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Seeing, Hearing, Active God: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Genesis 21:8-21
June 26, 2017, 12:49 pm
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Genesis 21:8-21

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Last week, we remembered God is a promise keeper, fulfilling the promise to give children to Abraham and Sarah long after they had any reason to hope. Today we rediscover more about who our God is as we look at the other side of this family, focusing on Abraham’s son Ishmael and his mother Hagar.

Looking at this family from another angle, we reveal a reflection of who we are in our brokenness and sin. Last week, we celebrated the joy Sarah and Abraham had as they birthed their promised son. Today we confront the ways in which they were willing to destroy others’ lives in order to get what they were promised.

During those years of barrenness, Sarah took the life of her slave girl Hagar. She gave her slave to Abraham, so that she might use the body of this girl to conceive, carry, and birth a child for herself, a child to fulfill God’s promise.

When Hagar conceived Abraham’s son, Sarah went into a rage. She attacked Hagar, who carried all her hope and all her contempt. Hagar ran away.

In the wilderness, next to a stream, God sees Hagar, declaring:

Genesis 16:11 “‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

you shall call him Ishmael,

for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”

Hagar, having seen and heard God, returns to Sarah, and gives birth to her son.

Years later, Sarah herself conceives, carries, and births Abraham’s son Isaac. She no longer has need of Ishmael. This is where we pick up the story.

Matriarch Sarah saw slave Hagar’s son, Ishmael, playing- laughing- with her own son, Isaac. That they should see each other as brothers is too much for Sarah. She will not allow for any possibility that Isaac’s inheritance would be divided. Sarah demands that Abraham send them away, and he does.

As we prepare for the moment of God’s decisive action, Hagar and Ishmael have left on a desperate journey, cast out of their homes. Hagar has used all she has to protect her child, but there is nothing left. Nothing left for her to do but hide her child and hide her face as she waits for death to claim them.

Then- God hears them.

The pivotal verse of God’s action is Genesis 21: 17 And 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.

God heard them.

When has this slave woman ever been heard? She’s been used by others for their own gains, forced to grow a child to carry another’s blessing, beaten and cast out when they’ve had enough of her. She has never been seen. Never been heard. Not by anyone.

Except by God.

God hears them, even as they are deserted and surrounded by death. God hears and answers, providing a path into life. God gives blessing and a future. Even as people of power reject them and ignore their needs, God cares for Hagar and Ishmael.

God gives: unexpectedly, abundantly, and to all. Sarah was afraid the inheritance was too small to be divided between both of Abraham’s sons. When God spoke to Hagar, God declared Ishmael will also be the beginning of a great nation, just as Isaac will be. Math with God is different than our own accounting. God acts in abundance when we see scarcity. The promise is always bigger than we think it will be.

When we feel a need to make the circle smaller, to tighten the boundaries defining who is included, and we begin to push people out, we forget this story. We forget who our God is, and what our God can- and does- do.

God sees you, all of you, and knows the struggles you are facing. God hears you, when you’ve been too ashamed to tell anyone. God loves you without the judgment and demands we so often put on the love we show to each other. God is acting for your wellbeing. God sent Jesus to reveal our brokenness- our need to have outsiders, forgotten people, people to carry our rage. Jesus opened the circle of God’s welcome, bringing into community those who had been cast out. This Jesus brings us all into a new life and a new way of being.

Our God is a hearing God, a seeing God, a God who acts. Baptized into Christ, we are called to be hearing, seeing, active people.

But this is not who I have been. Reading and praying this passage over the last week has made me think about all the ways I have closed my eyes and my ears, so that I don’t have to see- or hear- so that I don’t have to act.

A friend posted a photo and news article about drought in Somalia. View it here.Beautiful, horrifying photos that tell of a land experiencing a harsher, more arid climate, leading people to desperation, to violence, to starvation, and to dangerous paths of escape to new lands, where they will often be barred out or cast away.

I listened to the outcomes of recent trials of police officers involved in shooting deaths of black people. Following that, I listened to an interview of a teacher of conceal and carry classes. This teacher, who is a black man, teachers other people of color a certain way of organizing their license, registration, and insurance papers so that when pulled over, it’s all easy to access. I think of my own exploding glove compartment, and how I’ve never considered it might cause more than a rolled eye if I ever had to make someone wait for me to find my papers.

I paddled the Cloquet River yesterday to learn about water quality. As we stopped for lunch, and I raised my hand for my roast beef sandwich, someone teased, “way to eat high on the food chain.” I think that was meant as a rub from a vegan husband to his wife and I got caught in the middle of it holding the sandwich he thought was for her- but still- here we were, talking about the impacts of farms on the water quality in the lower half of the state… and I held a piece of that cycle in my hands.

These are all things I don’t have to pay attention to. Who I am – especially as a white, cis-gender, middle class, educated American citizen- has made it possible for me not to have to see- or hear- or know. This is what it means for me to have privilege and power. I’m not forced to see how other people are living as a result of my choices and my culture.  I find myself reflected in Sarah, who sees Hagar and her offspring as disposable means to obtain what she wants. Who am I casting off?

Our God doesn’t cast people off, but seeks them out; doesn’t ignore them, but truly sees them and hears what they need. Who I am- as a baptized child of God- is a harvester in God’s kingdom. God’s growing justice, love, inclusion, and healing.

If today you’ve been forgotten by the world, know that God has not forgotten you, but is coming to you to restore your life.

If today you’re content in your ignorance of other’s suffering, know that God is calling you to open your ears and eyes and schedule- there is work to be done and God wants you to have the joy of joining in.

God heard and answered both Sarah and Hagar’s cries. God makes God’s blessing big enough for all. You’ve been blessed to be a blessing.

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