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Why Justice?

I would like to share a family story that will go down as one of our treasured family memories.  This is really Madelyn (13) and Jackson’s (10) story.  It was Memorial Day weekend and Madelyn and Jackson were on a bike ride.  They had been gone a little longer than expected, when I received a text from Madelyn saying, “We found a baby bird. It needs our help. We are on the bridge. Come quick.”  Thinking I would be placing a baby bird back in it’s nest, I grabbed some gardening gloves and walked up to the bridge that goes over small creek near our home.  Jackson was walking around looking for the bird’s nest and Madelyn was standing guard.  When I arrived, they had taken a huge leaf and slid it under the baby bird.  The bird had only one, fragile, fuzzy feather. It had just come into the world. It was moving, but I was not hopeful.  When we could not find the nest, Madelyn was vigilant that we were going to take it home and save it.  So, I carefully lifted the large leaf and held the baby bird in my hand, and slowly walked home, it would move ever so clumsily in my hands.  We got home, Madelyn got on YouTube and researched how to take care of baby birds and Jackson went digging in the dirt for worms.  We made nest out of a granola bar box, put it under a lamp and tried to feed it worm… 

Madelyn and Jackson were adamant that we were going to save this bird.  So, I reluctantly contacted our wonderful veterinarian and asked for ideas.  She mentioned that there were wild life refuge places and I could try find one who saved birds.  I got on the internet and found one such place, I contacted them and they said they could not help, but to call Liz.  So, I called Liz, explained the situation and she said, sure, bring the bird to her and she would take care of. 

So as the sun was setting on Memorial Day, we all piled in the car and drove to Westfield, followed a gravel road to a  home that was surrounded by trees and animal crates.  We came to the door and Jackson said, look up there, and the top of the house a huge barn owl was looking down at us. We knocked on the door, and a little, British woman answered the door.  We said, hello, did you know that you have an owl on your roof.  She said, “oh yes, that’s Moriarty.  He’s such a bad bird. He knows he’s only allowed at the back of the house. I will have to kill half of rat, to entice to come to the back, do come in….”  ”  We came in and she said, “Let’s see what we have here.”

We gave her the granola bar box and she took the little bird out and placed him under a light.  “Hello little one” she said.  She got a small plastic container, like the kind that you get a pet store, and placed him the container and slid him into an incubator.  She explained, “You have rescued a starling.  Starlings are considered aliens in the United States and are not protected.  Not like Cardinals and Blue Jays or even Robins.  She said, even they have been in Indiana for 100’s of years they are considered of no value.  She took out a clip board and said, “Now who saved this little bird?”   Jackson and Madelyn gave her their names.  She explained that she was currently taking care of five starlings and there would be no way of knowing which one was there’s because they all looking the same.  Therefore she may not be able to tell them how the little bird faired.

We thanked her for taking care of him and left the house. Moriarty still looming down on us as a silver moon rose above him.

Sometimes, often, the world and all its injustice seems too much to bear.  The only thing you can do is try to protect and save the little birds you find on your path.- And know that God holds even the smallest of us all.  We return to the story of Abraham and Sarah today.

Abraham and Sarah, promised parents of God’s chosen nation, are rich and established and powerful. They have flocks of sheep and goats; they have tents and slaves.  What Abraham and Sarah do not have is a son and that’s a problem if they’re going to be the parents of a great nation. So, consistent with custom, Sarah suggests that her favorite slave, Hagar, an Egyptian, might become the mother of Abraham’s son.

That’s what happens. His name is Ishmael. But then something truly unexpected occurs. Sarah gives birth to a son and names him Isaac.

One day Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing together and a terrible thought occurs to her. Why Ishmael is actually Abraham’s oldest son. He has status. By his birth right he has first rights over the family income. 

Sarah knows exactly how to deal with the situation. She distances herself from her favorite slave, no longer even uses her name; dehumanizes, demonizes, and then concludes that there is no room for Hagar and Ishmael and they have to go. Abraham is reluctant but ultimately agrees. In a pathetic gesture gives Hagar a little bread and water and throws her out into the desert with her infant son. In the wilderness the inevitable happens. The bread and the water run out. Human beings can’t survive without water, particularly babies, and so Ishmael starts to die of dehydration. Hagar will die too, but Ishmael is going to die first, in her arms.

