Genesis 15:1-6 (The Inclusive Bible translation)
After these events, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am you shield; I will make your reward very great.”
Abram said, “But my Sovereign, My God, what good are these blessings to me, so long as Sarai and I will die in disgrace? My only heir is a foreigner who lives in my household, Eliezer of Damascus. Since you have given me no offspring,” Abram continued, “an attendant in my house will be my heir.”
Then the word of the LORD came to Abram and said, “This person will not be your heir. Your heir will be of your own flesh and blood.” Then God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can! As many as that, you will have for descendants.” Abram believed the LORD, and God accounted it to Abram as righteousness.
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This is close to the beginning of Abram’s story (and spoiler alert, he becomes Abraham. He gets a new name; Sarai become Sarah) but here in this moment, Abraham is afraid. He’s afraid that everything that he has done, all that he has accomplished, his entire life’s work will be meaningless; that none of it will account for anything because he has no one to pass it on to. And Abraham is afraid that all of his hard work is going to go to a foreigner, to a servant who lives in his house but who is not from where Abraham is from, who is not part of Abraham’s family.
Abraham is afraid of people who are not his own flesh and blood but God tells Abraham “Fear not.” He says, “Go out and look at the stars.” (This is before all the light population and smog that we’ve covered the air with.) Abraham goes out and he sees millions upon millions. Stars that cannot be counted and God says, “You see these stars, as many as stars in the sky, that’s the number of descendants that you will have and your legacy and what you own and what you have done will go to them.”
God comes through on God’s promise. Abraham does have a child but his first child is not with his wife Sarai. As the couple is growing older, as they’re moving away from the time when it seems natural for a woman to have a child, Sarai is still unable to conceive but she says to Abraham, “I want you to have a child. I want you to have a son.” She gives Abraham her servant Hagar and Abraham gets Hagar pregnant. Hagar gives birth to a boy named Ishmael and it seems God’s word has come true. Abraham has a descendant and it’s his own flesh and blood – but the story continues and eventually Sarai, now Sarah, becomes pregnant herself with Abraham’s child and she gives birth to a boy named Isaac. Now, Sarah starts to feel afraid because only one son gets to inherit all that Abraham has done. She looks at Hagar, a foreigner someone that she doesn’t know and she gets afraid. She tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham does.
Like Abraham and Sarah, we are often afraid. We fear death sometimes even worse, we fear that our life will be meaningless, that we won’t accomplish anything or that what we have accomplished, no one will remember. We struggle to turn despair in our life into hope, those times when we’re afraid, those times when we’re worrying, we’re afraid that we’re going to get sucked down into a pit of despair.
What we often do is we find someone else to blame. When we’re afraid we try to say that it’s someone else’s fault and so often like Abraham with Eleazar, like Sarah with Hagar, we blame it on someone who’s different from us, someone that we call the “stranger” or a “foreigner” because we’re afraid.
Now Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, of course we look back on as one of the patriarchs of our faith, Isaac goes on to give birth to many children including Jacob who’s name eventually become Israel. He fathers the 12 tribes of Israel. Judaism is formed. We go down a few more generations and Christians look back through that time and see Jesus has a descendant of King David who’s a descendant of Isaac.
We see our faith in this story. We see the beginning. We see the planting of our story but what about Ishmael? What about this other child that was cast off? We see little parts of his story in Genesis. Isaac and Ishmael know each other. They’re often at odds. They fight. They argue. They’re on the verge of being enemies but at some point, Ishmael disappears from our stories, from our histories. But as Abraham casts out Hagar and Ishmael, God also promises that God will make a great nation out of Ishmael.
If we go forward a few hundred years to around 600 AD on the Arabian peninsula, a man named Muhammad ibn Abdullah believed that he was receiving new revelations of God’s words. As he went to Jews and others who lived on the peninsula, they didn’t feel that it was part of their story but as Muhammad began to dig, as Muhammed began to hear the story, they told him that tradition and legend had it that Ishmael and Hagar ended up in Mecca on the Arabian peninsula. There Abraham would visit them, would spend time with his son. One of the things that they did was built a place to worship God, to a place that we now call the Kaaba, the giant black cube that’s housed The Great Mosque in Mecca.
Today’s 1.6 billion Muslims turn and face that area, that worship place that they believe was built by Abraham to pray five times a day and just a few weeks ago during the month of Ramadan, the holy month of Ramadan, many of the Muslims made pilgrimages out to that site. One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj. Like the book that Sandra was talking about as we zoom out from this story we see that it continues on different paths, paths that we may not have paid attention to and the fact is, those billions of Muslims are our cousins in faith. They are our own flesh and blood.
