June 25, 2017 Farewell

In Friday’s Buffalo News, columnist Susan Martin had a humorous and poignant piece about her daughter graduating from high school and some of the household changes that would result from her going away to college later in the summer.

She came up with a list, in the form of Say Goodbye to…Say Hello to describing those changes.  One of them was:

Say goodbye to… Face-to-face time,

Say hello to…FaceTime.

As I read it, I wondered if I could come up with a similar list that applies to our impending transition. Unlike Susan Martin, who was able to fill a whole column, I managed a single item. Mine is:

          Say goodbye to… asking the priest where to find stuff’

          Say hello to …telling the priest where to find stuff.

So now you know why Susan Martin writes everyday for her living and I only write a few words once a week for mine!

Transitions are everywhere in our lives, but the one faced by Hagar and Ishmael in today’s first lesson was more gut-wrenching than most.

Sarah, thinking she was barren, had encouraged Abraham to father a child by her servant Hagar. But every act has its consequences, especially within the confines of a family. Sarah could not deal with her envy of Hagar. 

When Isaac was born, she was determined that Ishmael, Abraham’s eldest son, would not receive any of the inheritance that she felt belonged to her son. So she urged Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of the household to die in the desert. He provided them with some food and water, but did as Sarah wished.

Left alone in the wilderness, Hagar and Ishmael soon finished up the food and water. Hagar made her son comfortable in the shade and went a distance away to await death. But first she wept and railed at God for abandoning her and her son to their fate.

God heard her and directed her to a well, saving their lives. This story tells us that the boy grew up in the wilderness, but according the Qur’an they were taken in by the people of Mecca. In both books, Ishmael is recognized as the forebear of the Arab people, a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that both his sons would give rise to nations.

The ancient family dynamics described so matter-of-factly in Genesis are disturbing, to say the least. But they do illustrate the unvarnished humanity of everyone involved. Abraham was weak in dealing with his family, Sarah was needy and vengeful, Hagar was mean-spirited when she gained a bit of power by becoming mother to Abraham’s first son. I’m really glad I don’t live in their tents!

In the face of all this human imperfection, God acted… with mercy. He let Sarah have her way, heartless though it was, and he saved Hagar and Ishmael from the cruel fate she envisioned for them.

He used this sadly dysfunctional household to create not just one, but two nations.

God’s action with regard to Hagar and her son is a preview of what Jesus talks about in his comments on discipleship in our gospel reading.

First he tells his followers to have courage in the face of the persecution which they are sure to experience in spreading the gospel.  In the end, the true nature of their detractors will be exposed and the disciples will be vindicated. God will keep close track of them no matter what happens to them and their reward will be with him.

Unfortunately, not even the sacred institution of the family will be safe from the disruptive demands of the gospel. The old order will be turned upside down. Discipleship will require greater loyalty and commitment than is given to family.

Pretty scary, but look what God did for Hagar, who wasn’t even of Abraham’s lineage; she was only an Egyptian slave-girl. It wasn’t her idea to become mother to Abraham’s first son; she was simply being used by Sarah and Abraham. If God would save her, surely he will watch over the disciples who are struggling to do his will.

As we part ways in the week ahead, I hope you will remember God’s mercy toward Hagar, who was simply a pawn in God’s plan.

How much more will he look out for Trinity as it strives to be a beacon of his love in the community. I am sure he will watch over me as well during this new phase of my life.

Transitions take energy and they can be frightening. But the Bible tells us over and over again to step out in courage because no matter what life may bring God is watching out for us with a depth of concern that is hard for us to imagine.

I hope you will join us after the 10:00 service for some coffee, cake and closure. I will carry each of you in my heart as I move into retirement praying that Trinity will move on to even bigger and better things than what we  have done together over the past ten years.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to fulfill the vocation to which God called me some thirty years ago. I will always remember this parish and each of you fondly.

While you are saying goodbye to turning to me for information and hello to being the sources of information, I will be saying goodbye to all the sweet treats, (just ask the members of Stitch’n’Chat where all their goodies went!) of parish leadership and hello to the relative anonymity of occupying a pew in some other church for awhile. God, however, will be watching over all of us just as carefully and lovingly as ever.

For this we give thanks! Amen.