by Rev. Doug Gray
One of the things I love about the Bible, especially the OT, is that God seems to choose unlikely, sometimes flawed people to bring redemption and hope. In the Book of Genesis, once we leave Creation and Noah behind, almost the entire book is about a single, dysfunctional family system that God chooses to pour out love and blessing on and through. It starts with 2 people—Abram and Sarai—who answer when God calls. God says, “Go to a land I will show you.” And then God promises, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram and Sarai sell the house, pack up the camels and start. Where? They only know to keep going until God says stop. The power of God’s promise is the dominant theme for everything in Genesis after Genesis Chapter 11. Abram and Sarai are so faithful that eventually they will be given new names that are more familiar to us—Abraham and Sarah. They are the parents of the three great monotheistic faiths of the Middle East. Indeed, they are sometimes called the “Abrahamic Faiths.” But before they are Abraham and Sarah, the legendary spiritual parents of our faith, they are Abram and Sarai who know God has made a promise, but they can’t see how it is going to come true. How can God make them a great nation when they do not have any children? That’s where we pick up the story today.
Because our world has some situations for which we do not have answer, the following drugs or herbal remedies are currently under clinical trials:
• St. Momma’s Wort — Plant extract that treats mom’s depression by rendering
pre-schoolersblissfully unconscious for up to two days.
• Emptynestrogen — Suppository that eliminates melancholy and loneliness by
reminding you of how awful they were as teenagers and how you couldn’t wait
until they moved out.
• Flipitor — Increases life expectancy of commuters by controlling road rage and
the urge to flip off other drivers.
• Buyagra — Injectable stimulant taken prior to shopping. Increases potency,
duration, and credit limit of spending spree.
• Jackasspirin — Relieves headache caused by a person who says they love but
who can’t remember your birthday, anniversary, or phone number.
• Anti-Talksident — A spray carried in a purse or wallet to be used on anyone
too eager to share their life stories with total strangers in elevators.
• Nagament — When administered to a partner, provides the same irritation
level as nagging them all weekend, saving the administering partner the
time and trouble of doing it themselves.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a quick answer—maybe not a drug—for every tough situation? Particularly where family is concerned, sometimes it’s really hard to know how to deal with people who have important parts in our lives. In our passage for today, we get to watch three people of faith try to figure out what God wants when their family situation is getting really awkward.
First off, try to figure out what God wants by doing something to make things better. Lots of the great things in our world started because someone just decided to do something about it. Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone to help people who are hard of hearing. Mother Teresa starts a mission for feeding and educating children, and later takes care of lepers, because she saw something had to be done. Father Bill’s and Interfaith Social Services here in Quincy began in just that way. Someone’s got to do something, maybe this is what God has in mind. Sarai has a bright idea of how to get around her infertility—get someone else to have the baby! Of course, as Sarai finds out, sometimes our bright ideas don’t work out quite so well. What she thought was going to make things better, seems to only make things worse. Thank God, that’s not the end!
Second, when we get stuck, God is looking for us! When I was five, my parents went out and left me with this really nice teen-ager as a baby-sitter. Part way through the evening, I headed into the bathroom and locked the door—which I knew I wasn’t supposed to do, but anyway. When finished up, I went to the door, I couldn’t get it unlocked. I thought to myself, “I am going to be here for the rest of my life.” So I asked the baby-sitter for a cookie, who went and slid one under the door. Meanwhile, the baby-sitter is trying to figure out how to get the door open, can’t reach my parents, and keep me supplied with cookies. I thought this was a pretty good gig, but eventually the fire department and my parents arrived about the same time. Once I couldn’t get that door open, I couldn’t see a future outside that bathroom, but I did have cookies, and I knew people were looking for me. Hagar can envision no future with Abram and Sarai, so she runs away. When Hagar is stuck and hopeless, God comes looking for her. So she calls God, “the God who sees.” I think we have all had times when it was hard to see our future. In our distress God comes looking for us!
Third, God opens up new paths and new futures. When God comes to Hagar, God grants her a glimpse of a future, when she will have a son, who will be the father of a mighty nation, and together they will be free. Wow! To know that is out there! Just as Hagar returns to Abram and Sarai with a better attitude knowing her life has promise, sometimes when we return to our lives with a better, more hopeful attitude, we are just where God wants us to be! The door to the new future may not be open now, but maybe it will open later. We have a sense that God not only sees our predicament, but that God can see a future we can’t.
Now of course, I am not advocating that God always wants us to return to abusive relationships. Sometimes escape is what keeps people alive and the future God has in mind is a better future without the oppression and violence of that kind of relationship. But I am suggesting that when we experience the same kind of hopelessness or frustration that Hagar experiences, we don’t really need a quick, external answer. The God we worship is a God who sees our trouble and is looking for us. We do our part to try to make things better, but God knows where we are headed and God has a brilliant future ahead for us! In that place, we “can rest in the knowledge that God keeps promises.”
Terence Fretheim, Genesis in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Knoxville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), p. 453.