Jun 21, 2020

SUNDAY JUNE 21—A Homily: Strange Bedfellows

"Abraham's Other Son"

PRAYER

May the words of my mouth and the mediation of our hearts
be acceptable to you, O God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Perfecter.
(adapted from Psalm 19.14)


TextGenesis 21.1-21


The text from the Hebrew Scriptures today provides insight into the contrasting personhoods of Hagar and Sarah.

Sarah, while a womanconsidered a lesser person than a male person in that time and placeis a woman of privilege. She has access to things other women would not have. Even in here barren state, she had a promised from YHWH (יהוה). She will give birth to a son and with Abraham they will be blessed and be a blessing to all. Their descendants would be exponentially numbered, more than grains of sand in all the earth. She has found God's favor. And, in that favor she has privilege.

Hagar, on the other hand, is enslaved by Abraham and Sarah. She is without power and without say. Her fate in life would seem to be giving birth to a son for the sake of Abraham because he and Sarah lose their trust in God's promise time and again. But then, after so many years, who would still cling to the expectation of giving birth especially in the age beyond menopause? Still, Hagar enters the story as a means to that end--providing one to carry on the name and bring descendants to the couple of God's promise. And, that she does. By serving as a victim of sexual assault and rape (she had no choice in the matter) she bore Abraham's 1st son, Ishmael. In a moment we will get back to what that name means.

So, it seems like Abraham and Sarah have brought God's promise to fruition, going with Plan B. No thought or concern of what it means to Hagar. Sarah will do her best to accept the reality that a slave has given them a son.

Nonetheless, just as it seems that things have come full circle, YHWH has a way of being in life as one who surprises. Doing nothing less or more than completing the promise, Sarahthe barren onenow in old age, becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac.

It is in the context of Isaac's life that Sarah grows increasingly unable to have regard for Ishmael and Hagar. Her disregard is known in her ordering Abraham to send both Hagar and their son, Ishmael, out into a desert to fend for themselves. With only a vessel of water they are exiled, abandoned, left for dead. Survival under such conditions would make that their reality.

In the banishment of the desert, now out of water--the vessel being dry--Hagar cannot bear to watch her son die. So she hides him under a bush, not only placing him at some distance but providing shelter from the sun for the sake of sparing his life as long as humanly possible. There, in her increasing grief and pending loss, she cries. She cries as part of that universal cry of Rachel whose children are no more, and nothing she can do will bring them back.

While the text does not indicate a cry other than her own--which is without doubt sufficiently mournful--Ishmael would have cried, as well. In fact, it is then noted that God heard his crying. A thirsty, parched young boy, in the heat and "dry as a bone" desert the pain of dying, the excruciating torture of his suffering, cried out in an anguish like no other.

Ishmael, the one who name in Hebrew means "God will hear" was, in fact, heard by YHWH (יהוה). In the mercy and compassion of God's steadfast and enduring love, YHWH (יהוה) intervenes. Like a miracle, a not too far off well is seen by Hagar. To the well she takes her dying child, as her dying self, for both to drink from the water of life. Into the Mystery they live.

God hears. Ishma-el. (ישמעאל). God listens. That is what the name means.

What a wonderful reality. Even in the most dire of situations and circumstances, God hears. Even the voices and cries of the least of those among us, God listens. 

Hagar (הגר), her name meaning "one in exile" was taken from Egypt, was raped by Abraham, was used and abused by Sarah, was sent into the desert, and in it all God gave her a home, a family, a nation. She is not only the exiled, she is also the immigrant par excellence. 

This story and the people within it stand as a vital image of today. All the ills of our society are present herein. Racism, rape/sexual abuse, slavery, usury, the dehumanization of others, male chauvinism, child abuse, it is all there and here.

God is a worker of rectitude and integrity. God takes what we have turned upside down and makes it--once again--right side up. This righteousness of God calls us to acknowledge and own the things we have upended taking accountability to make them right. Not on our own do we make it right. In the One who redeems, heals, and reconciles we find not only the need for peace with justice, but the very Source of all truth and goodness.

So, let us consider the contrasts of this story and meditate upon them to identify the parallels and correlations of today, all that we might work to bring justice and to make peace.

Naming the names:
Sarai/Sarah (שרה) in Hebrew means "princess" who would be one of privilege. The root for the word is "sar" meaning "to rule".
Abraham (אַבְרָהָם) in Hebrew means "the father of many".
Isaac (איזאאק) in Hebrew means "laughter" reflecting back to Sarah's laughing at God (as what would appear to be an expression of contempt given the context) as God spoke the promise of a child and numerous descendants to Abraham.

