Try this to get more out of the blog this week by reviewing these elements we practiced together on Sunday.

Choosing to Be Present to the Presence of God.  The very nature of God is life and love.  Restoring, renewing, resurrecting – all these words reflect what God is up to in the world today.  Shalom – a holistic wellness, wholeness of peace in ourselves and in the world – has always been the True North that is God and guides God’s followers.  Joining God in this venture is a choice.  A choice to be present to the Presence of God which constantly encourages us forward to greater expressions of grace, love, and life.  This means you have a choice every day to be open or not to God.  What is your choice today?

This Weeks Focal Text | Genesis 21:8-21 (NLT):

When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!”
     This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.”
So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.
     When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears.
     But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.”
     Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.
     And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt.

Being Honest with Ourselves and God.  What is your heart crying out about today?  Take some time and meditate on this question.  Don’t hold back – you are not going to offend God with sloppy communication in the pursuit of honesty.  Sometimes expletives are highly appropriate in prayer.  Let ‘er rip.  God is mature and graceful enough to hear you out.

Getting your thoughts out.  What are your initial reactions to the text we’re going to look at more deeply today?  What questions do you have?  What is surprising?  What is upsetting?  On another note, who is our world holds power?  Who in our world dwell on the lower rungs of the ladder of power?

The Teaching and Response.  As you read the summarized teaching below, keep the following questions running in the back of your mind.  What’s your take home from this teaching?  What seems to be sticking with you as you reflect on this week’s teaching?  Why do you think that is?  Could God be using this to invite you in some way toward greater shalom personally and/or in community?  What choices are you making to stretch toward the resurrection God is calling you toward?

The story of Hagar and Ishmael leaving Abraham’s camp is better understood in the bigger story in which it sits.  Before Hagar was Abraham’s wife and mother of his first son, she was Sara’s servant/slave.  Her marriage was not born out of love, but was thrust upon her as a mean to bear a child for Abraham.   Perhaps this was not uncommon in the ancient world – that does not make it right or good.  She got pregnant.  Now she was empowered, and apparently she knew it given the report of Sara about her gloating.  Is it reasonable to think that Hagar had attitude toward Sara?  Of course.  She was human, and victimized at that.  But Sara was still Queen of Abraham’s castle, and sent her packing. 

Hagar had the baby, and the baby was named Ishmael, which translates “God hears.”  After some period of time, Sara finally got pregnant in her old age as predicted.  When Isaac (“laughter”) was born, Sara became concerned about his fate: how would he be treated by Hagar, by Ishmael, by Abraham?  Her concern may have led to paranoia: were Abraham and Ishmael making fun of little Isaac?  Was that merely a taste of what was to come?  So she pulled rank, pushing Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away.  When Abraham sent them away, he didn’t send them with much, which was awful on his part.  Gaining her freedom may seem like a gift at first glance, but in that culture at that time it very likely meant that as a free woman no longer married to Abraham, her son Ishmael was no longer considered his heir.  In one awful moment, she went from being enslaved yet safe, to free and extremely vulnerable.  Was Sara’s reaction harsh?  Was Abraham’s stinginess appalling?  Yes.  Inexcusably so.  They were human beings, it seems, which means they were messy, imperfect, screw ups.  Yet still key characters in an unfolding story God was trying to craft with willing participants.  As one commentator noted, “God works with individuals on the scene; God does not perfect people before deciding to work through them.”  And so the story continued.

Pushed into the wilderness with little in the way of provisions, Hagar and Ishmael suffer.  In her grief, Hagar is confident that she will die.  At her lowest, she distances herself from Ishmael so she doesn’t have to see him die, at which point she experiences God speaking to her from heaven:

“Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.”
Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.
And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt. – Genesis 21:17-21 (NLT)

This is a beautiful and instructive and surprisingly broad picture of God being shared in this Jewish-oriented text that in general doesn’t have much respect for Ishmael’s line.  God doesn’t hasten Hagar and Ishmael’s death – God instead opens Hagar’s eyes to what she needs to survive, and encourages her with a promise for their future.  Do you realize what a big deal this is?  Sit with it until you do.  This brief passage says much about the breadth of God’s grace for all people regardless of the awful treatment they receive from those who feel especially empowered or chosen by God (Sara and Abraham).  God is bigger and more beautiful.  The nature of God, the Spirit of God is life, restoration, renewal, hope, resurrection.  This story is a story of hope for all the Hagars and Ishmaels of the world. Biblical scholar Phyllis Trible speaks eloquently about Hagar’s becoming many things to many people (see chap. 16):

“Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.”

Hagar was blind to the water very near her.  God showed up to help her see.  If you are a Hagar or Ishmael and feel wronged by life, the systems you were born into, etc., the Spirit of God is with you to help you see that you are valued and loved, and that there is hope.  You are not as alone or hopeless as you think.  Cry out to God with all you’ve got, and then be still and listen for God to speak in various ways words of hope and provision.

Biblical scholar Leander Keck notes that

“the text does affirm that God chooses the line of Isaac, not that of Ishmael. This is a strong claim, and it occasions a sharper question for Isaac’s descendants than if the treatment had been more “even-handed.” What one does with the Ishmaels of this world in the face of the claims for Isaac comes front and center. Abraham was chosen so that all families might be blessed through him. This means that the children of Abraham who are also the children of Isaac are so to comport themselves that blessing rather than curse comes upon the nations.” – New Interpreter’s Bible

We who are more like the Sarahs and Abrahams of the world (and we likely don’t know that we are) need to pay attention to this story, because they absolutely blew it.  They were harsh to say the least, and probably felt justified because they were the chosen ones.  Thank God that their harshness was not reflective of God.  Whether we justify our malicious behavior with nationalism or religion or both, we must choose to be conscious of how God treats the worlds Hagars and Ishmaels decide if we are going to be the people of God or not.  One way is harsh.  The other is graceful.  Which way are you going to choose?  Who are you going to be?

Getting your reactions out. What’s your take home from this experience today?

A Prayer of Hope: Loving God, you are father and mother of us all. You love us as only a caring parent can, with a love that challenges all the difficulties around us and embraces us in arms that never let us go. As you have cared for outcasts like Hagar and Ishmael, so can we know that you will always love us. When we want to use family and friends as an excuse not to serve you, help us remember that loving others is a key way to love you; yet we must not see people as an excuse to avoid the difficulties of life that you sometimes set before us. Help us to love family and friends unconditionally, and thus to love you unconditionally, never placing one above another. And as we love others, help us to appreciate how much we are loved by you, our Creator God. Amen.