Bow thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy.
Thus begins the Psalm for the day.
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness . . .
Thus begins today’s prayer of invocation
So we pray this summer: Bow thine ear O Lord; hear us for we are poor and needy; help us and govern us. Afflicted by disease, afflicted by the divisions in our society, afflicted bitter arguments over what to do about it. Help us and govern us because we cannot help or govern ourselves.
We turn, every week to the scriptures and to the Lord, for comfort. Our two readings today deal with faith, with heeding the call of God, having confidence that God will take care of us and all will turn out OK in the end.
In the Old Testament we hear the story of the beginning of another tribe, a tribe descended, as we are, from Abraham, but not through his wife Sarah, whom we know and love, but through Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, whom we often overlook.
It is a heartbreaking story, yet a story that is redeemed at the end by divine intercession. You might say that we all live a heartbreaking story that is redeemed at the end by divine intercession.
Abraham’s wife Sarah, having given birth to Isaac, her wonder child and our spiritual ancestor, demands that Abraham get rid of this other woman and her child born previously. Abraham pauses, considers and finally goes along with the demand at God’s behest.
“As for the son of the slave woman,” says God to Abraham, by way of consolation, “I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” This is the story of the Jews and the Arabs, both families descended from Abraham.
“So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, the slave woman, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, called Ishmael, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba.
Soon they ran out of bread and water. Hagar withdrew a ways from her child because she could not bear the thought of seeing him die, then lifted up her voice and wept.”
She wept. Then God hears the prayer of Ismael – most interesting: God hears the prayer of Ismael, but we do not. Ishmael’s prayer is not in the text. Anyway, God hears him – and lo, an angel speaks to Hagar, not Ishmael, from heaven:
“What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up. Like Isaac, the other son of Abraham, Ishmael survived after nearly dying and became the father of a great nation. So the Bible accounts for the Jews and the Arabs, the children of Isaac and Ishmael.
The Bible, the Old Testament especially, is full of the stories of survivors. Abraham is the father of three great religious communities, but his line could have been snuffed out at any number of points along the way. His son Isaac survived only by divine intervention. His grandson Jacob survived a wrestling match with an angel. As for the wives of the patriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, we must wonder how they somehow survived being the spouses of such difficult characters. Surely Providence must have had a hand in it.
Many, many years later, a people unknown to the Bible came to a land likewise unknown, yet considered themselves the spiritual descendants of Abraham and attributed their arrival to Providence. All of us Americans are their descendants, Catholic or Protestant, Christian or something else, of whatever creed or race.
The greatest American novel begins with perhaps the shortest sentence ever to begin a novel: Call me Ishmael. Thus Herman Melville began the immense story of a whole diverse crew of people, respresenting all of America, questing for the great white whale, the great unattainable; begins this tale by grafting us, quite self-consciously, into the Biblical heritage of survivers and questers. The lone survivor of the shipwreck tells the tale.
“The Americans – all of us Americans, said Walt Whitman at about the same time Melville wrote Moby Dick – The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here is the hospitality which forever indicates heroes . . . .
How do we in this teeming nation of nations show hospitality to one another? How can we be heroes this summer, still afflicted as we are by a mysterious disease, still afflicted as we are by our own violent history? How can we show hospitality this summer and beyond to one another and to our community? That is our question.
Let us pray.
Bow thine ear, O LORD, hear us: for we are poor and needy. Save us your servants who trust in you, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness. Give us the grace O Lord to look upon one another with compassion as together we write another poetic chapter in our nation’s history.
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Inclina, Domine
1 Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and in misery.
2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful;
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God;
I call upon you all the day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.
8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord,
nor anything like your works.
9 All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord,
and glorify your Name.
10 For you are great;
you do wondrous things;
and you alone are God.
16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me;
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.