June 21 – Genesis 21:8-21 and Matthew 10:24-39
May 4, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
Dostoyevsky is one of my favorite authors and The Brothers Karamazov being one of my favorite books of all time. We encounter Father Zosimo who is hearing the heartfelt confession of a woman who is unsure whether she could ever love. Zosimo recounts a time when a doctor came to him to say, “ ‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons.” Zosimo then counsels the woman, “I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. . . . Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science.”
Our lectionary texts in Genesis 21 and Matthew 10 dispels and disabuses from our hearts and minds any iota or inkling that the Lord is too busy or too big or too _______(fill in the blank) to care about minute detail of every person, of every community, of every spoken and unspoken fear and doubt in our lives. When it’s far too easy for us to pray or to Tweet or to post our hope for healing for the world, or to protest injustices in the world with sweeping generalizations that seem to become abstract notions of the “them” or the “they,” our texts describe the Lord who loves and cares deeply for the forest, the trees, the leaves, and the internal structure of every tendril and molecule. The Lord is not a helicopter parent who hovers and smacks our human hands with every transgression, or who stands at the door with a clipboard watching and waiting for us to make a mistake. Rather, God’s deep love for us is such that God has our back, and is steadfast in God’s unfailing and unending love for every part of humanity, every person.
When we first read about God’s sweeping promise about blessing Abraham’s offspring as “numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” and “and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves,” (Genesis 22:17-18) we see this being played out forward and backward; in our lection, we encounter the Lord caring for Hagar and Ishmael. Notwithstanding Sarah’s rage at the attention being given to her maiden, Hagar, the Lord is determined to care for Hagar and Ishmael, and to give Abraham the heart to do the same. Yes, Sarah, you have been blessed. But don’t negate God’s blessing upon other people, upon particular persons, namely Hagar and Ishmael. They count too. Because they are created in the image of God, birthed from the love of God, and loved by God too.
Likewise, Jesus exhorts his disciples as he prepares them to take upon the difficult and important mantle to be his witnesses in a world that will oppose, that will reject the love of Jesus and the message of the kingdom of God. He tells them to not fear those who wish and who will inflict physical harm (there is a promise that they will experience rejection for the world rejects the loving values of Jesus and the kingdom of God). Here’s the Lord speaking to them about the careful love of God: “And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30-31)
Matthew 10:30 is one of the proof-texts of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 1. It is connected to John 6:39, related to Jesus safeguarding all those whom God has given to him. Here is the relevant section:
Q. 1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death-
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
The God of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, is the same God, who as Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, reassures us that humanity is in the heart of God’s love. This means every person. Each. One.