Summer has begun this past week. Life around us is blooming with color, the chirping of birds throughout the day, and, heat, heat, heat along with the occasional thunderstorms. I have been blessed by the presence of a cardinal hopping about in our front yard as I take the dogs for their morning walk. Summer prods us to embrace the splendor and experience of outdoor life at its finest.
However, despite the summer glory we are reminded us that not all is a beautiful experience for same people. Sorrow and fear are a very real presence in these summer days.
Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philandro Castille -- who witnessed along with her 4 year old daughter, Dae’Anna -- Philandro shot to death by the police, was placed handcuffed in a back of a police care. The frightened the little girl became worried that her mother would be shot too.
"Mom, please stop cussing and screaming," she said, "I don't want you to get shooted."
The police officer who shot Philandro Castillo was exonerated of any wrong doing this past week.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people turned out last Sunday to the afternoon funeral prayer service for slain Muslim teen Nabra Hassanen, who was brutally attacked and killed with a baseball bat. A memorial for Nabra in Dupant Circle in Washington DC was torched. On this beautiful summer season, Many Muslims live in fear, wondering who will be next.
Meanwhile on the national front the Senates unveiled proposed health care plan will see Medicaid slashed beginning in 2021, people with disabilities will see their services cut, older adults will see their premiums increased five times, mental health services will be optional in some states. Contrast to this, tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations will reach about 592 Billion dollars. The Senate is expected to vote on this bill next week, on beautiful, summer day.
Despite the beauty of nature, it’s a time of fear for many in our country. For some despite the beauty God has given us, the beauty God has planted in us to help one another, humanity has created fear; fear of criminal enforcement, fear of white, non-Judeao-Christian people, fear that many will not be able to afford health care anymore.
What will happen to us? Yet we know every historic reform, even recently as the abolishment of slavery and equality of women, and basic understanding of human rights were met by not just approval or joy, but resistance and conflict. Change, even for the better, is messy and troubling. Can we rise above the fear to follow God’s mandate of love, justice and righteousness?
The ancient story of Hagar and Ismael, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac speaks well to our spiritual circumstance. Our passage begins with a party in a family of promise and privilege. They are feasting as they celebrate the weaning of Isaac (21:8), the son of Sarah and Abraham.
It was not so long ago, if you recall, back in in chapter 16, that Sarah had despaired of bearing a child. She took action into her own hands and gave her personal Egyptian slave, Hagar, to her husband for the express purposes of having a child for Sarah. This was all perfectly legal. As a slave, Hagar’s wishes were not considered. Hagar was property, to be disposed as her masters’ wish. Any children she bore would be the master’s, not hers.
So now we find in today’s passage that Sarah has given birth to, raised, and weaned the child, Isaac. Sarah’s view has changed. No longer does she consider Ishmael her child, but an interloper. She sees the child of “Hagar the Egyptian” – the foreigner – playing in her home (21:9). And she realizes that this boy might have some claim to the inheritance she intends for her own son, Isaac (21:10). So Sarah commands Abraham to drive them out. Sarah cannot even bring herself to use Hagar’s or Ishmael’s name: she dehumanizes them as she calls them that “slave woman and her son.” She refuses to acknowledge Ishmael is also Abraham’s son. Unwilling to stand up to Sarah, Abraham complies with Sarah’s command and sends them away with minimal supplies of bread and water. Such are the actions of our founding spiritual ancestors of faith.
In a moment of despair, when the water and bread are finished, Hagar places her child beneath the shelter of a bush. She removes herself – the length of a bowshot – and sits, crying, opposite him, desperate not to see (21:16) the slow death of her son, in which she has no power to stop.
As Hagar weeps an angel speaks to her. What troubles you Hagar? Do not be afraid, says the angel. God has heard the voice of the boy (21:17), although interesting that Hagar’s voice is not heard, it is to Hagar the angel speaks. It is Hagar’s eyes that God opens to see the water. The angel empowers Hagar and instructs her to rise, and to lead her son to the water. Ishmael has a future. He makes his home in the wilderness of Paran – a place known elsewhere in scripture as the mountain from which God’s glory shines forth (Deuteronomy 33:2; Habakkuk 3:3). And Hagar reconnects with her own people to build a new family network for her son. God’s interventions save Hagar and Ishmael. The lives of the slave matters. God hears the cry of the foreigner and downcast.
It is important to remember that slavery was accepted as far back as in Abraham and Sarah’s day. Forcing a slave to be a surrogate mother was acceptable. Banishing slave women and children when no longer useful was acceptable. Certainly these texts justified the presence of slavery in this country. Even Jesus speaks from accepted cultural norms: “a slave is not above the master.” But Jesus interjects a powerful point, “do not fear those who can kill the body, but not the soul.” Fear him (God) who can kill both the body and the soul.” There is one above all – The God of Jesus. The hairs of our head have been counted. Not just the master’s hair – or the slave’s hair – everyone’s hair. Jesus acknowledges that even his detractors called him “Beelzebub” – a name for the devil. So Jesus reminds us that as his disciples, as we seek to proclaim the gospel, to seek peace, justice and righteousness, we can also expect to be harassed, vilified – even considered evil – just as Jesus was.
Despite the oppressive social conventions of Jesus’ day and of Abraham and Sarah’s time, the bible subtly reminds us of the dignity of each person before God: You are worth more than many sparrows Jesus states. The slave mother and child have a place in God’s kingdom. In this diverse world of ours, everyone has a place at the table. Hagar is the first woman to whom God commands, “Fear Not!”
Although a slave, Hagar becomes the first woman in the Bible visited by a divine messenger. Although a slave, she is the first woman to see and have a conversation with God. Although a slave, she is the first woman to hear the announcement that she will bear a child, a forerunner of Mary who will also hear an angel tell her that she will bear a child. Hagar is the only woman in the Bible who receives a promise from God of descendants. She is the first woman in scripture to cry for her dying child. Although a slave she is the only person in all of scripture who gives God a name in Chapter 16: El Roi, which means, “the God who sees me.” Hagar, in her enslaved state, is also our spiritual mother, as much as is Sarah. Hagar teaches us to see what is hard in this life – what we would overlook. Hagar teaches us to engage God in the struggle of life. Hagar teaches us to weep for children who are cast out. Hagar is taught not to fear. We are taught not to fear, in the midst of danger and hardship.
What the future holds for us now? The Hagars and Ishmaels of the world? The conflicts that remain between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael? The conflicts that remain in ourselves? What fears us --that we can be mean, like Sarah? That we can be complacent, like Abraham? That we be controlled and manipulated by others, like Hagar? That we can be cast aside, rejected, like Ishmael? That we can love God, and yet do wrong? That we know what we should do --- but are to afraid to do it? So many troubles. But Hagar teaches us how to deal with trouble. Talk to God. Pray. Weep. See and Hear. Do not be afraid– even when we do not know the future. May this God who holds the future, who holds the sparrow in his hands -- hold us close hold all his children -- and may we have the faith and courage to follow Jesus and be faithful as he was. Jesus proclaimed that the Good News does bring conflict, because there are many who do not want share, who call Jesus Beelzebub, a devil - so in this beautiful summer we recognize we face the conflict of those to refuse the righteousness of the kingdom– so it is our task to be truthful and brave in the midst of beauty to overcome fear—because God is with us and will open our eyes to see, knowing the very hairs of our head are counted Amen.