Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)
Last week, in my home town in Virginia, protestors pulled down the statues on a Confederate monument just a few blocks from my childhood home. Chris Green, a Black man, tried to keep others safe; he suffered a terrible head injury when a statue fell on him, and he is in a coma. In Philadelphia, in my new home state, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, a Black transgender woman, was horribly murdered. In Palmdale, California, a young Black man, Robert Fuller was found hanged in a public square, and I cannot believe it was anything but lynching. I’m sitting with these stories and more like them and asking myself one question as I hold them alongside the scripture texts for this week:
Whose side is God on?
On Twitter this week, my friend and co-author Rachel Hackenberg offered this.
That’s a very apt and uncomfortable take on the Genesis passage for this week. It’s too easy to say God had a plan for Hagar and dismiss the desires of Sarah and the complicity of Abraham as they cast out the mother of Abraham’s first-born son. We have probably heard many different ways to understand what happens to Hagar, but in this moment, we need to stretch ourselves not just to empathize with her position but to understand where we are in the narrative.
Who do we align with when we read this story?
I’m particularly taken this week with the psalm read alongside Hagar’s story and the words of Jesus.
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long. (Psalm 86:1-3)
We want the psalms to be about us. When we read the lament of a person who is oppressed, we look for the ways our stories connect, and we ask for God’s help in their words. If they are in danger, we must be, too. If they are needy, and God helps them, won’t God help us?
We read Jesus’ words about the sparrows and take comfort because we deploy the gospel words in a manner that serves us. He is warning his followers of persecution to come and division from their friends and families because they believe in him.
This is a crucial moment for the church. If your congregation is like the ones I’ve served, there is a high level of resistance to seeing ourselves as the persecutors, the powerful, or the privileged. We don’t want to think of ourselves as the ones who are causing harm and bringing sorrow. We don’t want to see ourselves as the ones who injure the helpless and do violence to the vulnerable. When those thoughts cross our minds, we react defensively and shut down, or we close them off and pack them away, or we wallow in them, paralyzed by the guilt we feel.
It’s time for us to repent of the compartmentalizing and the navel-gazing. It’s past time.
When we know whose side God is on, when we can admit it to ourselves, we will be changed.
We can’t honor God by telling the old stories the way we always knew them. Those interpretations are not just outdated but untrue. It’s time to write a new story with our lives. It’s past time to write a new story with actions that glorify God’s holy name.