Genesis 21:1-21

June 23, 2002


Mary Jane Davis,
Pastor of Congregational Care

The Grantham Church

Genesis 21:1-21

What would our lives be like if we had a life know, like when you go to a restaurant and you get this delightful menu with all the options of what you can choose to eat. This Life Menu would have all the possibilities for what would happen in our lives and we d get to choose. On this menu, you might find: Smooth sailing, no aches or pains; Happiness and contentment all the days of your life; A life of peace and tranquility; or fun and excitement; joy and rest. Or how about a life of drudgery, toil and sweat; cancer ridden, chemotherapy and radiation; depression, anxiety and brokenness; or divorce, hurt and rejection.

What would you choose for your life? We all know that we wouldn t choose the items that would give us a difficult life, that involve hurt and brokenness, cancer, and pain rather than a life of joy and peace, no pain, no physical or emotional ailments.

But life just isn t that way! There are no choices. There are no guarantees. That is as true for us today as it was for Hagar. Yes, let s return to Genesis 21. It is now about 17 years since we last read of Hagar and Ishmael. Sarai and Abram, unable to have children even though God had promised them descendants, went ahead with their own plan, and Abram had a son, Ishmael, to Sarai s slave, Hagar. As you recall, Hagar and Sarai were jealous of one another, and before Ishmael was born, Hagar fled into the wilderness, trying to escape the abuse from Sarai. But God sent Hagar back with the promise and power that she could endure any suffering for he would make her son, Ishmael, a leader of a great nation. Hagar experienced a great spiritual renewal at that time as she discovered that God had heard her misery and he cared so much for her that she was able to say, You are the God that sees me. I have seen the ones who sees me.

Life together in Abram s camp must have been difficult. Ishmael grows up and at age 100 Abraham and Sarah have a son, Isaac, who obviously becomes the torment of Ishmael.

We are told that Abraham hosted a special celebration for the weaning of his son, Isaac. If we calculate the years and ages, Ishmael was about 17 at the time of this weaning party . During that party Ishmael, like teasing older siblings can do, began mocking Isaac. Any of us with children don t find that hard to believe. But it upset Sarah. For all we know there had been a rising tension ever Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael. Maybe Sarah felt a divided loyalty in Abraham s heart, and Ishmael s teasing brought her anger to the surface. Perhaps she thought Abraham loved Ishmael more than Isaac. We don t know. All we do know is that Sarah said, Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for that slave woman s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.

Sarah puts Abraham in a horrible situation. The wife he loves is asking him to send his son who is almost a man away. No matter how special Isaac was, Ishmael still held a special place in his father s heart.

Life is sometimes hard and is often accompanied with painful situations, strained relationships and difficult choices. Sometimes the difficulty is a consequence of our own behavior. We are well aware that having a son by Hagar was Sarah s idea. This was a situation of her own making. She was the one who suggested that Abraham father a child through her slave, Hagar. Abraham and Hagar became willing participants in this attempt to help God fulfill his promise. It was a sinful thing to do and now they are facing the consequences. We know that Hagar did not help things. From the moment she knew she was pregnant she despised Sarah.

We are confronted here with the painful truth that there are consequences to our sin. We know that Abraham s household faced turmoil from the very moment Hagar became pregnant. Sin brings consequences.

Now I believe that God had forgiven Abraham. He had even promised to bless Ishmael when Hagar fled once before. But the negative consequences remain. When we sin and confess that sin, we are truly forgiven, but the consequences of those choices often carry on.
_ The person who lies has to try to rebuild the trust that was destroyed.
_ Those who abuse their bodies with harmful substances have to face the consequences of the effect they have on their bodies and their relationships.
_ The person who engages in illicit sex may face consequences of disease, pregnancy, a broken relationship or guilt.
_ Those who are ensnared in the insatiable desire for material things may have enormous debts to pay off.

But sometimes difficult times are not a result of our own actions. Hagar originally was only being an obedient servant. She was told to try to have a child with Abraham and she did what she was told. And what about Ishmael? He certainly didn t ask to be born in to this situation. Was it his fault he was born? Sometimes we are innocent players in a tough circumstance.

