Act Busy!

This is my last sermon preached at Trinity, Arlington. The text is Matthew 12:24-30 & 36-40. Fair warning: I say hell, a couple of times. Enjoy my take on a complicated and complex Scripture!

 

Super fun and light hearted Gospel reading today, right? Nothing like something easy like being thrown into the fiery furnace of hell to preach on my last Sunday with you! If you notice, there’s a chunk missing from the middle of this text. That’s the parable of the mustard seed. A beautiful, traditional text. Great for an uplifting message to leave in all of your minds about me. And instead, we have the fiery furnace of hell.

There are a lot of different directions a text like this can be taken. And there are a lot who will use this text as a way to scare people into believing that if we aren’t good, as they define good, we’re going to hell.

I would like to give a little preface to this message: I will not be condemning anyone to hell today. That is God’s job. Not mine. And more than that, I want to draw your attention to a couple of specific things. The Good seed are the children of God. The Weeds are the children of the evil one. And God is hesitant to risk even one of the children of God. So the weeds grow together with the wheat and everything is sorted later. God – the original and ultimate procrastinator.

There is no risk to the Children of God in this story. We are safe. Who is or is not a child of God is up to God. Not humans.

I was a defense attorney before heading off to seminary. I’m of the opinion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And there is no way I’d be selected  to be on a heavenly jury (even though that’d be pretty cool). I will leave judgment to God and merely offer that the text is specific that the children of God are safe.

Thank you for indulging my little rant to start today. And now, let the actual sermon begin!

I have a refrigerator magnet that a friend brought back for me years ago from a trip to somewhere in Europe. It says “Look busy, Jesus is coming”. Usually I think of this magnet during Easter, when we read about Jesus chastising the disciples who were repeatedly unable to stay awake while Jesus prayed. Today, I thought of it in terms of this Gospel.

Because if ever there was a Gospel that says look busy, Jesus is coming. It’s this one.

Let me explain.

I’d like to explain using a slightly different translation of the Bible. We usually use the NRSV in the Episcopal Church, and what we have read together in my time here has been from the NRSV. I’d like to use a much less known interpretation for a few sentences, The Voice translation. It’s important to occasionally look at differently interpretations of the Bible because it shines a different light on the words. I offer this translation not because it changes the word slave to something more palatable, but because I think it’s more accurate to modern ears.

The Voice says:

“Once there was a farmer who sowed good seeds in his field. While the farmer’s workers were sleeping, his enemy crept into the field and sowed weeds among all the wheat seeds. Then he snuck away again. Eventually the crops grew—wheat, but also weeds. So the farmer’s workers said to him, “Sir, why didn’t you sow good seeds in your field? Where did these weeds come from?” “My enemy must have done this,” replied the farmer. “Should we go pull up all the weeds?” asked his workers. “No,” said the farmer. “It’s too risky. As you pull up the weeds, you would probably pull up some wheat as well. We’ll let them both grow until harvest time. I will tell the harvesters to collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, and only then to harvest the wheat and bring it to my barn.”

Here is what I get from this section of Scripture:

God is the farmer;

         God does not do the planting God’s self;

God hires, essentially migrant workers, to tend the fields;

God does not inquire about the immigration status of the workers God hires;

The fields are planted with good seed;

When work is done, the workers rest;

While taking an appropriate and well earned rest, something happens;

God does not cause the evil;

God does not freak out nor does God overreact about the evil; and,

God creates a new plan to allow the Children of God to flourish.

I will tell you all, quite honestly, that the idea I started with about this sermon is that we need to be vigilant, we need to stay awake and focus on achieving God’s will. And I think that’s true. But I also think it’s true that God allows us to rest after we’ve worked hard.

God doesn’t get upset that the workers were sleeping. There is no punishment. God isn’t even mad, it doesn’t seem. God stays even, calm, rational. I imagine God was disappointed. Even saddened. Good seed, expensive seed, planted at great expense and with great effort. And at first blush, all seems ruined.

It would be reasonable for the answer to be to start over. It’s also reasonable to attempt to pull the weeds. But at the early stage of growth, it’s hard to tell the weeds from the wheat.

Instead, God decides to nourish and grow the weeds as well. This takes effort and money. And grace. And love.

God decides to offer protection and opportunity at life for all of the wheat. God also offers the opportunity at life for the weeds.

