Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last Sunday's Sermon on Genesis 21: 8-21

We’ve traveled with Abraham from his initial covenant conversation with the one true God, to the birth of Isaac. Quite a journey.

But a funny thing happened on the way to baby Isaac, and we find out a little more about that story today.

This is the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Ishmael, in case you’ve forgotten, is Abraham’s first child.

Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave. Sarah, despairing that she would ever have a child, did something that was very common in that time, when having a child was of paramount importance – she gave Abraham her slave and said, “Since I’m not having any luck giving you a child, take Hagar and sleep with her. Maybe then you’ll have a son.”

Now, it’s important to remember that God had already promised Abraham, way back in chapter 15, that he would have children. But we get to chapter 16, and Sarah is still without children – no surprise there, since she’s older than she was in chapter 15 – and the two of them are getting nervous. Abraham is a wealthy man in goods and he wants an heir so he doesn’t have to leave all those goods to a servant.

And Abraham and Sarah get a little impatient. Surprising, since before God had told Abraham he would be father of a great nation, they had seemed resigned to being childless. Sarah gives Abraham her maid, the Egyptian girl Hagar – note that there is no mention of how Hagar feels about all this – and Hagar becomes pregnant by Abraham.

You’d think that Abraham would be happy. You’d think Sarah would be happy, because this was what the plan was. But it turns into a soap opera of the first order. Although this was the common practice of the time – servants being surrogates for infertile rich women – Hagar doesn’t follow the plan. She starts to look down on Sarah, essentially saying “Look what I could do and you couldn’t.” Not surprisingly, this makes Sarah pretty angry. She complains to her husband. And he shrugs and said, “She’s your servant; do what you want with her.” Not the most sensitive response, is it? So Sarah treats her badly, and Hagar runs away into the desert – not knowing how she would get bck to Egypt, not knowing how she would even survive - what was she thinking? – There, an angel tells her to go back. The angel says she will bear a son, and he will be named Ishmael, meaning “the Lord has listened to your distress.” Hagar should submit to Sarah, and Ishmael will grow up to father his own nation, and will be quite the feisty guy.

So Hagar goes back, gives birth, and everything settles down for a while. Then the baby Isaac, the miracle child, is born to Sarah. This is where we ended last week, and we begin this week with that child, Isaac, being weaned – something that would make him about three years old in that culture. Weaning was a big event back then, because it also marked the successful survival of a baby through the period when he was most likely to die. So Abraham throws a party. And Sarah sees the little one playing with that stepbrother of his, Ishmael, who is a teenager by this time, and it suggests in the text that Ishmael – whom the angel had warned would not be the most agreeable sort – is teasing him – it’s unclear in the Hebrew whether Ishmael is merely playing with Isaac, or mocking him. Sarah , though, clearly sees it as a problematic relationship. She is like a mother bear defending her cub. Ishmael is also a threat to her son’s legacy as the next in the line of generations that would be a great nation, as God had promised. So she demands that Abraham throw out “this slave woman” and Ishmael, out into the desert just as when Hagar was pregnant with the boy.

But this time, unlike the last time, Abraham doesn’t simply acquiesce; he is greatly troubled. He loves Ishmael. But God says to go ahead and do what Sarah asks, because she is Isaac’s mother, and Isaac is the one who would be part of the covenant people. Ishmael will have his own rich legacy, the father of his own people, but God tells Abraham that this next step is necessary. So Abraham fills a wineskin with water and takes a loaf of bread, giving it to Hagar, and sends them out into the desert. Not very much in the way of supplies for someone who is expected to wander through the desert to who knows where. Does Abraham really think this will sustain Hagar and Ishmael?

Remember this part of the story. God tells Abraham to do something that on the face of it is inconceivable – that word again – to listen to Sarah, to send his firstborn and the child’s mother out into the desert. God says he will make the child the father of his own people, thus saying he will protect him – how he will do that isn’t specified – because Abraham has fathered this boy. And Abraham trusts God and does as he is told, without complaint or argument. There seems to be no doubt in Abraham’s mind as he fills that meager wineskin full of water and hands it to Hagar with the loaf of bread.

So Hagar trudges out into the desert with her obstreperous teenage boy in tow. It doesn’t take long before the water and bread are gone. She knows they are going to die. She tells her son to sit down under a bush, hoping to provide him at least a little shade, and then walks a good distance away. She doesn’t want to watch her son die of dehydration and heatstroke under the relentless desert sun. She sits, and she weeps, as any mother would.

And suddenly Hagar hears a voice of an angel, saying that God has heard her son’s cries. God has plans for this boy – the same plans that God told Abraham about. They are not going to die. The boy will become a leader of a great nation. And Hagar looks up and sees a well – can you picture her rubbing her eyes in disbelief? – and she fills up the wineskin…and that’s the beginning of good things for Hagar and Ishmael, although they don’t share the covenant with God that Abraham has.

So we’ve got a pattern here. God promises. God demands something that makes no sense. If the people obey, God delivers, even though the people can’t imagine how it will happen.

Remember this: we will see this again.

But even as we ponder this relationship between God and his people, I’m also fascinated by the role of the two women, Sarah and Hagar. There are some biblical scholars who believe that these stories were written by a woman, because the female characters are so much more richly described than the men. These are certainly flesh and blood women. They are engaged in a power struggle, and that’s particularly interesting because they have limited power as women. Sarah is a woman who is essentially the property of her husband. He lends her a certain status, because he is a rich man, but she is still a woman. She has to do what he wants. Hagar is even lower in status. She is one of the servants that Pharaoh gave Abraham to get him out of Egypt. She not only is a servant, but she is a servant to the woman of the house. She has no rights.

But these two strong women challenge their traditional roles. Sarah makes it very clear that she as the wife of a wealthy man is set over her maid. She dispatches Hagar to have a child by Abraham. Hagar says not a word against this, at least as far as we know, because this is a common practice in this era. Once she gets pregnant, though, Hagar uses her pregnancy to try to diminish the position of Sarah. And Sarah drives her out by being mean to her. If this was a boxing match, the referee would intervene between the two fighters. But Abraham does not, and God only speaks through an angel. He seems to step back from all this powerful emotion, and intervenes only when someone might die. God has a plan, and he will do what is necessary to make sure the plan is carried out, but he doesn’t really get deeply involved in the day-to-day human conflicts. Suddenly it seems that God isn’t in people’s faces so much any more, as we talked about in last week’s sermon. He seems to step back and let the people try to work it out themselves.

If anyone thinks the bible is full of sweetness and light, this story doesn’t fit that mold. This is a messy story, full of human emotion and conflict.

Have you ever had the experience of being in a difficult conflict situation and wondered why you felt so alone? Have you wondered where God was in those painful, lonely moments where what was happening seemed to make no sense? That’s precisely where Sarah and Hagar, these two strong women, were, as they battled for what they thought was right for their sons. God was with them, and God was watching, but God didn’t step in to set things right until it was absolutely necessary. The Plan would be fulfilled. God would see to that. But God wasn’t – and isn’t - simply a universal Fix-It Man who mediates every argument, ends every battle. No, humankind has to struggle with the conflicts. There is no guarantee that God will step in, because we don’t know how this situation is part of a larger plan. That’s the heart of this story, and it’s also part of the message we hear in the Gospel today.

The message is clear: we will live in the midst of conflict. As Christians, we are not exempt from them. In point of fact, being Christian means we may be at the center of conflicts. We may stand accused by those who don’t know or understand this Christ whom we serve. And Matthew says that the Lord tells us “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Living as a Christian is a high-risk proposition, just as trying to follow God in the Old Testament was an endless series of battles. You know that old saying, “you may win the battle, but lose the war.”? Some of the battles we as Christians engage in may end in victory. Some may end in failure.

The point, though, is not the battle. It is the one whom we serve. The victory is found in living fully into that ancient covenant, despite the conflict, despite the fact that this life on earth is hard. The joy awaits, the covenant is fulfilled, if we are willing to take that risk.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

