Genesis 21:8-21 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 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. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 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. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. ***************************************************** A little bit of background on today's story: God made a covenant with Abram to be the 'father of many nations' - but after enough time passes, and Sari, his very old wife doesn't get pregnant, she takes matters into her own hands and comes up with an idea. Hagar, her Egyptian slave, could bear a child for her. She says to her 90+ wrinkled husband: "Go for it Abe- The child will be mine- and the promise of God can be fulfilled." Abe goes for it- Hagar gets pregnant right away. WOW!
In ancient culture, status for women came through marriage, but higher status came through childbearing. So while Hagar started out with lower status than her mistress, the roles between she and Sari flipped when Hagar got pregnant.
What happens on the day that you realize that you can do something the boss can’t? Or when someone who works for you suddenly surpasses your ability or status? Exactly, instant conflict- role reversal! Hagar starts looking down on Sarah, and Sarah becomes abusive to Hagar, so Hagar runs away. God finds Hagar, and tells her to go back home, and basically... suck it up- God promises that Hagar’s offspring will also be so numerous that no one can count them, and that she should call her son Ishmael, which means- God hears.
But, God continues… “He’ll be a wild ass of a man, fighting everyone, and everyone fighting him; he won’t even get along with his family.” Hagar shrugs that part off, like all mothers would, and hangs on to what God has told her about the big family and the nation to be born through her son, and she begins to call God- “the one who sees”
I love that name for God! It reminds me of the James Cameron movie, Avatar- When the natives on the planet greet one another they say, “I see you.” Not like, 'I see you,' like, 'I'm looking at you...' rather, 'I see inside you.' I see you, meaning, a bringing of a readiness to be fully present with the other. I see you, meaning, 'I understand you, I am with you...' How different would the world be if we “saw” each other on the inside, with the heart- instead of just on the surface...
But back to the story...
Hagar goes back home, and gives birth to Ishmael- Abe is delighted to have a son; and as Ishmael gets older he and his old dad have a true father-son relationship. Abe teaches Ishmael how to hunt, and answers all of his questions about the stars, and teaches him about God- and the two of them play checkers on Saturday afternoons, and go camping, and watch sports, and all is right with the world.
But after a while, God takes Abe aside and says, "Abe, It’s great that you have your son Ishmael-and I’m always going to take care of him, and he is going to be great; but you are still going to have a child with Sarah. I made that promise, that covenant with you, and I am not going to break my promise. Abe, it’s through the child Isaac, not Ishmael, that I will keep that promise." And God changes Abe’s name from Abram to Abraham, and then has Abraham, as a sign of the promise between them, circumcise himself and Ishmael and all the members of his household.
So when Ishmael is 13, and Abraham is 99 and Sarah is 90- Sarah has a baby- and they realize why God calls him Isaac- because the name Isaac name means laughter- and if you don’t think a 90 year old lady giving birth to a baby is funny… come on…
So, that brings us to today: Isaac is now old enough to be weaned, and Abraham throws a party! Anybody who is anybody is there; he even invites his relatives from the old ranch, and he parades toddler Isaac around like any proud 102 year old papa would.
And even though this should have been a great time for everyone, for Sarah- not so much- because she knows that even though Isaac may be, “the promised one,” and God may have great plans for him, she still isn’t sold. The birthright laws of ancient times declared that regardless of the parent's wishes the eldest son inherits everything... in fact he becomes even the spiritual leader of the family.
So as Sarah is mulling all of this over in her mind, she happens to go out back and sees Ishmael teasing Isaac, as older brothers do- holding a ball just out of his reach, saying, "come on, take it… take it," and pulling it away at the last moment. She steps in like the mama bear she is, scoops up little Isaac, and as she carries her toddler away from the obnoxious 14 year old, all she’s thinking is- "There is no way that THAT kid is going to be in charge of MY son in any way, shape or form!"
And she marches straight into the den- stands in front of TV, shifts Isaac to her hip and points a finger right at Abraham and says, “You need to get that woman and her wild ass of a son out of our house! NOW!" And she spins on her heels and storms out of the room.
Abe sinks deeper into his recliner and begins to think of ways around the problem... but the voice of God interupts. “Let them go, Abraham- they will be OK- I’ll take care of them. I know it seems harsh- but things have to happen this way- the birthright has to go to Isaac.”
And, I’m not sure how he does it, but somehow, the next morning, Abraham gets up early, takes a water bag and a piece of bread, gives it to Hagar and tells her to take her son and go. He tries to say good bye to Ishmael, but the boy doesn’t even look at him… instead he runs from his dad into the wilderness. Hagar follows, probably still in shock.
