Wann sind wir gemeint?

Faith Impulse

Hagar, Sarah, Abraham: When are we meant?       Genesis 21, 8-21 

Und das Kind wuchs heran und wurde entwöhnt. Und Abraham machte ein großes Mahl am Tage, da Isaak entwöhnt wurde. 
Und Sara sah den Sohn Hagars, der Ägypterin, den sie Abraham geboren hatte, dass er spielte und lachte. 
Da sprach sie zu Abraham: 
Vertreibe diese Magd mit ihrem Sohn; denn der Sohn dieser Magd soll nicht erben mit meinem Sohn Isaak. 
Die Sache war sehr böse in Abrahams Augen, denn es ging um seinen Sohn. 
Aber Gott sprach zu ihm: 
Lass es dir nicht missfallen wegen des Knaben und der Magd. Alles, was Sara dir gesagt hat, dem gehorche; denn nach Isaak soll dein Geschlecht genannt werden. Aber auch den Sohn der Magd will ich zu einem Volk machen, weil er dein Sohn ist. 
Da stand Abraham früh am Morgen auf und nahm Brot und einen Schlauch mit Wasser und legte es Hagar auf ihre Schulter, dazu den Knaben, und entließ sie. 
Da zog sie hin und irrte in der Wüste umher bei Beerscheba. Als nun das Wasser in dem Schlauch ausgegangen war, warf sie den Knaben unter einen Strauch und ging hin und setzte sich gegenüber von ferne, einen Bogenschuss weit; denn sie sprach: Ich kann nicht ansehen des Knaben Sterben. Und sie setzte sich gegenüber und erhob ihre Stimme und weinte. 
Da erhörte Gott die Stimme des Knaben. 
Und der Engel Gottes rief Hagar vom Himmel her und sprach zu ihr: Was ist dir, Hagar? Fürchte dich nicht; denn Gott hat gehört die Stimme des Knaben dort, wo er liegt. Steh auf, nimm den Knaben und führe ihn an deiner Hand; denn ich will ihn zum großen Volk machen. 
Und Gott tat ihr die Augen auf, dass sie einen Wasserbrunnen sah. 
Da ging sie hin und füllte den Schlauch mit Wasser und gab dem Knaben zu trinken. Und Gott war mit dem Knaben. 
Der wuchs heran und wohnte in der Wüste und wurde ein Bogenschütze. Und er wohnte in der Wüste Paran und seine Mutter nahm ihm eine Frau aus Ägyptenland.

Dear sisters and brothers, for today's sermon I have chosen the text from the book of Genesis. It is about Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael. And of course, we also want to discuss the role that God or his angel plays in all of this. On the one hand, I take up this particular story because Hagar is the person to whom this year's motto is addressed: "You are a God who sees me" is what Hagar says when she is in the desert for the first time. Because she fled from Sarah, who mistreated her. And on the other hand, I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from this story.

Two weeks ago, I was asked at our church coffee whether we as Christians need the Old Testament at all. And I answered: absolutely. We absolutely need the Old Testament because it deals with many of the difficulties and problems of our human existence. The incredibly beautiful and significant thing about the Old Testament is its unsparing openness to crises and wrongdoing. This is coupled with the ever lasting faithfulness of God, his grace and his deeds. And many statements and actions of Jesus, the Jew, we can only understand if we know the Old Testament. The world in which Jesus lives, is the world of the Old Testament.

One may disagree with some stories, especially from today's point of view. One may find some things too brutal, too severe or historically implausible. But in any case, I can relate to such stories. I can see how they resonate within me. And that is exactly what I would like to do today: To use the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael that we have heard today to ask these questions. The questions that also concern us - here and now. To do that, I'll just go step by step through today's story, and I'll start with verse 8: "When Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast."

At first, that sounds innocuous, harmless. Natural. Naturally we like to celebrate feasts with our children, the most common probably being their birthday. But no matter how hard I looked - for his firstborn son Ishmael, Abraham did not give a feast, not even a small one. All those who argue that it simply wasn't important enough to be recorded, I would like to ask: Why then, is it important to mention it in the case of Isaac?

Does not this small inconspicuous sentence show us that we are living in a world of double standards? For one, a feast is celebrated, and for the other, it is not. And after all, don't we know from our own experience what terrible consequences this can have?  For those who have children of their own, please consider this happening in your family that one child's birthday is celebrated and the other's is not. Inequality between siblings. In fact, this will be exacerbated in the course of our present story.

The next major theme is found in the next verses, "One day Sarah watched the son the Egyptian woman Hagar had borne to Abraham playing and laughing. Then she said to Abraham, "Drive out that maid and her son! For the son of this maid shall not be heir together with my son Isaac.”

What strikes me most deeply in this scene is this human feeling of hatred. How profoundly deep this hatred must have been in Sarah that she would come to this statement facing a child who is playing and laughing. So also here I assume that the author or authors of this text must have thought of something, otherwise they would not have compiled it in such a way. Normally, a laughing child triggers feelings of happiness in people. One rejoices with the child. Or at least a laughing child creates a good and pleasant mood. Here we sense a deep hatred that this child triggers in Sarah. The child whose spiritual mother she herself is! It was Sarah's idea to give her slave Hagar to her husband Abraham for the purpose of producing children . But gone. In her hatred Sarah sees only the son of this maid pitted against her own son. The fact that they both have the same father no longer matters at all. 

And here I ask myself and us what we can learn from this? Where are we in danger of hating? Where are we in danger of covering up our own history? To deny our own choices? As I said, it was Sarah's idea, it was her plan, to which Ishmael owes his life. Are we as well prepared to take responsibility for our ideas and plans?

Abraham discerns this evilness, because it is about his son. Verse 11: "The thing was very evil in Abraham's eyes, because it was about his son" And here is the first intervention of God, because what father does not have love for his son. That is understandable. 

Why does God do this?

The question is legitimate but difficult to answer. I suppose it is connected to the fact that the entire history of Abraham always has to do with God's promise: I will make you the father of many nations. And these individual nations then have their origins in the sons of Abraham. The history of the Jews goes back precisely to Isaac and his son Jacob. The sons of Jacob become the namesakes of the tribes of Israel.

Anyway, this intervention of God makes the next step of Abraham possible. How he does it is probably one of the climaxes of this story. 

Climax because of what we can learn from it. In terms of content, probably the most appallingly tragic point of the entire narrative. 

Even after reading and considering it several times, I'm stunned: "Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a bag (or skin) of water and gave it to Hagar, put it on her shoulder, and gave her the child and dismissed her." 

The man who, in the 24th chapter of the Book of Genesis, will send out 10 camels loaded with precious possessions to find a bride for his son Isaac, sends Hagar and his own son with some bread and a bag of water into the desert.

Not only is this intolerably stingy, but in truth, from a human perspective, it is a death sentence. Because in those times one only survived in the desert as a group, where one's strength could be maximized. Not only where there very hostile conditions in the desert, little or no water and food, but there were also predators and bandits. How is a woman supposed to survive that with a 14 or 15 year old? Maybe because God will provide? Or because God had promised Abraham that Ishmael would also become a great nation? Does this justify how Abraham does it? What beginning circumstances Hagar and Ishmael get?

As I said earlier, I would like to transfer this text into our time. We may ask: How can you do such a thing, Abraham? But that is a judgment. Is it our place to judge? How often do we accept safe death sentences? At the external borders of Europe? How often do we deny our neighbors the help they need? By not sharing our resources, claiming everything for ourselves?

What is the state of our compassion? In terms of solidarity with the hungry. People hungry for bread or justice on this planet?

Another thing we can learn from this passage is probably often over-read or over-heard. Two weeks ago I explained the phrase 'doing disservice'. An action that is well-intentioned but causes ill or harm. In today’s passage, we learn the opposite: how a seemingly evil action can also cause good. It was evil to send Hagar into the wilderness. But good is promised by the little word "dismissed her." For it means that Hagar is now no longer a slave. She is dismissed by Abraham. Not cast out.  Small but significant difference. She is now a free person.

Again, I could ask what this has to do with us here and now. And I think it is worthwhile to pursue this question: Where have we today - not necessarily through an evil deed, but perhaps that too -  where have we, through our small deeds, brought about great things? Where has something good come about because of us? I find this question valuable, because in it we can become grateful. Because we have overlooked it until now. Because we were not aware of it. Just like most of the listeners do not realize this change for the slave Hagar.

With my last point, I would like to return to the initial question of this sermon: Do we as Christians need the Old Testament? Absolutely.

We can learn so much from it. And it really doesn't matter whether everything is completely logical or historically correct. Would you like an example? I had already said that Ishmael must have been 14 or 15 years old. Because Abraham was 86 years old when he had Ishmael and 100 years old when he had Isaac. As it says in today's text, verse 15, "When the water in the skin ran out, she threw the child under a bush." Sorry, you don't throw a 14 year or older under a bush anymore. You can't. He's just too big. You put yourself under a bush before a 14 year-old gets tired. 

But this is not of decisive importance for the whole story, because the decisive point is that God saves the two. And their lives continue. Continue on because God cared and saw them. He is indeed a God who sees us. And may this year's motto continue to accompany us through our lives and through this year.


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