiven.
"Taking a knee" should not be a gesture of political correctness, what an activist might describe as "woke". Truthfully confronting division, especially over racism, cuts right to the core of our identity: educational, cultural, economic and much more. Not how we would like to see ourselves, but what we are actually like. Only when that is laid bare, in "the slow watches of the night", can healing begin.
Hosmers opening verse is optimistic and realistic in equal measure:
Thy Kingdom come! On bended knee the passing ages pray;
and faithful souls have yearned to see on earth that kingdom's day.
 Luke frames it as a question: Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No....division. (Luke 12: 51)
Luke 2: 14 and Luke 24: 36.
 Matthew 1: 23 and Matt 28:20.
Thy kingdom come! On bended knee
the passing ages pray;
and faithful souls have yearned to see
on earth that kingdom's day.
But the slow watches of the night
not less to God belong;
and for the everlasting right
the silent stars are strong.
And lo, already on the hills
the flags of dawn appear;
gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
proclaim the day is near:
The day in whose clear-shining light
all wrong shall stand revealed,
when justice shall be throned in might,
and every hurt be healed;
When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
shall walk the earth abroad:
the day of perfect righteousness,
the promised day of God.
Frederick L Hosmer ( 1840-1928)