HOPE BEYOND HOPELESSNESS
Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Psalm 86 VU803, Matthew 10:24-39
June 19, 2005, at Claresholm
There was a woman who was dying of anorexia nervosa. She was abused as a child and became convinced that nobody liked her. She stopped eating as a desperate attempt to be slim and attractive. In the end, she weighed as little as 80 lb but still determined that she must still lose weight. At that point, she could never accept herself. People began to ask if it was no longer a psychological disorder, but a spiritual problem. Severe lack of self-esteem is a spiritual illness. She was in a hell of despair. In the end, she went to see an United Church minister.
When you are in despair, you don”t see any sign of hope. You are determined to see only the dark side. It is like Hagar in today’s scriptures. She so completely lost hope that she did not see a spring of fresh water nearby.
Today’s Old Testament passage is a terrible and cruel story. How do you make sense out of a beastly deed committed by good people like Abraham and Sarah? An innocent slave woman was forced to have a baby by her master, Abraham, encouraged by his wife, Sarah. Hagar, the slave, was treated like a cow. Furthermore when a child was born to the legitimate wife, the slave woman was cast out into a desert so that she and the child would simply vanish. She had no friend. The community that supported her abandoned her.
The Bible dose not hide the dark side of people, no matter how good they were. It is because its main message is that God only is absolutely perfect as no human can be. Good King David once lusted after another man”Ñ wife and had her husband killed on a battle front in order to marry her. Peter, who came to be known as the vicar of Christ, lied and said that he didn’t know Jesus three times to save his own life. Paul spoke about an elder of the church in Corinth who shared a concubine with his son. And there are more. Adultery, betrayal, incest, etc abound. The Bible is not a book about nice people.
The story about Sarah, Hagar, and their sons is one of those stories that tell us that all of us have a dark side. It is terrible but it is the truth. Like the good woman Sarah, We are capable to commit evil. But by the grace of God, we are made acceptable in spite of our faults.
Hagar and her child Ishmael were cast out into the desert by Abraham and Sarah with nothing more than a bit of water and food. They wandered around Sinai desert under the hot merciless sun. Eventually food and water ran out. Mother put down her son in the cool shade of a bush. He was crying feebly for water. And she walked away as far as she could so that she did not have to hear her child cry. She loved the child, so she could not walk away from him completely. But also because she loved him, she could not bear to hear the feeble cry of her dying child. They had no place to go: only death awaited. This is a picture of absolute hopelessness. She had no one to turn to. All humans, even good people like Abraham and Sarah failed her.
Hagar lost all hope, but not little Ishmael. He did not give up hope. Babies don’t know how to give up. This is why they keep crying. You cry to be heard. Weeping is a hand stretched in search of hope. God heard Ishmael”s cry and helped to open the eyes of Hagar. She found a well-spring of fresh water, which had always been there. Now their thirst was quenched, they regained enough strength to find food in the desert. Eventually they learnt to live in the desert. God promised Hagar that her son, Ishmael would grow up to be a mighty hunter and a good provider. According to the legend, Hagar and Ishmael were the ancestors of the present day Arab nations.
They thrived in the desert lands of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. When Hagar recovered hope, she and her son found community. Hagar found Ishmael a wife in the land of her birth – Egypt, and became the matriarch of a mighty nation, no longer a slave. She was a victim no more. The cry of an innocent child, who did not know how to give up hope, helped her find salvation. She not only found water, but also God and community. Baby’s cry in the wilderness also meant she found her freedom; she became the mistress of her own destiny. She found hope beyond despair.
There is an African saying, "You can not save a cow who doesn’t want to get out of a gully." I suppose it’s the same thing as "God helps those who help themselves." We believe in hope. There is always hope beyond hopelessness. If you can not accept this, you suffer sickness of despair. It prevents you to see God who is always nearby ready to help you. Let us rejoice, God is with us. We may not deserve such grace. But God is always with us. Emmanuel, "God is with us" that’s how Jesus is called. Thanks be to God.