Genesis 21 - Reflection

‘Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.’
Genesis 21:1

Brothers and sisters, ‘Go, for I promise to catch you’ was what I said to Amelie as she started learning to walk. At first, of course, she wasn’t too sure. She kept trying to grab my hands, but slowly, carefully, she took her first step, followed quickly by her first fall and, as promised, I caught her. That first step was important for Amelie learning to walk, but so was that first catch. For now she knew I would keep my promises, and therefore she stepped out more confidently. Promise-keeping is important, for promises kept, form the basis of trust, and trust helps us to build confidence and achieve what we never thought possible. The Christian life is a lot like a toddler learning to walk. It is about hearing the word from our Heavenly Father: ‘Go, for I promise to catch you’. And then slowly putting one foot in front of the other; falling, yes, but, in falling, being caught by God, and in so doing learning to trust Him. Learning to trust that God keeps His promises is one of the most important lessons of the Christian life and learning it allows us to go wherever He calls us.

It was two months ago in our studies in Genesis when we first heard the call of God to Abraham to ‘Go’ and the promise that He would give Abraham & Sarah a son. Over the past two months as we have been following their story, we may well have thought ‘will this baby ever come’. Well, it may have been a long eight weeks for us, but it has been a far longer twenty-five years for Abraham & Sarah. If the promise seems far-fetched back then—when they were seventy-five—it seems completely impossible now that they have reached one hundred. And yet, though the promise seemed ridiculous, when God said ‘Go,’Abraham went. Now finally, after twenty-five years of waiting, God comes through as He promised. Verse 1: ‘Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.’ The baby is born. The son arrives. The promise of God is delivered! Before Issac was born, Abraham and Sarah trusted they had faith that God would keep His promise. We’ve seen they’ve doubted; they’ve laughed at the very idea; they’ve come up with plan B and had a son another way because they didn’t really believe that God would come good… and yet now He has! They took their first steps of faith; they wobbled; they fell; and God caught them. How very similar to us. How very similar to every believer who has ever lived. Abraham & Sarah are no fairy tale. They are real people—just like you and me—they have their falls, their face-splats, and yet through it all God has been watching and quietly keeping His promises. For almost the first time since the Fall in Genesis 3, we seem to be getting closer to returning to the world God originally made. Abraham & Sarah have had their faith strengthened and a promised boy has arrived. Surely the world took a deep breath as surely as Abraham threw a big party, when Issac was weaned. And yet there is a problem! There is a dark cloud over this beautiful scene which is Abraham & Sarah’s fall back plan, their Plan B, their SINFUL scheme when they decided to take the future into their own hands. For though the promised baby has arrived, He isn’t the eldest son, and so the eldest son, Ishmael, is a cause of concern for Sarah, and she has Abraham send them away! What will God do? Now He has kept His promise—now that His people have a future—what will God do about this seeming threat to His plan? What will God do about this boy who is outside of His people? Verse 12: ‘God said to [Abraham], ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’’ God will both ensure His rescue plan, and take care of the boy and His mother. Though the boy is not part of His people God WILL look after Ishmael. Sometimes people seem to think that God only cares about those who follow Him. But nothing could be further from the truth. God cares for every single person, and so He personally takes care of Hagar and Ishmael, as He cares for each and every person born. However, for those of us who have been following the story all the way through, there is a nagging question which won’t go away; for we saw last week that God rescues only those who trust Him. And so we meant to be left wondering how God is finally going to keep this promise to take care of Ishmael, and indeed all those like him who are not part of Abraham’s family. 

The answer doesn’t lie in the Old Testament—at least not explicitly—and so it is to Mark’s Gospel that we turn for an answer. Mark16:15: ‘[Jesus] said to [His disciples], ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’. God cares for the whole world, and He reaches out to the whole world through His people. Jesus says to you and to me preach the Gospel. Not for Abraham’s sake, he’s already in. Not for the disciples sake, they are already in. Not for the Christian’s sake, because they are already in. ’Go into all the world and preach the gospel’ for the sake of those who don’t believe; for the sake of our friends and neighbours, our family members and colleagues, who don’t yet believe but through God’s power might come to faith. In a very real sense it’s up to us! And yet—if you’re anything like me—that suggestion makes you not want to step foot outside. Yet in the Scriptures we hear God’s voice say: ‘Go, for I promise to catch you’. God wants all Christians to step out in faith and trust Him that if we fall He will catch us. Taking this step in faith, of speaking about Jesus, will not only benefit the ones we speak to, it will also help us as our faith is strengthened, and as we come to realise afresh that God keeps His promises. So, let us hear God’s word as He says to us: ‘Go, for I promise to catch you’. And then let us step out in faith, and in obedience to Jesus command let us: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel.’ Amen.
(from Fr Mike).