Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Kathryn Johnston, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Kenneth Chamberlain, Travares McGill, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Freddie Gray,
We need to say their names. We need to look and to see. We need to hear stories. This morning’s Old Testament reading from Genesis is interesting, isn’t it? It’s a story of a boy who is cast aside by his father – thrown out of the house along with his mother. But did you notice anything about the story? There are two boys in the story but only one of them has a name. That named boy is Isaac. We will hear his name again later in the service when we pray to the Lord God of our Fathers and Mothers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But that other boy? The one placed under one of the bushes to die of thirst? That son of an Egyptian slave woman? He has a name too. But to find out his name, we have to go back 5 chapters in the story to learn that Abram’s wife, Sarai, who could bear no children, gave her slave-girl Hagar to Abram and said, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” and Abram does what Sarai asks and Hagar conceives and bears a son and calls him Ishmael. It is Ishmael that Abraham, at Sarah’s request, casts out of his home. It is Ishmael who is cast under the bushes to die. He has a name. He has a story. This same Ishmael goes on to become an important prophet and patriarch of Islam. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the descendant of Ishmael and that he would indeed go on to establish a great nation, as promised by God in our passage from Genesis. But in our story, he doesn’t even have a name.
When we cannot be bothered to learn and say a person’s name it is too easy to make all kinds of assumptions based on stereotypes. For example, listen to these words from rapper J. Cole’s song “Neighbors” [Warning: explicit lyrics]: