So we’re catching up to Abraham here at the very highest point of his life.
After camping for more than twenty years in the mountains, waiting for God to sort out the situation with Sodom and Gomorrah, now he has moved down to the plains, where he has finally begun the actual task of claiming the land for God.
And he has already made a lot of progress. Last week we saw how King Abimelek told Abraham, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” So even though Abraham does not yet actually own any property for himself, he has the freedom to travel and use any resource in the land.
But even better than that, for Abraham, is the fact that his wife Sarah has finally produced the son, the heir, that Abraham has been looking forward to for all these years. Abraham is at the top of the world!
And so:  The child — Isaac — grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.
Now, in that culture, sons were usually weaned — that means: they stopped nursing — somewhere between 3 and 5 years old. And this was an occasion for a great feast! Because, in those days, many babies died in infancy. So, for a kid to live long enough to stop nursing was a big deal. A feast like this was a way of celebrating the fact that the child has survived the period of greatest danger, and has a much greater chance now of actually growing to adulthood.
In other words: Abraham’s feast is a way of celebrating the fact that the future of his household is finally secure.
— or is it?
 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking,  and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
Now: what on earth was Ishmael doing to Isaac that made Sarah so angry? The verse says he was “mocking” — but what does that mean?
Well, the sentence itself is vague. And so — over the centuries — there has been a lot of speculation, everything from “he was just teasing the toddler and Sarah over-reacted” to “he was sexually molesting the child”. In the New Testament, the great Jewish scholar named Paul says that Ishmael “persecuted” Isaac, but even he does not go into detail.
So what happened here? How can Paul say that Ishmael persecuted Isaac when the original verse here is so vague?
Well, this is how: Paul noticed that Moses used a very significant word in this sentence, a word that has been repeated several times over the last few chapters. We first saw it in Chapter 17, when Abraham “laughed” — mocked — at the idea that Sarah would have a son. And God said, “Yeah, that’s fine, go ahead and laugh, but later on make sure to name your son Laughter.” Isaac.
Then we saw this word again in Chapter 18, when Sarah also laughed — mocked — the idea that she would have a son.
Then we saw it again in Chapter 19, when Lot tried to persuade his sons-in-law to flee from judgement, but they thought he was…laughing. Mocking. Joking around.
And then again in this chapter, just a few verses before this, when Isaac was born, Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter. And everyone who hears about this will laugh with me!” — but the idea contained in that last part is that, while Sarah is laughing with disbelieving joy over this child, all her friends are laughing with just plain disbelief. Kind of like: “No way! Really? This I’ve got to see with my own eyes before I believe it!”
In other words, over the last few chapters, Moses has been setting us up to connect the word “Laughter” with disbelief, unbelief. Moses has been telling his readers that it is not actually a good thing to laugh at the promises of God. If he promises you a baby, don’t laugh! Believe. If he promises you that judgement is coming on your city, don’t laugh! Believe.
So when Moses tells us that Ishmael is “mocking” — laughing — at Isaac, we are supposed to understand that Ishmael is refusing to believe God’s promise that his little brother is the future of the family. It is not actually necessary for us to know the details of what Ishmael did; it is enough for us to know that Ishmael, as the older brother — 16 or 17 years old at this time, a grown man — already despises his little brother.
In other words: what we are seeing here are the seeds of Ishmael’s long-term rebellion against the leadership of his younger brother, who is destined to be the messiah of the family, the saviour of the family.
That is why Sarah responds so strongly. She sees Ishmael mocking Isaac, and she projects a few years into the future, and she sees that Ishmael is going to be a problem, a constant threat to her son Isaac. So she says, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son!” She won’t even use their names.
 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.
And this is classic understatement on Moses’ part, because Abraham is actually really angry at Sarah. Remember, Abraham already almost lost Ishmael once because of Sarah’s jealousy. And Abraham really loves his son Ishmael. So for Abraham this whole situation is a, “What?! This again!? I’m telling you, woman, this topic is closed!”
 But God said to him, “Calm down! Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
God is saying, “Hey, your wife is actually right: if you keep Ishmael around he will become a threat to Isaac, and Isaac is the future of your household, remember? So: listen to whatever Sarah tells you.”