This story comes from an NBC news report just a few days ago on September 14th: A meeting about lifting a moratorium on construction plans for the first ever mosque in a quaint Georgia County was cancelled this week after officials discovered a video in which a self-described militia group threatened violence. The video was filmed at a church across from the site of the proposed mosque. The video’s creator, Chris Hill, 42, told NBC News that he shot it while a protest was going on over the week. “I was just shooting from the hip is what I was doing.” And saying, “Right over there, this is going to be a future ISIS training group. This is where you’re going to see terrorism take hold in Newton County. It’s tied to terrorism, everything from 9/11, to the Boston bombings, to the Fort Hood shooting, to the coup in Turkey. It’s all connected.”
Since the proposal was filed about seven months ago, it’s been met with backlash online and in heated town halls where residents have said things like “It’s hard for people like me to draw the line between innocent Muslims and radical Muslims since they’ve all claimed to serve the same God and they all claim to follow the same book.” Hill, their protester who displayed a weapon in the video and threatened to hold an armed protest outside the commissioner’s meeting told NBC News that he’s the leader of a local chapter of a militia group. The mosque’s imam, Muhammad Islam said, “That the idea to build the mosque and an adjacent cemetery came to him after one of his current mosque member’s wife died about four years ago and her body wasn’t properly washed and prepped for burial according to Muslim standards. “The space is our need. It’s not just for fun.” he said.
Here in Massachusetts, the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, looking for a place to bury their dead closer than the current cemetery in Enfield, Connecticut, sought a permit to create a cemetery Dudley, Massachusetts. There would be no big buildings, no buildings at all or even grave stones but the town met it with opposition, the permit was rejected and they’re currently suing the town. Among the comments and opposition where, “You want a Muslim cemetery fine, put it in your backyard. Not mine.” Others said that the burial practices would disturb residence due to the “playing of crazy music.” 
The people that are opposing mosques being built in their town are afraid because they don’t understand. The Muslims who are looking to build are people of faith like us. In fact, they’re worshiping the same God. They’re looking back through many of the same stories and as we seek to learn more, we can find connections with the connections to our own faith and connections to our own life. We’re afraid of people, of things who are different than us but we can hear God’s call to Abraham. “Fear not.” God says. We don’t have to be afraid of people who seem different from us because whether we think of them as having a common ancestor of faith or whether we think of them as having common evolutionary ancestors, we are all the same flesh and blood.
During this political season when people are calling to ban or deport Muslims from America, we need to hear God’s cry to Abraham to fear not. We need to see all of God’s people are the same flesh and blood. Further on in Genesis, many years later when Isaac is 75 and Ishmael is 89, they reunite to bury Abraham who dies (at like age 175) but they come together; these brothers who had been warring, who had been at each other’s side, who had been fighting for their father’s affection reconcile at his grave. Learning about others, going outside of our comfort may make us uncomfortable but God tells us that we need not fear the journey because we are all the same flesh and blood.
God grants us wisdom and courage to learn more about each other, to seek peace instead of war, to know deep in our hearts that even foreigners and strangers are our own flesh and blood.
God gives the promise of the stars and the promise of the rainbow and the promise of another breath and another day and another chance to get it right when we stumble so that we can create a world of peace with all of our siblings because whether they look like us or act like us or believe like us, we are all one flesh and blood.
We cannot be afraid of foreigners. We must be curious about people who are different and seek to learn and seek to reconcile with them.
Beginning next week on September 25th, 2:00 on Sunday afternoons once a month, the Islamic center of Boston in Wayland just up the road a little bit will begin hosting an interfaith book club where they will be looking at the commonalities.
The first book that they’re looking at was written by – it sounds like the beginning of a joke – a minister, a rabbi and an imam and it talks about how they were able to find commonality, how they were able to find their shared faith following the attacks of 9/11. I hope you will look at that. We’ll send out some more information by email later on in the weekend, I hope you’ll consider going up to the Islamic center and being a part of their interfaith effort because that’s what changes the world, getting to know people one on one, creating relationships.
Hear God’s call to Abraham: “Fear not.” Through the hard work of learning about others will see God’s promise that we are numbered among the stars, that we are all loved by God and that we are all the same flesh and blood. Can I get an amen?