My whole life I’ve heard the saying “everything happens for a reason.” In looking at this Scripture, and in looking back over my own life, I will tell you I do not, in anyway, believe that to be true.

Sometimes, things happen. Bad things. Evil. Things we in no way deserve nor can we predict. There are accidents. Tragedies. These things are unpredictable, undeserved, unwanted, and change the direction of our lives.

I was talking with a priest friend of mine the other day, and he reminded me of something Mr. Rogers said after 9/11. Well, of something Mr. Rogers’ Mother said: look for the helpers. When something evil or sad or scary happens, look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.

Those helpers, those are the workers in the story. And we are all around.

Uncertain at first. Waiting for clarity and instructions from God. But there. And willing to work towards the good, even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.

Working towards the good of God. Being the hands and feet of God in this world. Cultivating the love of God. In the midst of tragedy and evil.

That’s our work. That’s what we must do.

Our job on this earth isn’t to condemn. It isn’t to try to separate the good from the evil. It is to grow. To nourish. To help.

And that, I think, is what we need to stay alert for. We need to stay alert for what God is doing, and to figure out what we can and should do to be part of that. Remembering that after a tragedy we’re allowed to catch our breath, and to consider before we act. And to rest when we need to.

That is the type of busy I want to be when Jesus comes back. I don’t want to be busy so busy at work that I’m exhausted and unable to do God’s work. I want to have enough left in my tank that when God needs me, I can work for God’s purposes.

That is what I wish for all of us.

Do the work that you need to do. But remember that we are the hands and feet of God in this world. We are God’s workers as well as the seeds. We must nourish ourselves and one another. We must care for ourselves and one another.

That is the type of busy that we should be when Jesus comes back.

That’s also the message I have to leave you all with. We are God’s helpers. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. Nourish what God has planted. Help when help is needed. And when you aren’t sure what that help should be or look like, ask God.

Amen

 

 

Growing our seeds. 

My sermon from 7/15, preached at Trinity, Arlington. The text is Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23. There’s audio of this sermon, and the last two!!  Read or listen and let me know your thoughts!!!
 I love the Tour de France. I watch it pretty religiously this time of year. They’re racing right now, but don’t worry, they’ll replay the stage later so I can still watch. 
 Currently, the Tour is going through some of the most beautiful wine country in the world. And the beautiful scenery got me thinking about this Scripture. This happens reasonably frequently for me – thinking about something in my modern world in relation to Scripture. But this thinking is well timed because as you might have noticed from the Gospel today, planting and growing is at the forefront this week.

 What you plant, and where you plant it, is super important in planting. Jesus talks a bit about where you plant in this Gospel. And when he told this parable, there were bound to be quite a few farmers mixed in with the crowd. What farmers will tell you is that there is more to farming than just where you plant.

 You have to know your soil, and properly care for that soil. You have to know what kinds of seeds will work in what soil. The geography of the region is important.

 Just look at France. 

 France produces some of the best wines in the world, red, white, and sparkling. The grape growers study their soil, and know which type of grape grows best in which type of soil, and in which region. And those farmers are careful to tend and nourish their plants and that soil.

 Soil is super important to Jesus in this Gospel. It is crucially important that the seeds of faith be planted in good soil.

 What Jesus leaves out, is what goes into helping those seeds grow into mature plants and trees of faith. Seedlings are great, but it takes a lot of work to yield 30, 60, or 100 fold!

 I think there is an unpleasant tendency in some to think that Jesus has handled everything for Christians. That because Jesus planted the seeds of God that are within us, we’re good. And that we don’t have to do anything else.

 But that’s just not true.

 We read the words on the page, and forget that those words were spoken to people. And that many of the people who heard those words found what Christ called them to do in order to grow into a mature relationship with God, they found what Christ said so hard they left. Including Disciples.

 The young church in Rome, the group that Paul is writing to in the Epistle today, they were getting an absolute tongue lashing from Paul because they were not growing in their faith. The Romans thought they were doing it right, really right. But they hadn’t changed much in their daily lives. They hadn’t fully embodied what it means to live a Christian life. And Paul was laying into them for their hubris. 

 It takes effort to live into this Christian thing. It is what we do in our daily lives that nourish us, and help us to grow in our faith.

 I’d like to take a moment here for each of us to pause. Take a deep breath. And think. Think about what nourishes each of us? What helps us each of us grow in our faith?

 The seeds of faith are planted. They are there. And while it is important, and amazing, that each of us has this seed planted within us, it’s up to us to decide if, and how, we will nourish and grow in our faith. 

 For some, we’re nourished by experiencing the liturgy with others. Some are nourished by service, for the church and volunteer work with the community. Some are nourished by gardening, or spending time in nature. Meditation. Time with family. Checking in on an elderly neighbor. Engaging in conversation with an un-housed neighbor. Running. Watching your children sleep. Reading. Reading Scripture.

 These are just a few examples of ways to nourish your faith.

 I nourish my relationship with God by deep engagement with Scripture, and deeply theological talks with friends and colleagues. With volunteer work in my community. And by mindfulness, which in my case is long walks on the beach in front of my Mom’s house looking for sharks teeth. 

 There is no right answer to this. And each of our answers are likely to be different. And some might not have an answer. And that’s okay.

 Just like different seeds and different soil, each of us are designed to grow and produce in different ways. I can’t answer for anyone other than myself what will allow the best chance of growth, nor what we will yield. 

 But I know for certain that the seed is in each of us.

 There are some whose faith looks flashy and pretty, who tend to tell people who aren’t just like them that they aren’t loved by God, or aren’t worthy of God’s love. Those are the people whose seeds fell on the rocky soil. Their seeds started up quickly, but didn’t last. And under any pressure, any type of adverse circumstances, their faith crumbles.

 I stand before you and say that God loves you. Regardless of your nationality, race, gender, immigration status, who you love, if you love, where you live, what you look like, your hair color, your skin color, if you are covered in tattoos, if you have a disability, if you didn’t finish high school or if you have a PhD. God loves you. And has planted a seed within you.

 There are others who will stand before you and say that because Christ died we can live however we want. That it’s just words that matter now because the price of our sin has been paid, and now God wants us to be happy and have nice things, even if they’re outside our means. These are the fruits of the seeds planted within the thorns.

 I stand before you and say that God cares about how we live, not the things we accumulate. The value of our lives is in how we nurture and grow in our faith, how we love and care for others. How we show others that we are Christians. We can have nice things, there’s nothing wrong with that. What God cares about is how we show our love of God, and how we show others that love as well.

 I will also stand here and tell you that God loves each of us, and wants all of our seeds to thrive, even if our seeds fell on the path, into rocky land, or within the thorns. It’s never too late to start caring for our seeds, wherever they and we are. 

 I started today talking about the Tour de France. While I quickly raced to start talking about soil, I don’t want it to seem as though this is unrelated to what we’ve talked about today. Because taking a bit of time during the first three weeks of July to watch the Tour is one of the ways that I care for myself.

 Caring for yourself. Loving yourself. Nourishing yourself. I cannot over state how important that is. Because it is. How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t love yourself?

 Take care about how you care for the seed of faith within you. Nourish yourself. And remember that you’re growing in your relationship with God, and caring for a gift that God has entrusted you with.

 Know what helps you grow. And take a few minutes this week to do those things. Do so intentionally. Practice. Practice until it’s just part of what you do every day. Then look at how much more deeply the roots of your faith have gone. And marvel at how much fruit you are yielding.

Amen

Yearning to breathe free

This is the sermon from my first “solo” day as an Episcopal Priest. It was a difficult sermon to preach, but truly important. As a lawyer, I’m well versed in dissecting the different things the same words can mean. Here, I spend time with the word “all”. And, truly attempt to focus on how we as a nation have gotten to this point. 
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
    I want to let you all in on a little secret. The similarities between the Gospel today, and the quote on the Statute of Liberty, those similarities are absolutely intentional. There are a lot of reasons for this, and believe it or not, Christianity is not one of them, but being a savior to the world, that is an identity that the United States has had for a long time. It does not mean that everyone in America is to be a Christian, the author of the quote on the Statute of Liberty, Emma Lazarus, was actually Jewish. But what it does mean is that America, historically, views itself as a savior to those in need. 

I believe, honestly, that Scripture calls us to take an honest look at ourselves and how we got to where we are. Today, I’d like to do that, or at least attempt to start that conversation. 

    This is not going to be a sermon that causes political division in this congregation, at least, I hope not. Instead, I’d like this to be a few moments where we can think about how different those words are heard by the different people in this room.

