30 Jun I Am One of Them (and So Are You.)
I Am One of Them (and So Are You.) – June 25th, 2017
I wanted to remind you of the background of today’s passage. God comes to Abraham and Sarah and makes a promise – you will be a father of a great nation – lots of offspring – more than the stars in the sky/grains of sand on the beach kind of thing. It’s unbelievable news – literally! Sarah even laughs at the news.
He is too old and her childbearing years aren’t just in the rearview mirror – it might just well have been a lifetime ago. But, a promise is a promise and a covenant with God is sure. They believed, but there was a lot of doubt as well, so Sarah, in an effort to be practical sets up a back-up plan, a second parachute just in case God doesn’t come through. She has this maid servant (that’s a nice way of saying she had a slave girl) named Hagar, and Sarah doesn’t think she has enough on her plate. She sends her servant in to Abraham.
If the promise isn’t going to come through the two of them, maybe it’s enough to come just through the Father’s side. Nine months later a baby comes, and they call him Ishmael. When the angel proclaims the news of his birth, she says he will be a “wild ass of a man”. His hand will be against everyone and he’ll be at odds with his family. (The Bible isn’t always kind in its description.)
Abraham is happy.
Hagar is happy.
The only one who is displeased with these series of natural events? You guessed it – it’s the one who put all of this into motion – Sarah –vengeful, scorned, forgotten, and barren Sarah. Every time she sees Hagar she seethes. Every time she is with Abraham she is reminded perhaps that her husband wasn’t the one who was infertile – he wasn’t the reason they couldn’t get pregnant.
But, just because a promise is delayed doesn’t mean it is a promise denied, so a time comes many years later (maybe 14) when she conceives and gives birth to a son, Isaac. This is where we pick up today’s story:
8The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.10So 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.”11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.12But 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.13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”14So 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.
15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.16Then 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.17And 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.18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”19Then 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.
20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Patriarchs and Matriarchs – Father Abraham had many sons – I grew up singing this song as a child – it’s the Christian “Hokey Pokey”… You put your right arm in, you put your right arm out… If the song was biblically accurate, it would probably say, “You take your promised son Isaac in and kick your first son Ishmael out…
This story has never sat well with me. Sarah comes off as vindictive and spiteful. Abraham seems weak and ineffectual. Hagar and the boy are helpless outsiders subject to the whims of “their betters”. Sarah treats Hagar horribly.
Biblical experts say there are two possible reasons for this, and while I’m no expert, I will suggest a third.
- Hagar became haughty. She gave her master that look. You know that “look”. I have what you’ve always wanted. When I lived in the Deep South, folks would call it “being uppity.” Hagar had a child, but she had forgotten her station in life as a slave.
- Ishmael wasn’t going to be healthy for Isaac. The NRSV translates verse 9, “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.” It sounds pretty benign, but other translations use the work “mock” instead of play. If families kicked out children for making fun of each other – my three older brothers would have been gone and on their own in the mid 1970’s, and I would have soon followed.
- I think it’s a little A and a little B, but I believe Sarah’s desire to get rid of Hagar and her son was pure vengeance. Those people don’t belong with us. She’s an Egyptian, and that means she’s an outsider. She’s a slave, and that means she doesn’t have the same rights. She’s a woman, and she doesn’t have any power.
We read the whole passage and we hear a lot of names.
Sarah is mentioned and speaks. “Get that slave woman and her son out of here.”
Hagar is mentioned and cries out. “Do not let me look on the death of the child.”
Abraham is mentioned six times, but we don’t hear his voice in this passage.
Isaac is celebrated.
God talks and talks again.
The one name we never hear in today’s passage is Ishmael’s. I wonder why the author chose not to mention his name in this difficult story. The boy. Your son. But never Ishmael.
Perhaps, it was just too gut-wrenching to use his name. We know who is he, or at least we know people like him, so it’s enough to rely on other nouns and pronouns in the passage.
I remember the first time I saw an African American man get beaten up. I was in Junior High School and the television news had grainy images of Rodney King taking kicks, punches, and baton blows in Los Angeles. It made an impression on me, and I will always remember his name.
The past several years have been filled with all kinds of scenes of violence. I don’t know if there is a spike in these horrible events or if it was always going on, but now everyone has a camera.
One of the most important things that has arisen in social media is the call to say the names of the victims of this violence. When we say the names, they are not just an “other”, an “outsider”, or an “outcast”. They aren’t servants. They aren’t foreigners. They aren’t the enemy. To call by name is to transform something into someone.
Say her name. Say his name.
So, we need to say Ishmael…and we need to say…
- Sandra Bland
- Philando Castile
- Nabra Hassanen (Na-Bra Haas-Sa-Nan)
- Mike Flamion (Flame-E-On)
We need to say these names and countless others, not because it will make us feel better, but because it will make us uncomfortable – work for justice.
Hagar and Ishmael set out.
A skin of water. That’s it.
Refugees headed out on their own. In today’s world, they might be refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or a mother and son fleeing unrest in Honduras or South Sudan.
They have little and what little they have soon runs out.
Leave the boy to die.
Can’t watch. Lord, don’t make me watch.
The story isn’t over.
God hears the cry…his cry. Ishmael is not named, but he still has a voice and God is listening.
There’s more than one promise. There’s more than one nation. God is God over all of it.
But, we’re from different nations, religions, backgrounds. We all have different mothers.
But…we all have the same Father.
All children of the promise… because it’s not a birthright, it’s a matter of the faith of Jesus Christ.
Anne LaMotte recalls a cartoon in Conde Nast – two dogs in suits drinking martinis: “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.”
Ishmael – “God hears”. It’s in his name. God hears. I believe this is the foundational part of God’s nature.
May God open all our eyes to the nameless people around us – regardless of our differences, no matter our thirst; may the Lord help us to see there is enough water to fill our skins. God hears…let us all see.
Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them… and so are you.