We’ll See

The Rev. John D. Lane. This sermon is based on Genesis 21:8-12.


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.”

A brief review of how we got to this distressing story. Abraham and Sarah are old, and have no children. So Sarah tells Abraham to emulate Thomas Jefferson, and have a son with her slave, Hagar. He obeys and Ishmael is born. Then angels visit Abraham and Sarah—last week’s lesson, for those who were both here and paying attention. Despite her old age, Sarah gives birth to Isaac. And then, as if Hagar as her proxy wasn’t her idea in the first place, Sarah gets jealous of Hagar and, on Isaac’s behalf, jealous of Ishmael. She tells Abraham to get rid of both of them, to send them out into the desert to die.

Scripture is full of disturbing stories. It starts with eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. They are Bad. If they hadn’t been bad, our lives might be duller—no Original Sin, no Free Will and all that. At God’s command, Abraham leaves his ancestral home for the so-called “Promised Land,” the only area of the Middle East without oil. Three generations later, Joseph’s brothers wind up getting him kidnapped and made into a slave. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the whole family. Then he becomes ruler of Egypt and saves everybody. Good news at last. Only reading Genesis we are sometimes tempted to ask God, “What were you thinking?”

You may remember the story of a Chinese farmer that made the rounds a few years ago:

A farmer had only one horse. One day his horse ran away.

            His neighbors said, “We’re so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be upset.”

            The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses.

His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

His neighbors said, “We’re so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight.

The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The life of Abraham as told in Genesis could be subtitled “We’ll see.” He receives more than his share of God’s blessings yet he also suffers a number of setbacks—just like us.

When I was working in Charlotte, I told the rector I was beginning to look for another job. He helped me get organized, and I received a number of inquiries. One day, the rector told me he had received a letter from the Bishop of Wyoming about a parish there seeking a rector. He said the town was pretty isolated. Could I handle that? My rector asked, “How should I respond?” I said, “Tell him I spent two years as the most isolated Peace Corps Volunteer in the world. I can handle it.” The rector wrote back, and he never heard anything again from Wyoming.

The rector thought I would get a job quickly—a year went by—and he hired my replacement. The clock was ticking and I was going to be fired. And by the way, Bizzy was 6 months pregnant. Have you ever been fired? To quote scripture, I felt despised and rejected, along with panicked and depressed. Bad news. We’ll see.

But then suddenly I landed the perfect job (for me) in New Orleans, a job that had already been turned down by several more experienced clergy. I was welcomed there, and learned a lot. I’m a slow learner so it took me 12 years. When we moved to Staunton, I again found the perfect job. Good news. We’ll see.

I’m going to tell you a secret: I’ve accepted every church job I’ve ever been offered—3 in 35 years of ordained ministry. Not very popular. Bad News. We’ll see.

For many of us, the day we got fired was the worst day of our lives. Bad news. But it led us to the most fulfilling job we ever had. Good news. We’ll see.

Most of us have been to lots of weddings, the bride radiant, and the groom appropriately nervous. What a happy couple. After a few years sadly half the time comes a divorce—40-50% of all American marriages now end in divorce. Bad news. We’ll see. But a divorce may make way for a stronger 2nd marriage, putting to use all the things we learned by our mistakes the first time around. Good news. We’ll see.

When our youngest, Andrew was 3 years old, we learned he had Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, and he would become increasingly dependent and wheelchair-bound. He would die in his late teens or early 20’s. That was the worst day of our lives. Bad, bad news. We’ll see.

When he did die at age 24, he had lived an extraordinary life. He touched many other people. Our family had been unbelievably enriched. He was the glue which held us all together. He was the best thing that ever happened to us, Good news. We’ll see.

And Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael? God tells Abraham, “As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” Abraham, through his son, Ishmael, is the patriarch of Islam, a great nation. Good news. Bad news. We’ll see.


  1. Bob nelms says:

    I love your sermons.