A God who sees, a God who hears

SERMON 

Sunday 21 June 2020 

St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly 

Genesis 21.8-21 

Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17 

Romans 6.1-11 

Matthew 10.24-39 

A God who sees, a God who hears ©Suzanne Grimmett It has felt to me lately like there has been a shift in the universe.  

It has felt like many things which have been oppressive but partly hidden or  unspoken are being brought to light- things like racism, sexism, classism, the  economic domination of large corporations, the lack of care of some  governments for their peoples. 

It may be that this kind of revealing can be disheartening. Who are we, that we  cannot find better ways to live together in peace and compassion for all? 

But I think there is also space opening up for a huge amount of hope; a hope that  the injustice and violence of powers which have dominated are being exposed  and change is coming.  

This is partly the theme of today’s Gospel. Jesus is telling us not to be afraid,  because although many things may impede God’s activity in the world through  Christ, it cannot crush the revelation of God’s kingdom on earth.  

Jesus speaks of everything coming to the light; of a freedom where truth-telling  will cause division and by the very loving nature of God, some institutions of  violence will need to be overturned. Jesus, the human one, came to show us the  fullness of humanity, that we may all be humanised again and restored to one another.  

In an important book called “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, a work written in the  context of the author’s experience of teaching impoverished students in Brazil, 

Paulo Freire speaks of the reciprocal nature of dehumanisation, but also the  correlative power of the restoration of dignity saying; 

As the oppressors dehumanise others and violate their rights, they  themselves also become dehumanised. As the oppressed, fighting to be  human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they  restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of  oppression.1 

Friere is making the point that in the act of robbing the humanity of another, we  cannot help but rob ourselves. The reverse is true; as our ability to dominate and  control is taken away from us, we find we can let go of our fear and those whom  we have oppressed become agents of restoring our humanity.  

I think we are seeing this in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. When we  respond with “all lives matter” we miss Freire’s principle that unless Black Lives  Matter in the way all other lives matter, no one’s lives can matter because we  have lost our humanity. We will all be caught in endless patterns of oppression  and suffering, where abuse and violation creates generational and cultural  trauma.  

We don’t need to look far in scripture to find the same point.  

The Hebrew scriptures are full of stories of domination and colonisation, but  through it all the thread of God’s revelation of something better: a creation  reconciled and restored to relationship through divine love. Today’s story of  Hagar the Egyptian woman from Genesis is one that reveals the pain of the  oppressed and the reciprocal dehumanisation that can occur.  

The narrator of this story describes Hagar as a woman who is passed between  Abraham and Sarah because of her body’s usefulness in being able bear a child.  When Hagar conceives a child through this enforced surrogacy the text says she becomes “contemptuous.” (I think you need to hear that judgmental word  carefully in the context of Hagar’s suffering). Sarah appears jealous and  resentful; (again, read her story in the context of a patriarchal culture that judged  women for not being able to bear children). Sarah ‘deals harshly’ with her until the pregnant Egyptian woman runs away to the desert. This all happens in an  earlier part of the story we did not hear today.  

But Hagar cannot survive in the desert. It is there in her despair that she is visited  by an angel of the Lord, who tells her to return to her mistress, but with a  promise closely akin to the promise given to Abraham. The descendants of her  son will be so great that they will not be able to be counted.  

This story of Hagar has ‘spoken’ to generations of black women because her  story has been validated as true by suffering black people. She and Ishmael  together, as family, model many black families in which a lone mother struggles  to hold the family together in spite of the poverty to which ruling class  economics consign it.2 Hagar, like many black women, goes into the wide world  to make a living for herself and her child, with only God by her side. 

Theologian Phyllis Trible honours Hagar as the first person in the Bible to name  God.3 Hagar calls God, “the one who sees”, because the Lord had seen her and  her troubles and was with her. She exclaims, “Have I really seen God and  remained alive?” Or, using Hagar’s words, “Have I really seen the One who sees  me?” And her child would carry a similarly significant name; Ishmael- or “God  hears”. 

Our reading from Genesis today picks up the story much later, after Hagar and  Ishmael had lived with Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac for some time.  Jealousies had again flared up and Hagar and Ishmael are banished to the  wilderness by Sarah with Abraham’s consent. Hagar is again a lone mother, with  only God by her side. But God was there, seeing and hearing every part of the  suffering and insults her body and spirit had endured and every cry from her  heart. Hagar leaves the boy, Ishmael crying under a tree and sits a distance from  him because she does not want to be there, watching him die in the desert from  dehydration and exposure. The storyteller in Genesis then makes another  delightful play on words in saying, “God heard the voice of the boy”. This is the  equivalent of saying, “God heard the boy named ‘God hears’.” Ishmael, the heir  of Islam and cousin to Jews and Christians, bears a name that signals a promise to every human being.4 God is not deaf to the cries of the broken hearted or blind  to the systemic injustice which afflicts so many. The truth of hidden violence will  always be revealed, and God is always on the side of the oppressed; a God who  sees and who hears.  

I think in these days that is a source of enormous hope. Nothing can eradicate  God’s loving care of all creation nor thwart God’s purpose in redeeming  humanity. This is a God who, far from being some kind of impersonal deity or  absentee landlord, counts all the hairs on our head. While the world may gauge  importance in terms of power or economic value, like those insignificant  swallows which Jesus reminds us are sold for half a penny each, God is attentive  to even those little birds in their living and in their dying. How much more, says  Jesus, are we cherished. In each life, in our cares and sorrows, in the abuses we  have suffered and the ways we have harmed ourselves, our struggles and our  griefs, we are seen and we are heard and we are loved and forgiven. God carries our pain and calls us to follow in the same way of seeing and hearing one  another, taking up our cross to play our part in healing the pain of the world.  

There are many powers that will dehumanise. It is important to recognise that we  cannot dehumanise others without dehumanising our self. You cannot take up the  way of the cross without being prepared to see and hear such truth and then of  course, speak truth. This of course will disturb people. Some will criticise us,  some will abandon us, some will move to silence us. But taking up our cross also  means the sacrifice that comes with living authentically- we must speak, even if  it is quietly and tearfully and gently. In this way we are ambassadors of hope,  proclaiming a God who sees and hears us, and has promised to always be with us  as we together build a world where no one is unseen and unheard. 

+Amen. 

1 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Penguin Books UK: 1993) p 30.

2Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993),p. 33.

3 Phyllis Trible, “Hagar: The Desolation of Rejection,” chap. in Texts of Terror (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), pp. 9-35.

4 https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20050613JJ.shtml

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