—- and, brief side-note here: this is a stunning reversal, actually. Because: do you remember why God disciplined Adam way back in the Garden? He said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit: cursed is the ground…” And that history has already repeated itself in Abraham’s life when he listened to his wife and slept with his servant-girl.
So Abraham could be excused for thinking that “listening to your wife” is the source of all mankind’s trouble.
But God is telling Abraham, directly, that this is not true. A man should listen to his wife…when she is right.
[insert joke about how a woman is right 100% of the time]
God designed women to be a major source of wisdom for men. Women see dangers and opportunities that men don’t see as clearly. Women also experience revelation from God in a slightly different way than men do. So: husbands, do listen to your wives! — as long as she is not encouraging you to eat fruit that does not belong to you.
So anyway, God is saying, “Sarah is right: you’ve got to send Ishmael away.
“But, don’t worry:  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Reassured, Abraham obeys:  Early the next morning he took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.  Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
And, again, this is just really remarkable. Back in Chapter 16 we noticed that the first time God ever appeared to someone in human form was when he appeared to this pregnant Egyptian slave girl lost in the desert. We discovered then that Abraham’s God is not just the God of kings and patriarchs, but also the God who hears the cries of pregnant Egyptian slave girls. And, if you remember, that is what Ishmael’s name means: it means “The God who hears.”
Well, now, 17 years later, God hears again, and the angel of God speaks again, and restores Hagar to life:
 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
And  God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
So, in the end here, Moses is showing us that God has kept the promises he made to Hagar: back in Chapter 16, the first time Hagar was lost in the desert, the angel of the Lord found her and told her to go back and submit to Sarah and to Abraham’s household, and that — if she did this — Ishmael would produce a great nation.
And the point Moses is making to his readers is that God’s blessing and protection comes to everyone who submits to Abraham’s household.
And so now we are seeing this fulfilled: because Hagar submitted to Abraham’s household, she has been blessed — and so is her son Ishmael. That is why Moses tells us that God was with the boy as he grew up. And that he lived in the desert and became an archer. In other words: Ishmael becomes a wild donkey of a man, a free man who is able to protect himself, just like God promised Hagar when she was pregnant with him.
But this leaves us with a question: is Ishmael still under God’s blessing and protection? Basically: is Ishmael “saved”?
Well: yes, and…no. Yes, Ishmael is still under God’s blessing and protection, but…no, Ishmael is not “saved”, because he has left the only household on earth that God has made a covenant of salvation with.
Just like Cain, who refused to submit to Abel; just like Ham, who refused to submit to Noah; just like Lot, who refused to submit to Abraham: now Ishmael has refused to submit to Isaac.
Just like Cain, who decided he did not need God’s protection, and went away east to build his own civilization; just like Ham, who decided he did not need God’s protection, and went away east to build his own civilization; just like Lot, who decided he did not need God’s protection, and went away east to join another civilization: so also Ishmael has decided to take care of himself, and he is actually travelling eastward, away from God’s presence.
So: yes, Ishmael is still under God’s blessing and protection — but this is a blessing and protection that was earned for him by his mother’s faithfulness. She submitted to Abraham, and received a blessing for herself and her son.
But no: Ishmael is not “saved”: because he has refused to submit to Isaac, Ishmael is not going to continue under the ultimate blessing and protection that comes from life within the covenant community — and neither are his sons. Ishmael is removing his family from the salvation that comes through God’s covenant with Abraham and Isaac.
And Moses makes this point clear with his closing sentence:  While he was living in the Desert of Paran — that is in Northern Arabia — his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
Moses wants us to understand that Ishmael is choosing to marry outside Abraham’s household. In essence, he is returning to his mother’s people; he is rejecting his father’s people. He has made his decision.
Still: God is with Ishmael as he grows up. He prospers and grows strong, just as God promised Abraham that he would. And this just goes to show us, again, how gracious Abraham’s God is. He could have punished Ishmael; he could have made sure Ishmael lived a miserable life as a penalty for rejecting salvation. But he does not.
