Firstly, let’s pause to acknowledge that Abraham—the founder of the Abrahamic faiths, central to Christianity through our heritage from Judaism—had a concubine. Further still, Hagar, Abraham’s concubine is asked to leave with her child because Sarah doesn’t want her around. She’s not needed now Sarah has borne her own child. Hagar becomes an outcast. Yet, what does God do? God hears Hagar’s cries for her child and rescues them, providing their practical needs through a well. Then, something greater happens, God promises that a great nation will be made of him. God comes to the outsider and makes them great.
Sin. It’s a dirty word in the church. So many years of overemphasis on people being sinners has created a reactionary limit on the use of the word. One of the reasons for this is we’ve become so obsessed with sexual sins—as though the only sin worth talking about is what people are doing in their bedrooms. Yet, we forget that sin is a much deeper thing than this. It’s about how we treat others, how we love our neighbour, whether our relationships are wholesome and good or whether they’re destructive and oppressive. It’s about understanding the ‘other’ so we can learn the impact our actions have on other people and the world. That’s why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we forgive each other as we’re forgiven. We’re continually rebuilding and reconstructing damaged relationships. And as we obey Jesus’ command to love one another, we demonstrate our love for God. Where have you been at fault in relationships and how might you not ‘continue in sin?’
It was ideas like this that led some people in the early church to believe the body was evil and sinful and the soul was good and lived on beyond death. However, when you read such things in line with the whole of scripture, we know that God declares creation to be good and our physical bodies are part of that. Yet, it seems something about this life means we do not fully reflect the glory of God in the world. It’s a challenge for Christians to believe they are freed from sin. If you’re anything like me, you will know you keep on making mistakes. Yet, more than this, I know that I’m tied up with systems and structures that affect other people in negative ways: structures and systems that are sinful. I buy something and I may have little understanding about the lives of those who have made it: have I bought something supporting slavery? In some cases, I know about the dreadfulness of actions, but I have little ability to escape them: ever tried to completely get rid of all plastic consumption? Then there’s the worldly systems that support economies where wealth is not equally distributed: I’m tied into those. In Jesus we are freed from sin, it has no hold over us, but we are also being freed from sin as we journey through life being perfected in love by the Holy Spirit: bringing an increased awareness of our actions and transforming us so we may give life to others. And ultimately we will be freed from all sin—completely and eternally—in the new heaven and earth.
In encouraging the apostles, Jesus told them not to fear. They were facing the privileged and the elite as they responded to their mission to preach good news to the poor and captives. They were being given the inside information about the ways of the world and whilst people may not recognise the oppression, they were told all will be uncovered—the truth will be known. Hold onto that as we challenge injustice.
(Matthew 10:26, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 10:31)
Our mission is demanding, sometimes dangerous. But during his speech, Jesus tells us not to fear, not once, but three times.
The Psalms give us permission to take our greatest needs to God. Be honest with God: cry out with what bothers you.