“Peace?”

WISDOM READINGS:
Rumi
Make peace with the universe. Take joy in it. It will turn to gold. Resurrection will be now. Every moment, a new beauty.

Jeremiah 20:7-13
O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. ‘Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.’ But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore, my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Message – “Peace?”

Peace? This being Father’s Day and the memories of my dad…. Dad loved to argue, well, or at least debate. If I would come to him with a question, he would often take the other side of an issue just to create discussion… which drove me crazy, until I figured out what he was doing. He enjoyed it… I … not so much when I was young. His challenging tended to disturb my peace… I always felt at a bit of a disadvantage… the underdog so to speak. Mostly, because I was unprepared for the battle, as it were.

I think about the “underdog” … The one who is not expected to prevail in a contest… there is something about the underdog that draws us… unexpected victor in a situation… What is it about the underdog that intrigues us so? Why is it that so many of us “pull” for the underdog, whether in sports or business or other areas of life? I think there are times when we like pulling for the underdog so much we would just as soon those we are supportive of just be the underdog. I think of the sports superstitions… and the curse of the cover of Sports Illustrated. In College Basketball especially, as the season begins and the magazine picks who they think is going to win it all and puts them on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the fans say… “Nooooooo!!!!!!!! We don’t want to be #1!!!” But when it comes down to personal involvement I wonder, as much as we like to cheer for the underdog, as much as we like to see the underdog come out on top, …really … how many of us like or want to actually “be” the underdog?

I think about that in terms of our own Christian tradition…. The church has long been one who has looked at persecution as some kind of sign that it is doing the right thing. The early church was certainly the underdog, Jesus the underdog…think of his life and short ministry, really didn’t turn out that well for him in terms of success and “winning.”

The early church took that on…but it didn’t take long before the “underdog” church decided it was really the winner in the end… when Jesus comes back and cleans house, vanquishes the bad guys, takes out all those who do not accept him… hey, wait a minute… what happened to the underdog? Anyway, I digress…Perhaps this is just food for thought, a little ponderance as we continue on the way.

Today we remember the story of Sarah and Haggar. Sarah and Abraham have been trying to have children and they are old and it isn’t working out so well. It is suggested Abraham take Sarah’s handmaiden and try to have a child with her. Which is another commentary on the role and status of women in that time, place, society, and culture. Abraham takes the advice and sure enough Hagar becomes pregnant and bears a son, Ishmael, the first born, the heir, the one with the birthright. Sarah and Hagar have some issues because of this, Sarah realizing after the fact that this was not her best idea, there are tensions and jealousies that arise. And to make matters worse, Sarah, as she had been promised, finally becomes pregnant and bears a son as well, Isaac. They grow up like brothers, playing like brothers, fighting like brothers, doing all the things brothers do… which begins to wear thin on Sarah… after all… her son was supposed to be the chosen one, the first born, the child with all the promise.

The best we can glean from the texts is that Sarah believed Ishmael to be mocking Isaac in some way. I don’t know if that means the older brother was besting the younger in the wrestling matches….Or making fun of Isaac for some physical problem, or mental state (suggested), or perhaps reminding him who was the first born of the two… you know, brothers can do that from time to time…. Whatever the reason, Sarah is not happy and convinces Abraham he needs to get rid of the both of them. Abraham, of course, is not happy with the request, but according to the story is convinced by God that everything is going to be okay. He packs Hagar and Ishmael some supplies for the wilderness and sends them on their way.

Soon Hagar and young Ishmael are traveling through the desert wilderness with nothing but what they can carry. Hagar and Abraham’s first born have been sacrificed, which will surely come back to haunt Abraham… Later in the story when he takes Isaac to the mountain. Hagar and Ishmael go from the top of the heap to the bottom, certainly the underdogs of the story, I know I find myself pulling for them, not to mention a more than a little upset with Abraham and Sarah. They have been abandoned for the sake of jealousy and peace in the family.

Soon their supplies run out… Hagar cannot stand the thought of watching her child die…it is an interesting thing as it is estimated Ishmael would have been near 16 years old by this point which adds to the severity of the situation I believe. Puts him away, the distance of a bow shot so she will not have to see him die and sits waiting. Waiting, vulnerable, dying in the wilderness. The story says God hears the child’s cries. One might wonder what those cries were. At 16, certainly tearful sobs of fear and pain. But I suspect cries of anger and … Outrage too, at God for allowing this to be, caught in the middle…??! Sarah has won, the powerful have once again silenced and put away, sacrificed the powerless and the marginalized. Sacrificed for the cause of “so-called” peace, for the good of the family, I suspect we have all been on one end or the other of that dynamic to one degree or another sometime in our lives…or at least have felt that way.

Hagar is given a vision; God opens her eyes, the story says, so she can find water for her and Ishmael. God has promised blessing and care for this son of Abraham as well. An angel comes and tends to them, they drink, are saved, Ishmael becomes a great hunter and bowman, Hagar, invincible perhaps… vulnerable, but refusing to be “innocent” and standing up!!, finds him a wife and they live into the promised blessing of God. Ishmael, son of Abraham is where we trace our relationship and connection to Islam. Abraham through Isaac is the father of Israel, the Hebrews, and Jews, and through Ishmael the father of Islam. Same patriarchal father of the faith, same God…

I believe it is unfortunate then to somehow set up this win/lose scenario. That somehow Sarah was the winner and Hagar was the loser, but perhaps for Hagar… What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…. It seems to me, to take the story seriously… this is win/win…Particularly in the eyes of God. The story tells us God provides for both; God blesses both… This is not either or… this is both/and. In fact the Koran instructs Muslims to live in peace with people of the book, i.e. Jews and Christians… it is when extremists take a few passages out of context that violence happens… just like those who claim to be Christians take passages of scripture out of context to promote violence against others….Father Abraham had two sons, of blessing…And I believe we would do well to nurture the relationship between our brothers and sisters who claim Abraham through Ishmael just as we claim Abraham through Isaac. Maybe we need to spend a little more time with Hagar… there in the wilderness, in order to relate, in order to understand… So that fire in our heart might burn brighter… warmer…. Turn sorrow into treasured gold, rolling in the deep where tears fall, but the fire will bring us out of the dark… Into a new day of understanding… A new day of light and grace… And maybe, just maybe… we will one day remember and embrace the idea and fact… we are one family… struggling through the difficulties and uprisings… that one against the other… to embrace diversity and strive for, seek, wrestle with, … ourselves until… Peace.