First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Readings: Genesis 21:8-21,Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6: 1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Wednesday, June 18, 2014
I must first apologize for not sending out my first thoughts these past  two
weeks. But I am attempting to get back on track this week.

Readings: Genesis 21:8-21,Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6: 1b-11, Matthew
10:24-39

Thanks to Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 3, pgs 158- 169 Interpretation
Genesis by Walter Brueggemann

For quite a few weeks we will be reading sequentially through Genesis ,
Romans and Matthew. Because Easter and therefore Pentecost and Trinity
Sunday were quite late this year we will pick up part way through the story
of  Genesis, the great theological letter of  Romans and Matthew's story of
Jesus. We start off with the Genesis story of conflict surrounding the
brothers Isaac and Ishmael, and Paul continues to elaborate on grace after
his wonderful chapter 5 which he concludes by  proclaiming, " But where sin
increased , grace increased all the more..., so also grace might reign
through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"

Using Paul's teaching from  Romans on grace and thinking also of how he
interprets our Old Testament reading in his letter to the Galatians, my
first thoughts will follow this lead and interpret the story of Isaac and
Ishmael through the lens of grace.

After the wonderful story of creation we heard and saw portrayed pictorially
last Sunday things  quickly go south . The perfect creation is plagued by
sin and God sets in motion a plan of redemption through one couple  Abraham
and Sarah  and their descendents. We start this Sunday with a difficult
story because it seems that everyone ( including God) are at cross purposes
with Sarah. Sarah wants her son Isaac to have no competition and so demands
that Ishmael ,Abraham's oldest son by the slave woman Hagar, be sent away.
Of course Hagar  Ishmael's mother  does not want this to happen and  Abraham
and God do not want to gang up on Hagar and her son. It would be easy
therefore to portray Sarah as  the bad person in the story but in another
way Sarah plays an important  positive role because we know the narrative is
to have Isaac and his son Jacob,  and then Jacob's sons to be the people God
will use to redeem the world, to be a light to the nations.

A good sermon might consider the mercy shown to Ishmael by God but I wanted
to explore an angle an O.T. scholar and commentator proposed.

Walter Brueggemann in his commentary highlighted for me the role of grace in
this story. Brueggemann acknowledging that Paul's interpretation has
informed our Christian perspective of the story  says ," Isaac is a gift to
be explained in no other way than as a wonder . And Ishmael is a child
begotten by skillful determination and planning." Although not a perfect
comparison,  Ishmael is like the older son in the story of the prodigal son
and Isaac is like the younger son.

This story is fundamentally about grace and it is always a good thing to
preach about grace as the undeserved , unmerited love of God towards us
which is the heart of our faith and the lifeblood for how we are called to
live. But it is a very unnatural way for us to live. It seems scandalous to
receive freely and to not have worked for it, it seems outrageous that we
are to forgive wrongs done to us and to say that all of us are all in need
of God's mercy and that there is nothing we can do to earn God's love.

Our Psalm is a prayer of David's where he acknowledges his need for God's
mercy , kindness and forgiveness. Although he does use the word grace he is
deeply aware of his need of God's love and his inability to save himself.

But we are not to take advantage of grace and this is where our  Epistle
reading starts. Paul anticipates his readers saying something like well if
God loves to forgive then why not sin away and then wonderfully receive more
grace? Of course Paul's  answer is no!!! One commentator noted that if
congregations do not ask questions like this or at times are outraged by
sermons on grace then the preacher is not preaching grace. Interesting
thought. Paul answers this question by exploring the radical efficacy of our
baptism's. In this sacrament of grace we become new people with a new
identity and with this new identity how can we possibly desire to behave as
we did before. I like how Shawnthea Monroe points out that this change is
not a change in thinking but a change in living," notice Paul says walk in
newness of life not think or believe" Feasting on the Word Year a vol. 3 pg
162. Grace leads to a new way of life as it makes us new people.

Our Gospel reading is a very difficult one especially if someone comes to
church not  having thought about it and then hears Jesus say things like I
have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against his mother,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. A very
normal response would be anger and or confusion. " what do you mean you are
more important than my child?" There is no way that Jesus came to bring a
sword!!

This text definitely  reminds us of  the radical call to serve the Kingdom
of God first. When we put Kingdom values first we will run up against
opposition sometimes even from family. I think it also says that to truly
love family, community and the world is to put the Kingdom first. I think
these difficult teachings of Jesus make sense when put against the last
verse. All of these teachings point to the paradoxical truth that to lose
your life for Christ's sake will  mean that you find it. I think this phrase
which is the most frequently repeated phrase of Jesus in the Gospel's is the
key to interpreting this passage. And even in this very harsh sounding
passage there is the comfort of hearing that we are not to fear because
nothing can separate us from the eternal love of God for us. As with other
difficult passages I fear that first thoughts just do not do justice to its
meaning but hopefully it stimulates thought.

Good to communicate again with you about the readings and as always would
love to hear your thoughts.