This is part of our current worship series on Genesis, "Life's Many Creations."
Here we are. Collecting our things. Wanting more and more.
Our eldest Ethan loves to collect rocks. Whenever we are outside, he collects rocks. Hiking in the woods, we have to keep stopping because he wants to pick up rocks. At the park, if he disappears from the playground equipment he is most likely on the side collecting rocks. Even at the beach, he is going up and down the side collecting rocks.
And by collecting rocks I should point out, he’s not collecting a variety of rocks or a certain type of stones. No, he’s collecting any rocks he can find. His pockets will be full of rocks, both his hands will be full of rocks, he’ll start giving you rocks and start putting them in his pocket.
At some point you have to tell him to stop, you try to hide the rocks that he handed you in the bushes, try to talk him out of carrying all those rocks back to the car.
“Ethan, if everyone who hiked here took that many rocks, that mountain that mountain would just fall and disappear.”
If you try to take the rocks, Ethan protects them. He always wants more.
One time I just watched him without saying anything because I wanted to see how far he would go before he stopped collecting. He eventually collected so many rocks that he had to stop walking. He sat down, stayed in the same place, surrounded by his rocks, unable to move forward without leaving them behind. He just sat there looking at these rocks.
Maybe we can all relate to that. Collecting our things. Wanting more and more. Protecting what we have.
In today’s reading, we find Sarah, the same woman who last week laughed at the mention that she would be pregnant, this week she wants to protect what she has. She wants to protect the inheritance for her son.
As Sarah grew older, she realized she could not have children. In a present day situation if Sarah and Abraham decided they wanted to have children they may have adopted of had a surrogate mother, in ancient society it was not uncommon to consider the alternative of someone like Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden, to have Abraham’s child.
Hagar has a son. Great in a patriarchal world. So, when Sarah has Issac, Abraham has two sons.
The most faithful person in the story isn’t Abraham. Genesis does a great job of not covering things up or whitewashing the characters. Great people in Genesis, do terrible things.
In Genesis, though, places that seem barren are the places of new life.
Hagar Out, Issac In
Hagar is sent out early in the morning with barely enough food, but she goes willingly, taking her son. She becomes the most faithful person in the story and God provides, even in the barren land.
There is a story in Islam of Hagar. She looks at Abraham as he is sending her out. In the story, he leaves her at Mecca. She looks at him and asks, “You’re leaving me in a land with no water or food? Who are you leaving me to? Who do you depend on to take care of the child and me? Is it God?”
Abraham says, “Yes.” And Hagar walks away and says, “Well if it is God, then God will not let us down.”
In the reading of Genesis 21, Sarah wants to take away any chances of Ishmael taking away from Issac’s inheritance. The life she has envisions robs someone else of their inheritance. In this case, the life for Issac robs from the life of Ishmael.
The Life We Envision
Before we make a judgment call on Sarah, let’s step back for a second and reflect on our lives. Do we live a life that robs others of their inheritance?
I remember growing up; we had someone come into our school, one of those assemblies, talking about people who were making our clothes. It was in that time when Walmart was still big on Things Made in America. And we were being taught that Made in America typically meant being made overseas and then being assembled in the states.
We were being taught of how we were robbing other people of their inheritance. I’m not sure if they were trying to get us to shop elsewhere.
I have a friend in Chicago, who talks about Walmart and how there are people in their family, people in their church, that could not afford to care for their children if it weren’t for Walmart.
There is no way of getting around the fact that I am robbing someone else of their inheritance. Unless some people are more worthy than others, if some creatures are more valued than others - which Genesis speaks against.
As we think about our theology of Creation, our Eco-Theology, this is one of those places in Genesis that, I believe, has taken on new and even deeper meaning. The author, editors, original listeners of Genesis, not a single one probably even imagined humanity at a place where we had the ability to destroy ourselves or even the rest of Creation.
Maybe before we could have read this text, thought of how we robbed others of their inheritance, and then we could have slapped a band-aid on it. We could send money to organizations that helped, we could volunteer with groups that provide care for those who go without.
For our modern times, the message seems much direr. If we slap a band-aid on issues without being transformed by the message, without making a conscious decision to change the way we are living life, then we could very well rob everyone out of their inheritance.
Think of the impact we make on the earth. We burn fossil fuels for the same reason we eat - to get the solar energy stored in carbon molecules. Jeffrey Dukes, professor Forestry, and Natural Resources at Purdue University, claims that all the green the planet grows in four hundred years wouldn’t even produce enough the same energy we get from burning fossil fuels in one year.(1)
A century ago scientists predicted that releasing carbon in the atmosphere would cause temperatures to rise. (2). Today scientists say that if our activities continue unchecked, the atmosphere’s average temperature will rise by seven degrees Celsius, or 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.
That might seem bearable, but the ice age was only five to six degrees cooler than now. With plants and animals adapting at different rates, it's a question if everything can catch up with the changes. Right now, climate change is happening at an alarming rate and scientists are claiming the natural cycles are now out of sync. Think of bees unavailable to pollinate vegetables, fruits, and other plants on which we depend. The berries on which birds rely will not be available for them. The rains will not come when seeds are on the ground like we saw here in the midwest in 2012. And so on, and so on, and so on.
I don't necessarily have an answer for that. I'm not a scientist. But maybe it starts with a reflection of what we are grabbing onto and an honest realization of the inheritances we rob. Because for us to change we must be willing to let go.
1 - Jessica Ruvinsky, "Fill 'Er Up with Plankton," ScienceNow (October, 2003).
2 - Tim Flannery, Weather Makers, (Grove Press; 2001), 38-44.