Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Giving the Appearance of Busyness

Sometimes I leave weeks between posts so people who read this don't think I sit around and post all day! Just kidding, things have been hectic here for awhile. I find myself once again as the sole full-time minister at the Alum Creek Church . . . I don't think it appropriate to talk much about the circumstances surrounding all of that here, but will leave it at that. For about a month now I've been back to where we were a year ago. Very surreal . . .

Also, I am very excited to have one of our "former" teens working with me this summer as an intern. I learned so much from my internship, which ended up lasting 4 years, and am excited to offer that chance to one of our teens - Samantha. She's always been especially mature and focused on her passion for Christ, and I look forward to seeing how her experience with the church can benefit both her and the church. All good on those fronts. It's a pretty unique opportunity for churches (of Christ) in the area. I don't know of any female interns that have been hired by Churches of Christ in central Ohio. Hopefully we can help make her summer a good one and worth while.

In the mean time, I've been back at preaching again and had a pretty interesting Sunday this past week that I thought I would share. I struggled through a topic for Mother's Day until one feel from the sky on Thursday and wound up being one of the more effective messages I've been able to share. The sermon was good - not because of the preacher who delivered it, but because the message of the text is so incredible. I've never heard a sermon about Hagar . . . so why not have a first. Here's the text if you have nothing better to do (ha ha), but you might be curious how I took a sermon that started by mention of menstrual cycles and ended up being pretty emotional.

May 11, 2008 – Alum Creek (Mother’s Day)

"A Forgotten Woman"

Sometimes, I have to admit, I try with all of my strength to wonder what it’s like to be a woman. I know admitting this fact publicly probably lowers me a few notches on the Man’s Who’s Who Macho Totem Pole, but I would be lying to you if I told you I never thought about it. Now, I’m not saying I try my wife’s dresses on and look in the mirror and wonder . . . instead, it usually comes in those moments when Mary Beth comes to me with something that sounds like a foreign language, those times when I just for the life of me, can’t connect. Sometimes it’s when she’s crying, and I just don’t understand. Sometimes it’s when her feelings are hurt and I won’t to understand, I really do, I just can’t. In those moments I really do wonder what it must be like to be a woman. What would a woman do in this circumstance?

I would imagine that if I were a woman there would be things I would like better than being a man, but I also would imagine there would be times I would be glad that I am not a woman – especially once in a cycle. While my intrigue may carry me a little far from home, there’s nothing to worry about, I never get too far before running back to the testosterone-laden masculinity that I know and love so well.

I think if I’m to have any success in preaching, I probably have to try pretty hard to wonder about the voice and place of women. After all, any time I get up to preach here, there’s going to be an average of 60% of women in the audience. I’ve been married long enough to realize that we’re just different – men and women. We just see things differently. Early on in our marriage we would really fight about some of those things, but as the years have passed we’ve come to know more and more that we’re just different, and learning to live with those differences is what has made our marriage strong.

I suppose this is something I struggle with every week that I am given the responsibility to preach, but I think this week that voice was especially loud. Mother’s Day. I thought of about a million cliché-filled messages I could write, but I just couldn’t preach any of them. I wasn’t feeling them. As the week progressed, I found myself thinking more and more to myself, “What would a woman preach on Mother’s Day? What would a woman have to say?”

To say these questions were slightly distracting would be an understatement. In all my nearly 30 years, I’ve never heard someone ask that question, “What would a woman preach?” It’s quite the delicate topic. Any of you who have been around our churches very long have heard the Bible told almost exclusively through the eyes of a man. I don’t want to get off too far afield on this topic, but I do want you to consider for a moment how that affects us. To say the voice of women is needed is a huge understatement.

Before we get into today’s lesson, let’s take one example to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about. Does anyone have any idea about the subject of Leviticus 15 (one of these days I’m going to get around to that Leviticus sermon series!) If you have an NIV, the subject heading over that chapter reads, “Discharges Causing Uncleanness.” I’m guessing you having checked that chapter out in awhile. If you skim down a little ways, you read about the monthly flow of a woman – her period and how that affects ritual cleanliness. I’ve never heard a sermon about the monthly flow and I can’t imagine ever preaching it. This renders an entire portion of Scripture null and void, unless I consider the voice of women.

