July 18, 2021 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to our service of worship at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church. For all of our longing for an end to meeting in this way, and for all the weirdness of this “virtual” format masquerading as worship, there are in fact some benefits to it.
For some, they quite enjoy coming to worship when it’s convenient for them, and being able to show up in their pajamas and with a cup of coffee in their hands. For others, for reasons of distance or infirmity, this format makes available to them a worship experience they can find in no other way, and brings to them a sense of being one of the family in this gathering.
Regardless, with all the restrictions and challenges, this is how we meet for worship for now. Whatever the reason and however you come, we pray that there will be a blessing for you in our gathering, and as we turn to God’s word, and seize this opportunity to encounter the living God, we bid you welcome.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Call to Worship
You can listen to the audio recording of the Call to Worship with Rev. Bob Smith while consulting the text below (the audio is part of the Welcome message recording above); or just use the text below.
The Psalmist writes (Ps 86: 8–10)
There are none like you, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations shall come,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things,
you alone are God.
Book of Praise – 490 “God of grace and God of glory”
- Video with on-screen words, with minor differences from those in the hymnbook and no verse four.
- Words (1930) by American paster Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969). Music (1907; tune “Cwm Rhondda”) by Welsh composer John Hughes (1873–1932). Words and music in the public domain.
- Performed June 19, 2016 by the choir and congregation of First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska. Jeremy Bankson, Organist.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, the Lord’s Prayer
Great, giving God, your compassion for us is never-ending, and your mercy is life to us. We praise you that in love you have made us to enjoy you and the creation, you came to us in Christ to restore us to you and one another, and you gave us your Spirit to be your presence to us, and to inspire us in our living. All praise be to you great God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.
Loving God, you breathed the breath of life into every one of your children. You know our every need and care for us faithfully. But we confess that we fail to follow your call and your guidance. We lack courage to care for all people, those who are different from us, those who demand too much, those who take up our time with petty concerns. Have mercy on us for resisting new insights you offer and new challenges you give to us. Enlarge our world to include all your children, in the name of Christ who lived and loved fully. And hear us now as we join together in the prayer he taught us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. The mercy of God is greater than the burden of our sin, and invites us to move from judgement to grace. In Jesus Christ you are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Where we meet our Biblical character this morning is as we stand at the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with a people, where God makes this reckless promise that the descendants of old Abraham will form a mighty nation and have a homeland. And we will look at this promise from the point of view of one who stands outside its circle, the slave-woman, Hagar.
So God has promised a whole nation of descendants for Abraham and Sarah, his wife. There is just one little complication, there are no descendants — not one. Abraham and Sarah are childless. And just to make matters worse, they’re old, in fact getting to the stage where having kids is simply not a possibility.
So, a child has been promised, but none is on the way, and time is running out.
Sarah decides God needs a little help with the promise. So she suggests that Abraham have a child with her slave-woman Hagar. The text doesn’t say what Hagar thinks of this, but that doesn’t matter anyway — she’s just a slave.
Abraham seems to agree it’s an okay idea, and so he sleeps with her.
In that time, that would not be so outrageous an idea as it seems today.
It’s not a story or lust or infidelity, but of doing what needs to be done to provide a family. Any offspring would be considered Abraham and Sarah’s children. In fact, lots would say it’s just the responsible thing to do, to make sure there is someone coming along to inherit Abraham’s estate and take over his sheep-raising business.
So, Hagar conceives, and a child is on the way. There are just two problems —one is with Sarah, and the other is with God. Sarah’s problem is that having suggested the plan, she is immediately jealous of Hagar. Who knows whether it’s for real or just in her imagination? — maybe it doesn’t matter. But we can just picture it.
No sooner does the baby start to show, Hagar is radiant in the fullness of her womanhood and in the hope of the life growing in her. Maybe she steals glances at Abraham and blushes a little whenever their eyes meet. Maybe she swaggers a little every time she passes Sarah. To Sarah, Hagar is everything she is not, as a woman, and she can’t stand having her around.
So at Sarah’s word, Hagar, even in her delicate condition, is thrown out of the tent. She’s only a slave, a piece of property, after all — covenant or no covenant, Sarah won’t have her around. For his part, Abraham probably recognizes that it will be a lot smarter to side with his wife than with a slave-woman, and does nothing to protect or help Hagar.
Fortunately for Hagar, an angel intervenes, promises that God will take care of her and her child, and Hagar goes back. Somehow the two women manage to figure out, if not how to like each other, at least how to live together with some measure of tolerance. And pretty soon, Hagar bears a son, Ishmael, and the aging couple, Abraham and Sarah, get to enjoy what they never expected, the pitter-patter of little feet around their tent, even if Sarah is not the real mother.
