Faith of our Mothers

Listen to the audio of this sermon:

Genesis 16

How many of you woke up this morning and thought, I am going to make a mess of my life today? 

No one?


Thank you for confirming my optimism.

I don’t believe anyone wakes up in the morning planning to do bad things. I don’t think anyone starts their day expecting to harm themselves or someone else.

No one gets up and says, i am going to have a run in with the law today.

No one wakes up and says, i can’t wait to shoplift something from the free store.

No one drinks their coffee in the morning thinking, I can’t wait to cut someone off in traffic today.

We don’t start our day planning to make bad decisions.

And yet we see people around us making bad choices and we do the same.

Where does that come from? Why do we make bad choices?

Some of it is that we are fallible human beings. We make mistakes. We are all sinners in need of grace. That is our human condition and there isn’t much we can do about that. I wish I could stand before you and offer three easy steps toward making flawless decisions, but that doesn’t exist.

But at the same time, we can have some control of what grounds our decisions and what informs our choices.

Our decision making can be influenced by coming from a place of faith or a place of fear, from being rooted in our trust and reliance in God or being made from our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. We can remember the ways God has been with us in our past, how we have seen God’s promises unfold for us here at the Church for All People, and where God is inviting us in the future, instead of being led by our guilt of the past or fear of the future.

 In today’s scripture we hear this contrast of faith and fear.

 If we were to construct a hall of fame of people of faith, the family of Abraham would be at the top of the list. They left their homeland in Mesopotamia and moved to Canaan and created the civilizations we have today. But we also see in this scripture that they weren’t perfect either.

Our scripture begins with the simple words, “Now Sarai.”

 Sarai is the wife of Abram, whose names are later changed to Sarah and Abraham.

 God called Sarah and Abraham to be the founding family of building a new covenant and relationship with all of humanity. They left their homeland and followed God. They became wealthy and powerful. In Genesis, Chapter 12, God says that through Abraham and Sarah all nations will be blessed. In Chapter 15, God took Abraham out to the night sky, pointed to the stars, and said your descendants will be more numerous than these.

But a decade has passed since that time, and there is still no child.

For Abraham not having a son would have been a big deal. There would be no heir to inherit all that God blesses him with.

But for Sarah, for a woman in an ancient culture to not have a child, is to be seen as a complete failure.

In her culture, a woman’s value was placed in her ability to have a child and particularly a son. To not have a child is to fail. While that was thousands of years ago, our society still falls short in valuing women. Women still make about 70 cents on the dollar of what men make. Women are expected to sacrifice in ways that men aren’t and are under-appreciated. So I want to clearly say, on behalf of our church, that we value women as created in the image of God. Women have sacred value and divine worth, whether they have a house full of kids or no kids at all, whether they have a long resume or no resume. Women are beautifully and wonderfully made.

 Unfortunately, this is not the message that Sarah would’ve heard.

Without a child there will be no great nation; without a child, no great name; without a child the blessings will be barren. Everything depends on Sarah. Her bareness threatens to negate the future, the continuation of genealogy, the very promises of God.

Sarah herself sees this as a judgment from God, that God has prevented her from having a child.

And in what Sarah has interpreted as God’s absence, she feared being a failure, pitied and ridiculed, and takes matters in to her own hands.

Sarah’s decision making has gone from a place of faith in God’s promises to a place of fear. Who is Sarah, if she doesn’t have a child?

From her fear, Sarah comes up with a plan to have a surrogate child. Abraham can marry Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant, he can have a child with Hagar and they can raise the child as their own.

Abraham goes along with this plan. He doesn’t stop and say God has given them a different plan, he doesn’t remain grounded in his faith, but also comes from a place of fear and takes Hagar as his wife and gets her pregnant.

But as soon as that happens, Sarah is not happy.

The dynamic of the relationship between Sarah and Hagar has changed. Suddenly, the young servants is able to provide and offer something that the older woman is not. Sarah feels judged, slighted, and wronged that Hagar has conceived and she hasn’t.

Hagar is treated harshly and runs away because she too is afraid.

The results of three people, all operating from a place of fear, are feelings of bitterness, anger, betrayal, and broken relationship.