Sarah laughs in God's face. Hagar cries.
Sarah rules over the family and its possessions. Hagar is a slave.
Sarah was delivered out of Egypt. Hagar was kidnapped, stolen from Egypt.
Sarah took what was not her own and owned it. Hagar owned nothing.
Sarah decides the outcome of her circumstances exiling Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar is exiled without choice or voice.
Ishmael is delivered from an abusive situation and potential death to marry an Egyptian woman and be the father of a nation blessed by God.
Abraham demonstrates his lack of trust in God and the promise made, again and again. He fathers a son by rape. Upon Isaac's birth he hand Hagar and Ishmael a death sentence.

I cannot speak for you. But for me, in my being male, white, and of privilege I am more able to identify with Abraham and Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael seem to represent those who through the ages have been living in oppression. Powerless, ultimately poor—except for a vessel of water, owned, possessed, disregarded, disowned, foreigner, ethnic, without any freedom and controlled by privilege, Hagar and Ishmael are baptized into a new reality. Even in the death-like desert, water of life is provided. God reminds us and all who know this story that being church means liberating the oppressed, caring for the poor and those in need, changing the structures and systems in our society that do not provide equal access to things needed to live and be well.


THE REALITY WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

The sin of racism is evil and needs to be wiped out. Too many times, mis-education has blocked the path to racial healing.  Too many times, apathy has hindered the road to racial healing. People of faith are called to attend to the wounds of racism with prayer and action—to move out of pain to healing by transforming systems and structures that perpetuate injustice. We must recognize that we can all do something about racism.


PRAYER

Good and gracious God, 
you invite us to recognize and reverence your divine image and 
likeness in our neighbor.
Enable us to see the reality of racism and 
free us to challenge and uproot it from our society, 
our world and ourselves.
Good and gracious God,
Who loves and delights in all people,
we stand in awe before You,
knowing that the spark of life within each person on earth 
is the spark of your divine life.
Differences among cultures and races are 
multicolored manifestations of Your Light.
May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and
differences among our sisters and brothers.
We place our hopes for racial harmony in our committed action 
and in Your Presence in our Neighbor.
May all peoples live in peace.
Amen.


STATEMENT OF FAITH

World Methodist Council Social Affirmation (Adapted)

We believe in God, creator of the world and of all people;
and in Jesus Christ, incarnate among us,
who died and rose again;
and in the Holy Spirit,
present with us to guide, strengthen, and comfort.

We believe;
God, help our unbelief.

We rejoice in every sign of God's Kin-Dom;
in the upholding of human dignity and community;
in every expression of love, justice and reconciliation;
in each act of self-giving on behalf of others;
in the abundance of God's gifts
entrusted to us that all may have enough;
in all responsible use of the earth's resources.
Glory be to God on high;
and on earth, be peace .

We confess our sin, individual and collective,
by silence or action:
through the violation of human dignity
based on race, class, age, sex, nation, or faith;
through the exploitation of people
because of greed and indifference
through the misuse of power
in personal, communal, national, and international life;
through the search for security
by those military and economic forces
that threaten human existence;
through the abuse of technology
which endangers the earth and all life upon it.

Holy, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
in your great compassion, have mercy on us.

We commit ourselves individually and as a community
to the way of Christ:
to take up the cross;
to seek abundant life for all humanity;
to struggle for peace with justice and freedom;
to risk ourselves in faith, hope, and love,
praying that God's kingdom may come.
The kingdom come, God's will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen.


PRAYER

Wake me up O God, so that the evil of racism

finds no home within me.
Keep watch over my heart dear God,
and remove from me any barriers to your grace,
that may oppress and offend my sisters and brothers.
Fill my spirit, O Spirit of Truth, so that I may give
services of justice and peace.
Clear my mind, O Wisdom, and use it for your glory.
And finally, remind us. O Word of God, that you said,
"blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God."
Amen.  

God of Heaven and Earth,
you created the one human family
and endowed each person with great dignity.
Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism.
Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight
from our hearts, our communities,
our social and civil institutions.
Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor
so that we may work with you
in healing our land from racial injustice.
Blessed are You, O God, 
and blessed is your Kin-Dom, 
for ever and ever.
Amen. 



"Ishmael Sent Away"