Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hagar's Story

We've been tackling "Stories to Struggle With" this summer, having sermons and reflections on some of the Bible's more difficult stories (God telling Abraham to kill Isaac, for instance). One of the great things about Jeff Street is hearing guest sermons from our members, which are always inspiring. That's certainly the case with this sermon from a couple of Sunday's ago from one of our young adults, Cindy Guertin.

You gotta give her credit, not only preaching a sermon but doing so on such a difficult story. And then to do it with the grace and insight she did is simply transforming. Thanks, Cindy.

After church two weeks ago, Natalie and I were reflecting on the “Stories to struggle with” we had been hearing about in recent sermons. We both shared the difficulty we have at times in claiming this book as our sacred scripture... Later that day I was listening to NPR and the voice of Julia Sweeney, a former Saturday Night Live comedian, came on the air. She was reading from her one-woman show called “Letting Go of God.”

She said, “I knew the bible had nutty stories, but…I guess I thought they’d be wedged in amongst an ocean of inspiration and history. But instead the stories just got darker and more convoluted. Like when God asks Abraham to murder his son Isaac. As a kid we were taught to admire it. I caught me breath reading it. We were taught to admire it? What kind of sadistic test of loyalty is that…to ask someone to kill his or her own child? And, isn’t the proper answer ‘Noooo, I will NOT kill my child, or any child?’ . . . Some people argue that without the Bible, morality would be relative and wishy-washy…But in the BIBLE morality is relative and wishy-washy. In fact, it sure seems like our modern morality is much more loving and humane than the Bible’s morality…God is so offensive in the Old Testament. I mean like bi-polar…”

Last week Cindy preached about the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. That story is found in Genesis wedged between two accounts of Hagar the Egyptian slave—the person whose story we’ll hear today. Until recently, I had never really paid much attention to Hagar. But just like Julia Sweeney said, on reading it again as an adult the story catches my breath. It wasn’t that I was taught to admire her story—rather, I was taught to ignore it, probably for many reasons:

She doesn’t matter much in the big picture, which is really about Abraham and God’s promises to Abraham and his offspring... Hagar gets neglected in the patriarchal setting of her time, and her story gets easily lost today in the ongoing patriarchy and sexism of the Christian church.

Hagar is probably very young, perhaps a teenage girl, and her story is unimportant when told beside the much older matriarch of the faith, Sarah. As a young person her story and her feelings are discounted. I wonder if that sounds familiar to you youth that are here. Doesn’t it seem so unfair when adults say that kids should be seen and not heard, or when adults ignore your feelings or aren’t interested in the things that are really important to you? I think it probably happens to every kid sometimes, because every adult sometimes does it whether on purpose or by accident, because when they were kids they were told by an older person that they weren’t important.

Hagar is also a poor servant; so often people from lower social classes are ignored by the wealthy. The sufferings of the poor rarely make the headlines. It’s embarrassing in such a rich nation to recognize that there is poverty all around us; that the rich benefit at the expense of the poor.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, our focus is on Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac because these are the founders of our faith tradition. As Christians we pay little attention to Hagar’s story, but she becomes the ancestor of the Islamic nations through her son Ishmael and is revered in the Muslim tradition as a strong and faithful woman. But important figures of other faith traditions are often of no consequence to us, because we so easily live into feelings of religious superiority.

But most of all, I think I never paid attention to Hagar’s story before because as a white person it’s not a familiar story. Hagar is a black maidservant from Africa, and she gets used and abused by her lighter-skinned owners. By my white privilege, her story is largely unfamiliar to me.

But for Renita Weems, who is an African American theologian, Hagar’s story is prominent. In her book Just a Sister Away, Dr. Weems writes, “For black women, the story of Hagar in the Old Testament book of Genesis is a haunting one. It is a story of exploitation and persecution suffered by an Egyptian slave woman at the hands of her Hebrew mistress. Even if it is not our individual story, it is a story we have read in our mothers’ eyes those afternoons when we greeted them at the front door after a hard day of work as a domestic. And if not our mothers’ story, then it is certainly most of our grandmothers’ story. For black women, Hagar’s story is peculiarly familiar. It is as if we know it by heart.”

I invite all of us now to hear Hagar’s story…whether it is one we know by heart, or one we’ve never really stopped to consider.
by Cindy Guertin....more to come!


At 7/8/05, 4:43 AM, Blogger hipchickmamma said...

i can't wait to read the rest! i'm always impressed and inspired by what i read here. thanks! wishing i could be a visitor!


Post a Comment

<< Home