And this is actually a really good illustration of what God tells us in the 10 Commandments: “I show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.“ Because of Abraham’s love for God — because of Hagar’s love for God! — Ishmael is cared for, and his nation is cared for. He becomes the father of twelve rulers, just as God promised.
Meanwhile, the local political situation has become a bit tense: King Abimelek shows up in Abraham’s camp. And he has brough Phicol, his military commander, with him. Which means that the rest of the army must be somewhere nearby.
Which is a little bit ominous.
So now Abraham, in the midst of his grief over losing his oldest son, has to pull it together and find out what Abimelek — and his military commander — wants.
And it quickly becomes clear that Abimelek wants to negotiate. He has already told Abraham, “My land is before you; live wherever you like!” But apparently, in the last 3 or 4 years, some old, nagging, doubts have come back to bother him.
So he sits down with Abraham and says, “Listen! I know that God is with you in everything you do.  Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”
Apparently, Abraham’s God left a very strong impression on Abimelek. It is obvious to Abimelek that being friends with Abraham’s God is a very, very good thing. And it is obvious to Abimelek that, in order to become friends with Abraham’s God, you need to start by becoming friends with Abraham. And this makes perfect sense: in order to befriend a god, you need to befriend that god’s prophet. Right?
Unfortunately, this god’s prophet has also left a very strong impression on Abimelek: a negative impression. It is obvious to Abimelek that Abraham is a liar. Abraham is the kind of man who will twist the truth in order to protect himself. And the last time Abraham twisted the truth he almost killed Abimelek and his entire nation!
And — even worse — Abraham did not even say sorry! He could have said, “Hey, man, I’m sorry I lied and almost killed your whole kingdom…” but he didn’t. Instead he was defensive and refused to admit that what he had done was wrong. And a man who cannot say sorry for his sin the first time is a man who is going to do it again.
And so, over the last few years, Abimelek has been sitting in his palace wondering if it was really a good idea to let Abraham stay. I mean: it’s great that God is so powerful and everything, but it really really sucks that God’s prophet has the power to wipe out entire nations with a slip of the tongue! How can Abimelek know for sure that Abraham isn’t out there right now lying and bringing a new death curse upon the land?
So he shows up here, with his army, to get Abraham’s attention, to say: “Look, I like your God. But you have got me seriously freaked out, okay? You and your mouth are like a three-year-old with a machine gun! So: I want you to swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my people ever again!”
And  Abraham said, “I swear it.”
Abimelek must have been like: “Whew! That was easier than I thought it would be!”
— but wait! It turns out Abraham wants to negotiate a little bit in return:  he complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized.
Apparently, Abraham’s men had dug a well for their flocks, and then Abimelek’s men came by and drove them away and took over the well — a very similar situation to Chapter 13, when Lot’s men fought with Abraham’s men over water and grass.
 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me before, and I heard about it only today.”
Abimelek is pointing out — again — that Abraham has a very flexible relationship with the truth. His answer is a bit like, “Okay: you are telling me now that my men have been causing trouble. The thing is: no one else has told me anything about this. So why should I believe you?”
Stalemate. Awkward end of conversation!
But Abraham has already promised that he will deal truly with Abimelek and his people from now on. So he gets up and gathers together the materials that are needed to cut a covenant:  He brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty.
That means they cut the animals in half and made a pathway between the pieces, and walked together through that pathway, which symbolized the valley of death. That was how people made covenants back in those days, and if you want to know more details about this ceremony you can go to www.cdpckl.com and search for the sermon entitled “The Foundation of the Covenant”, from Genesis, Chapter 15.
But, apparently, in addition to the sheep and cattle they cut up,  Abraham had set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock.
And after the covenant ceremony is finished, Abimelek looks over at those seven lambs and says, “What does this mean?”
Abraham is a foreigner, and Abimelek is wondering if — in Abraham’s culture — there is some additional step to the covenant ceremony that he doesn’t know about.
But Abraham says, “No, no, no, no. This is something else: Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”
And then Abimelek realizes: Ohhhhh! Abraham wants to go back and revisit that conversation about the stolen well.