THE FOLLOWING ISSUE CAN DESTROY ISLAM, ZIONIST RACIST ISRAEL AND THE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH AND NOT THE WAY OF JESUS WHICH IS PERFECT. RESEARCH THE BELOW SMALL THESIS to see if there is any truth to it.READ THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE AS IT HAS IMPLICATIONS ON THE WAR AGAINST TERROR/ISLAM and the claim of Israel that god gave them the land. If the child is an infant than the Judeo-Christian version becomes null and void and we are wasting our time and resources i.e. we could save trillions of dollars and create a more peaceful world rather than fighting against Islam the religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).The COVENANT with Abraham and his DESCENDANTS is central to JUDAISM/CHRISTIANITY/ISLAM.Please note this is not a competition between faiths but an attempt to decipher fact from fiction.Genesis 21:14 Contemporary English version se below Link
Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar an animal skin full of water and some bread. Then he put the boy on her shoulder and sent them away.
GENESIS 16:16 And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.
GENESIS 21:5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.At Genesis 22 Abraham had only 2 sons others came later.The Quran mentions that it was Ishmael that was sacrificed hence the reference in genesis 22:2 your only son can only mean someone has substituted Ishmael names for Isaac!!BY DOING SOME KINDERGARTEN ARITHMATIC USING ARABIC NUMBERS (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)NOT ROMAN NUMERALS (I, II, III,IV,V,VI,VII,VIII,IX,X) NB no concept of zero in roman numerals.
100 years old – 86 years old = 14ADD 3 YEARS FOR ISSAC’S WEANINGTHAT WOULD MAKE ISHMAEL 17 YEARS OLD IN GENESIS 21:14-21 BUT IT IS A DESCRIPTION OF AN INFANT.Carefully read several times the above passage and then tell me the mental picture you get between the mother child interactions what is the age of the child. If the mental picture is that of a 17 year old child being carried on the shoulder of his mother, being physically placed in the bush, crying like a baby, mother having to give him water to drink, than the Islamic viewpoint is null and void. Why is there no verbal communications between mother and (17 YEAR OLD) child?
GENESIS: 21:14 – 21 So 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 (17 YEAR OLD) child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the (17 YEAR OLD) child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the (17 YEAR OLD) child.” And as she sat over against him, the (17 YEAR OLD) child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad where he is. Arise, lift up the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the (17 YEAR OLD) lad a drink. And God was with the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.The age of Ishmael at this stage is crucial to the Abrahamic faiths. If he is 17 than the JUDEO/CHRISTIAN point of view about the Abrahamic covenant is correct. This has devastating theological consequences of unimaginable proportions.This makes the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac and there descendants a work of fiction. I would strongly suggest it is clear cut case of racial discrimination and nothing to do with god almighty. The scribes have deliberately tried to make Isaac the only son and legitimate heir to the throne of Abraham??Please can you rationally explain this anomaly?I have asked many persons including my nephews and nieces - unbiased minds with no religious backgrounds but with reasonable command of the English language about this passage and they all agree that the child in the passage is an infant.
http://www.islamicity.com/Mosque/Muhammad_Bible.HTM (MUHAMMAD IN THE BIBLE)
http://bible.islamicweb.com/ http://www.islamicity.com/ http://www.islamonline.net/english/index.shtml http://www.islamalways.com/ http://ifamericansknew.com/
http://www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/MB_BQS/default.htm (BIBLE, QURAN and SCIENCE) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/ANTI-WAR
http://www.harunyahya.com/(EVOLUTION DECEIPT)
HOLY QURAN CHAPTER 37 verses 101 – 122
101. So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!"103. So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),104. We called out to him "O Abraham!105. "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right.106. For this was obviously a trial-107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:108. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times:109. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!"110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.111. For he was one of our believing Servants.112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous.113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.114. Again (of old) We bestowed Our favour on Moses and Aaron,115. And We delivered them and their people from (their) Great Calamity;116. And We helped them, so they overcame (their troubles);117. And We gave them the Book which helps to make things clear;118. And We guided them to the Straight Way.119. And We left (this blessing) for them among generations (to come) in later times:120. "Peace and salutation to Moses and Aaron!"121. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.122. For they were two of our believing Servants.
ISHMAEL IS THE FIRST BORN AND GOOD NEWS OF ISSAC DOES NOT APPEAR UNTIL AFTER THE SACRIFICE?????Therefore the claim that god gave the land to Israel is destroyed without the need of any WMD’s.
HADITH Volume 4, Book 55, Number 583:Narrated Ibn Abbas:
The first lady to use a girdle was the mother of Ishmael. She used a girdle so that she might hide her tracks from Sarah. Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka'ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward.Ishmael's mother followed him saying, "O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?" She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her Then she asked him, "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Then He will not neglect us," and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya where they could not see him, he faced the Ka'ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayers:'O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Kaba at Mecca) in order, O our Lord, that they may offer prayer perfectly. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allah) provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.' (14.37) Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had).When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony; She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times."The Prophet said, "This is the source of the tradition of the walking of people between them (i.e. Safa and Marwa). When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said, 'O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?" And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it."The Prophet added, "May Allah bestow Mercy on Ishmael's mother! Had she let the Zam-zam (flow without trying to control it) (or had she not scooped from that water) (to fill her water-skin), Zam-zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth." The Prophet further added, "Then she drank (water) and suckled her child. The angel said to her, 'Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.'The House (i.e. Kaba) at that time was on a high place resembling a hillock, and when torrents came, they flowed to its right and left. She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child, as they (i.e. the Jurhum people) were coming through the way of Kada'.They landed in the lower part of Mecca where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. They said, 'This bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley.'They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water, and returned to inform them of the water. So, they all came (towards the water)." The Prophet added, "Ishmael's mother was sitting near the water. They asked her, 'Do you allow us to stay with you?" She replied, 'Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water.' They agreed to that."The Prophet further said, "Ishmael's mother was pleased with the whole situation as she used to love to enjoy the company of the people. So, they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (i.e. Ishmael) grew up and learnt Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up, and when he reached the age of puberty they made him marry a woman from amongst them.