View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zhuqw0XI1k.
Genesis 16:7-13 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”
13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi,” for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”
Luke 1:26-38 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel itI know it is—and that if once it hailed meit ever does—And so it is myself I want to turn in that directionnot as towards a place, but it was a tiltingwithin myself,as one turns a mirror to flash the light to whereit isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swamin what shone at meonly able to endure it by being no one and sospecifically myself I thought I’d diefrom being loved like that.
An overview: This church year, December 2023 through November 2024, beginning this week, we will hear scriptures from a multi-gospel, single-year lectionary. Instead of focusing one year each on Mark, Matthew, and Luke with John interspersed in each of the three-years of the cycle, we will hear from all four of the canonical gospels in the next twelve months. The scriptures have been selected by theologian Wilda C. Gafney, with an eye toward shining a light on the women of the Bible, some of which we have never met when following the Revised Common Lectionary, as has been the practice of this church community for many years. Maybe you don’t feel like you need a fresh take on the Bible, but I do need it. I need for us to talk about more and different passages. It is my hope to breathe new life into our collective consciousness by expanding our reading of the Bible.
This morning the three readings that Kathy read for us all have the common thread of “annunciation.” In our biblical texts we first encounter Hagar, unfamiliar to many, and then Mary, well-known by multitudes of people, even those with only limited contact with Christianity. Thirdly, the poem written by Marie Howe helps us to imagine how Mary might have inwardly experienced the annunciation, making it possible for her to respond to the Angel Gabriel in the affirmative, “… let it be with me according to your word.”
As we have talked about in the past, we each bring a different perspective to the texts that we read and we each hear the texts differently based on our life situation and circumstances, both past and present. Although we are different ages, identify as different genders, and have different life experiences the overwhelming majority of us in this sanctuary or participating online have this in common; we are white skinned and we speak English as our first language.
With that in common, I wonder if we also have a perspective on the Genesis reading in common, that being the tendency to gloss over Hagar’s position as a slave as normative, and Sarai and Abram’s position as her masters as normative? Maybe normative is the wrong word… it was normal in the sense that it was prevalent in society, but that does not mean that it was acceptable, not then, and not now. I certainly am guilty of complicity in normalizing biblical language, and would like to announce here and now that I will strive to do better in all future encounters with our biblical texts. Yes, it may make me uncomfortable and yes, it may make you uncomfortable, but we will be better because of wrestling with our dis-ease with the text, better because we shine a light on areas that need attention.
The two women from our scriptures this morning share much in common; but under very different circumstances. They are both approached by Messengers of God and told details of their pregnancies and child birth. They were told they would bear male children and told what to name them.
The two women both experience incredulousness, but for very different reasons. Hagar because she cannot believe she is hearing, from the Messenger of God, to go back to her abuser. Mary, according to Luke’s gospel, because she has not yet consummated her marriage, has not yet known a man intimately. How could she, Mary, be pregnant? Hagar knows how she became pregnant; against her will, through human slavery, with Sarai and Abram both violating Hagar’s basic human rights and her inherent worth and dignity.
Hagar isn’t told to fear not, as Mary was but is told by the Messenger of God that God hears her. Where is that written? The ancient meaning of the name Ishmael is God hears. God hears, God sees, God is present with Hagar in her time of trial and distress. God is with Mary as well but her time of distress centers more on social mores. Then, and yes even now, a child-bearer that is not linked to a man in marriage typically suffers scorn and financial hardship, and sometimes great bodily harm.
Another major difference in the two texts is the issue of consent. There was no consent between Hagar and Sarai and Abram in this account from the Book of Genesis, whereas yes, there was consent in Luke’s account of Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel. Hagar was impregnated against her will. Mary consented to be the god-bearer, to bring Jesus, meaning Yahweh saves, into the world.
Where do our texts intersect with the newspaper this week? My heart broke again on Wednesday upon learning the news of a domestic violence murder-suicide in Searsmont, close to where Pat and I live in Lincolnville. With the news of the tragedy there is again light shone temporarily on the issue of domestic violence. Too often we do not want to talk about it. It is ugly. It is personal. It is “none of our business” what goes on in another’s home. Just as we need to confront the injustices that were present in the lives of our biblical ancestors, we need to confront the injustices that continue in the lives of our families and our neighbors living both near and far. Too often the messaging from the church, family, or friends has mimicked the words of the holy messenger that came to Hagar in our Genesis scripture. Too often women are told to return to their abuser. Too often when they do muster the courage to leave the violence of their abuser, they are not free to live safe and independent lives. Too often we open the morning newspaper to find this story repeating itself.
Our sacred book is chock full of very human and imperfect people. Too often, I have let the fact that this is our holy book defend the text, even if implicitly. The Bible reminds us that God uses imperfect people to achieve great things. The stories are about these imperfect people doing sometimes unconscionable things. The goal however is not to replicate the sinful actions but the admirable actions. The Bible includes the bad with the good. Let us be sure that the inclusion of violence in our sacred texts are not to condone the wrongs but to keep the wrongs visible so that we can learn from them and stop repeating them.
This morning we lit our Advent Candle of Hope.
What did hope look like for Hagar? The knowledge that God heard her cries for mercy, and the promise and the hope that through her hardship God would bless her and her child for many generations to come. That although Abram and Sarai treated her unjustly, God saw her in all of her potential.
What did hope look like for Mary? Hope was the child growing in her womb. Hope was expressed in the words of the Angel Gabriel, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
What does hope look like today? Where do we see the light of hope shining in the darkness?
(Answers from the congregation)
In our children, caring for creation, caring for one another, in ourselves…
May it be so.
Rev. TJ Mack – Union Congregational Church of Hancock