This is not God’s will.

The angel of the Lord finds the pregnant Hagar hiding in the wilderness, asks her what she is doing, tells her to go back home, and promises her countless descendants. The same promise given to father Abraham is also given to his second wife, mother Hagar.

And once again, God works amongst our flaws.

Since Easter we have heard the stories of flawed people who God used to do amazing things. The companions on the road to Emmaus who didn’t see Christ among them ended up proclaiming “He is Risen”. Thomas who initially doubted went on to help spread the good news of Jesus the Christ. David who got distracted received a renewed heart. Zacchaeus who found himself up a tree, received Christ. And Sarah and Hagar, who operated out of fear, became the mothers of our faith.

God’s promises to Sarah and Hagar came true. sarah_hagar_abraham-450x450

Today over two billion Christians and Jewish people trace their lineage to Isaac and Sarah as the mother of their faith, while nearly two billion Muslims trace their lineage to Ishmael and Hagar.

God’s promises have come true, the descendants of Sarah and Hagar are numerous, but fear of the other continues to plague us. The children of Abraham have not gotten along with each other so well throughout history and until today.

The results of operating from a place of fear continues with us, thousands of years since the days of Sarah and Hagar.

As a people of faith, how do we think differently?

It begins by choosing who we listen to.

 Back in Genesis 16, it says Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah.

 Back in Genesis 3, Adam listened to the voice of Eve.

 Now, I am not saying men should not listen to the voice of their wives. Far from it. Do not hear that.

 If I always listened to Jennifer, my life would be much better.

 I cannot count the times we are about to go somewhere and Jennifer says, don’t you want to take your jacket? I say no, I’ll be fine. I don’t listen. And because I don’t listen, I end up miserable and cold.

 I would do much better if I listened to my wife.

 But the question is do we listen to the fears of the people among us, or to the promises of God?

 Aaron listened to the fears of people wanting a god to worship and he made a golden calf.

 Moses listened to the voices of people afraid to enter the Promised Land and they ended up wandering in the desert for another 40 years.

 Pontius Pilate listened to a fearful crowd shouting “crucify him” and Jesus was executed.

 Today, we are not all that different.

 We listen to the voices of news reports that propagate fear in order to keep us watching. “Breaking News” used to mean that something really significant happened, today everything is breaking.

 So it takes intention to live differently, as people of faith.

 Not to listen to the voices that tell us to fear the other, that proclaim scarcity, or that tell us the sky is falling, but to listen to the voice of the one who promises peace, who always provides, and who loves us like a perfect mother.

 Imagine how your mother loved you, when she held you in her arms.

 Our mothers were not perfect people. They loved us the best that they knew how, from their own wonderful and broken lives.

Silhouette of Happy Mother Playing Outside with Baby

 But when a mother holds a baby in her arms, she loves that child just for what it is and who it is. There is an unconditional love there. The child has done nothing to earn or deserve love. But it is how Hagar felt about Ishmael, it is how Sarah felt about Isaac, it is how your mother felt about you, it is how God feels about you.

 And not only did your mother love you for who you are, she had dreams about who you might become. The kind of person you would grow in to. Not only what you might do, but who you might be. A person of love and kindness, peace and patience, gentleness and kindness. You mother loved you, but she wasn’t finished with you yet.

 This hope our mothers had for us is the faith of our mothers.

 God isn’t finished with you yet.

 Sarah and Hagar had moments in their lives where they operated out of fear instead of faith and brokenness resulted from that.

 God worked through them anyways and they are the mothers of our faith.

 We have had moments in our lives where we have operated out of fear instead of faith, and we can all look back at decisions in our lives we wish we would’ve made differently. We all have regrets from times when we made decisions out of fear.

 It doesn’t mean we are bad people, it means we are human.

 But let us aspire to be the best of what our mothers dreamt for us, the best of what God dreams for us.

 Living in to that dream starts with listening to the still, small voice of the one who created us. Spending time in prayer, spending time in scripture, turning off the noise of fear that always surrounds us, and trusting in the voice of the one who calls us by name and loves us unconditionally.

 Listen to the voice of the one who made you, redeemed you, sustains you, and wants the best for you.



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