St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401


  • Our True Power Lies in Love Itself – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    June 25, 2023

    Today’s scripture passages are hard. Many Christians like to avoid them.  Because if we believe, truly believe, that God is about Love, that God IS Love, then how do we reconcile these scriptures? How do we see love in a passage about a woman and her child being cast out of their home? Or in Jesus’ pronouncement that he will split families apart? Let’s take a look at the Genesis passage first. This part of Abraham’s story.

    Now, the story of Abraham and Sarah tells us that Abraham was totally devoted to God. He is the ancestor of all the prophetic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham found God wherever he went, discovering that God did not belong in just one place or to just one people. Abraham was the first human to acknowledge the blessing of creation – we are creatures of this earth. Bound to it and to one another.

    God promised Abraham that his offspring would number as many as the stars in the sky – that one day, the Abrahamic lineage would be about teaching that the God of Love is the God of all Life.

    And in this part of Abraham’s story, the most significant character is Sarah because, how can Abraham have offspring if Sarah is unable to give birth?  Sarah knows well her place in this system. How could she not? For much of human history, a woman’s value has been based solely on her ability to bear children. This is the violence of the patriarchal system.

    And Sarah had produced no children. So, as custom at that time necessitated, Sarah sent her servant to Abraham in hopes of a child for Abraham. Sarah chose the system and its violence. She ordered the forced taking of her slave Hagar. And Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, Abrahams’ older child, who remains unnamed in today’s story.

    The story doesn’t end there because eventually God gave Sarah a child. So cynical and disillusioned, so betrayed by the violent system she believed in, was Sarah, that she laughed at the idea. She laughed at God’s power. Yet, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, Abraham’s younger child, in last week’s Genesis reading.

    Hagar and the Angel of the Desert ca. 1896-1902 by James Tissot

    But the violent structure of patriarchy cannot and could not support the notion that both children belonged. One of them was expendable – the one without privilege. One son had to have more rights, more privilege, more dignity than the other. Otherwise, how would we know who Abraham’s inheritance belonged to?

    But the message we usually miss is that God took care of Hagar and Ishmael. Despite the system and its violence, God took care of them. God is always standing with the victims because that’s where Love needs to be. Death is never the final word. Love is always the final word. This story then, with its placement in Genesis, becomes a formative lesson in the Hebrew Scriptures on the violence of worldly systems.

    God’s creation is one of utter abundance, where all life is loved and provided for. “Property” is not of God. Wealth is not of God. Privilege, violence, oppression… not of God. God is God of all life. God of Abraham. God, whom Abraham blesses and who Abraham is blessed by. And this story tells us that even Abraham is corrupted by human systems of power and participates in their violence.

    Does this mean that Abraham should be punished? How about Sarah? Should she be punished?
    It seems, to our dismay, perhaps, that God blesses all.
    God is Love. The God of all life. In whom all things are possible.

    Now, we know that Jesus studied the Hebrew Scriptures. Do we know if Jesus had this story in mind when he was preaching to his disciples that day? Probably not. But Jesus does understand that what he is doing, the things that he’s teaching, the way that he is challenging the system of power… we know that Jesus realizes that all of this is not going to win him any friends from among those in power.

    Jesus saw the violence of systems of power: observing the religious authorities who know-towed to the Roman authorities in order to maintain the status quo. One power linking arms with another power in order to keep their place in the hierarchy. Groups of people claiming solidarity with one another to maintain power. But, perhaps because of this story about Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Isaac and Ishmael… perhaps because of this story, he understands just how easily corruptible we can be.

    I’m not saying that to shake my finger at us. I’m not preaching fire and brimstone. I am saying that Jesus understands the pressures of human systems and how easy it is for any one of us to choose the path of least resistance instead of the path which is going to develop our faith and stretch us into a deeper life in Christ.

    And this is why Jesus challenges us in today’s Gospel passage.  It may sound harsh, but it’s actually a love letter.

    He says, “Don’t be afraid. Instead, speak truth to power. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. If you listen to them, then you will surely be in hell, because they will take your body as well as your soul. But this part of you that knows the truth, the part of you that hears me, this is the most valuable part of you. Don’t hide it away again. Yes, your life may be threatened but they can only kill the body, not the soul. And it’s your soul that I’m interested in…

    You are of more value than many sparrows.
    It’s your soul that I’m interested in. Don’t hide it away again.
    Don’t hide it away for fear of not fitting in.
    Don’t hide it away for fear of disappointing your mother or your father.
    Don’t hide it away for fear that you will create waves or draw attention to yourself.
    Don’t hide it away again.”

    This is what the sword means. To be willing and able to cut the emotional ties and systemic ties that do not serve the Gospel. Jesus is the prince of peace, but not the way we may think it should be. Because being church is not a social club. Being “Christian” was never about playing nice. It is and always will be about serving the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ.

    And here, Jesus is very clear that, there are going to be times when, because of our commitment to the Gospel, we are going to need to choose Christ instead of choosing our family or our friends. Times when we will need to choose Christ instead of choosing our reputation or our privilege. Times when we will be asked to choose Christ instead of choosing to hide ourselves away again. This, my beloveds, is what it means to be church. To be “ekklesia”… the Greek word for church that means to be “called out” for a purpose. For the purpose of liberation.

    Both Isaac and Ishmael belong in God’s story, you see. The people of Islam recognize their prophet Muhammed as the one who inherited Ishmael’s lineage.

    And what Jesus invites us into in his love letter, is to know the truth of ourselves – the true value and beauty of who we truly are so that we are able to spot that value and beauty in others. Jesus wants us to finally understand that our power does not lie in our systems or our connections or our privilege. Our true power lies in Love itself.

    For only through Love are we able to liberate ourselves from our own internal judgment and hate. Only, then, through Love are we able to liberate others by welcoming them as co-conspiritors on our Gospel journey.

    We are called out, you and I, to choose Christ and embrace this liberation for ourselves so that we can be the church that this world needs.