Old Testament scholar Phyllis Tribble describes the scene powerfully, from the perspective of the woman: “She departed and wandered into the wilderness: she found a place for the child to die: she kept a vigil: and she uttered the phrase, ‘the death of the child.’ Now, as she sits at a distance from death, she lifts her own voice and she weeps. (Texts of Terror, p.24)

As the crisis approaches, Hagar cannot bear it. And cries the words no mother wants to lament, “Let me not see the death of the child”? Hagar carefully lays the infant under a bush and walks a hundred feet away and sits down and weeps and waits. The baby cries. God hears the cries of the infant.                                   

And suddenly an angel appears, and says ‘Do not be afraid—fear not. “God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand for I will make a great nation of him. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

Hagar and Ishmael, are sparrows –Hagar is not Abraham’s concubine, She is not his mistress. She is not his wife. She is a slave. Ishmael is born of a slave.  They are in a different class.  They are from a different race.  They are expendable.  Hagar and her baby are expelled out in the heat to die.  She thought she was going to die.  Now, here’s my question. This story does not make Sarah or Abraham or even God look so good in the Bible.   -So why is it in there? Preacher Sam Wells observes that Hagar is the first person in scripture to be visited by an angel and the only person in scripture to give God a name – Elroi, the Seeing God. She’s the only woman to receive God’s promise of descendants. She is the first woman to weep over a dying child. This was a person who was cast out and, in her moment of deepest agony, wondered why her God, her God, had forsaken her. This was a person who was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. Her story, the story of exodus and exile and rejection by woman and man and even God, is also the  story of Jesus. For Christians, the story is in the Bible to make sure we remember that Jesus looks more like Hagar than he does like Abraham.

For Christians, the story of Hagar means that there can be no freedom, no good news, no salvation, no gospel, and no justice that’s won by treading down and expelling and abusing and exploiting Hagar. The point is that Jesus is to be found among those who have may well have contributed to their own downfall, but are, in all likelihood, more sinned against than sinning, and either way are to be found today wandering, weeping, scorned and rejected. It’s a complicated story, with intense feelings, laced with cruelty, betrayal, terror and despair. It’s complicated, but in the light of the gospel it’s simple. You see Jesus is more like Hagar than he is like Abraham.  If we want to find Jesus, we go looking for Hagar. If you want to serve Jesus, you serve Hagar. In these same instructions in the 10th chapter of Matthew – Jesus goes on to say, whoever give even a cup of water to the one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I tell you, none of these will lose a reward.

Our New Testament reading this morning is portion of a speech that Jesus is giving to his disciples in which he is instructing  them on what it means to be a disciple.  He has just warned them in verse 10 saying,  I am sending you into a pack of wolves and to be aware that they will  hand you over and flog you, and try to shut you down….he says in verse 28, don’t fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…re not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground.  Meaning that none of the disciples will be forsaken.  No one is going to be expendable, everyone is worthy of saving.

There have always been, so many “Hagars” in this world. So many people seen as expendable. So many people in need of justice.  It can easily be overwhelming. It can feel hopeless.  Not every little bird can be saved off the hot side walk. Maybe we should have left it there, and not tried so hard to save it.  – I think not. We cannot bring water to every mother and child who is thirsty—maybe should just leaven them there, and not try so hard to save them – I think not. Not if we are disciples of Jesus Christ.  We individually cannot bring water to every woman and child in the world.  But we can bring water to the ones that God puts in front of us. The ones that break our hearts. The ones that keep us up at night.

When I held that tiny bird in my hand, I was terrified that I was going to drop it on the hot sidewalk. I walked so slowly and intentionally home, by the time I got home, sweat was dripping down my back and my muscles were sore, from trying to be so careful.  It’s with that same tender, careful holding that I believe God holds each of us.  What if we held the world, our family, our neighbors, our enemies with that same holy holding?  What if we believed that all of us are held with that same reverence?

Believe it to be true – for even the hairs of your head are counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.  In the kingdom of God, even the sparrows have a resting place.

I sing because I’m happy (happy)
I sing because I’m free (free free free)
For His eye, his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know, I know He watches over me.


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