See, Abraham does not want to have a reputation as a liar; he wants Abimelek to believe him. So, basically, Abraham is offering Abimelek these seven lambs as a way of saying, “You’ve got to believe me: my men dug this well and your men stole it!” And if Abimelek accepts these lambs, then he is basically telling everyone, “I believe him.”
And right away we can see that this is the mirror image of what happened in the last chapter, when Abimelek gave Abraham 1000 shekels of silver as a way of saying, “You’ve got to believe me, I did not touch your wife!” Back then, Abimelek wanted to publically redeem his reputation as an adulterer.
Here, Abraham wants to publically redeem his reputation as a liar.
So in other words: these seven lambs are Abraham’s way of saying, “I’m sorry I lied and almost killed your kingdom. Could you forgive me and give me my reputation back? Tell everyone that I’m not actually a habitual liar. Please?”
Well, apparently, Abimelek agrees. He accepts the seven lambs.  So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.
Beersheba means “Well of the Seven,” and, “Well of the Oath.”
And  after the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.
And the reason Moses tells us they returned to the land of Philistines is to highlight the fact that this land — surrounding this well called Beersheba — is no longer their land. Abimelek has essentially acknowledged Abraham’s ownership of that well, and the lands that are fed by it.
And Abraham immediately begins to cultivate his land:  he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.  And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
So what Moses is showing us here is that Abraham has finally arrived. 28 or 29 years ago — maybe even 30 years ago! — God called Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household, and travel “to the land I will show you”.
And when Abraham first arrived in the land, he travelled through it from north to south, building altars to his Universal God right beside trees that were sacred to other local gods. This was his way of declaring that his God is greater than all others. This was his way of claiming the land for his God.
But here, for the first time, Abraham plants a tree of his own, and builds a new altar, and calls on the name of his Lord, the Eternal God. Abraham has finally come home.
And this is what we have been waiting for also. For many chapters now it has become obvious that Abraham is re-living the life of Noah. He entered into circumcision right before Judgement Day fell — just as Noah entered into the ark. He watched from within the protective walls of God’s covenant as the earth was cleansed of its corruption. Last week we saw how he descended from his place of rest in the northern mountains and dedicated Isaac — his new-born son — to God, just as Noah re-dedicated the new-born earth. We have been expecting him to plant a garden in the wilderness, just as Noah did —
— and now he has.
Abraham has begun the long labour of cultivating the earth, bringing it back into proper order under the rule of his God. In the story of Noah water was the source of chaos, destruction, death, judgement. But here, in these two episodes, water has become the source of life and salvation. Here Abraham is going to plant the Seed of his family’s future, here Isaac is going to grow up and send down roots of his own, here the tribe of Judah is going to settle almost 700 years later, the tribe that is destined to produce David the great King, who becomes the father of the Messiah himself.
So what is all this supposed to mean to us? What was it supposed to mean to Moses’ people, the ancient people of Israel?
Well, over the last few chapters we have seen that at least part of Moses’ purpose in writing is to give God’s people a vision of what it looks like for them to live as a holy nation in the midst of unholy nations.
First he showed them that, when they are facing completely corrupted nations like Sodom and Gomorrah — nations that hate God and try to destroy God’s people — then God’s people need to pray for their enemies and trust God to send them a Messiah who will deliver them at just the right time.
But last week Moses began to show his people that, when they find themselves among friendly nations like Abimelek’s nation — nations that are willing to fear God and live in relative peace with God’s people — then God’s people need to pray for their neighbors, and preach, and teach their neighbors who God is and what he wants from them, how he wants to be worshiped.
This week Moses is continuing to develop that theme. Abraham made an impression on his neighbor — a bad impression. But even so, Abraham’s God made a good impression. And as a result, Abraham’s neighbor has come to negotiate a permanent peace with God’s people. And Abraham has accepted him.
Moses is telling his people to expect this to happen. In the centuries to come, after the land is cleansed, after the worship of God has been properly established, the people of Israel should expect their foreign neighbors to come, in fear and trembling, to negotiate a permanent peace with God, and with God’s people. And when this happens, the people of Israel should accept them, just like Abraham did!
