Sermon, June 25, 2017

Hagar’s Story
Rev. Pam Lucas

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
June 25, 2017
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 86; Genesis 21: 18-21

Vermont Conference Associate Minister, Rev. Pam Lucas

‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters.’ And out of that chaos God brought order and purpose and life…men and women created in the image of God.

And then out of all the men and women in the world God called to Abraham and Sarah, ‘Go from this your country to a land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you so that you will be a blessing – and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

The story of God’s people in scripture is the same story we hear each day in the daily news. The Holy Land of Scripture is the Holy Land of today. Three monotheistic faiths share the creedal belief that there is but One God. All three trace their family tree back to Abraham – that patriarch of our faith.

And we – who share a God who created us all in God’s image and gave us a common ancestor have managed to dismantle order and create chaos – in our Holy Land of origin.

For Jews and Christians, that tree is traced from Abraham’s son Isaac – born to Sarah and Abraham in their ‘very’ old age! The pages of the Old Testament – variously also called the Hebrew Scriptures – or the First Testament tell the rest of the sacred story of our Jewish brothers and sisters. And the pages of the New Testament – or Second Testament continues to trace the sacred story through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who binds the Christian community into the church born on Pentecost.

Yet, the third monotheistic faith is Islam – who trace their family tree through Abraham’s son Ishmael, birthed by Hagar – Sarah’s slave-woman. The rest of their story unfolds in their sacred scripture – the Koran.

But we have a hint of that other family story that grows into its own branch of the family tree. Right at the beginning of our common story, we learn that God is present with the outsider and the oppressed.

Hear Hagar’s Story in Genesis chapter 21:18-21.

Hagar sat on a small rock in the blazing son, rocking back and forth, back and forth, her arms wrapped tightly around her, trying not to hear the cries of her son – her dying son.

A sob escaped her lips – a scream of terror and anger – directed at anything – everything – directed at God – even though Hager knew that God was nowhere near.

The cries of her son stopped. He would die soon – then she would die – and then it would all be over. But then – from somewhere deep inside – came a cry of defiance – yes directed at God. What had God ever done for her – except give her a bit of hope – and now had thrown her out into the desert with her son to die.

They say that just before you die your whole life plays out before you –

She saw herself as a child in Egypt – taken from a home she barely remembered – sold as a slave to Sarah – waiting on her for years and years. Old Sarah – barren Sarah – Sarah who could have no children argued and begged God to give her a son.

And then fourteen years ago – Sarah had grabbed her arms and pushed her into Sarah’s tent and told her husband Abraham – ‘Here – make this slave-girl pregnant. If I can’t give her a son, she can. But it will be MY child. Do you hear that, slave?’

Hagar remembered nodding silently – she had no choice. She was a slave who did what she was told.

Hagar did get pregnant. She loved that child growing inside of her. But as Sarah kept reminding her –‘It’s NOT your child.’

Hagar should have known better. She should have known that slaves do not taunt their owners. But this was so unfair. She blurted out – ‘You’re right. He’s your child, o barren woman!’

Of course, Sarah lashed back in anger. She beat her. And Hagar had fled into the desert. It didn’t seem so bad that time. She felt God’s touch on her swollen belly. She seemed to hear God speak. ‘Give Sarah time to cool down, and then go back. You will bear your child. Give him the name of Ishmael – which means, ‘God hears’. God will hear you. Your son shall grow up strong, and you shall hold his children on your knee.’

Hagar did return. She did her best to follow orders and stay out of Sarah’s way – and to keep Ishmael out of her way as well.

But then came the day there were rumors – rumors of angels – rumors of Sarah and Abraham laughing out loud at the angelic good news that Sarah would have a son.

Hagar looked at her son – now in his early teens – she thought – ‘Good news! Not for me. Not for Ishmael. Hagar did not laugh when Sarah birthed a son named Isaac – which means ‘laughter’.

Little Isaac toddled from tent to tent. Ishmael saw the child fall and hurt his knee a bit. Ishmael picked him up to comfort him. When Sarah suddenly appeared and saw Ishmael with her son, her beloved Isaac, she screamed and told Hagar to ‘Get out – go away – I don’t ever want to see you again. Get out!’

Abraham had tried his best – ‘Sarah, you’re the one who brought Hagar to me. It was you who said that we should have a child through her. And now you want to throw them out – it’s not right.’

Sarah didn’t back down – ‘that boy is old enough to take your place – if you die, he will inherit everything and the child God sent to us will be left with nothing. Get rid of her and her son. Right now!

Abraham even talked with God about it. ‘They’ll die if I send them out into the desert. What can I do?’

God said, ‘Do as Sarah tells you. I will work it out. I will make of nation of multitudes for him as well – for he is your offspring.’

And now Hagar screamed at God. ‘So much for your promises, God. My son is quiet now – maybe he’s already dead. I put him over there because I can’t stand to watch him die. The child who was supposed to be Abraham’s son. He sent us out here with one skin of water and a little bread – for two of us – in a place where there is no water or food – or villages or people. What did he expect – except that we would die.’ Her sobs took over the words – her tears were blinding.

Something inside of her nudged her to go over to her son – to wrap her arms around him one more time. She got up and stumbled over rocks and brush and held his body – and she heard the promise – God had heard the cries of her son – and God had heard her cries of trouble and hopelessness – her anger and despair – God said – remember – I am going to make a great nation of him. He will have a wife –

And then through her tears – she saw –

“Beer-lahai-roi” (“Well of the Living One Who Sees Me”), Hagar after the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. By Marcia Tomlinson

She saw a well? Was she so far gone that she was seeing things? Why hadn’t she seen it earlier? Had God just given her a miracle?

She laid her son’s body down and hurried to fill her water skin. She poured it out on the thin cracked lips of Ishmael. At first he didn’t respond – but then he moved. He drank and drank –

She whispered to him – ‘You will live, Ishmael’ – and Hagar knew that she and her son were loved of God – and children of God’s promise – just as much as Abraham, Sarah and Isaac.

“I Love My God, Who Heard My Cry” … I love my God, who heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to God’s throne …

The Genesis story tells us that when Abraham died, his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave at Machpelah – where Sarah had been buried earlier. Ishmael settled from Havilah to Shur – which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. Ishmael had twelve sons – twelve princes according to their tribes.

This story confronts us with the flaws in our spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith. This story holds the seeds of so much of the violence that has been part of world history and Christian Church history and is still playing out in real time.

This God we call the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and Jacob’s twelve sons who would form the twelve tribes of Israel – who would journey to Egypt – where the day would come when God would hear their cries in the midst of slavery and oppression and abuse – who would be led forth from Egypt to the Promised Land – to become the people of God who would be blessed to be a blessing to all the families – this God would call these people to remember – to remember that they had been slaves – they had been oppressed – they had been strangers and aliens and outsiders – they had been hungry and thirsty – and IF they remembered well – they were to welcome the stranger – and care for the widow and orphan – perhaps they were being called to do the opposite of what Abraham and Sarah had done to Hagar and Ishmael. Maybe they were begin called to act as God had acted – to make hope and a way for the outsider – to provide for the needs of the stranger and alien –

Perhaps that is what we do each time we make room in our lives and churches for the hopeless – every time we furnish food for the hungry – every time we work to make our churches, our communities safe for our children – each time we work to stop the cycle of domestic violence and make safe houses for women and children – every time we work to make shelter for those who have none – we learn from Sarah and Abraham that there is a better way.

U2’s lead singer Bono addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 and said ‘God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives. And God is with us – if we are with them.’