Rev. George Miller
Jan 31, 2021
In the Book of Genesis, chapter 21 there is a story about a mother and a son on the outskirts of town.
Her name is Hagar. She is an Egyptian woman who is enslaved by Abraham and forced by Sarah to sleep with him in hopes of having a child.
It is a complex, unpretty part of our faith family’s history, a story that deals with sexual exploitation, and the power dynamic of the haves and have nots.
Hagar has done the role that was forced upon her. She has given birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. But Sarah is furious, jealous, abusive.
Sarah has Hagar and her son sent away, out into the wilderness. With nothing more than a loaf of bread and canteen of water, the mother and son wander alone into the unknown.
…But, they are not alone. For God is with them…
At the moment in which all hope seems lost, in which food and water are gone, Hagar lifts up her voice and weeps.
…the Lord hears. The Lord sees.
The Lord responds- “Tell me what is hurting you. I don’t want you to live in fear. Come, hold your son to your bosom. I have a promise to make you.”
God opens Hagar’s tear-soaked eyes. She sees a well of water that is deep and wide. She fills her canteen with water and tends to her son.
Here is one of the 1st biblical stories about an unexpected person, facing an unexpected situation, in an unexpected place, having an unexpected encounter with the God of Compassion.
Hagar was not an Israelite, she was not part of the promise, she was not part of the 2%. Hagar was completely “other” and seen as completely disposable…
…and yet, not only does God see her, but God also hears her, God knows her by name, and God supplies what she and her son need to make it through the wilderness.
Hagar joins the ranks of Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth who have an experience with the Impossibly Possible God.
In some ways Hagar also becomes a new kind of Patron Saint for us-
Did you notice where she experienced God? It’s not in a sanctuary, it’s not on the Sabbath.
Hagar experiences God when she is on the outskirts of town, at her lowest emotional point, when liminal time no longer has any meaning.
In some ways, Hagar is a Quarantine Queen, completely separated from everyone and everything.
Thus begins an important Biblical trope- how God is often experienced outside of conventional norms and expectations.
For example, think about Jonah, our Old Testament Patriot, who’d rather see his enemies suffer than be saved.
Where does Jonah experience God?
-While running away on a storm-tossed ship at sea
-In the belly of a stinky, stanky fish
-Far east of the city beside a withering bush under a blazing hot sky
Like Hagar, Jonah has a life-altering moment with God and it’s not inside or on an assigned day at an arranged time.
Which we also see in today’s reading.
Last week Luke showed us Jesus breaking free from the expectations of Sabbath and synagogue walls.
Today Jesus takes his ministry to another boundary breaking place- outside the gates of the city and the realm of the living.
Jesus and his followers are making their way to Nain, but before entering the city-limits, they see a funeral procession.
It is a widow who is preparing to bury her only son.
With such a brevity of words, Luke tells us so much. This woman has lost everything- her spouse, her son, and now, her place in society.
With these deaths, she joins the ranks of the Hagars and Ishmaels- she is amongst the most vulnerable, the most likely to be exploited, the most likely to be treated as invisible, uncountable, and unworthy of being heard.
This is when she meets Jesus.
Not at the high point of her life. Not on her wedding day. Not on the day she gives birth to her son. Not on the day she presents him in the Temple. Not in the green pastures, calm waters, or cup overflowing.
She meets Jesus at the lowest moment in her life. She has lost family, she has lost status, she’s no longer an insider, but an outsider, literally watching her life pass right before her eyes.
THAT’S when she has her encounter with Jesus. THIS is her HAGAR moment. This is her JONAH time.
When all hope is lost, and everything seems so wrong with the world.
And what does the Lord do?
He has compassion for her. He experiences womb-love for her.
The kind of love in which he not only acknowledges her pain but feels her pain.
Jesus is not put-off by her pain. He speaks. He steps forward. He acts.
It is one thing to say “Oh, I’m so sorry.” It’s one thing to say, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
It’s a whole other thing to take those thoughts and prayers and to put them into action.
Jesus takes his womb-love and turns it into a blessing of restored life.
This blessing isn’t just about the son. This blessing means that the mother can return to her place in society, she can return to inside the gates of the city.
It means she can go back to life, back to reality; she can keep on movin’.
So often we think that we must go to where we believe God is, but today we are reminded that many times God meets us right where we need God the most.
When we are grieving.
When we are scared.
When we are at our most vulnerable.
When we are on the outside.
When we are on empty.
When all hope seems lost.
The widow loses everything and that’s when see encounters Christ.
Jonah has his ego bruised and sits alone, and that’s when he and God have their biggest heart to heart.
Hagar is a woman in no-mands lands with no food, no water, and discovers that she is seen, she is heard, and she is known by God.
In that experience she is refreshed.
In that way Hagar and today’s woman become our Quarantine Queens.
In that way Jonah becomes an unexpected Quarantine King.
In all these ways we find the strength and ability to press on even when we feel the affects of COVID pressing in.
May God refresh us this morning.
May the Holy Spirit lift up our soul.
May we see Jesus right where we are and not just where we think we ought to be.