READING: Genesis 21:8-21, Romans 6:1-11
SERMON : "Getting Past The Past"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
for the upcoming Sunday. Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
The following is a sermon and a Call To Worship for the Upcoming
Sunday, Ordinary 12 - Year A. The sermon was initially used on
Father's Day several years ago, but has a great deal of
applicability (we pray) for a year like this one in which, as is
usually the case, Ordinary 12 does not fall on Father's Day. The
main text is a difficult one - the story of the banishment of
Hagar and her son from the tents of Abraham. We hope that what
we have written here may assist you in using that text this year.
A CALL TO WORSHIP FOR ORDINARY 12A
L The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
L If God kept a record of sins who could stand before him?
P The Lord is forgiving and merciful.
L God does not hold the past against us.
P The Lord gives new life each day.
L Give praise to God, for he is just and he is merciful.
P His love endures forever.
L Come before the Lord and worship him.
P His love endures forever.
A READING FROM GENESIS 21:8-21
(NIV) The child (Isaac) grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac
(he) was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the
son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she
said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that
slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.
But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your
maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is
through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the
son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your
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. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under
one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a
bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die."
And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. 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. Lift the boy up and take him by the
hand, for I will make him into a great nation."
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. God was with the
boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for
him from Egypt.
SERMON: "Getting Past the Past"
O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in
the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants
I have many pleasant memories of my childhood and I have a great love for
my father - yet I must tell you that this was not always so.
At one time bad memories fought with the good memories and the feeling in
my heart was not one calculated to honour my father, though there was in me
a great longing for him.
Thank God there are not all that many families in which this struggle
between the good memories and the bad memories must be fought out
- there is so much good around us and so many parents do a great job of
loving their kids.
But in some families there are injustices to be overcome, and I dare say in
all families there are things that must be forgiven and forgotten - in fact
a Children and Family Services worker told Charlene and I just the other
In your dealings with your kids remember this - you are
going to do something once or twice a month that will
scar your children for life.
Imagine that - we are all going to make mistakes
and those mistakes will affect our children for the rest of their lives.
This fact could make a person really nervous -
yet it did not for that worker - and it does not for me, it doesn't
worry me because when I look back I see mistakes aplenty that I have
made and mistakes aplenty that my father and my mother made - yet
despite this I think that my kids are doing rather well, and I feel
that I myself have come a long way since the days of my childhood.
The scars that I bear are now trophies
The wounds that I suffered are now sources of healing,
And the good that I received glows brighter now than it did before,
- for all of which I praise God.
A lot of fathers worry about what is normal and what is not.
They fret about whether or not they are doing the right thing by their
They worry about how to please God,
and they worry about how to please their wives - who are second only
to God after all -
and they worry about how to set their kids on the right path.
All this and many other concerns fill their minds and hearts, and we honour
them as we should when we remember this and we celebrate their humanity and
Today my sermon is not addressed so much to fathers as to all who will
hear, all who are - by our very existence - children of fathers.
I want to say to you who have had a blessed childhood, or who have come to
realize in later years that no matter what your childhood was like it was
really quite good enough: "Praise the Lord! And celebrate what you have
received and what you have learned."
And to those who have been wounded and those who have been scarred
I want to tell you about the joy of getting past the past
and discovering the new life that Paul refers to when he says:
"If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we will
certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."
Recall my brothers and sisters the old testament reading today, that story
of how Sarah asks Abraham to cast his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar out
of their home so that Isaac might inherit everything.
Abraham as we heard was very distressed by this request.
Yet - convinced finally that this was in God's will - and that God would
bless Ishmael - he complies with the request of his wife - and sends Hagar
and the boy out into the wilderness with only a little bread and a skin of
water - which soon runs out and leaves Hagar in despair - convinced that
both she and her son would die.
Looking back on this situation,
this decision of Sarah and of Abraham,
we would do well to be horrified,
and if we were Ishmael
- we would most certainly bear scars for the rest of our life.
But my friends, remember back to the end of the story
- the end which our reading hinted at, but did not cover
- the end where we see that God makes a nation of Ishmael as he promised,
with 12 princes over 12 tribes coming from his line,
- the end which tells us that Ishamel lived 137 years before he was
gathered to his people,
- the end which notes most especially that Ishmael, the son who was cast
forth, returned home one day and with his half brother Isaac - buried his
father in peace.
We do not know how this peace came about - the bible is silent about it,
but I assure you as a father that Abraham longed for that day of
and as a son I tell you - Ishmael desired to be at peace with his
Decisions like that Abraham made concerning Ishmael can really hold up a
person. They cam really leave a mark on them. But there is - in the end
my friends the hope and the promise that wholeness can be restored and the
marks transformed. We see it with Ishmael and Abraham, and we can see it
with ourselves and our parents.
We can see wholeness, and we will we experience it, when we do three simple
First, we must own the past and recognize it for what it is and
what it has done.
Second we must forgive those things in the past that need
And Third we need to submit the future to the love of God and
trust God to transform it.
OWNING THE PAST is not always as easy as it might be
especially the negative parts of it.
Many people tend to deny the pain,
to lightly pass over how they felt rejected, or unloved,
and so they have problems being set free from it.
It is kind of like working with a malfunctioning car engine. Until a
person tracks down the particular problem and begins to fix it all the
other work one does on the automobile is going to seem pointless,
even though it isn't..
