Once upon a time,
there were two people named Abraham and Sarah [pause]
Perhaps you've heard of them.
They were the superstars of their day
—larger than life,
more faithful to God than anyone around,
blessed with a miraculous child in their old age,
the lead actors in the story everyone was in
—think less Brad and Angelina and
more Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
Abraham and Sarah were the patriarch and matriarch of a great nation,
chosen by God,
given not just a promise but The Promise
—their descendants would number as the stars
and they would be remembered unto ages of ages.
But this is not their story.
This is the story of one of their supporting actresses
—not even that, an extra with a couple of lines.
This is the story of Hagar.
Once upon a time,
there was a woman named Hagar.
Hagar was not a newspaper comic strip character,
not a Viking warrior a la "Hagar the Horrible."
Hagar was Sarah's slave.
She was a woman of little consequence
—no money, no family, no status at all
and like all women of her place and time
she was property, like a toaster oven or a family pet
she had no legal existence of her own,
no recourse, no personal bank account
yet she was happy
she was a part of a family, not mistreated but useful and needed
she went about her daily life
doing the laundry
weaving and mending
helping with the grocery-ing
shuttling the children of the camp to and from school, lacrosse, and band practice
it wasn't a bad life
so we begin with act one:
the first hiccup came when Sarah,
despairing of ever having a child of her own, said to herself:
"it has ceased to be with me in the way of women"
at least that's what the King James Bible tell us
"I've got a plan…" she said
and Sarah went to Abraham and said,
"it has ceased to be with me in the way of women
—so I want you to take my slave Hagar
and get her pregnant and that child will be mine"
and Abe said, "ok"—what, did you think he'd say no?
so they went to Hagar and Sarah said,
"it has ceased to be with me in the way of women,
so I want you to get pregnant by my husband
and give me the baby"
and Hagar, a woman of great poise and wit, said, "what?" [deep Dr. Who]
but this kind of arrangement wasn't unheard of in those days
so… Hagar slept with Abraham and conceived a child
and even in the midst of a kind of Jerry Springer-like mess
Hagar was happy
—she was bringing life and prosperity to her family
she was pleased and proud to be needed and wanted and included
now she was part of The Promise everyone talked about
now she was in with the "in" crowd
the first time she felt the baby move it brought her to tears
there was life in this body, joy in this hard life
and even though Sarah didn't take Hagar's pregnancy as well as she'd hoped
and cursed and beat her and drove her away to the desert
Hagar didn't give up
in the desert, she met God—I mean really met God
God spoke to Hagar
God saw her misfortune and God saw her
and God gave her a promise, too
—her children would one day number as the stars
and she would be the matriarch of a great nation
and Hagar, this unknown, inconsequential slave girl, named God
not a title or a description but a name
becoming the only person in the bible to name God
"el-Roi" she called God—"God who sees"
and so Hagar returned to the camp and to her adopted family
rejoicing in the divine knowledge that she was truly a part of the Promise
rejoicing in her physical and spiritual wealth
Sarah, no longer a spring chicken, felt her age
when strangers came into the camp proclaiming that she would become great with child
she laughed—nervously? deeply and heartily?
knowing what she had lost?
either way, it came to pass that she was again in the way of women
and lo, she became great with child
and as amazing and wonderful as it was, she was scared
she went to Hagar, her slave, and wept and laughed and learned
they talked about their aches and pains,
their hunger, their deep connection with their babies
they discussed birthing plans and breathing techniques
and prenatal yoga
When Hagar gave birth she named her son Ishmael after the narrator of Moby-Dick
and soon after, Sarah also gave birth
and named her son Isaac after the Ancient Near Eastern fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi
and Sarah looked upon the child of her slave
…and she hated him
she said, "my Isaac will not grow up playing with the help"
and she went to Abraham,
who, after a hundred years of wedded bliss,
was used to his wife telling him what to do
she said, "Abe, my Isaac will not grow up playing with the help"
and Abe looked out into the yard at Ishmael his firstborn son
and at Isaac his miraculous child
and he went along with it
Abraham turned Hagar and his own son out into the desert
with only a single bottle of water
and Hagar asked, "where is God and God's Promise now?"
out here in the wilderness,
we wander the literal desert and the metaphorical one
out here in the wilderness where there are no street signs
and no restaurants
—not even a trickling stream
Hagar was alone, unmourned, and unloved
a secondary character in a made-for-TV movie
all she could think of was the look of triumph on Sarah's face
even her friends in the camp couldn't look at her in her shame
her family, her group, her clique
had kicked her out like a dog
because of who she was, what she'd done or said or seen
Hagar wandered, carrying her toddler son and the bottle of water
the one getting heavier
the one getting lighter
her heart breaking
and her eyes were opened
and behold, she knew they could not survive on their own
so she laid Ishmael under a bush
not able to watch her own son die of starvation
and she stumbled away, hot tears streaming down her face
and she lifted up her voice with her son's
and wailed with no one to hear
but God hears
God hears her cries and joins her there in the wilderness
God sits with her, suffers with her
a few hard paces from her squalling baby boy
and God mourns with her for all she has lost
and God reminds her of the Promise she already has
you will never be alone
I will be with you
I will make you the matriarch of a great nation, too,
and you will be remembered unto ages of ages
there is light here in the midst of your darkness [gesture to the Table]
there is hope here in the midst of your wilderness
and God shows her a well in the desert
and she drinks deep
so, Hagar names God el-Roi, "the God who sees"
and God hears her cries in the wilderness, "the God who hears"
and God does not leave Hagar or Ishmael or Sarah or Isaac or us
"God is with us," EmmanuelHagar and Ishmael Sent Away
God is with us
And we all lived happily ever after.
* * *
Questions for conversation:
· What stood out for you in Hagar’s story?Share a story about when you felt God’s presence—what happened? How could you tell it was God? What did you learn from the experience?