Last week, we heard the story of Abraham and Sarah learning Sarah would conceive and bear a child. This was an incredible miracle – Sarah had spent more than 80 years child-free. Before her pregnancy and the birth of Isaac, Sarah had given up on becoming a biological mother. 

Abraham and Sarah lived during a time period and in a place that allowed people to own slaves. Sarah had a woman, Hagar, who was her slave. Sarah made Hagar lie with Abraham so that she would become pregnant. As Hagar’s owner, Sarah could claim the offspring of Abraham and Hagar as her own child. So, when Ishmael was born to Hagar, Sarah claimed him as her son. Hagar resented Sarah mightily – she had no freedom to allow her to have bodily autonomy and she didn’t get to mother her son. But, once Isaac was born to Sarah, she decided to get rid of Ishmael and Hagar.

This is one of the cruelest stories in the Bible. Listen now to how it is explained in the book of Genesis, chapter 21, verses eight through twenty-one:

Proclamation of the Scripture            Genesis 21:8-21      

 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 

But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 

and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 

I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 

Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, shebegan to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 

Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 

While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Message                             Daring Discipleship

            Fortunately, the story of Hagar and has a happier ending than it begins.  When I was in seminary, this story was considered a “Text of Terror.” Hagar was a slave. She had no free-will. She had no freedom. Hagar was originally from Egypt…we don’t know if she was born into slavery or if something catastrophic happened in her life that led to her becoming a slave. Abraham and Sarah were nomadic and travelled throughout the area between modern-day Iraq and Egypt.  Servants and slaves had to travel with the family to tend their sheep, prepare their food, care for their animals, and carry water long distances from wells to where the family set up camp.  Life was difficult for Hagar. And, it became even more difficult when Sarah decided Hagar needed to become Abraham’s concubine.

            Hagar had a son, Ishmael. She hoped that by becoming the mother of the son of Abraham, her status and treatment would improve. But, in our scripture, even before Sarah became pregnant with Isaac, it is recorded that Sarah became very jealous of Hagar. At points, Hagar considered running away. But, the family camped in isolated, wilderness areas. Running away was not really an option because Hagar wouldn’t have been able to escape to safety.

            Sarah continued to be jealous…so jealous that she told Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael after Isaac was born. “Get rid of” are the words pulled directly from scripture. I hope she wasn’t telling him to kill them, but being cast out into the wilderness was probably a death sentence for Hagar and Ishmael – certainly Hagar thought they would die after they ran out of water and food.

            Fortunately, for Hagar and Ishmael and for everyone who has a heart for struggling women, God heard Hagar and Ishmael crying. God called to Hagar, and spoke directly to her, and told her he would help the little family and eventually a great nation would arise from the descendants of Ishmael. This story is also part of the Holy Scriptures of the Muslim people, the Koran.  The Muslim people believe the well of water God showed Hagar and Ishmael is on the site that became the Kaaba, the stone building at the center of the holiest site in Islam in Mecca. Through his son Ishmael, Abraham is considered the ancestor of all the Muslim people.

            So, after years of slavery, hostility and jealously from her owner, forced concubinage, and then abandonment in the wilderness, God rescued Hagar and Ishmael. Good things grew out of many difficult years.  God listened to Hagar and helped her and Ishmael. And, God spoke directly to Hagar….a low-status woman, a slave, had a one-on-one conversation with God!

            These are difficult stories to talk about. The people in the Bible, even the people who are our role models, were also flawed human beings. Sarah was a faithful wife to Abraham, a good mother to Isaac, a follower of God, and a jealous, cruel slave owner. These things seem contradictory. Abraham made the first covenant with God, listened to God and moved far away from his home, trusted God when God told him he would have countless offspring, and was still a cruel slave owner.  These things seem contradictory. And, it is  uncomfortable to read that Abraham listened to Sarah despite his better judgment. Sarah wanted him to “get rid of” Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham hesitated and felt conflicted. He wasn’t sure that was a good idea. Only after he talked to God, and God told Abraham that God would help Hagar and Ishmael….only then Abraham followed through with Sarah’s request.

            Like Abraham and Sarah, all people are a mixture of good and bad traits. The only perfect person who walked the earth was Jesus the Christ. Many of the people who are held up as role models in our scripture were also people who did terrible things. Paul persecuted Christians. David’s orders led to the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, Jonah ran the opposite way from where God commanded him to go, Peter denied his friendship with Jesus. Many of the people we want to imitate as the faithful people of God were also people who did terrible things.

            We are all a mixture of good and bad traits. We have all done things and said things that hurt other people, which hurt ourselves, that we are ashamed of doing. We all sin. Every day, we make mistakes.

            And, God loves us anyway. If God relied on perfect people to do God’s work, God wouldn’t have anyone to rely on. God relies on us…the broken people…the weird people….the people who don’t get everything right.

            Many of the stories in the Bible are examples of what not to do.  In this case, we are not supposed to be like Sarah and Abraham – keep no slaves, treat all lower-status people with kindness and compassion, don’t allow our jealousy to hurt other people, don’t make our partners or friends do things that can lead to the death of others – in some ways, the things we need to avoid are pretty black and white. But, in our case, there will be countless things that we encounter that will not seem so black and white. And, when we are facing our own conflicts, and the little voice in our head is telling us to do two different things, we need to remember that we are followers of the God of love, and we need to react in a manner that most closely adheres to acting with love and compassion.

            Even people we admire get things wrong. Sometimes we are the ones that get things wrong. But, it is our work to constantly strive to do better, to be better, and to treat others with love, kindness, and compassion.

            May we remember to do so always. Amen.