Summary: The experience of Abraham and Ishmael and Christ’s words tell us that we are to trust God, even to death.
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Preached at Saint John the Evangelist, Cold Lake, Holy Eucharist 23 June 2002
O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
I recently read the story of a Priest who arrived in his new Parish and, on the first Sunday preached a wonderful sermon. On the second Sunday, he again preached a wonderful sermon, but it was the same as the week before. On the third Sunday, there was another repeat of the same sermon. One kind person quietly said to the Priest after the service, ‘It was a good sermon, but that’s the third time you’ve preached it.’ ‘I know,’ replied the new minister, ‘When I see some evidence that you actually heard it, I’ll change it!’
Now as this is likely our last Sunday for some time, there should be little fear that you’ll hear this homily repeated even once.
First, my thanks to everyone in the Parish for making us feel so at home so quickly. It is hard to believe that it was only 18 months ago that we made the move from the base chapel here – it feels like we have been worshiping at St John’s for much longer. This is due in the most part to how we were welcomed as members of the family.
It has been an eventful year for my family and I. I came to St John’s with some feelings of vocation, and a strengthening call to serve God in a new way. I am leaving with my vocation confirmed personally and by the greater church in their acceptance of me as a postulant for the priesthood. For most of this discernment, I can thank the members of this Parish for their support, prayers and aid in clarifying God’s will. This is not a small step to contemplate.
In many ways I will not be leaving this Parish. I will remain under the authority of Bishop Victoria, and it is our eventual plan to return to the Diocese, somewhere. If the continued discernment and God’s will is that I should be ordained it will likely be under the sponsorship of this Parish – so in many ways we will only be visitors in Winnipeg for the next year.
The way ahead for us is filled with much uncertainty. There are so many challenges and unknowns ahead that it is near impossible to even list them.
The 17th century bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales, was a good example of proceeding out into the unknown. While his whole family wanted him to enter a secular career, he persevered and became a Priest. My Lives of the Saints records that “In the summer of 1595, going up a mountain to restore a shrine to Our Lady he was attacked by a hostile crowd, who insulted and beat him…His patient perseverance under every form of persecution and hardship resulted in numerous conversions and many returning to the church. His words are very appropriate today,
“Do not look forward to tomorrow, or to what tomorrow will bring.
The same God who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow, and every day.
Either God will shield you from all harm, or God will grant you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then, and put away all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
The uncertain future for my family and I has resulted in us spending a lot of time contemplating what St Francis de Sales has said – trusting God in spite of what is going on around us. For me, the future appears filled with uncertainty and yet, I have come to realize, that even if I knew exactly where were going to be living in 2 years time, how we would get there and how we would pay for it all – the future would still be filled with uncertainty.
Our lives in Christ are characterized by this uncertainty, for we never know the future. Regardless of our extraordinary efforts to measure the present and predict the future we still only know a little more than the ancients. As ‘advanced’ as we are, it is still very much hit and miss to even predict the weather tomorrow, let alone our health and our families’ well-being next week.
So even in our hour of confusion and pain we can trust in a God who will be with us, and will allow us to rise again.
Abraham lived with this same uncertainty and was tested in many ways. We all know the near-sacrifice of Isaac, which comes in the next chapter of Genesis. Today we hear about the casting out of Hagar and her son Ishmael. Now the account tells us that Abraham did not want to fulfill Sarah’s request to drive out Hagar and her son, ‘Abraham was vexed at this on his son Ishmael’s account’. Imagine Abraham, one who longed for a son and never had one – who then had a son through his wife’s servant. The timing makes Ishmael out to be a teenager when Isaac was born which means Abraham would have seen the boy grow into a young man. Casting him out into the desert, and likely to death, would not have been an easy thing for him to do. Until I had a daughter, I did not understand how deep a parent’s love really goes – and I can imagine Abraham’s anguish at Sarah’s request.