The desert is so hot- and it doesn’t take long for the mother and son to run out of water. As the days go by Hagar watches the energy drain from Ishmael; his skin parched and burned from the sun. His walking becomes slow and staggered, until he finally just collapses face down in the sand. Hagar stoops down and turns him over, but he is disoriented, and his breathing is shallow... "Oh My God… Don’t do this! Don’t take my son… please.. He’s all I have... Please…" And Hagar drags the boy over to a bush, she kneels down beside him, and brushes the sand from his face… but when the boy doesn’t respond, it all becomes too much for her, and she stands upright, puts her fist to the sky and screams, “WHYYYY!!!”
Why would God let this happen? Why, after the first time she ran away, would God tell her to go back to Sarah if this is how it was going to end up? Why would God bring her out here just to watch her son die?
"Why?"….She has no other words… and she falls to the ground in a heap and just cries… I’m not sure how long she was there like that- in that state of confusion and grief and dread- with her arms wrapped so tightly around her knees, rocking back and forth… it was so quiet… she hadn’t heard a sound from Ishmael in so long, but she was afraid to look, and so she rocks…
But then, a word from God breaks the silence…
"I see you…"
Hagar looks up, eyes swollen and cloudy… and letting the tears come she responds…
“I see you… "
and God tells Hagar, “Don’t be afraid… Hold on... tight!”
And Hagar lets God touch her eyes, and then follows the path of God’s finger as it points there...there... not 50 yards away, is a well... A spring! A fountain of life giving water that Hagar had not seen- until she let God open her eyes.
There is a beautiful quote from the children’s book, the little prince. "What makes the desert beautiful… is that somewhere it hides a well..." "But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart". Hagar allowed God to touch her eyes, and she was able to look with her heart…
And they lived… and Ishmael, just as God had promised, became a great nation...
This story is so rich- and no doubt we all take away our own learning from it, depending on where we are, and let me encourage you to talk about them with one another after service and as you see each other during the week. But I want us to think beyond the individual today-
We are at present, a congregation that is both growing and grieving. We have many new faces, but at the same time, are missing some familiar ones. And the mix of joy of growth and sorrow of loss is apparent to many. And loss is a natural cycle in congregational life when a church grows. We've lost some folks through death. We've also had some loss through people leaving. Here's the thing, Not everyone is going to be happy about church growth- not everyone is going to want to be a part of where the church is going. diverse, genuinely inclusive community of faith striving to live out God’s love, justice, and compassion through the teachings of Christ. I've had a hard time accepting that myself... I want everyone on board, everyone included,
But there are two truths I want to note in the story I just told you that might help us today.
1. As difficult as it must have been, Abraham had to let Hagar and Ishmael go. As much as he loved his son, he had to let them leave, in order for the future God had in store through Isaac to be fulfilled. Abraham had to have grieved that loss so deeply- and I'm sure felt all of the things that we as a church are feeling as we've incurred loss. And it doesn't feel good, grief never feels good. But in letting go, we can begin to embrace and walk toward our future, which is Isaac. Do you know that the name Isaac means laughter? Joy? How do we find joy in the midst of grief?
2. When Hagar was in the desert, and watching her son suffer, she was focused on that... and only that. There was a well a few yards away and she couldn't see it, because she was so focused on what she was afraid of losing. And it's easy to do when we're grieving.. to focus only on the loss. But listen- some of the great things we learn from Hagar is that it's ok to raise our tiny dust fist to the sky and shout why? God's big enough to handle that. And take heart....when you do... God hears. And when we can't scream anymore, and we grow quiet enough to listen, God speaks, encouraging us to be bold enough to follow the finger of God, that leads to life giving water.
And I know, taking our attention away from the dying, even for a second, seems unthinkable. Yet it's what we're told to do over and over in scripture; focus on where God is leading us and to drink deeply the living water God has provided.
And I believe with all my heart that God has plans for us, that our vision we've received for our church is from God, that our church has a future of diversity, and inclusion, living out God's compassion and justice through the teachings of Christ, with joy and laughter... and most important, I believe that the God who hears and the God who speaks is also the God who sees... sees! My friends, God is not just watching from a distance... The God of resurrection sees us from the inside... understands us... is fully present with us... Today and every day,church, God points us to a well in the desert that is brimming with living water. We can see it… if we look with our heart.