Summary: This sermon is to bestow God’s blessing on all the children, and to offer God’s grace to those who have felt outcast or abandoned..
I. Let me tell you the story of "Willow".(1) Every day as the Johnson kids played in their yard they would notice that they were being watched from the tree-line. The Johnson’s lived on a nice estate just this side of Greenville. It was a time when the days seemed "care free" and they enjoyed frolicing on the lawn, followed by refreshing homade limonade. As they played. they knew they were being watched. It was happening almost every day, and by now they knew it was an eight year old boy, son of one of the hands, a boy who was oddly called "Willow".
Willow, was a boy who lived off down the hollow with his mother and step-father and his infant step brother. His father, had died shortly after his mother had given birth, or so he had been told. His mother apparently had re-married, and now had a new-born son with this new father. His mother was a "back woodsy" servant woman, his step-father was a big burly black man named Cleotus. Things were already bad, before the baby came, but since then it turned simply upside down. Willow was of fair complexion for a black boy, and many would think him almost white. It was clear he wasn’t his step-father’s boy. And from the very beginning his step-father didn’t seem to want him around.
Every morning "Willow" would leave the house early to stay out of Cleotus’ way. Even his mother didn’t seem to want him around, lest it would set Cleotus off into a frenzy of screaming. If he didn’t leave, his "paw" was sure to begin yelling at him, and would finally say something like "Get your little behind out of this house before I get me one of those weeping willow switches and brand your "name" right into ya." It was surely the roots of a name that had stuck to him, like molasses on bark. And so he was simply called "Willow" for as long as he could remember.
So off Willow would go, spending most of the day looking out over at the Johnson’s, just wishing that something like this could be his. While he ate a few bugs, the Johnson’s had a picnic on the lawn. While his stomach ached, the Johnson’s grew strong. While his heart yearned for someone to care for him, the Johnson’s never lacked anything. He couldn’t go home because his step-father would sure as "beat him as look at him". Meanwhile his brother - his infant brother - was safely at home being nourished and cared for. In fact one day he even paused by the windowsill as he overheard his paw saying to his little brother, "Now, now, sweet child, you will be the one to carry on our name". No doubt, Willow would scurry back beneath the fronds and gaze across the field at the Johnson house, only dreaming of better days.
II. Perhaps with this story of "WIllow" on our minds we can go back to Genesis, to the ancient Hebrew story of the off-spring of Abraham. Go back to a story that is not too distant from Willow’s. Go back to a story that may not be too distant, even from some of our own. A story about his children, an older son "Ishmael", born to Abraham from a slave woman named "Hagar", and his now infant son Isaac, born as promised by God to Abraham and his wife Sarah. Perhaps things had been fine for a while, Sarah sharing Abraham’s love with a step son, and with her own slave woman, but now that her son had been weaned, it was time for change.
"Cast out this slave woman, and her son", Sarah begged of Abraham. He doesn’t deserve any of the inheritance. Is Sarah really expressing some concern about her own sons future? Expressing some over protective motherly love? Or is Sarah really here expressing a view that she doesn’t like them because of their status? She doesn’t even refer to him by name in this story, but simply, and crudely as "the son of a slave woman". For one son she wants the inheritance, the blessing, for the other son she simply rejects him into the wilderness, and to its fate.
It was distressing to Abraham, but even God is seen as urging him to listen to his wife, and "not be distressed". It appears (vs 14) that God sides with Sarah. But I wonder if "God only used the actions of Sarah" (2) , "letting her do her own thing", to fulfill and bring about his own purpose in the end. You see, Sarah thought this story was about "blessing the children". Specifically, her child, and her child alone. Sarah seems to think this story is about selfishly offering the inheritance to those who were her offspring; to those who looked like her and acted like her. It was "The fulfillment of the divine promise" and "...in Isaac’s birth it occasioned both problems and possibilities. The immediate problem of course had to do with Abraham’s two sons". (2). Of which Sarah determined, one, had to go.