Thursday, July 6, 2017

The return of the Blogger and The Travails of Hagar

I am not a very disciplined blogger. In fact, as most of my friends know, there are many other areas of my life where I lack discipline. After a very long hiatus, two posts in one day! I almost wrote silence rather than hiatus, but then I have not been silent. Preaching at least once a week, and nearly every week this past winter, I have had lots of opportunities to speak. Now that I am called upon to preach much less often, perhaps it is time to return to writing.

I did have a chance to preach at the end of June at All Saints Church in Littleton, NH. The portion of Hebrew scripture appointed for that Sunday was part of the story of the patriarch Abraham and has rather complicated family. It is not a story of great faithfulness, at least not human faithfulness. The longer story begins with God's promise to Abram, as his name was at the beginning of the story, that he would have a son. Over time, however, he and his wife Sarai remain childless. Then, perhaps not entirely trusting God's promise, Abram and Sarai hit upon a plan. Sarai will give her Egyptian slave girl Hagar to Abram and she can give birth to a son. In time Hagar becomes pregnant and, as a result, "looked with contempt on her mistress." Sarai deals with this by treating Hagar harshly and Hagar runs away.

The story might have ended there, but God had been paying attention and an angel speaks to Hagar in the wilderness and tells her to return to Sarai and Abram, promising that the child growing in her womb will be a son and that she should name him Ishmael, which means God sees. Hagar follows the angel's instructions and gives birth to a son. 

The story might have ended there as well, but God was still paying attention. God appears to Abram again, gives him and Sarai new names, and promises that Sarah, in spite of her age, will give birth to a son. In due time she does give birth to a son and they name him Isaac. Now that she and Abraham have a son, Sarah decides that Ishmael and his mother must be sent away. Abraham agrees and provides them with a loaf of bread and a skin of water for the journey. Of course these meager  provisions run out before long. Once again in the wildernesses without hope, Hagar recoils from the prospect of watching her son die. She places him under a bush and walks far enough away so she can longer see him. But the God who sees sees Ishmael and Hagar and opens her eye so she can see a well of water. As the story of Hagar and Ishmael ends we are told that "God was with the boy, and he grew up....and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt." While the cast of human characters have been bumbling along, not trusting God's promise, and falling prey to jealousy and revenge, God has remained faithful. 

For the God who sees the lives of the Egyptian Hagar and her son Ishmael are, in Jesus' words, worth more than many sparrows. The children of Abraham often have trouble remembering that, remembering that the refugee fleeing danger in Syria is as precious in God's eyes as we are. The God who sees, in the person of Jesus, is Immanuel, God with us, and not only with but for us. For Christians, that is those who share life in Christ, that life is to be life with and for others

When we moved to New Hampshire last year one of the things that was very encouraging was how the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire used the words our children. For Rob Hirschfeld our children doesn't mean the children who belong to our congregations. It means all of New Hampshire's children. Although New Hampshire Episcopalians can't meet the needs or solve the problems of all the children in the state, we can with them and for them in small ways and great ones. We can become their friends, people they can turn to and depend upon, people who will share their joys and successes, as well as their losses and sorrow.