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Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:
“Abraham, Sarah & Hagar – Family Trees Have Deep Roots and Broad Branches”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Through the Written Word,
And the spoken word,
May we know Your Living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A month ago, Jennifer and Brianna and I were on a trip to Florida and Virginia, bunking with some of Jennifer’s extended family – her mom and a brother and his wife and a sister and her husband and an aunt and uncle, and others – our trip’s mission, our stated purpose, besides having a giant family reunion, included spreading some of Jennifer’s father’s ashes at various cemetery sites, burial spots, of some of his ancestors, dating to before the Civil War.
Just before we left on this trip my own mother passed away, nearly 4 years after my dad had died.
All of this got me to thinking about my family tree – so I joined a free version of Ancestry.com and was immediately hooked by the fascination of discovering family background (I have followed my mom’s family back to Germany and Poland, back to the late 1600s so far).
One of the things I discovered is how deep our Family Trees go, but also how wide across and intertangled our Branches become when we look at the different side of each family, and the in-laws (and outlaws) we find. (Jennifer’s Mom and my Dad both have Irish roots with the last name of Moore – does that make us likely “kissin’ cousins”?) (And Jennifer’s Dad’s family line includes Pocahontas! – so, there’s that!)
In our current Sermon Series we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – favorite Bible lessons, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about Father Abraham, and his wife Sarah, and her servant woman Hagar, and their sons Isaac and Ishmael.
On Father’s Day we started this series, reading from Genesis 12 where God calls Abram to become, in his senior years (he was 75 years old), the Founding Father of a nation, a race, and a faith.
Your bulletins say that we are reading Genesis 15-21 today – so hold on to your seats …. —-
Back in Genesis 12 God had promised a man from the eastern country of Ur that he would receive a whole nation worth of land, and the offspring to fill it, and that one of those offspring would be the salvation for humankind.
But by chapter 15 a number of years have passed, and while Abram and Sarai, whose names change to Abraham and Sarah, now live in this Promised Land, they still have no children. They were old 3 chapters ago – they are now starting to lose confidence in God’s promise about children.
Well, Abraham complains to God – “I’m getting old, God, and Sarah – is it even possible at her age?!”
So God takes Abe out to the desert and tells him to look up into the clear, starry sky, “How many stars do you see up there Abe? Can you count them?”
“No, Lord! There are far too many to count.”
“Your children will outnumber those stars, Abe. Do you trust me?”
“Yes, Lord, I trust You. I believe You.”
But after a little while longer, and still no children, Sarah finally decides to follow the custom of the people whose land they were living in, for Abe to take her servant woman Hagar, to start a family with her, and maybe they could adopt her son and count him as their own. … …
So … Hagar becomes pregnant, and Abe is both proud of himself and afraid that maybe this wasn’t the right way to go. Hagar starts getting a little “showy” – “look at me – I’m more important than the lady who I work for – I’m carrying her husband’s baby – God loves me more than He loves Sarah!”
… … Well, Sarah had had all she could take! “Look what you did to me Abraham! – You gave your seed to Hagar, my slave girl, instead of to me, your wife!”
Abraham, being the head of his household, tells Sarah, “So, do whatever you want to with Hagar – she’s YOUR slave girl!”
Well, Sarah treats Hagar so miserably that now Hagar could stand it no longer and she takes off for the hot desert, she runs away, with no one to look after her.
God finds Hagar out in the desert, and even though she is not His plan for Abraham’s Family Tree, He consoles her, comforts her, promises her that He, God, would take care of her and her son, and that she would name him Ishmael (God hears).
So, Hagar returns to Abraham and Sarah, and when Abraham is 86 years old he becomes the father of Ishmael – but Ishmael was not the one God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12 or Genesis 15. … …
One day Abe is sitting at the opening of his tent while Sarah sits inside enjoying the A/C. It’s hot and dry, so Abe is surprised when he looks up and sees three men walking toward him.
He runs out to them, gives them a shady place under a tree, and then runs back to Sarah to get her to bake some bread, BBQ some steaks, get the jello salad started, and pour the Sweet Tea….
When the picnic is prepared and Abe brings the spread out to them, they ask where Sarah is – “Oh, she’s in the tent, getting the cherry pies ready” (or whatever).
The leader of the three men then said, “Nine months from now Sarah will give birth to a son.”
But, when Sarah hears this ridiculous prophecy, she bursts out in laughter!
“Why are you laughing, Sarah?” “I didn’t laugh!”
“But you did! Do you think this is impossible for God?! What I promise will happen!”
… … and Abraham realizes these are not just ordinary men – they spoke the Word of God Himself! Angels!
… … Then there’s like a 2-chapter interlude story about Abe’s nephew Lot and his life in and with Sodom and Gomorrah (this is where Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt – we’re not going into that story today).
The next chapter in Abraham’s life is when his son Isaac (Laughter – reminder of Sarah’s laughter, and of the joy and happiness that this son means to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, and as the beginning of the promise to Abraham about how many offspring he would have) is born.
One day as Isaac grows into a toddler his big half-brother Ishmael is playing with him, but there’s some cruel teasing involved. Sarah catches the boys, and she burns with anger about Hagar’s son picking on her own son – so she tells Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael needed to leave.
Father Abraham was saddened by this, but God reassured him that He would look after Ishmael, and that he should do as Sarah wanted.
So Hagar does leave this time, and Genesis 21 tells the stories about how God takes care Hagar and Ishmael even as they go their own way.
That is not the end of the stories of Ishmael – he grows up and becomes the father of his own people – the people of Moab are his offspring, and the people of Edom, enemies of the Jews for generations; 600 years after Christ this Family Tree branched out into the Muslim people. Deeply rooted with the Jews and us Christians – and so very far spread abroad.
Isaac was the chosen son of Abraham, the one chosen to bear a son named Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel – does that sound familiar?) – and when we look at Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels where they give us the Family Tree of Jesus we discover the deep, deep roots of Jesus.
These stories are in our Scriptures so that we can see how God had a plan from the very Beginning of Genesis, fulfilled in Jesus, and offered to you for your salvation, for your invitation into this Family Tree, by faith we are saved by God’s grace.
Do you get the power of these stories? They tell us that it’s not really about simply being a church-goer, even a church leader. It is really about being a real member of the Spiritual Family Tree, which means knowing God our Father, trusting Him even when it seems impossible, and as His children, His sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ of the unshakeable Kingdom of God living like we believe all that we say we believe.
How might we live into those Roots of faith today? How might we branch out with God’s perfect redeeming love to the world around us this afternoon? … …
Thank You, YHWH God, for the invitation into Your Family Tree, as undeserving as I am, Your love calls me as Your child. Lord, help me, help us all, to branch out with Your true love, and bear the fruit of Your Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.