    In this room and in this congregation, there are people who chose to immigrate here. People whose parents chose to immigrate here. There are people whose ancestors chose to immigrate here. Escaping religious persecution brought some here. And there are people whose ancestors were forced here in the belly of ships, and for generations were not here by choice.

    And yet all of our identities mix together is the wonderful, complicated, and often confused nation that we call home. This nation who welcomes citizen, neighbor, and stranger alike with these words:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

     I cannot, and will not even begin to attempt to explain what these words mean to an immigrant. Especially someone who is coming to these shores not with the goal of a better life, but with the goal of a life. Just the opportunity at living.

    I also cannot, and will not even begin to attempt to explain what these words mean to the great-great grandchild of a slave. Especially when science now shows that the trauma of our ancestors, their yearning to breathe free, is captured in the very DNA of a person for generations to follow.

    What I can tell you about, and what I’d like to talk about today, are what those words mean to me, and, how those words are impacted by my understanding of the Gospel. In full disclosure, I heard those words on the Statute of Liberty long before I read the Gospel of Matthew. I was actually in law school the first time I read the Gospel of Matthew.

    So it is through my lens, as a white, well educated, woman from a suburb of DC, that I read the Gospel for today. And honestly, the first time I read “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The first time I read those words, I was immediately struck by how similar those words are to the words that for more than 125 years have greeted immigrants entering New York harbor.

    I also read those words as the descendent of people who came here willingly. My ancestors had a choice in coming to America. My cousin actually did a ton of research on our family for a class project, and the Rockhills have been in America since almost the very beginning. It was by choice that my ancestors came here.

    I grew up learning about how awesome America is. Patriotism is practically taught in schools, at least it was when I was growing up. Slavery was discussed, but as an economic system on which this nation was built. The ramifications of slavery today, those are rarely discussed.

    But they are felt.

    At times I’ve found myself considering this very Scripture in terms of slavery. How different the words “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” must sound to a person who had to take a yoke upon their neck. 

    A yoke, for those of you who don’t know, is a piece of farming equipment that goes around the neck of an Ox, horse, or person, and it pulls the plow through a field. It can also be used to pull a cart.

    A yoke is heavy, and forces you to pull exceptionally heavy equipment through dirt, rocks, mud.

    The people that Jesus spoke to would almost certainly have known the weight and burden of a yoke. In addition to many people farming to survive, woven into their DNA would have been the hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. The metaphor would not have been lost, and the idea of carrying a lighter burden would have been a welcome message. Just as it would have been to the ears of a slave in America.

    The power, beauty, and comfort of these words is a bit lost today, at least on me. As a person who hasn’t pulled the weight and burden of a yoke, and whose ancestors haven’t in many, many years either.

    But when I hear the words of this Gospel, held against the words on the Statute of Liberty, those words come to life in an incredible way. Especially today. In the light of our current world, with its famine, fear, violence, terror, racism, and tendency towards isolationism.

    This is a nation who needs to learn what to do with our own history. We are a nation built on the words that all are welcome. But all didn’t mean then what we mean by all now. All meant all heterosexual, white, men. White meant Western European, but not Irish or Italian, or Spanish, or anyone with any pigment in their skin. White was a far more narrow term in the 1800’s. Some of the founders of this nation meant all as we understand it today. America was meant to be a place where all are welcome and treated equally.

    But some meant all should be limited to only those who fit into a narrow set of criteria. Yet, just as the term “white” has evolved into a much larger group, I would argue so has the term all.

Today, we are a nation that might open the door to the stranger, the immigrant, but we don’t and have never done a very good job of being welcoming once someone is here. And as a church, we need to work on this too.

    Caring for friend, neighbor, and stranger alike is grounded in the very fiber of the message of Christ. Christ calls for us to love, welcome, and care for all. Just as the words on the Statute of Liberty call us to do as well.

    The burdens of today are vastly different than the burdens of 2,000 years ago. The burdens of today are vastly different than they were in 1875, when those words were etched onto the Statute of Liberty.

    As Christians, we stand at a point where we need to decide if we actually believe in the words of the man we profess to follow. And then we must consider if we are willing to incorporate the words of Christ into how we live out our lives as Christians and citizens of this nation. And as a nation, we stand at a point where we need to decide if we mean what we said in 1875. 

    I encourage all of us to talk. And I intentionally include myself in this.