Consider some of these examples of those who are in situations they had little if anything to do with:
_ Children of divorce
_ Children reared in homes where there is substance abuse
_ Those who live in physically abusive situations
_ Those who suffer from devastating and debilitating illness or injury
_ Those who are borne with genetic disorders

There are a host of things that happen in life that we have not asked for or deserved.

Abraham is caught in a difficult situation. Hagar is caught in a difficult situation. Ishmael is caught in a difficult situation.

Abraham asks God for help and God tells Abraham to send Hagar and her son away. He seems to be telling Abraham to sever his ties with Hagar and with his firstborn son. Why would God command such an action? I first read this and thought, Was Abraham a deadbeat dad? But then I read it again and again.

We don t understand the mystery of God s plans. He may have known there would always be conflict. He may have seen that Isaac would not be able to serve as he needed to if Ishmael was around. Maybe God saw that Abraham s heart was divided. But it is all conjecture. The only way out of this bad situation was to make a clean break. And sometimes that is what needs to happen in our lives even when it is difficult, if God has other plans for us.

We read that early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave to Hagar. He sent her off with the boy. I can only imagine that Abraham s heart broke as he watched them move into the desert. How horrible it was to see his son walk out of his life. And think about it from Ishmael s perspective. This is not some unknowing infant. He knows very well that His father is sending him away. There must have been many tears. But for whatever reason it was necessary, and Abraham trusted God.

And Hagar...what must she have been thinking. She had fled once before, 17 years ago at her own whim, but she trusted God when he sent her back to Abraham s household. I m sure those 17 years weren t always easy, but they were God s plan. So what was going on now? She followed Abraham out of the camp, and took Ishmael and headed for the desert, provisions ran out, and in the heat of the day, with no more water, she puts her son under a bush and goes off and weeps.

I can only imagine what is going through Hagar s mind. Is God toying with my life? He sent me back and now he tells Abraham to get rid of both of us. Had she forgotten the time 17 years earlier when God heard her and saw her and she even called him the God who sees me ? Keep in mind she is lost, alone, literally cast out, depressed, despondent, abandoned, rejected. It seems that not only has Abraham cast her off, but God had as well. How empty she must have felt. How can this be what God wants?

I m not talking about a simple I had this week. Security from the college brought a transient, homeless person over to the church for some help. The security person came into the office and asked if we could help this man, who was standing out in the narthex. I said, Certainly! Have him come in. The man walked in and I motioned for him to come back to my office. He said, I want to talk to the pastor. And I said, I am the pastor here today. He looked at me quizzically and said, You re the pastor? I shook my head, yes, he looked at security and said, Get me out of here! I would have helped him out...but he rejected my help. That s not what Hagar is dealing with here, a simple rejection of help. She is being sent away from her home, from what has been family. And not only she being sent away, but so is her son, Abraham s first born, being disposed of as well.

From the desert father, St. John of the Cross, we can read about this kind of experience. He calls it the dark night of the soul in which he describes this experience of utter and complete confusion and uncertainty. It s a time of total emptiness. He likens it to a dark cloud settling over you. St. John asked the question, Why does God allow the dark night? Hagar must have been thinking the same thing? Why, after what I ve been through, is God now allowing this to happen? Why are Ishmael and I being abandoned?

As we read and breathe the lessons from Scripture we find over and over that God takes those through whom he works and puts them through this test. Why should Hagar be exempt? Why should you or I be exempt?

God s ways often times put us and allow us to go through the tests of life, those things we wouldn t have chosen from the menu of life, to enable us to survive the rigors of the world for his sake. Sometimes we need to develop a heart of humility. Sometimes we need to gain perseverance to overcome Satan. Sometimes we need to develop patience. Sometimes we need to redirect our priorities. For God wisely knows that those who survive this dark night will be prepared for work in his kingdom.

It goes beyond repentance and abandoning our sin. The issue is something deeper. It deals with our selfish ways. It s the act of purifying us. It s an act of spiritual awakening. It s giving God what he wants - every part of us.

Joseph, barely recovered from a glorious dream, is thrown into a pit by his brothers. A very dark night! David, still hearing the chant of the throng saying, Saul has slain his thousand and David his ten thousands, wakes up in a cave being hunted like an animal. A very dark night!

Even Jesus, with the hosannas still ringing in his ears from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays - alone, cold, tormented, sweating blood and surrounded by sleeping disciples. A very dark night!