The second problem with this whole plan comes from God. God says to Abraham, “This Hagar arrangement is all very well, and little Ishmael is really cute, but my promise was that you and Sarah will have a child.” To make a long story short, as unlikely as God’s plan is, Sarah, even older now than when the promise was first given, also conceives, to everyone’s astonishment. Another little boy is born, and he is named Isaac — Laughter — in recognition of the joke God has played on them all.
And pretty soon, we are back to problem number one, Sarah. One day, she sees the two half-brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, fooling around together in the sandbox, and suddenly realizes where all this could lead. Once again, her resentment rises. What if Hagar’s son, being older, gets the family business instead of her son? What if Isaac, her son, has to divide what is properly his, with this kid who is no more than the son of a slave?
In the passage we read, her contempt is so deep she can’t even call them by name: they are “the slave women,” and “her son”. And deep down, maybe Sarah wonders, What if Abraham has come to love Hagar? And she suddenly gets it, why love triangles never work.
Whatever she thinks or imagines, Sarah will put up with it no longer. Hagar is thrown out of the tent, with young Ishmael, this time for good, and again, with Abraham giving the nod to this treatment. The slave-woman and her son are given bread and a skin of water, just enough so that they will be out of sight of the family tent by the time their nourishment runs out, before they will succumb to the elements, and die in the wilderness.
But that’s not how the story ends. God hears the cries of Hagar, and answers that another nation will be formed who will call Ishmael their father.
As she dries her tears, she sees a well that gives water for their journey, and the mother and son live. After a few final details, their names drop out of our story, but, spared through the mercy of God, and sent on their way with the blessing and provision of God, they will become the ancestors of another nation.
It’s such an interesting situation. It is the promise — the covenant — that drives this story forward. It’s a theme that runs through the entire Bible. God makes sure that it works out according to plan in spite of old age, a woman’s barrenness, and human meddling. Isaac is the child of the promise, and through him a chosen nation will be formed.
And Hagar does not count in that story. Hagar is the most powerless person in it. She is a nobody, a slave-woman, a foreigner, who means nothing to those who own her. And when she is no longer needed, no longer deemed useful, she is discarded, cast aside, sent out into the desert with her child to die, because they care nothing for her. She has no part in their promise. But at the same time, in spite of jealousy, and ingratitude, and brutal treatment, God does care for Hagar. God hears her cry, meets her needs, gives to her a promise, that will give her meaning and hope.
What kind of God does that? has a plan, and works to make that plan happen, but has mercy left over for those who aren’t even part of the plan; chooses a people and blesses them with a land but also treasures those who are not chosen. Even when the people around her reject her, even when God’s plan seems to exclude her, it is the God of Israel whose love surrounds the outcast, Hagar, whose grace gives her a future.
The story of the people of Israel and their God, and of their neighbours around them, is long and complicated, but there are lots of examples that tell us that this kind of behaviour is not at all out of character for God.
The commandments express a concern even for those outside of Israel; the prophets remind us to deal justly even with those who do not share our faith; Jesus ministers to Samaritans and Romans includes those who are rejected by Israel’s law, and the light he comes to spread, we’re told from his birth, will be for all the nations.
God chooses some, but loves all the rest as well. God selects some to carry forward the promise, but values the others at the same time. God names some as his own, but still holds a place in the divine heart for those outside the promise. Maybe in the end, the promise is for everyone, and that somehow the covenant excludes no one.
Who is Hagar today? Who are the people rejected by our society, maybe even rejected, or overlooked at least, by the church, who would not claim for even a second any place in God’s promise?
One place we could start is to point out that Hagar’s plight is not unlike what many women face even today. They are the majority of those living in poverty, often with little ones in tow, maybe chosen for awhile, but then discarded for someone younger and prettier. When they have ceased to be useful, ceased to please, they find themselves out on the street. Their options are few, possibilities for a good job almost non-existent, and the demands of the kids are never-ending.
But more generally, Hagar is any one of us whenever our treatment by others tells us that we are nothing, that we have no value, that we are a dispensable commodity. The reason for the distinction can be anything — gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation — people with power or privilege can always find something that they think justifies their rejection of the “other.”
Hagar is anyone who feels like they have been used up and then discarded: people laid off because of downsizing or mergers, too old to be taken on by anyone else or to learn a new skill too young to take their pension; people shut out of relationships, left alone when someone else comes along, excluded from a circle of friends because they aren’t as ‘cool’ as the others, rejected maybe even because of a misunderstanding, or for not doing or saying the right thing.
