Year A; Proper 7; 6.21.2020
Genesis 21:18-21, Hagar’s Spirituality
“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”
We left off last week with these words, written in the Book of Genesis, said by YHWH, the God of Abraham. God seemed to lean over to say to Abraham after learning that Sarah would bear a son in her old age, and said, “Hey, Abraham, why is Sarah laughing? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”
And indeed, she bore a son and named him Isaac.
That’s where the story from Genesis begins today. Abraham hosts another feast, this time it is a celebration of the weaning of Isaac. I love that it’s Father’s Day. I love the men in my life. And I love that the story today is of the patriarch Abraham who is referred to as the patriarch of the three “Abrahamic Faiths:” Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Abraham is the patriarch for Christians because our faith comes from Jesus and his Jewish faith. Abraham is known in Scripture as having obedient faith in God, and even next week’s lesson we will learn that he almost sacrificed Isaac in obedience to God.
But in today’s story, I wish he had been more kind to Hagar. I don’t like how he treated the slave woman and her son, HIS son Ishmael. I would have preferred on Father’s Day a more “Prodigal son-like-father;” A father, a master of forgiveness instead of a father who cast out into the wilderness a single mom and her son. And yet, the beauty of the story of Hagar gives us the opportunity to learn about her resilience and abiding faith in God.
Hagar was the foreign servant of Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were wealthy in land and possessions and slaves. As Sarah got on in years and realized that she was too old to have children, giving Abraham no heirs, she engineered a surrogate relationship between Abraham and Hagar. From that relationship, Hagar conceived right away. This only made the relationship between Sarah and her servant worse. Sarah blamed Hagar for mocking her infertility and made life so difficult for Hagar that she fled into the wilderness, pregnant and on foot. But God’s angels met her and sent her back, promising that her own son would produce offspring too numerous to count.
We enter into the story today as Abraham completes the celebration for two-year-old Isaac his son born to Sarah. So, now he has two sons born of different mothers. The two boys are obviously close because they are playing happily together; a 13-year-old with his half-brother, a two year old.
Sarah, though, was alarmed to see their closeness and immediately realized that Isaac’s inheritance was in jeopardy. She went to Abraham who couldn’t say “no” to her command that he cast out Hagar and Ishmael from the home. She doesn’t even hide her motives saying, “The son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son.”
Abraham was very distressed, but still sent her out. He gave her a skin of water and bread for their exile. Naturally, the water and bread ran out. And so, with no food, no water, no family, alone in the wilderness Hagar prepares to die. She put her son Ishmael under a bush and she went away enough distance so she couldn’t see him die.
And she lifted up her voice. And she wept.
What else could she do?
Jewish scholars on this passage convey deep sympathy for Hagar. Isaac and Ishmael are called “tribal cousins” and represent “…the essential affinity between the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. What on a human plane appears as Sarah’s harsh and overprotective behavior is on the divine level part of God’s plan….” God’s desire is that all the “…nations and races may serve God in harmony around God’s heavenly throne.”
Jewish scholars imagine the prayer that Hagar said on her dying lips. It is a prayer of complaint and a prayer of petition. She “…seeks refuge, protection, and rescue, for ‘[she] is completely without resources.”
It is the prayer of psalm 86 we chanted this morning.
“Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me…” in verse one, she cries.
“I’m watching my son die for lack of water and bread. We’ve been cast out of our home and have been wandering aimlessly in the wilderness…”
“I am poor and am in misery…Turn to me and have mercy upon me; give your strength to your servant; and save the child of your handmaid.”
Even at her last desperate moment, she knows that God is present for her. “For you are great; you do wondrous things;…” She is about to die. Her son is about to die and yet she is still saying, “You do wondrous things; and you alone are God.” She even asks for specific help: “give me your strength and save my child.”
God provided for her. “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy…”
I have not spent much time with the biblical character Hagar before now. She was Egyptian, a non-Israelite. She is called a “servant,” but was probably purchased as a slave in Egypt and brought into Abraham’s household to be Sarah’s slave and Abraham’s concubine. Her story is important because it gives hope to women in captivity from every generation. God does not leave you comfortless. God favors you and provides for you.
It is a story for women today lost in the captivity of international sex trafficking. A story that says, GOD has not forgotten you and favors you. It’s a story for children separated from their families at our borders. God HAS NOT forgotten you. It’s a story to us as country struggling to come to grips with our own slave history, families brutally separated for sale. Her story also gives me compassion for single mothers who are vulnerable and whose children are vulnerable. I imagine Hagar is the strong character from Scripture to give women from all ages hope in God’s loving care and provision.
Yesterday, five parishioners who have volunteered to be facilitators of our St. Paul’s Sacred Ground Dialogue Circles for the 10 sessions on race and faith, met on Zoom for training. Linda Ashe-Ford is our trainer. Before we adjourned yesterday, Linda led us in a list of things to do for self-care as we venture into our exploration of race and faith. The first thing on her list is,
“Take care of your soul. Meditate. Pray. Talk to the Holy One.”
“Take care of your soul. Meditate. Pray. Talk to the Holy One.”
The slave mother Hagar teaches us how to talk to the Holy One.
Imagine talking to the Holy One with the faith of Hagar for those who are cast out and vulnerable.