    Let’s talk about what those words mean to us. How we can live into the words of Christ. What the words of the Statute of Liberty mean to each of us.

    We have an incredible opportunity to learn from and with one another. Let us take that opportunity. Let us understand the burdens we all carry. The burdens that brought us to this church, today. Talk to someone that you didn’t come with today. When you leave, talk to someone you did come with. Or a friend, neighbor, or stranger, about them and their story. 

    Our yokes won’t seem as heavy when we shoulder them together. Let us rest together in the Golden Light of Christ’s lamp.

And let us learn together what it means to be a Christian in America today. 

Amen

Context is key!!

This is the text of my sermon from July 2, preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Arlington. The text is Jeremiah 28:5-9. Take a look!! It was my first time preaching at Trinity, & they are truly a wonderful & welcoming congregation. 
    Good morning!

    I must tell you, I’m very excited to be with you today, and for the next few weeks! And I thought for today it might be a good idea to try and give you an idea of what you can expect from me over the next few weeks, at least when it comes to preaching. 

    I can summarize what you should expect from my sermons as this: context matters.

    From the depths of my being, I believe it to be true that you can’t fully understand something if you take it out of context. The Diary of Anne Frank loses so much of its power without the context of the Holocaust. The Chicago Cubs World Series victory last year loses its intrigue without knowing it ended a 108 year drought. Harry Potter is just a slightly awkward British youth unless you know he is locked in a classic and ongoing struggle of good versus evil.

    And this reading from Jeremiah is just kind of awkward unless you know a bit about what’s going on.

    Jeremiah is responding to Hananiah in what I envision in my head as a standoff similar to Hamilton verses Jefferson in the musical Hamilton, but with vastly different outfits.

    On one side is Hananiah, a traditional prophet, making a traditional style prophesy. On the other side, stands Jeremiah. The prophet who was not afraid to embrace his emotional side and use it in his work. However, in this section of his Book, Jeremiah is taking a different approach; embracing the peace that can follow a genuine God moment. 

    I think honestly it’s the influence of the minor prophets of the Hebrew Scripture who have lead to people thinking its effective evangelism to stand on a street corner and scream “Repent! Or else!” But it’s prophets like Jeremiah, who took different approaches to make their points, those are the prophets we have memorialized in the Bible. And not the prophets like Hananiah.

    In the four verses before, Hananiah has said that the Babylonians would have their yokes broken and everything and everyone would be returned to Judah. It’s important to note here that the Babylonians had a really effective program of occupying. They would remove all but the mostly lowly inhabitants of a land, and replace them with the inhabitants of another conquered land. The most important members of a conquered society were taken to Babylon itself. In the case of the Judeans, this means the royalty, and the religious leaders.

    Hananiah is standing in front of the Jewish religious elites, including Jeremiah, and saying the Babylonians would get theirs.

    Then Jeremiah says something that speaks directly to my heart today, but was utterly radical in the 7th century, BCE. Jeremiah says it would be really nice to be returned from Babylon. But instead of with a sword, this will be peaceful. And it is in that peace, that all will know that the Lord has spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. 

        God will be in the peace, not on a side in battle. 

    Two things you should know here, first, in the ancient Arab world, an eye-for-an-eye was an absolute way of life. Wrongs were made right with violence, and the Babylonians were widely regarded within the Israeli world as having wrongly occupied them.

    Second, Jeremiah and Hananiah were absolutely opposed to each other in this. It was common for men to claim to be prophets, and the two of them were standing against each other saying they each had the word of God – one foretelling violence and the other peace. The standoff between Jeremiah and Hananiah got violent, and resulted in Hananiah reiterating that Judah would be restored through the Babylonians getting what they deserved.

    And Jeremiah responding that God would strike Hananiah down for pretending to have the Word of the Lord. Two months later, Hananiah did in fact, die.

    Now that I have filled your mind with all of the context and history I can muster for these five lines of Scripture, let me tell you why this matters. At least, why I think this matters.

    And that is, quite simply, because God was radically changing things. This was a time when conquering nations was undertaken to provide economic viability. It was a different world than what we know today. It was pre-modern. There were no industries. It was before commercial farming. It was a time when retribution was not just common, it was expected. The cultural expectation of the time was that it was with a sword, either their own or that of another nation, which would release the Judeans from exile. And God would send that sword to save God’s people.

    To stand up and say that the return would be peaceful, and that God will be in the peace, this was totally counter cultural.

    And it was not well received.

    Funny thing, it wasn’t well received when Jesus said it either. This portion of the Gospel comes in the context of Jesus’ pep talk to the Disciples as He sends them out. Jesus is both warning about how the disciples will be treated, and offering incentive for why people should receive them.

    It’s a retelling of what Jeremiah dealt with. The message that Jesus gave was totally counter cultural, and not always well received, just like Jeremiah. What they said wasn’t what people wanted to hear. The messages certainly weren’t what the religious elite wanted to hear.

    It was expected that the messiah would come in and bring about a revolution. It wasn’t expected that the revolution would come from a man preaching a message of peace. Often using unexpected and sometimes violent means, but preaching a radical way of loving everyone.

    Through my Christian lens, it appears as though Jeremiah laid the groundwork for the message of Christ. At the very least, Jeremiah created a blueprint that Jesus would have in mind when he decided how to deliver his message.

    The message of Christ is what would ultimately lead us all to be together today. 

    It’s a message of radical love.

    I started this message by saying that I want to give you an idea of what to expect from me. I won’t always give you such a full contextualization of a story. But there is one thing you can frequently expect: a message of love. The radical, unwavering, unexpected, and often misunderstood love of Christ. It’s a love that is not limited to those who look and think like us. It’s a love that I will admit I sometimes struggle with. I struggle because it would just be so much easier if everyone just thought like me!

    But Jesus tells me to love everyone anyway. And so I do my absolute best.

    My hope is that in our few weeks together, we can all become a bit better at loving our neighbors, those who look and think like us, and those who don’t.

Amen

Hagar, Ishmael, and Christianity’s sibling religion. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to preach (for my first time as a priest)at St. John the Baptist, Episcopal Church in Ivy, VA (just outside of Charlottesville). It was a wonderful experience in a stunningly beautiful church. Enjoy!!
 As we begin today, I’d like to take a moment to reflect back over last week. Because I think it’s important to remember that these stories, they aren’t just individual stories. The characters continue, the plot lines grow.

 I took a class in college, I have no idea what the class was, and have forgotten almost everything. But there is one moment I remember: the difference between a tv sitcom and a drama. Sitcoms might have overarching plot lines that continue over a long period of time, but for the most part, everything that was at issue is concluded after each episode. But in a drama, issues and plots continue and build from the previous issues. You can start watching a sitcom halfway through a season, but if you try that with a drama, you’ll be very lost and miss many of the important details.

 The Bible is a lot more like a drama than a sitcom. 

 As the credits rolled on last week’s episode, Sarah, well advanced in age, was laughing and filled with joy. Because she had born Abraham a son, Isaac.

 In the ancient world, and this is still true in parts of the modern world, a woman’s worth depended on her ability to have children. Specifically, on her ability to have sons. It was often considered a mark of God’s displeasure with you if you couldn’t have children. And, of course, this had to be the woman’s fault; infertility could never be the man’s fault.

 I say that in jest through my modern lens. We know now that it can be the man’s fault. And that there are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a couple can have children. For example, a nomadic lifestyle in the wilderness of the Middle East, such as what Sarah and Abraham lived for many years; that would contribute to a couple being unable to procreate. 

 But last week, Sarah laughed. First, she laughed in disbelief, and then, she laughed out of joy. An infectious laugh that she predicted would carry over to those around her.

 But there was one problem: Abraham already had a son, Ishmael.

 Again, it’s easy to think about this through a modern lens, and think of Ishmael as being illegitimate. But he’s not.

 Hagar was owned by Abraham. And so any children born to her would also be Abraham’s property. But this story gets ever more complicated. Because, it was a standard practice in those days for barren wives to “give” their female slaves to their husbands. Any children created were considered the children of the wife and husband, not the mother.

 This means that Ishmael was considered the firstborn, and legitimate child of Sarah and Abraham.

 Until it came to pass that Sarah bore a child of her own womb.

 And this is where the story picks up this week. Isaac is being weaned, which in those days means he was somewhere around 3.

 Ishmael, the other child in this story, is nearly 16. He is a man by ancient standards. He is nearly old enough to assert his legal claim as the legitimate first born son of Abraham. God may have promised a blessing to Isaac, but the legal system of the day would not have. And it was about time for Ishmael to find a wife.

