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230625 Pentecost 4

Genesis 21:8-21 Psalm 86 1-10, 16-17 Romans 6: 1-11 Matthew 10: 24-39

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Those who find their life will loose it and those who loose their life for Jesus sake will find it. How do we cope with this sort of contradiction?

We often learn through stories:

After the repeated promises given to Abraham that a great nation would be his legacy and that he and the families of the earth would be blessed through him, a visit by two angels, and the appearance of the Lord himself, Sarah finally cried out with surprise and joy at the birth of her son. The evil of jealousy took over and because of her doubt, worry and fear, she forfeited the peace she could have felt in God’s wonderful promise to her.

Fear and anxiety are a widespread part of our world. Many people’s lives are affected by fear at some time or another and others live with fear as a constant shadow. Underlying fear is the day-to-day uncertainty of our living when we never obtain the tranquil stability of life that we crave. It is reasonable to be fearful in the presence of danger and many experience this when life throws up poverty, unemployment, domestic and other forms of violence, ill health and tragedy.

Sarah and Hagar would both have known of God’s promise that from Abraham would be a great nation and we can only imagine the fading relationship between them as the young Isaac and older Ishmael played together.

Then we read of the story of Abraham giving in to Sarah’s fear and sending Hagar and his child that Hagar bore away into the wilderness and we ask “ How could he do that?” But we read that even in this unfair act there is a certain amount of trust in God. Abraham’s distress at the situation he was in with Sarah’s insistence that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away and the trust Abraham had in what God said to him, is clear. Then there is the trust that Hagar had. She did not abandon the child in the wilderness when the water was gone and walk away. She stayed just out of sight and cried out to God. From her actions we realise that a way to bring peace to a troubled heart, is to focus on God’s promises. Psalm 86 reflects devoted trust in God in times of deep trouble and so we are encouraged to trust God who always will do what he says. This is what Abraham did and it was counted as righteousness. This is also what Hagar did.

We wonder what happened to Ishmael, and his descendants? His mother was a slave, but Ishmael was free, as free, we are told, as a wild donkey. Hagar found a wife for him in Egypt and he became ruler of a large tribe. The Ishmaelites were nomads living in the Desert of Sinai and Paran, south of Israel. One of Ishmael’s daughters married Esau, Ishmael’s nephew. The bible pictures the Ishmaelites as hostile to Israel and to God. (Psalm 83:6) but the story of Ishmael causes us to ponder God’s call, God’s promises and God’s faithfulness.

From the portion of Matthew’s gospel read this morning, we learn that if Jesus who is perfect was called evil, his followers should expect that similar accusations will be directed at them. Would this be enough to be afraid of, and if it happened to us and we were fearful, would it mean that we have an inadequate degree of faith?

Jesus tells us that only a small amount of faith – the size of a mustard seed – is needed. We are told that those who stand firm, show true commitment and devotion. Hagar did not give up but cried out to God and sat down to wait.

We hear the words. “So have no fear…” Many times we hear all through the teachings of Jesus “Do not Fear”, “Do not be afraid”

We are told in verse 28 of Matthew 10 that there is one fear that Jesus does advocate and that is the fear of the one who can destroy both the soul and the body. It is only what can cause lasting and irreparable damage that is to be feared. This is the fear of being rejected from the kingdom of heaven, missing out on being in the presence of all goodness and beauty. We should be afraid of evil itself because of its ability to destruct and create permanent havoc.

Jesus said that God is aware of everything that happens, even to sparrows, and we are far more valuable to him than a sparrow. We are so valuable that God sent his only son to die for us, (John 3 16) because God places such value on his people we need never fear personal threats or difficult trials. These cannot shake God’s love or dislodge his Spirit from within us. But this does not mean that God will take away all our troubles. The real test of value is how well something holds up under the wear, tear and abuse of everyday life. Those who stand up for Christ in spite of their troubles truly have lasting value and will receive great rewards. (Matthew 5: 11,12)

Jesus did not come to bring the kind of peace that glosses over deep differences just for the sake of superficial harmony. Conflict and disagreement will arise between those who choose to follow Christ and those who don’t. Yet we can look forward to the day when all conflict will be resolved. (Matthew 5:9, Isaiah 9:6)

Christian commitment may separate friends and loved ones. In saying this, Jesus was not encouraging disobedience to parents or conflict at home. Rather, he was showing that his presence demands a decision. Because some will follow Christ and some won’t, conflict will inevitably arise. As we take our cross and follow him our different values, morals, goals, and purposes will set us apart from others. We need not neglect our families, but can we remember that our commitment to God is even more important than family, as God needs to be our first priority. Christ calls us to a higher mission than to find comfort and tranquillity in this life. Love of family is a law of God, but even this love can be self-serving and used as an excuse not to serve God or do his work.

Jesus said: Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. This is a positive and negative statement of the same truth. Clinging to this life may cause us to forfeit the best from Christ in this world and in the next. The more we love this life’s rewards, leisure, power, popularity, financial security, and so on, the more we will discover how empty they really are. The best way to enjoy life is to loosen our greedy grasp on earthly rewards so that we can be free to follow Christ. In doing so, we will inherit eternal life and begin at once to experience the benefits of following Christ. We will know no fear and we will know love, life and joy. Amen.

The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan tssf


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