Names of God: El Roi - Pastor Stasia Fine


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Before we read today’s Scripture I invite you to take a few notes on paper. If you could find a writing tool and some paper, perhaps the front of your bulletin. There should be a pen in the membership pad for anyone who needs one. Please share with those seated beside you. We are going to make a list. Please leave room for four names. First, write down the name of a group of people who are minorities. Second, write down the name of a group of people who are treated harshly. Third, write down the name of a person who may feel alone. Fourth, write down your own name. Let us pray: Prayer Today we will be reading from Genesis 16, starting with verse 7. Prior to this passage, Abram had received a promise from God that he would become father to a multitude, that they would be given a land to call their own, and God would bless the world through Abram’s offspring. Yet, ten years have passed since God made that very visual covenant with Abram and yet his wife, Sarai, still has not conceived. Consequently, Sarai suggests to her husband the fertility practice of their day – taking the Egyptian woman, Hagar, who was Sarai’s slave and making her his concubine. Then the unfortunate happens, Hagar becomes pregnant, proving Abram’s seed good, and taunting Sarai’s barrenness. After the events of today’s story, another fourteen years will pass before Sarah becomes a biological mother. There is some irony in this story, in that the nation who will later enslave Abraham and Sarah’s children are represented in the Egyptian Hagar, who is commanded to remain slave to their foremother, Sarah. And it is an interesting tale, because in it God gives attention to the human attempt to fulfill a divine promise. Multiplying the promised blessing to not only touch the promised son, Isaac, but also the son of human decision, Ishmael. Let’s read today’s passage from Scripture: Genesis 16:7-16 --- There are a lot of emotions in this story, and yet many of the emotions are left unnamed. We, the reader, are left to interpret how each character felt in this story of a blended family. Today we are choosing to focus on Hagar over Sarai. A woman who is enslaved, abused, and far from home. She is alone, a runaway, seemingly forgotten. She has just lost the age-old power struggle between two women with Sarai showing dominance. Although Hagar had momentarily had the upper hand. Now she sits alone at a brook. She could be crying… or perhaps she is fuming with anger… or possibly a little of both. She has no where to go and no where to be. She is pregnant and without direction. And God, through an angel appears and asks, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She only has the answer to one of those questions, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” Isn’t that how running away works. We know what we are running away from, but we usually don’t know where we are going.Therefore, good career advice is to not quit your job until you have another one in place. Or as I was advised by a mentor years back, God doesn’t call you from a place, God calls you to a place. Or as the adage says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. ”In other words, when something becomes difficult, the strong become more fully engaged. --- The story of women in Genesis is surprising, the women don’t seem to meet the picturesque expectations of the culture – they struggle to become mothers, they are taken advantage of by men, or widowed at far too young of age. Instead their identity rests, like that of the men, not in their culture, but in their relationship with God. Here in this story, we find a slave woman fulfilling her culture’s expectation and yet feeling a great sense of loss as a result. She runs away in search of hope and discovers a new identity in the God who sees her. Although at the end of this passage she returns to life as a slave, she returns as one who has a new identity. She is the one who has seen God and lived, or in Hagar’s own words, “Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!” It is the strength she finds in being known by God that allows her to return to her difficult circumstances. And it is that same strength that we all find that gives us the courage to go on in our day-to-day circumstances. The hope that God sees us and has not deserted us. God knows what is taking place in our lives, he has not left us alone. When the going gets tough, the humble and faithful turn to God for their strength. God responds to Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her… I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” The promise of offspring was made to Abram. Up to this point, no mention of Sarai is made in the promise, although the actions of God to protect her as they travel seem to imply her role. Nonetheless, it would make sense that they would question whether the promise would be fulfilled through Sarai or someone else. That is, we can question this until we discover that again and again in the narrative of Genesis, this promise which is passed on from generation to generation, is fulfilled through the first wife of the one the promise is made to. Sarai’s child receives the full blessing, Hagar’s only part. Although the message is delivered through the husband, the wife has a role in its fulfillment. Whether that be in Rebekah favoring Jacob over Esau or Judah being the son of Leah. They are children of the promise. The writer of Galatians tells us that Sarai and Hagar are an allegory. A message to future generations. There are two covenants, two promises from God. One is the law presented at Mt. Sinai. The second is the grace presented at Mt. Calvary. Both are fulfilled, but our preference is to be children of the second. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1) But that doesn’t remove the blessing from Hagar. She still encounters the living God and hears the following words: “Behold, you are with child And shall bear a son; You shall call him Ishmael, for the LORD has paid heed to your suffering. He shall be a wild ass of a man; His hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; he shall dwell alongside all his kinsmen.” And so she names the place “Beer Lahai Roi” which means, “the well of the Living One who sees me.” So, even though she doesn’t receive the full blessing, she is still blessed. I think some of us feel that way at times, like we haven’t received God’s best. When we read stories of people like Hagar we are reminded that even when it seems like God is playing favorites, it doesn’t mean we are being ignored – look for the blessings! God sees you! --- This calendar year I am preaching a series that invites us to Come, and worship with Joy at the Table of God! For us to do this – to come and worship, it helps if we better understand the One who hosts the Table. The one God who has many names. The name used by Hagar was “El-Roi, 'the God who sees me.'” Look back at that list you created at the beginning of this sermon. You named people and persons for whom God sees. They and you are not invisible to God. They may be marginalized at times by the society in which we live, but their identity comes not from society’s definition of them or us, but by their and our relationship with God. Who might God be calling you to invite to the Table? Who might God be calling you to invite to “Come and worship with joy?” Could it be your children? Your friends? Your neighbors? Or perhaps…. As we read the story of Hagar today, let us consider how her children might be invited to the table of God as well. How might we be called to offer hospitality to our Muslim neighbors? Or the runaway? Or the single parent in need? We worship a God who sees – to whom is God looking today? Note: Special appreciation is expressed for the “Women’s Bible Commentary (Expanded Edition),” published by Westminster John Knox Press and edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe

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