And we have all been there at one time or another. And we feel like we have been tossed aside, forced out into the wilderness to die, comfortably out of sight from those who still have a promise, those who still belong, those who still have a place.
The point is that, to any of us modern Hagars, cast out into our wilderness, God comes to us, even there. God still seems to get a kick out of loving extravagantly, of reaching out to us when we aren’t even looking for a hand anymore, of embracing us when we have given up on looking for a friend, of holding us when we have no one left to turn to, of including us when have known nothing but rejection.
From Hagar’s perspective the story that we hang on to so tightly, of God’s covenant with Israel — to her, it is a story of exclusion and rejection. She has to live with Sarah’s jealousy, Abraham’s failure to stick up for her, God’s wonderful promise to their family, that doesn’t seem to count for slaves or their children, and the rejection of them all when she has outlived her usefulness.
But in the end, in spite of all that, it is about acceptance anyway. As she is about to suffer the worst that this sordid affair can hand to her, Hagar, the discarded one, hears the voice of God, full of compassion and love, tossing out fantastic promises like there’s no tomorrow, loving everyone, and creating nation upon nation for them to live in.
Maybe ultimately, no-one is outside the promise, no-one beyond the reach of the love of God, no-one shut out of the mercy of God. That’s grace — being loved, being accepted, being blessed, when we don’t deserve it, when we’ve given up on it.
The story of Hagar is really the story of the crazy, limitless, reckless, compassion of God, and about how she and we, regardless of our experience of rejection, are loved anyway, and given life.
- “Just as I am, without one plea”. Hymn 682 in the Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997). Words (1836) by English poet and hymnwriter Charlotte Elliott (1789–1871). Music (1849; tune “Woodworth”) by American musician William Batchelder Bradbury (1816–1868); this arrangement by Rachelle Risling. Words and music in the public domain. Arrangement copyright © 2021 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- Performed on the keyboard by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Giving God, we acknowledge that every good gift come from you. You give without refusing or reproaching anyone. May our gifts assist in the proclaiming of your good news, so that people will find in you their refuge, be remade in your likeness and live to give you glory.
Loving God, we give thanks for your goodness and great love towards us: for the joy of home and family; for the companionship of friends and neighbours; for the activities that fill our lives; for the strength that supports us, and the love that surrounds us, both when our joy is complete, and when it is touched by pain or rejection.
We pray for our community, our province our country, and the nations of the world, that they would follow the ways of truth and justice. May they be free from bitterness, hatred and violence, and by the power of your love, live in peace. Wherever hostility arises, help the people to work for a peaceful resolution for the dispute. For every need and hardship endured by so many we seek your assistance, and for every act of kindness and caring offered to help others through the crisis, we give you thanks.
God of love and power, we pray for your church — this congregation and throughout the world, that through the courage and faith of your people, your word may be proclaimed and lived. Help us to be obedient and faithful in our lives of discipleship, caring and generous in reaching out a helping hand to others, and joyful in sharing the good news of life in you.
We pray for all who are in trouble, that those who are sick may be cared for, those who are lonely sustained, those who have been rejected embraced, those who are oppressed strengthened, those who mourn comforted, and that those who are close to death may know your presence.
Hear all these our prayers, O God, for we offer them in the name of Jesus, our saviour and our friend. Amen.
Book of Praise – 763 “To show by touch and word”
- Video with no on-screen words. Start the video playing, then use the words printed just below, which are exactly as in the hymnbook and exactly as sung.
- Words (1975) by Anglo-Dutch clergyman Fred Kaan (1929–2009). Music (1974; tune “Lodwick”) by Canadian composer Ron Klusmeier (1946–). Words copyright © 1975 Hope Publishing Co.; music copyright © 1974 Ron Klusmeier.
- Video recorded October 23, 2011 by Strathroy United Church, Strathroy, Ontario.
To show by touch and word
devotion to the earth,
to hold in high regard
all life that comes to birth,
we need, O God, the will to find
the good you have of old in mind.
Renew our minds to choose
the things that matter most,
our hearts to long for truth,
till pride of self is lost.
for every challenge that we face
we need your guidance and your grace.
Let love from day to day
by yardstick, rule and norm,
and let our lives portray
your Word in human form.
Now come with us, that we may have
your wits about us where we live.
Words copyright © 1975 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go out into the world in peace,
and whatever you do, in word and in action,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,
giving thanks to God through him.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-07-17 12:30 – First Version.