What is the Lord really looking for in our lives when we reach these times of emptiness, darkness? He s looking for a servant who knows that the cup of bitterness cannot pass. Take heart if you wish it would pass. Even Jesus asked if it was necessary to drink that cup. But he did not ask to escape because of fear of pain or selfishness. He asked because for the first time, he would be separated from his father. He knew that the plan to save humanity would have to break his father s heart. Therein lies the truth that releases glory for us. In repenting of sin, we rid ourselves of evil, but in going through these dark times of confusion and uncertainty, emptiness and aloneness, we surrender the things we dearly love. It is giving God all that he desires from us.

Dave Dravecky, a one-time major league baseball player developed cancer in the soft tissue of his arm and had to have it amputated. Of course, he had to give up his career in baseball. He learned a lot about suffering, and said, Looking back, my wife, Jan, and I have learned that the wilderness is part of the landscape of faith and is every bit as essential as the mountaintop. On the mountaintop we are overwhelmed by God s presence. In the wilderness we are overwhelmed by his absence. If we are never in the wilderness, we can t truly appreciate the mountaintop. Both places should bring us to our knees - the one in utter awe, the other in utter dependence.

Scripture doesn t tell us how long Hagar wept, nor how long Ishmael was thirsty and crying. Nothing tells us that Hagar asked for God s help. But what it does tell us is that God cares for the brokenhearted. Regardless that Ishmael was born contrary to God s will, we find that once again the angel of the Lord comes to Hagar. He reiterates the promise that God had made regarding Ishmael. He would indeed become the leader of a great nation.

And then God does an extraordinary thing. The Scriptures say He took the blindness from Hagar. Hagar, in her distress and despair, did not see what was right in front of her. God didn t plant a well in front of her at that moment. It was there all along, but he opened her eyes to see it.

What comfort to those who feel like they are cast away. What an incredible message to those who feel that they have been in situations that are less than ideal. The message is simple but oh, so important. God sees you in the midst of your darkest nights, your distress, your blindness. And more than that, God cares about you. He ll take away your confusion, your blindness. Scriptures confirm that:
Psalm 34:18: The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

David says that God keeps a list of our tears... Psalm 56: Record my lament, list my tears on your scroll, are they not in your record?

God knows exactly what is going on. He cares about each tear, each heart ache.

I started this sermon with the children, talking about the cold water that refreshes - cold water literally and water, spiritually. Over and over in Scripture we see the analogy. Another time and another place, we find another woman at a well. This woman saw the well, physically, for she was there drawing water. But Jesus, a Jew, takes time to talk to this Samaritan woman about life and about her need for the living water that he could give her, water which would quench the thirst that she had which she couldn t find in all the searching she had been doing with one husband after another.

God may have told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away but He did not abandon them. They may not have understood why things happened the way they did, but they were not alone. God not only provided for the needs of Hagar and Ishmael at the time, He helped them build a new life together. Ishmael became an archer and his descendants became the Arab nations of today.

As I prepared this sermon, my thoughts traveled back 25-26 years ago, months in my life that I felt a lot like Hagar must have felt. I felt rejected, abandoned, alone, with two very small children. And in my pain, I blinded myself from seeing God s well for me. Oh, how easy that is to do. God, likewise, sent angels, in a sense - to open my eyes. At just the time I didn t think God was hearing me, let alone seeing my pain, or feeling it either, two friends, very Godly friends, both within a matter of hours came to me and confronted me about something I was doing in the midst of the tough situation I was in. Angry at them at first, I went to bed that night, only to have my eyes opened in the darkness of the night. I remember thinking, Only God could have programmed this tonight. Only God could have had both Rosemary and Betty, who didn t even know one another, come and say the same thing to me. He does care. He does have a life for me. And over time I came to realize a lot more than just the refreshing water he had to restore my soul, but he had a new path for me to take, one that led me into ministry and eventually here to the Grantham Church. It was something I never planned, never would have thought of in my wildest dreams for my life. God s blessings often come at times and in ways we would never choose or expect. His ways can confound us, but they are trustworthy, for he truly cares about us.

God works in mysterious ways. He is right beside us on this journey, even on the darkest of days. He is there waiting to open our eyes from whatever is blinding us and he has the living water overflowing that will quench the thirsting of our soul. All he asks of us is to allow him to give it to us.