First United Methodist Church
In our Hebrew scripture for today, Abraham throws a feast to celebrate the weaning of Isaac, a ritual that likely took place around Isaac’s third birthday. Ishmael would have been around fifteen or sixteen at the time.
In the story, Sarah becomes angry when she sees the two boys playing together. This is not the first time she has dealt with her feelings of jealousy and anger toward Hagar and Ishmael. Back in chapter sixteen, Sarai complained that after Hagar had conceived, she looked at her mistress “with contempt.”
Since the role of a concubine was to produce a male heir, the child born to that woman would legally be tied to the wife of the child’s father, not the concubine. So the child to be born would be Sarai’s son, not Hagar’s. And yet, Sarai felt angry and jealous toward Hagar, even though it was Sarai who asked Abraham to go to Hagar because she, Sarai, was barren.
This was a tough situation for all parties involved. In addition to jealousy and anger, there are issues of infertility, sexual infidelity, abuse, slavery, and gender and cultural oppression.
In chapter sixteen, Abraham reminded Sarai that Hagar was her slave, and he told her to handle the perceived insubordination in whatever way she saw fit. So, empowered by her husband, Sarai “dealt harshly” with Hagar. So harshly that Hagar ran away.
But then an angel of the Lord came to Hagar by a spring in the wilderness and told her to return home. The angel promised that she would be the bearer of multitudes. And so Hagar returned to the household of Abraham and Sarai, and life went on, for sixteen or seventeen more years, until the events that we read about in today’s scripture occur.
When Sarah saw the boys playing together and became jealous, instead of “dealing harshly” with her slave, this time she asked Abraham to deport Hagar and Ishmael. Cast them out. After more than sixteen years of living as a slave and concubine, under harsh treatment, Hagar and her teenage son are cast out. They have nowhere to go and no way to support themselves.
What our scripture presents us with is a chaotic, jumbled, messy life situation. We all face them at different times in our lives. We face them in our discipleship. When we are “cast out,” whether from our family or from a comfortable circumstance, we transition and our relationship changes from one of dependence into one of independence. But sometimes this independence comes with a cost. And we find ourselves like Hagar, without resources, without hope. But Jesus promises that God is always present with us in the Holy Spirit, no matter how hard the going gets. When things get chaotic, jumbled and messy, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and look for signs of God.
In the case of Sarah and Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael, some of God’s responses are hard to understand. This situation, when viewed from our modern perspective, is deplorable and difficult to explain.
But then, that’s the way it always is.
We know God is with us. And we know that although God is present, difficult times still come our way. We get thrown into chaos over and over. The hard truth is: God does not always prevent people from doing things that are wrong.
It is true that Abraham made a decision to trust in Sarah’s ability to handle the situation. It is true that Sarah indulged her own feelings of anger, jealousy, and resentment rather than trusting God’s purpose and vision for this family. It is true that Abraham supported Sarah’s unlawful and sinful behavior, and in doing so, engaged in unrighteous behavior himself. And it is true that God didn’t prevent Sarah and Abraham from doing this terrible thing. God didn’t stop them from deporting Hagar and Ishmael. God didn’t stop them from acting inhumanely toward their fellow human beings, their own family members.
Just as God does not prevent us from acting in ways that are harmful for others.
The good news is, God is with us, even when we do not act in Christ-like ways toward our sisters and brothers. God is with us, sending messages through “angels” to encourage us to engage the really hard questions, admit to our own sins, own up to our mistakes, turn our lives around, and head in a new direction.
· God is with us, inviting us to trust in God more than in ourselves.
· God is with us, offering us grace so that we may have the faith to trust in God.
· God is with us, allowing us to fall down and urging us to learn from our mistakes so that we will not repeat them.
· God is with us, sometimes saying and doing things that are confusing and difficult to hear, let alone, understand.
· God is with us, watching over brothers and sisters in our own Christian faith and our brothers and sisters in nations born to the cousins of our faith.
· God is with us. Take some time this week to celebrate God’s presence in every moment. Let us pray…
Loving Lord, just as we make every attempt to make our churches welcoming and friendly places, help us to spread our hospitality beyond these walls. We are called to adopt attitudes of hospitality to others who may not return the favor. We are called to be willing to take the risk of hospitality in our workplace, our homes, our community, everywhere we go. Lord, you reached out to people in all kinds of conditions. Many of those people had been rejected by their society, their families. They were in need of compassionate greeting and friendship. Lord Jesus, as you have welcomed us regardless of our faults and failings, let us also be a welcoming presence to all in your name. AMEN