June 21, 2020
When I hear the name Hagar, my mind goes to the comic strip character, Hagar the Horrible. I knew about him long before I realized that Hagar the Egyptian was a woman featured in the Old Testament account of Abraham.
We should begin by filling in the blanks from last week’s reading where Sarah laughed at the promise that she and Abraham would have a child at their advanced age. You should know that Sarah had convinced Abraham that she would never bear him a child and so had him take a shortcut to fulfill the promise. Abraham had a child with the Egyptian slave girl named Hagar. But after they'd taken matters into their own hands, God did fulfill the promise, Sarah bore Isaac. And we join the story today and discover that Sarah has grown to despise both Hagar and her son, Ishmael.
It was Sarah’s idea that Abraham have this son with Hagar but now it doesn’t seem such a good idea. She is afraid that Ishmael will steal the inheritance she is counting on for her son Isaac. And there most likely are feelings of jealousy with Hagar in the camp. Hagar was certainly younger, perhaps some of Sarah’s youthful beauty was gone at the age of 90. There is only one thing to do, send the slave and her child away.
We read that this distressed Abraham… well, I would hope so. Sending away your own child because of jealousy and insecurity? But God reassured Abraham, “As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”
So this great patriarch of the Jewish faith… and in fact the Muslim faith which I will get to… sends this woman and child into the desert. Ruth read, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.” Just bread and water, things for Hagar certainly seemed hopeless.
I want to take a peak ahead; next week we'll hear the story where Abraham is asked to bring Isaac to the mountain to be sacrificed. A hard story as well. And we certainly see some similarities here. “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac.” First Abraham sends this son Ishmael away, then takes Isaac with the prospects of either returning slim to none. But we know that God stays Abraham hand from killing Isaac. And here we read, “God opened (Hagar's) eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.”
In the Hebrew language, the name Ishmael means “God hears or God heard.” And the account in Genesis tells us that God heard the voice of the child, and sent an angel to Hagar promising that they would survive And that God would make a great nation of Ishmael, which happens. Also, tradition says that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, is a direct descendant of Ishmael, thus Abraham is also the father of the Muslim faith.
There’s a comic strip of Hagar the Horrible where we see his ship sinking in the sea as Hagar crawls up onto a deserted island. Hagar calls out, “Why me God?” And a voice from the clouds answers, “Why not you?” Hagar could certainly ask that question, “Why me.” She was a slave, she was invited as a kind of family member then sent away to die. She was being forced to watch her only son die and expected that she would soon die as well. She was in the wilderness with no hope. “Why me, Lord?”
Have you ever asked that question? It’s a question on many lips these days as we face civil unrest, the constant threat of the virus, the fears and doubts and questions; why me Lord, why us Lord, why now Lord?
And I certainly don’t have the answers; God does not often make clear the whys of life. But God has given us certain promises. The promise to Hagar was that her son would be a great nation and so to fulfill that pledge, God did not allow them to die. God heard their plea and God acted on their behalf. God made a promise and fulfilled that promise. Even though the promise of the chosen people, of the Messiah, was to Abraham, fulfilled through the line of Isaac, God did not forsake this other family line.
As Christians, we are often tempted to believe that we have a corner on the love and promises of God. And we do… much like Abraham did. But that does not mean that God does not hear the cries and the prayers of the Hagars and Ishmaels of the world; the outcast, the widow, the orphan, the slave, the foreigner, the vulnerable. God hears and so must we. It is not acceptable to close ourselves off from the world and live in judgment on those who have been raised to think differently than us. When we hear their cries, we don’t reject them out of hand, but listen… listen with hearts tuned to God’s spirit of love and caring.
Jesus came to teach and to live out the caring nature of God. He taught his disciples specifically, but I think we can expand today’s key verse to the world… for all of us are heard by God even before we respond to God’s call. The key verse for me: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Claim this promise of your great value in the eyes of God. But understand too that we are not the exclusive recipients of God’s grace. Last week’s key verse was this, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” While we we still sinners; God in Christ is calling, seeking, loving us before we know that we are part of the promise. That’s good news. It is good news that calls us into relationship. Good news that calls us to repent and follow the lead of Jesus. It is also news that calls for us to respond with grace to those who are different from us, those who are living with different understandings of the promise. Not that all ways are equally correct, “Jesus is the way , the truth and the life,” but none of us knows how God is working in the lives of the Hagars and the Ishmaels of our world today. The invitation, no the responsibility, we have is to live out the love and care and call that God has for those outside the promise in which we live as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Jesus gave his disciples the responsibility to live out the faith he showed us. He didn’t say it would be easy, he didn’t say it would be comfortable. He put it this way, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This is not to be taken lightly. Taking up your cross in the days of Jesus meant certain death. If you were carrying a cross, you were being put to death. We are to put to death our desires and selfishness and self-righteousness and live out the grace we have received. Our Romans reading is full of theology, but this idea is expressed there, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
Hagar the Egyptian lived life that appeared to be outside the promises of God. But God found a way to fulfill promises through her son Ishmael. God’s eye was upon her even though we wouldn’t have called her a child of the promise.
God’s eye is on each of us. Not the eye of judgment but of promise. Not of condemnation, but of salvation. Jesus died and rose again so the promise would be for each of us. Paul wrote in today’s lesson, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Newness of life means joy. Newness of life means we can trust the promises of God. Newness of life means that we never walk alone and that God sees us as immeasurably valuable. “even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Let's sing of that good news.
His Eye is on the Sparrow