This week I’m preaching on a difficult text that never shows it’s face in the lectionary readings for Sunday worship because it is so messed up. The sermon series is called, “Scary Scripture” because the Scripture deals with domestic violence, genocide, infanticide, and human sacrifice. The first of the series is Genesis 16. It gives us a brief glimpse of who Hagar is as an oppressed and powerless woman. Genesis 21 wraps up her Biblical character with another quick story. This sad tale sheds light on how the powerful and privileged can dehumanize people when we are not careful. I am a white heterosexual well-educated male pastor from a middle-class family. So I speak from a place where I have been given a considerable amount of privilege from our American society. I hope to use this unfairly given privilege to empower others. This being said I have much to learn from the iniquities of Abraham and Sarah as people of wealth and power. Hagar is abused, used, rejected and cast out by this couple and with the help of God.
Hagar is a Biblical she-roe that gets little mention or credit. Consider this:
- She is the only character in the Bible bold enough to name God (El Roi–Have I really seen God and survived! –Gen. 16: 13).
- Hagar is the first in the Bible to receive a word from a Divine messenger (angel) and the first annunciation (Gen. 16:11-12 angelic birth announcement like Elizabeth and Mary).
- She is the only woman to be promised by God a multitude of offspring (Gen. 16:10).
Phyllis Trible describes the empowerment Hagar can have for us today in her book, Texts of Terror. “As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.” If this interests you, I highly recommend reading her book. Also there is a great article by Katey Zeh in Sojourners Magazine: When God Tells a Woman to Return to Her Abuser
Hagar is an imperfect saint that is at least as faithful (if not more) as Abraham and Sarah, who usually are seen as faithful heroes in our tradition despite their abuse. Domestic violence is awful and needs to be strongly condemned in our communities. Let us not forget the suffering of Hagar as we wrestle with these Scripture passages. As we lift Hagar’s story up and honor her as a she-roe, we must be aware of the power we have to hurt others by taking away their voice and choices. Your prayers for preaching this text are appreciated.