“Are You All In?”
June 25, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 21:8-21 Matthew 10:24-39 Romans 6:1-11
Do you have a favorite NASCAR driver, football, baseball, or soccer player, or any other favorite sports figure? How committed are you to watching your favorite team?
Teams want you to support them financially, to buy tickets, and jerseys, and memorabilia, and they want you to cheer for them. The Cleveland Indians have favored the phrase, “Go big, or go home.” A few seasons back, their players were seen wearing shirts that predicted 100 wins. But during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run for the national championship last year, the question that fans were asked was…
…“Are you all in?”
LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers wanted to know if your support for the team was wholehearted and hot-blooded, and not just lukewarm. And that’s a good way of thinking about the theme of today’s message and the thread that winds its way through our scripture lessons. We begin today in Genesis 21:8-21, where we find a jealous Sarah who is so enraged by the presence of her husband’s mistress and their semi-illegitimate child, as well as the fighting and sibling rivalry between their children, that she simply wants them gone from her life.
8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 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.”
11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “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. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
14 Early the next morning Abraham 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.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 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.
17 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. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 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.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
If you aren’t familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, here’s a quick summary: Despite God’s promise that their ancestors would become a great nation as numberless as the stars in the sky, Sarah was childless. And so, at some point, Abraham decided to help God out, and took Hagar, one of his slaves, as a mistress in order to father a child. This was an accepted practice at that time in order to preserve wealth and the family line. But then, as we discussed last week, long after Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God gave her a son of her own, Isaac. But now, as if looking at her husband’s mistress every day, as well as the child that they had together, wasn’t enough, Hagar’s son was mocking Isaac. And all of Sarah’s frustration, and rage, fear, and hope for the future exploded. She wanted them gone. And so Abraham packs Hagar a lunch and sends her out into the desert.
The core of this story is two-fold. First of all… people stink.
As good, and as godly as we are told that Abraham and Sara must be, they both stink. What they did is understandable, but still pretty horrible. Even though we look up to Abraham and revere him as the founder of our faith, sending his own son, along with his mother, out into the desert to die is an inexcusably horrible thing to do. But the second part of this story is that as bad as human beings stink, God doesn’t. God cares. Despite the fact that the blessing of God is on Isaac and it is through Isaac that God intends to bless the world, God still cares about Hagar and Ishmael. God finds them in the desert, saves their lives, gives them water to drink, leads them out of the wilderness, blesses them both, and promises that Ishmael will also be the father of a great nation.
And again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, Isaac becomes the patriarch of the nation of Israel and the people known as the Jews; while Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the people we now refer to as the Arab nations. Curiously, all of these peoples are referred to collectively, as the Semitic people.
So to summarize, people stink, God cares.
But God’s plan is to change that. God’s intent is to transform humanity into something better. And the coming of Jesus Christ is a huge part of that plan. Jesus came to earth to rescue humanity from its wickedness and sin so that we could become something better. In Romans 6:1-11, Paul puts it this way…
6:1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
At the very beginning of this passage, Paul wants to eliminate the notion that Jesus’ sacrifice and the infinite grace of God might be used as an excuse to continue in our sin. In no way, shape, or form should we excuse our error and try to justify it by claiming that we are already forgiven for it. Instead, we must realize that our sinfulness was the cause of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and it is our sinful nature, our “old self,” that was crucified with him. For that reason, Paul explains, that our “old self” is already dead and, as a result, we should do everything in our power to stop sinning, to break the bonds that sin and death have over us, and act like people who have been set free from sin.
Jesus didn’t die to give us an excuse to keep doing the same wrong stuff we’ve been doing all along, Jesus died so that our lives could be transformed into something better.
In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear Jesus echo that same sentiment.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.]
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows; you are of incredible value to God.
The followers of Jesus Christ will turn against their families and against their parents, not because they are violent or because Jesus encourages them to be violent, but because Jesus intends to completely transform their lives into something new, different, and far better than we have ever been before. When we choose to follow Jesus, we want what he wants, we follow where he leads, we go where he goes, and we do what he calls us to do. And in doing these things, we will leave behind the people that won’t go with us. Families, friends, and others will turn against us because we have chosen to follow Jesus and because we are becoming something new and different than the people we once were. As we lose our old lives, we are transformed and we discover a new life that is lived through Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls for us to devote ourselves to him wholeheartedly and to walk away from a lukewarm faith. In the end, Jesus asks us a familiar question…
…Are you all in?
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at email@example.com. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.