This is the first sentence in the readings for today. (Genesis 16: 1-6, Psalm 22:23-31;Romans 4: 1-12)
There has been a promise - a seemingly impossible promise of a child for these old people. In faith, they have responded to God's leave their country to the place that was promised. And now they wait for this baby. And it has not come.
And Sarai, in her doubt and possibly despair, has hatched a plan to have Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl. bear the child. This plan blew up in her face. Hagar conceives, Ishmael is born and Sarai finds herself the object of contempt by this woman who had been her slave. There is so much in this mess to ponder - the powerless women jockeying for power, the weakness of Abraham, and the ultimate rejection of this first born son. Ishmael is traditionally seen as the forefather of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. There is alot here.
What I love about the Bible is that tit does not "clean up" the stories of the people of God - in either the old testament or the new testament. We see doubt which led to disorder and every one of these characters in some sense then becomes a victim and a perpetrator. And to go back to the beginning of it all (Genesis 12: 1-5) there is God who is the one who starts us on a journey with a relationship that promises what seems to be impossible. .I wonder, if before Abram's initial encounter with God, whether Sarai would have gone to these extremes in order to give Abram an heir. It is possible that it was she was given hope again after years of giving up on the dream of having a family.
When I looked at the Roman's reading, it was clear that Paul was not delving deeply into the relationships of these three. Instead he uses Abraham as an example of one who has faith - not because of what he has done - but because of what God has done. In the message Eugene Peterson writes that Abraham is "willing to live in the risky, faith embrace of God's action for them."
This morning I ponder the blessing and the challenge of being people of hope. It is hope for something better and something new that can lead us into actions that are not God's will but start because of the promise.. And we act because we are in relationship with God (have faith) . We act because we are willing to live in the risky, faith embrace of God's action for us.
Paul Tillich wrote that doubt isn't the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith. Sarai's doubt led her into actions that affected not only herself but others and truly had everlasting consequences. And we can say that "Our God who makes all things right" did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael and that this son of Abraham became the Father of another religion - or pathway that led to God.
I have often felt an affinity for Sarah. Thirty years ago, I was starting in ministry and newly divorced with three little girls. I distinctly remember feeling barren - empty - bereft. This story of Sarah waiting spoke to me - waiting for new life to be born, waiting in hope. As I look back on my own history I can see times when I did not wait for God and tried to make things happen on my own and ended up in disorder that affected not just me but my family. But that is not the end of the story. Thank God.
Today I find myself in that place of knowing that the abundant life, the way of God is always about trust and I recognize that really and truly living in faith is never without struggle It is hard to live in the in between times - between the promise and the birth, between leaving Egypt and finding the new land.
But I wait today - in faith and doubt and hope.
May the God of HOPE be with you, inspiring, calling, inviting you to dream ad to believe in possibilities.
May you trust the dream that is forming in you and may your uplifted face and courageous spirit inspire others who have lost hope.
May the blessing of HOPE be with you.