It is an important step in the new life that Christ gives us to acknowledge
and identify the hurts we have received because only then can the wounds be
healed and the scars transformed.
I can name much that happened to me that hurt; things that struck me then,
and which still strike me now as unfair, as uncaring, as unloving. And I
am sure as many of you look back you can too.
Identifying the problem, the past hurts, however, is but the first step
however in getting past the past. There is a second and a third step.
There are many groups today that deal with family problems, they are called
co-dependancy groups. Co-dependancy - because it is now recognized that
when one person in a family has a problem, all the others in the family
generally end up with the same problem too - albeit in an indirect fashion.
For example while an alcoholic may be the only one drinking - the spouse
may end up with a problem with "alcholic" and his or her life becomes
unmanageable because of how they react to it.
The aim of co-dependancy healing groups is to identify the problem
to own it or acknowledge it - and then to move past it.
One of the founders of the co-dependency group movement, Jane Middelton-Moz
recently said that the co-dependancy movement has gone too far. She points
out that many of these groups allow individuals to avoid personal
responsibility. I quote:
"If you remain in a dynamic of defining yourself as damaged,
you haven't recovered."
If you remain in a dynamic of defining yourself as damaged you haven't
THE SECOND STEP in getting past the past is to take responsibility for your
life by letting go of the past - by forgiving what needs forgiving and
celebrating what deserves celebration.
To forgive something is literally to forget it - to regard it as no account
- as not having any practical effect on what is now or on what should be
If at one point in my life I could say - and I did say: "my father is
responsible for giving me an inferiority complex, he always said I was no
good at this and no good at that, that I would never amount to anything"
- and so on and so forth.
At a latter point in my life I have been able to say: "I forgive my father
this pain he caused me and now I strike out and act as if it never
- now I will take responsiblity for whether I seek by my words and
actioins to win other's people approval as if they were substitute
fathers - or whether I simply do what I think ought to be done.
- now I take reponsibility by no longer blaming the past , I take it
by living as one who is completely and utterly free - for I have
forgiven what needed forgiving and I am now totally responsible for
myself, accountable only to Godin his mercy.
That is a tremendous step my friends - tremendous because so many people
now days blame others for the shape of their lives; they argue in
scientific journals about whether or not genetics or the environment are
more reponsible for producing poverty and crime - and they discuss in
magazines which is more powerful, nature or nurture, in forming young
Forgotten in this debate is the concept of freedom,
the freedom that God gives to us when we join ourselves to him,
the freedom to choose right or wrong,
the freedom to live as whole people
because Jesus died and rose again to make it possible.
We do not have to live as slaves to the past, as slaves to sin as Paul puts
it in today's reading, for in Christ we are made alive to God.
All that it takes on our part is the willingness to die with Christ so
that we might rise with him - the willingness to die as he died - knowing
that he was innocent, and willing, despite his innocence, to love and
forgive those who hurt him.
The good news of Jesus Christ is this my friend - we are set free:
free from the sin of the past,
free to decide to do good,
free to be made whole as we are all meant to be made whole.
And wholeness is a great and glorious wonder.
When I think of the number of years that I held the past against my father,
the years in which I tried to forgive - but still kept the pain and placed
the responsibility for my life in his actions, I can only shake my head in
sadness. Because since I have truly forgiven - since I have taken
responsiblity for myself as I am I have changed - and my views of my
father have changed.
There is peace between us.
My pride in his achievements has grown.
My understanding of myself has increased.
My respect for all people, and especially all parents, has been enhanced.
My life is so much better - so much more enjoyable
- so much more as God means it to be.
Which leads me the third and final step - SUBMITTING THE FUTURE TO THE LOVE
OF GOD AND TRUSTING HIM TO TRANSFORM IT.
When Hagar and Ishmael left the camp of Abraham and run out of water and of
hope, God comes to them.
Hagar recognizes the voice that tells her that he has heard the cries of
her child. The "God who hears", hears her and hears her child. He opens
her eyes to see the life-giving water before her.
Ishmael goes on to become the father of twelve sons, and, together with his
brother Isaac, buries his father at Machpelah. The relationship of father
and son is not ended. It is changed.
In our baptism we die with Christ; we are baptized into his death and
buried with him. And this, so that we might "walk in newness of life.",
- so that we might grasp hold of the reality that we are no longer
bound to live within the very human limitations we were born with
- so that we might no longer enslaved to our past.
In Abraham and Sarah and Hagar we get a glimpse of ourselves as we
sometimes are when we forget, like them, the promises of God.
Yet we too, like Hagar and Sarah and Abraham, can also "see" that despite
our circumstances God is present and his promises are real. And that God
will work things out for us they should be worked out, if we but open our
eyes to him and place ourselves in his hands.
Every Christian father and every Christian mother has a responsibility that
goes way beyond providing food, clothing and shelter and a nurturing
environment, way beyond teaching right and wrong, way beyond manners and
He and she are also to point to God, to provide a glimpse of what God is
like. Mother and Father are called to be "alive to God" in front of their
children, to show forth God's blessings and to claim God's promises.
We may not do that perfectly nor well at times,
nor may have our parents,
but we have the assurance that if we try to be "alive to God",
if we own and forgive the past as Christ forgives us
that we will receive and impart to our children and loved ones
glimpses of God and the salvation that has been promised to us from of
old. Praise be to God - Amen
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
For Another Look at the Texts For This Sunday see
Homily For Ordinary 12 - Year A
Friar Sydney Mascarenhas. O.F.M., Ph.D