We’ve all experienced changes in our circumstances. Perhaps the first you were aware of was your first crush. Maybe that led to other changes, such as marriage and children. Perhaps there have even been changes in jobs, relocations, empty nests, new relationships, retirements, and even deaths. Whatever your change in circumstance, as it changes your life it can also change your perspective and relationships. Some of these changes in circumstance are unforeseen and others are calculated; some are joyful and others are pain-filled.
Our lessons today speak to the impact of such changes in circumstance on our relationships and lives.
Our first story is about the dramatic change in relationship between Sarah and her handmaid Hagar. As you no doubt recall, for the longest time Sarah is unable to have children. Concerned that Abraham will have no heir of his own, Sarah asks Abraham to sleep with Hagar so that he can have a child of his own. Sarah’s plan works and Hagar bears Abraham a son named Ishmael.
Then Sarah’s circumstance changes. As we heard last week, God tells Abraham and the eavesdropping Sarah that they will have a child of their own. They name this child Isaac, which means laughter, to remind them that Sarah laughed at God’s promise. But laughter only masks Sarah’s change in attitude. When Sarah’s circumstance changes, her attitude toward Hagar and Ishmael changes. No longer are they a blessing on Abraham’s household, now they are a threat to Sarah’s desire for Isaac to be Abraham’s only heir. So Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be cast out of the household – mother against mother, son against son – a household divided. We do not know if Sarah is mindful of the peril she is exposing Hagar and Ishmael to, we only know that she is bent on severing the relationship by sending them away.
This story is often thought of as the root of the differentiation between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, one that places them in inevitable conflict with one another. But I see a different story – not so much one of calculation and repudiation – but a story of embrace and blessing.
I could choose to emphasize God’s repudiation of Sarah’s calculated judgment upon Hagar and Ishmael by sending them away, or I could choose to dwell on God’s promise to Hagar to bless Ishmael, “I will make a great nation of him.”
I choose to focus on blessing because I know God’s inclination for us is one of love and redemption. Yes, there will be judgment, but it will be based upon our inclination toward others, not God’s inclination toward us.
In the face of Sarah’s desire to control circumstances to her and Isaac’s advantage, God chooses another outcome. God chooses not either – or, one or the other, but both – and. God chooses the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. This suggestion may stick in the judgmental craw of some Christians and others, but this notion does clearly differentiate between our own judgments and God’s own judgments.
In the light of this story, even Psalm 86, which we sang this morning, and which was written by a descendant of Isaac could have been written by a descendant of Ishmael as it seems to speak to his and Hagar’s circumstance in the wilderness. In this Psalm there is the telling verse, “All the nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord.” It’s not up to you and I to differentiate or chose among who can worship, the invitation is open to all of God’s beloved children.
Even Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us where our attention is to be focused. Paul emphasizes our need to remain upon focused on our individual relationship with Christ by reminding us of our death to sin and our resurrection to new life in Christ. If we are attentive to this relationship there is no room for us to slip into judgment or differentiation.
Indeed, as Jesus reminds us, we as disciples are not to presume we are above our teacher, it is sufficient for us only to strive to be like him. There is peril enough in being disciples of Jesus when it leads to opposition from those who oppose him, but the reward is his claim upon us before God. Nonetheless, as there is division between Sarah and Hagar in Abraham’s household, and indeed even judgment on Sarah’s part, so we will encounter division and judgment among our own. Such division and judgment will challenge us as described in Jesus’ quotation from the prophet Micah, “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.”
But we need to understand this passage as Jesus understands its setting in Micah [7:6], which describes the unreliability of friends and loved ones, who may judge us as Sarah fecklessly judges her handmaid Hagar, and cautions us instead to look to the Lord God for our salvation, whose judgment is just, and who will hear out our plea just as she heard Hagar’s and Ishmael’s pleas in the face of their peril and division within the household of Abraham.
Where do we turn in our peril? Are we swayed by the judgments of feckless friends, family, and media who are distracted by their own agenda? Or do we turn to the only one who is always prepared to embrace us and prepared to forgive and bless us: our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. In our peril, let us like Hagar, Ishmael, and Jesus choose to cry out to God, who will embrace us, bless us, and redeem our circumstance.
 Genesis 21:18
 Psalm 86:9a
 Matthew 10:35-36