Meditation on Genesis 21:8-21
Father’s Day, June 21, 2020
Pastor Karen Crawford
Happy Father’s Day to all our dads and grandads!
I feel grateful and blessed on this day for my husband, Jim. He is a pretty special guy, a wonderful husband to me and father to both his biological children and those he gained when we got married nearly 15 years ago.
We met when I was a busy journalist, working more than full time as a religion reporter for the York Daily Record in York, PA. He wasn’t scared away by my three boys, the youngest of whom was only 7 when we met. Our courtship was more like a pursuit, with me turning down every invitation Jim would extend. Would I go out to dinner? No, I didn’t have time. What about lunch? Well, I don’t take a lunch hour. What about coffee? Maybe someday. By the time I said yes and we got to the coffee shop he had told me all about, the restaurant had gone out of business. After we got married in 2005, we were a blended family with 6 kids, with his three grown and living on their own. Our family, however, was nothing like the fictitious Brady Bunch of the 1970s. The Bradys, though they had their little squabbles and problems, always worked them out before the credits rolled for the 30-minute sitcom.
That isn’t how it has been for our family. Is this how it is for yours? We are still a work in progress. Real life is MUCH more complicated than anything we see on TV. Isn’t it?
This is how it is with Abraham and Sarah’s story. SO complicated for us in today’s world to understand. When we meet them in Genesis 21, their lives are strange even for their time because of Abraham’s relationship with God. In chapter 12, when he’s 75, God speaks to him for the first time. Can you imagine that day, when Abraham runs to tell Sarah, “Honey, pack your bags. We are going to the place God will show me. God is going to make a great nation of me!”
The amazing thing was that they didn’t have any kids; not a one! And Sarah was no spring chicken. Still they go, obeying God’s voice. They have many adventures together in Genesis, including a trip to Egypt during a famine. Abraham, worried about Sarah’s beauty and Pharaoh killing him for his wife, passes her off as his sister. Pharaoh does try to take Sarah into his harem, but then discovers their deception. With God’s blessing and protection, Abraham and Sarah are miraculously freed to leave Egypt with all of their possessions.
Years pass. Angels visit and promise the couple a child. Abraham believes, but then more time passes. It’s taking TOO long! Sarah decides that the only way Abraham is going to have the child he so desperately wants, is if he has a child with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.
Talk about a complicated family situation!
Abraham goes along with this plan because he loves Sarah. And yes, he wants a child–maybe more than he cares about pleasing the Lord. Perhaps he convinces himself that this IS God’s will, but he never asks the Lord. This choice they make, makes a BIG mess of things.
A few years after Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, the child God had promised the now 100- year old man when he was 75. But Ishmael is already Abraham’s legitimate son and heir, recognized also by Sarah as her own child.
Things came to head at Isaac’s weaning party in verse 9, when he might have been as old has 3 or 4. Notice that the name Ishmael isn’t uttered in this passage; nor do we hear him speak. He is “the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham.” The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when Sarah sees him “playing” or isaacing with Isaac, a kind of play on words. Isaac’s name means laughing, loving, and playing in Hebrew and may have sexual connotations, meaning Isaac may have been the victim of inappropriate touch. Ishmael is a boy, not an infant by this time, contrary to how he is often portrayed with his mother in works of art. Sarah demands that Abraham cast out and cut off Hagar and her son. Verse 11 reveals Abraham’s emotional state, “ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son”—meaning his son, Ishmael, whom he loved, just as he loved Isaac.
But being a man of faith, whom the prophet Isaiah 41:8 calls a “friend to God,” he turns to the Lord for comfort and guidance. The Lord offers both. Verse 12, “God says, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.”
God’s lavish grace is extended even to the son of a slave woman for whom God promises, “I will make a nation of him, also, because he is your offspring.’”
In the next passage, we have a picture of a loving and sensitive man—Abraham—who doesn’t send a servant to do his dirty work. He rises early—before anyone else is up—and takes bread and a skin of water, and gives it to Hagar, gently putting it on her shoulder, along with the child. Can you imagine the emotional goodbye? Yes, he loves both women and sons. But he loves the Lord more and obeys, sending Hagar and the child away.
This very well could have been the end for the Egyptian slave and her son. But no. We have a God who cares for the poor and oppressed, those without voice or rights in every society. God’s promise of blessing to all of Abraham’s offspring is fulfilled.
God hears the voice of the boy and sends an angel. “What troubles you, Hagar?” he asks his mother. “Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”
And God our loving, heavenly Father sends a spring of water in the desert for the boy and his mom. God’s provision and protection don’t end there. In verse 20, we read, “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness.” In this harsh and lonely environment, Abraham’s eldest child becomes a mighty hunter, an expert with the bow.
This is my family’s first Father’s Day without my dad. And yet, the Lord has revealed in this time of wilderness, that God is filling us with springs of water in the desert. We are not just surviving, we are thriving, as God is still with us in our grief and loss. It’s a journey.
What captivates me in our Scripture today is not so much the complicated family story of Abraham and Sarah, but the grace of God who works to bring order and clarity to the muddle that we make of our lives! God’s purposes are still accomplished through us. God is everyone’s heavenly father. He is the God of the poor and oppressed, rejected and despised, outcast and marginalized. He is the God of those who were given much, including us. But he has made us all that we are and given us all that we have so that we would be a blessing to him and grow the Kingdom. He wants us to join with Christ in his ministry of reconciliation, says Paul in 2 Cor. 5. We are called to be repairers of the breach, says Isaiah in 58:12. We are called to take up our crosses and follow him, says Jesus in Matthew 10.
This coronavirus has led us all to a kind of scary wilderness, complicating our lives more than they were before. But the Lord knows everything about us and this wilderness. All things will work together for God’s purposes and our good, just as they did for Abraham and Sarah, though they waited for decades for the promises to be fulfilled.
This is the Lord that knows and cares when one little sparrow falls from the sky and cares so much more for us.
Do not be afraid.
Trust and obey the one who hears you when you cry, just as he hears and responds with love, mercy and compassion to the son of a slave in the ancient world, the voice of a boy.
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you for all that we are and all that we have—knowing that everything has come from you. Thank you for the blessing of our families—people to love. We ask for a blessing on our fathers and grandfathers and that you will comfort those grieving the loss of their loved ones. Our family situations are complicated, Lord. We ask for your forgiveness for how we have sometimes have made a muddle of our lives and gone our own way, without seeking your will. Only you know how things really are and only you can bring order to chaos and clarity to what is unclear. Only you can heal broken hearts and wounded relationships. Send your Spirit to bring peace and reconciliation to our families and communities. Use us to be the voice for the oppressed, to befriend the despised and outcast, to draw near to the marginalized and walk with those who are struggling with illness or disease, joblessness, homelessness, or hopelessness. Stir us to be, first and foremost, your friend, like Abraham, and a friend to our neighbors in need. Amen.