 The joy with which last week ended, with Sarah laughing, that joy has evaporated. Joy evaporated when Sarah watched 16 year old Ishmael, playing with Isaac.

 Abraham, fully understanding what truly is an age old adage: happy wife, happy life. Did as Sarah demanded, and cast out Hagar and Ishmael.

 What I find most interesting in this part is what comes next: God seems to forget about Hagar and Ishmael until Hagar cries out, as both she and Ishmael await death. It is after the crying out, that God steps in. Hagar still has to do something, she has to pray.

 Her prayer comes in the form of a guttural, helpless, pleading sound. Hagar weeping, mixed with the sounds of Ishmael dying. That is what caught God’s attention, and brought God to action. Crying out is also what will draw God’s attention when Isaac is lying on the altar with Abraham holding the knife over his son. But we’ll get to that story later.

 This story, of Hagar and Ishmael, this is where the story really gets interesting. And, it’s where we have our first major Spinoff series.

 Hagar and Ishmael go and live in the wilderness of Paran, which is one of the places where the Israelites would spend time during their 40 years in the wilderness. It’s also where King David would seek refuge after the death of Samuel.

 Paran is now believed to be located somewhere very close to what would become the city known as Mecca.

 Which makes sense, since the great nation that Ishmael would become, is Islam.

 This is the point where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam separate. Judaism and Christianity would continue to grow together for a couple thousand more years. And it would take Islam several thousand years to take root, in the wilderness between Mecca and Medina.

 Islam and Christianity are siblings. We both grow out of the same Genesis story. We just have different mothers.

 I’m going to take a moment to explain just a couple of the misconceptions that grow out of our sibling rivalry with Islam.

 First, Christianity believes that the Word became flesh in Jesus, meaning that Jesus is God in human form, and the revelation of God is captured in the Gospel’s of Christ. For Muslims, the Revelation of God came in the form of words that were given to the Prophet Muhammad, one line at a time, over the course of many years. Those words were written down in what is now known as the Quran.

 The revelation of God for Christians is Jesus. The revelation of God for Muslims is the Quran.

 Islam requires you to give all of yourself to your God, to care for those in need, and to respect all people.

 Does that sound familiar? It should. Because Jesus said the exact same thing. 

 Don’t believe me? It’s in the Gospel today. “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.”

 In Islam and Christianity, God is supposed to come first.

 Now, of course, within Islam just as within Christianity, this is corrupted. It is even more complicated because Islam teaches that this religion is to be part of the political sphere; religion should guide politics. Christianity has a long history, especially in this country, of being separate from politics. Christ teaches, and Paul teaches in other parts of the Epistles, that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man are different. This is true, but we often struggle to reconcile what religion teaches, with what is happening in our country.

 Islam is a little different. Islam teaches that what is happening politically must be reconciled with religion. Or at least, there must be efforts to reconcile.

 This has opened Islam up to corruption, just as it attempts at separation have in Christianity. The human struggle for power has long been bolstered by saying that struggle is ordained by God. Look at the crusades. Look at Hitler, claiming to be a good Christian. Look at Manifest Destiny!

 Look at ISIS.

 These are corruptions of the teachings of remarkably similar religions. Religions that teach kindness, acceptance, carrying for those in need, respect of differences. 

 In watching tv dramas, and in understanding religion, it’s important to know the whole story. I won’t stand here and tell you I know everything about Islam, but I won’t say I know everything about Christianity either! But what I will tell you, and will encourage you to do, is to always remember that these aren’t individual stories told in isolation.

 Hitler rose to power out of the destitution and power vacuum that resulted in the decimation of Germany in World War I. ISIS developed in the destitution and power vacuum that resulted in the aftermath of the Second Iraq war. These plot lines repeat themselves!

 Sarah’s laughter turned to anger. Hagar called out to God to save Ishmael. Abraham called out to God and Isaac was saved from death. Jesus cried out on the cross.

 It would be a lot easier if religion were like a sitcom. We could just take a chapter or even a few lines and not have to worry about the rest. But religion isn’t a sitcom. It’s a drama. Each story builds on what came before. Each character is developed slowly. Each part builds on what came before. Each episode is made so much more beautiful when you know the back-story.

 Learn the story. Then you can live the story.

Amen