Lest we get any further from the topic this morning before we ever start, allow me to make this one broad-sweeping statement. The voice, insight, and touch of a woman is central to the biblical story throughout and is also central to our function as a church and our understanding of the Scriptures. Far too often we have read the Scriptures with only one lens . . . today we’re going to attempt to better focus both lenses.

There are certain moments in our lives when time seems to kind of stand still. These experiences stand on their own. They exist unaffected by circumstance and consequence. Everything has circumstance and consequence, but there are those moments when both take a backseat to the moment. Most especially is holding your first baby. The possible sets of circumstances that could have led a mother to this moment are almost infinite, but there is a small period of time when you hold that baby and the furthest thing from your mind is how he or she got there, what is next for him or her, but you just sit and think and wonder. That’s what motherhood is about. That’s what fatherhood is about. It’s that moment – it’s a Hallmark moment. It’s what our cards are about.

Moving beyond that moment, however, is incredibly humbling. It’s the moment of moving from, “Wow!” to “Uh-oh!” Then the thoughts begin to flood in . . . I have to take care of this thing. I am the sole provider for this thing. Diapers! Cleaning puke up at midnight! School! College! Weddings! And how quickly their entire lives race through our minds. And all those questions and all those thoughts are different. They are different because not all mothers have been treated equally.

This morning our text is about two moms. Two women who give birth in two completely different circumstances. It’s a moment that makes Hallmark blush because they realize that they don’t have a card for this one.

I begin with the story you are familiar with, at least you should be, it’s the one that gets told the most. They waited and waited to receive their promised child. It’s hard enough when a couple tries and tries to have a child and can’t do it, but when God has told you that you are going to have a child and can’t, that’s really tough. They tried everything known to man. They tried different positions. They tried different times of the day. They tried different herbal remedies. They tried and tried and tried. They’d take some time off, and then they would try some more. Months passed into years.

They both grew tired of the questions, “When are you going to have that baby? Why haven’t you had that baby yet? Have you tried this?” Both were well passed the child-bearing age by now, and yet the promise of God remained.

Then one day . . . out of the blue . . . the test came back with that one word they had waited so long to see on the little pee stick: harah. That’s Hebrew for pregnant. Pregnant! Finally, after all that time waiting! Wow! But that was only the beginning. Now they had to wait . . . pregnancies were by no means sure things. She could miscarry, she could get sick, a million different things could happen. Now they had to wait. And she got bigger, and her body changed from the frail old woman she had become into an heir-bearer for her husband.

There was incredible celebration in the nation at the birth – a party like you could only imagine. Decades of anticipation had finally come to fruition and everyone partied and celebrated . . . almost everyone.

Often the story ends here – the celebration, the triumph. The hard times largely forgotten, but there is more to tell. Off to the side was another mother. She didn’t ask for her situation. She didn’t ask for this, but now, she struggled to be happy for the other mother, could anyone blame her? To forget her story is to be untruthful in telling the other mother’s story.

Her name is Hagar and she became the answer to someone else’s problem. Her story brings about every family tension you can imagine. If ever there was a made-for-TV movie, here it is. The story is brief, the implications immense.

She’s a slave girl of the lucky mother mentioned above. Tension #1 – she comes from a different socio-economic class than her master. She’s Egyptian. Tension #2 – she’s of a different ethnicity. And her owner sees past these potential problems and sees potential for filling the God-promised heir to her husband. While it sounds crazy to us that a wife would offer her housekeeper to her husband for sex, this was a very common practice in the ancient world. Many law codes in the surrounding nations allowed for such a solution to an impotent woman (because you see, it was always assumed to be the woman). So, you can look at this situation and even call it faith in God that she trusted maybe he was waiting for her or her husband to act.