Remember, from the very beginning of Abraham’s story, one of the major themes has been that one day, somehow, through Abraham all nations on earth will be brought under the blessing and protection of God’s covenant. Abimelek is one of the first-fruits of that. And Moses is telling his people to be ready for many more.
That is Good News!
But, as usual, Moses has combined this Good News with a warning. The ancient people of Israel should expect outsiders to come and submit to God’s covenant Messiah! — but they should also expect insiders to reject the covenant. In the centuries to come there will be people among their own brothers and sisters who will decide that they are not going to submit to God’s covenant or to God’s Messiah. They are going to decide that they can take care of themselves, that they do not need God’s blessing or protection. And they are going to try to take over Abraham’s nation and rule it for themselves, for their own benefit.
“When that happens,” Moses is saying, “you need to get rid of them. Do not let them stay, and continue to spread their poison, or they will corrupt the entire land, and then we will be a nation like Sodom and Gomorrah: hating God and hating God’s people!”
Well, sure enough, Moses the prophet turned out to be exactly right: during the time of King Solomon, David’s son, nations came from all over the world to learn who God is and what he wants from mankind. The nation of Israel, that had grown out of the seed of Abraham, was truly beginning to become a blessing to all nations on earth!
— and then the whole thing fell apart…from within, just as Moses warned. In fact, it was King Solomon himself who defiled the land with false worship. It was King Solomon who decided that he needed to take care of himself. He took his father’s kingdom that he had been given, and he ruled it for himself, for his own benefit.
And, sure enough, because the people could not get rid of their own king, the poison of false worship that Solomon had re-introduced to the land continued to spread until the entire nation was thoroughly infected. And then they began infecting the nations around them.
And so the nation of Israel, that was supposed to lead all the surrounding nations away from the corruption of Sodom and Gomorrah…had actually become Sodom and Gomorrah.
But even as God finally poured out the necessary cleansing judgment upon his people, he also poured out his Spirit: he raised up prophets who began to talk about an age to come, when God himself would come to earth as a shepherd for his people: the Messiah; in the form of an angel: a messenger; in the form of a man: the final Son of David, who would be crowned the Eternal King.
And they predicted that, when this Eternal King took the throne, one of the marks of his reign would be that he would draw people from all nations to himself. The Seed of Abraham — the Seed of David — would finally lead the nations into worship.
They promised Good News!
But, just like Moses, these prophets combined this Good News with a warning. They told their people to be ready to accept foreigners as their brothers and sisters in the covenant! — but they also told them to be ready for many of their own brothers and sisters in the covenant to actually rebel against the Messiah when he came.
And, sure enough, history repeated itself, just as in the time of King Solomon: when the Messiah finally arrived, it was the rulers of Jerusalem — the kings and priests — who refused to submit to him. They had taken over Abraham’s nation to rule it for themselves, and they were definitely not going to hand it over to Jesus, the rightful heir of David.
And so this is one of the great, painful, ironies of history: in the end, when Jesus came to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham’s nation, when he came to take his rightful place as king, the rulers of Abraham’s nation turned out to be more like Ishmael than like Isaac. They treated Jesus like a despised little brother. They mocked him, and they mocked the great feast that Jesus’ Father had invited them to. And as a result they were driven out of the camp: God destroyed their city and their temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish people have been wandering in the wilderness of the world ever since.
The only good news in their situation is that God is still with them in the wilderness, just as he was with Ishmael: he continues to bless them and protect them for the sake of their father Abraham.
At the same time, scripture tells us clearly that the only way for the Jewish people to re-enter the blessing of God’s covenant is by submitting to Jesus Christ, God’s only Messiah. And it is our prayer that they will do so before the end.
So: now what? How do we apply this to our lives? What does our Father want us to believe and do because of this?
Well, he wants us to believe the Good News that Moses’ just preached: people from all nations are being drawn into covenant with Jesus Christ. So we should expect to see people from many different nations worshiping alongside us. Through Jesus, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, all nations on earth are being blessed.
And what does our Father want us to do because of this? He wants us to accept them!
And this is, obviously, difficult. Because communication across languages and customs is always difficult! Abraham assumed that Abimelek’s culture was corrupt; Abimelek assumed Abraham was a liar — and really, they were both right. But unfortunately, because neither of them were really trusting God at that moment, those assumptions turned into judgements motivated by fear and defensiveness.
