Summary: The "family values" exampled by God’s "dysfunctional family" when Abraham cast out Hagar & Ishmael.
Sermon: God’s Dysfunctional Family
Text: Gal 4:21-31
Occasion: Lent IV
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, Mar 26, 2006
Audio link: http://providencerec.com/Sound%20Files/Srmn060326WoolseyGal4;21-31LentIVGodsDysfunctionalFamily.mp3
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Laetare; it means, Rejoice.
The name comes from the first word of an introit that used on this day in other liturgical traditions:
"Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all ye that love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord."
Now, this may seem a strange name for a day in Lent. It’s barely half over; four weeks have passed, three remain. The fasting routine gets old, fast. No one really knows how the introit with this theme came to be associated with this day, but there are some guesses. One is that when the church was young and Lent was shorter, this Sunday was not the middle of Lent, but the day before it started. It was sort of like a Mardi Gras, but on a Sunday. Later on, as the church developed the liturgical year, Lent was extended, but this day kept it’s joyful flavor. Whatever the reason, it is a good reminder to us that, as Fred Lindemann says in his book, "The Sermon and the Propers",
"Our Lenten observance is not to be a dull and heavy burden, but a willing offering. This will be the secret of influence, for a dull and joyless Church wins few victories. It is the joy of faith that conquers the world." (Vol II, p79)
Our Epistle Scripture today commands us to this same purpose:
"Rejoice , O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband" (Gal 4:27)
However, before we can understand this passage we have to comprehend another theme emphasized in the reading: God’s dysfunctional family.
II. God’s Dysfunctional Family
The airwaves and newprint these days are filled with sad stories of wife and child abuse and abandoment. My own wife was a victim of paternal neglect as her father was progressively consumed by alcohol. He was anything but a model father. We rightly abhor such behaviour and demand that those who do those things be justly punished. Yet in today’s Epistle passage we see not only an old man divorcing a troublesome wife and abandoning her and her son in the desert to die, but also God commending that very action! What kind of "family values" is this? I thought that learning Scripture was supposed to enoble us; yet to emulate this would be to debase ourselves. I could understand this if it was just a relating of a story of the shortcoming of a man, even a great man. When we see our heroes in "3D", as it were, we are drawn closer to them, and can even sympathize with their weakness. But God specifically commends this action with the command:
"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." (v30)
Maybe Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins are right; maybe the Bible is not only full of errors, but also immoral. How are we to understand this story? To do this, we need some context, and we need to know the goal of Scripture.
III. The Galatian’s Fundamental Error
A common mistake we make when we come to Scripture is to assume it is primarily a book of principles for a "happy life"; a "manufacturer’s handbook", if you will. It is not. In fact, even today’s passage tells us this. Paul says:
"... he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit" (v29)
This is an ominous oracle that follows all of us who desire to follow after Christ. God’s promise to us here is not pleasure, but persecution; not happiness, but hardship. Ah, but at least we do desire to follow after Christ, right? Listen to Paul "commending" those who read God’s moral commands and seek to follow them, not just outwardly, but at significant cost to themselves:
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?" (v3:1)
In I Corinthians, where we have a man living in fornicatious relationship with his step mother, a church who tacitly approves, divisions, wild excesses, etc, Paul starts out that letter with praise: