We are into our 9th week without face to face worship. We are growing restless and want to get back to our normal routines. However, our more rational side reminds us of the unforeseen danger that lurks outside. Our lives have been permanently changed at least for the next months or even years. We want to rush out but know that we have to hold back. We all anticipate when we can come together as a worshiping body of Christ. I expect that we will have several weeks’ notice. Lynn, Jennifer and I are preparing for the opening, so that we can have quite a celebration.
Genesis 21: 12-20 Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away
12 God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. 13 But I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.” 14 Abraham got up early in the morning, took some bread and a flask of water, and gave it to Hagar. He put the boy in her shoulder sling and sent her away. She left and wandered through the desert near Beer-sheba. 15 Finally the water in the flask ran out, and she put the boy down under one of the desert shrubs. 16 She walked away from him about as far as a bow shot and sat down, telling herself, I can’t bear to see the boy die. She sat at a distance, cried out in grief, and wept. 17 God heard the boy’s cries, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. 18 Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went over, filled the water flask, and gave the boy a drink. 20 God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer.
A Mother’s Story
On Monday afternoon May 4, 2020, I officiated at the graveside funeral of Jane Benson. Jane and her husband Si Benson were lifelong dedicated members of Pleasant Grove UMC. For the past three years, Jane had languished in the Alzheimer’s facility of Carroll Lutheran Village. It was a difficult and trying time for the Benson family. Now, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, no regular funeral could be held in the sanctuary as we always have done. It was to be outside in the cemetery and, of course, the wind was quite strong as usual. The family had not seen Jane’s body in the casket, so the casket was opened for a few moments and the family placed flowers and kissed her just before the funeral began. Each member reflected on the impact that Jane had on them and there was a recurring theme — how Jane loved them and cared for them. The body in the casket was of a loved mother!
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I am certain that all of you who read this will experience a totally different day. On Mother’s Day, our family has traditionally gathered for worship and celebration of Ann. We eat and laugh and tell stories about Ann and her impact on our family over the decades, but not this Sunday. Visitation will be virtual — by phone or zoom. It is just not the same! We cannot hold each other! We cannot watch Joshua chase the lacrosse balls around the field. It’s just not the same. Life has shifted to a new abnormal in just eight weeks because of Covid-19. So is the case for Hagar. You may want to read the entire story about Hagar in Genesis 16 and 21.
At Sarah’s insistence, Abraham fathered a baby boy by Sarah’s slave, Hagar because Abraham was growing old and there had not been any children. Abraham needed an heir to the family line. But even after Ishmael was born by Hagar, Sarah was not happy with the family arrangement. God entered the picture again and at age 99, Abraham and Sarah conceived a second son, Isaac. Tensions continued to grow – another case of a dysfunctional family arrangement. As Scripture says: 12 God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. 13 But I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.” 14 Abraham got up early in the morning, took some bread and a flask of water, and gave it to Hagar. He put the boy in her shoulder sling and sent her away. She left and wandered through the desert near Beer-sheba.
The story continues — Hagar, who was forced to leave her home, her security and status, all for the safety of her son. When she is near death and the situation is so hopeless, she lays her child down at a distance because she cannot bear to see him die before her, God in the last moment, shows up again. God reveals a well for them to drink and revitalize themselves. He comes through on his promise of bring them to safety. The story ends with Ishmael becoming an archer.
This is where the story – this ancient story from a time very distant from ours, from a culture very different from ours, from customs very different – ends up having something to say that is true of our God then as now. Our God sees what we are going through. Our God understands the struggles that we endure. Our God knows every little sacrifice we make, every thankless deed of goodness and kindness. God feels the same long-suffering love, because that is the same love, he has for all of us.
God blesses us un-expectantly and over-abundantly. He comes through in the end. I think one of the many cool things we will see in heaven is how our prayers all got answered. And we know our mothers pray long and hard for us. They pray that we would be healthy. They pray that we would make good choices. They pray that we will succeed in life and find happiness. Our mothers of faith pray that we will come to know the Lord.
Can we trust that God is the God that comes through? God does answer prayer. God keeps his promises. He does not always answer them right away or answer them the way we expect. But he does answer them. Our God is the God that sees us. He is with us not against us. He gave of his life, in the Son, to save us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will provide, sustain, empower, heal, restore, redeem, and vindicate for he is our father and we his children.
I am reminded of an oft repeated refrain in the African American community: It goes like this: Jesus never comes when I call him, but he always comes in time. It is one more way of saying that God will deliver his people; that God will provide. Jesus never comes when I call him, but he always comes in time. And the people said, “Amen.”