Things, however, do not go according to plan. The Egyptian did get pregnant, that much of the story went according to plan, but it all went downhill from there. The racial and socio-economic tension mentioned above is heightened by the master’s jealousy. Imagine having the frustration of not being able to conceive exacerbated by seeing your servant every waking moment. And so she resorts to violence.

The poor slave girl is now caught between a rock and a hard place. For all that went right for her master with the birth of her child, nothing goes right for Hagar. She sees no other option . . . she runs away. She runs into the desert and comes to a spring to sit and think about her possibilities. She was a mother on the run with no idea what she was doing or what was ahead for her. She is scared and utterly alone.

And then one of the most unique exchanges in all of Scripture takes place.

Read Genesis 16: 7 – 14.

What an amazing exchange. It’s interesting God asked her where she was coming from and where she was going, and she only responds by telling where she’s come from. She probably doesn’t have any idea where she’s going. Something especially interesting in this passage is the fact that Hagar names the Lord. According to Victor P. Hamilton in his commentary on Genesis, he says this is the only time in all of Scripture that someone names the Lord, man or woman.[1] You can directly compare that to Moses’ asking God who he is. Instead, Hagar tells God who he is. And the Lord tells her to go back to her masters – the last things she wanted to hear. Before she leaves, she is also told that she will be blessed and her descendants would be numerous.

And she goes back to be with her owners and gives birth to a son which the Lord had already told her was to be named Ishmael. And Ishmael grew older from infancy and became a fine young man – the pride of his father Abraham. That was until he turned 13. It was at 13 that Abraham learns that is wife is pregnant and the son they had waited for all these years was finally going to be coming.

At 14, when Isaac was finally born, who would be prepared for such an event? Ishmael acts out and he and his mom are sent away. Hagar is assured this time they would die, but God again reveals himself to Hagar and ensures her and her family would be blessed.

And this is a hard story to moralize. It makes a good Jerry Springer episode, but not such a great night for Vacation Bible School . . . and maybe not a Mother’s Day sermon.

But Hagar’s story must be told. Abraham’s wife represents all the Hallmark mother’s out there. Maybe you had a plan and God worked according to your plan. Ad there’s a Hallmark card out there just for you and your family.

But the reality is, the world is seldom like that. Sure, we like to focus on Isaac and all that happened with him, and we’d just assume forget Ishmael, but God didn’t. God remembered Hagar and her son Ishmael and she made them into a great nation as well. God is in all the details as well.

So maybe you had a plan for your life and God didn’t get the script. Maybe you were in high school and had to deal with being a teenager and being pregnant. Maybe you had in mind the perfect wedding and the perfect husband, and maybe it just never came your way and marital bliss nor motherhood has smiled on you. Maybe you planned it that way, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you were in a marriage that didn’t work out quite the way you had planned. Maybe you’ve tried and tried to have children – that’s been your plan all along, but God didn’t have the same plan.

And on and on go the list of Mother’s Day circumstances you might find yourself with today. And for all of those and so many more, I present to you the story of Hagar. Notice Hagar never got answers. Why would God let such a thing happen? If he had just given them the baby in the first place this never would have happened. God could have helped them avoid this whole situation, but he allowed it to go on. Why? Hagar never gets her answer, all she gets is reassurance that God is there.

This morning, on Mother’s Day, that’s all I have to offer you. I’m not sure there are answers to many of your life’s situations you may find yourself. I’m not sure we could rally the troops and come up with the solution What we can do, is remind you of the love of God. It is so immense, so incredible. It is big enough for you and your situation.

If everyone is celebrating and you find yourself, like Hagar, on the fringe trying to be happy for them . . . trying to celebrate too, know that God hears you and feels you. He knows you and knows your concern and pain.

Like Job, he doesn’t offer you the answers, but only the reassurance through faith:

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm . . .”

[End by playing Casting Crowns song, “I Will Praise you in this Storm”]

[1] Hamilton, Victor P. Genesis. NICOT. (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI: 1990). (p. 455)

1 comment:

Suzie said...

Wow! Great sermon, Adam.

I'm excited about Samantha, too!