We are the same way. All too often we look at a brother or sister from another cultural background, and we judge them based on how they measure up to our own cultural background. Right? For instance, if you come from a culture that really values punctuality, you will probably judge Christians who are not very punctual. Or if you come from a culture that really honor to parents, you will probably judge Christians who do not show respect to their elders in the same way you do.
So our Father commands us to accept people into our family from every background — but we often lack faith. We often don’t trust God. And so we are often more fearful and defensive and judgemental than we are welcoming.
In fact, we are often quite a bit like Ishmael. We are threatened by what is new and different. And our usual human response to being threatened is to mock others, to scorn others, to fight back. Because we do not trust God, because we do not actually trust Jesus, we decide that we need to defend ourselves from those who are different. We decide that we need to take over Christ’s Church and rule it in a way that will protect us and the people who are already like us.
Which means that Moses’ warning for his people is also relevant for us, today. We must flee the temptation to take over Abraham’s family — Jesus’ family — and run it our way.
But: what does this temptation look like?
Well, that is really what Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is about in the New Testament. Paul says that when individuals and churches go bad, they often look like Ishmael: strong, self-sufficient, quick to command, quick to judge, very focused on obeying the rules and making the right impression. They look free, but actually, Paul says, they are in slavery to the law, they are in slavery to fear, they have forgotten that the covenant is God’s covenant, that salvation is God’s salvation. And as a result, one major sign that a person or a church has rebelled against Christ is this: they hate diversity. They try to suppress all differences. They try to make sure that everyone in the church looks the same and acts the same.
In the Galatian situation, these false teachers were saying that Christians all needed to be circumcized, and eat only halal food, and wear only certain halal kinds of clothing.
In our age, this temptation can take many forms: churches can try to insist that people pray in a certain special way, or sing in a certain special way, or believe certain special doctrines about one thing or another — rules and ideas that are not actually in the bible. And as Paul says in Galatians, this is actually persecution. This is actually the son born according to the flesh — that’s Ishmael — persecuting the son born by the power of the Spirit — that’s Isaac.
And one very practical way we can flee this temptation is by carefully testing each church we are part of: making sure that what is taught is strongly supported by scripture. That way we can be more certain that we are not being led away from God’s presence, into the eastern wilderness, by Christians who have actually turned their back on Christ.
But, the bad news is: even when we find a good church community that is properly submitted to Jesus, we are still tempted to reject God’s Messiah and take control. And in every case, that temptation comes from a lack of faith. We are afraid to trust God to bless us and protect us, so we decide — like Ishmael — that we are going to bless and protect ourselves. And so we refuse to celebrate our younger brothers; we refuse to accept those who are from a different background — or: we accept them…but then we expect them to become exactly like us. We make them slaves to rules that do not come from scripture, we enslave ourselves to fear.
So what is our solution to this problem?
Well, whenever we start looking for a solution to our lack of faith, it is always best to return to the Good News, the gospel.
And this is the Good News: it’s too late for us to have second thoughts about whether we want to accept all these different nations into God’s family! The covenant has already been cut. Jesus, the sacrifice lamb, has already died. And if we are baptized, then Jesus has already carried each one of us with him through that terrible valley of death and up into life on the other side, life in the presence of God our Father. Which means that we are already bound together into one family. We are stuck with each other, no matter how fearful and defensive we may be!
And that is Good News because it means that our unity is real, and it does not depend upon us. We share the same Holy Spirit, even though we do not all share the same languages and customs. The differences that divide us are smaller than the Spirit who makes us one.
So, do we, as a church, want to be more welcoming, less fearful, less defensive, less judgemental? Yes!
And the way we are going to make that happen is by pointing each other more and more to this great truth of our unity in Christ. The more we think about the amazing reality of what it means to be united with God, the more we will see one another as true brothers and sisters. And the more we see one another as true brothers and sisters…the less fearful, defensive, and judgemental we will become. The more we see one another as true brothers and sisters…the more we will actually learn how to celebrate our differences.
So let’s do that.