"God Hears, God Sees"

God Hears, God Sees – Gen 21:8-21 and Mt 10:24-39

June 21, 2020  Pardeeville (virtual worship)



                Stories from people I’ve met over the years through my ministries in both the church and health center are stories often of survival of broken childhoods, poverty and abuse, abandonment, of such suffering I hope only to be a lap sometimes, a holding presence for their pain. Sometimes, seeing and hearing the person on the other side of the trauma, I am humbled by their resiliency, the ability to still laugh, and hope, and heal. You are among those survivors, each of you with your own stories, with your own witness to the promises of God, glimpsed and experienced in your own lives.

            Years ago I read a memoir of a book by Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was in her 20’s when the Germans occupied Holland during World War II. Her memoir is a testimony to the sustaining power of God, even in the darkest of times. She was imprisoned in a transit camp for two years, during which she wrote the memoir, before her death in the gas chamber in Auschwitz. As she watched her world descend into nightmare around her, she became deeply aware of God’s watchful eye and tender hand on her life. In a myriad of ways, this young woman, not so religious at the start, saw and heard and felt God’s presence. She wrote, “There must be someone to live through it all and bear witness to the fact that God lived, even in these times. And why should I not be that witness?” (found in “I Am Sending You,” Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus.)

            In his reflections on her, Rowan Williams describes her this way: “She decided to occupy a certain place in the world, a place where others could somehow connect with God through her. She took responsibility for making God credible in the world. She took responsibility for God’s believability.”

            Making God credible in the world. Taking responsibility for God’s believability. It’s what some of the people I meet in my practice are doing. One woman, raised in a distant place, shared that her childhood was stolen from her at age 7 when she was raped by a stepbrother. Knowing she was not safe or protected by her mother or anyone, she took her two younger brothers and fled, finding a way to live on the streets, find temporary shelter here and there, somehow all surviving that time. She descended into alcohol and drug abuse and later, when things were better, went on to become a mother herself. When one of the children was 9, the child grew very ill. Instead of receiving the help and understanding and support to nurse her child back to health, the mother was accused of trying to murder her child. The two children were taken from her, placed in foster care, and she was sent to jail for six months while she found legal services to help prove her innocence. Imagine the incredible fear this already wounded woman felt. Imagine the rage at this false accusation, at the wrenching separation she experienced from those children. I reiterated the story, with genuine curiosity. How did you survive? How did you let go of that anger? Without missing a beat she said, my faith. For two months, she said, I was so angry I couldn’t contain myself. And then I realized that my anger was not helping anyone. So, for the first time ever, I started reading the Bible. And as I read, I started learning, and I saw there was a different way. I started to follow Jesus, and that made changed me. I learned how to be more patient. I was able to accept where I was without fighting so much.

            She did not have anyone preaching to her. She was not someone raised in the faith, returning in a time of crisis. She was in a desert of her own, feeling the fires of her rage growing within her; and then, she found a spring of living water. She still drinks from that water and the little fires of anger may smolder, but no longer consume her.

            God saw her. God heard her. God helped her. Like Etty Hillesom. Like Hagar. Like Ishmael. Their lives, their stories recorded for all generations, bear witness to the steadfastness of God. The God who sees. The God who hears.

            Before Hagar, there was Sarah. Sarah, who cried from the pain of her infertility. Abraham, who accepted God’s promise to give them a child whose descendants would be so many they would be like the stars in the sky, although he didn’t know how that was ever gonna happen. They waited, and waited, until Sarah was certain God had not heard her cries or seen her pain and she took matters into her own hands. She insisted that Abraham have a child, which she would raise, with Hagar. That child, she said, would be the one from whom a great nation would come. Once Hagar was pregnant, Sarah’s jealousies arose. She couldn’t stand the sight of her, the threat of this woman becoming more honored and revered than she. Just seeing her brought up her own feelings of failure and inadequacy, confirmed that God had not seen nor heard her. So, some 13 years before we meet Hagar in the desert in this passage, Sarah sent Hagar to the desert the first time. In that wilderness place, God came to her. The angel told her that she would, indeed, have a son, and his name would be Ishmael, which means, the God who hears. Hagar then gave the Lord a name, “You are the living one who sees me.” I have seen the One who sees me.

            Those ensuing years, back in the settlement with Sarah and Abraham, were not easy. But who could have predicted that Hagar and her boy would be banished again, would descend again into the nightmare of the barren desert? When she found herself there, with her beloved child, canteen empty, under the burning sun, she saw him become weaker, despondent. And she could not bear to witness his death. Perhaps, too, she moved away from him as she could not bear to witness God’s absolute abandonment. False promises. Fatal endings.

            And then, God heard the boy crying. God heard the boy named “God hears.” And God sought out Hagar and reassured her, told her that her son would live, he would be the father to a great nation. God heard Ishmael, God again sees Hagar. She was the sparrow who had fallen. The hairs on his head were the ones that were counted.

            The woman I met with came upon this and other stories recorded in our sacred texts. They came to life for her. They were the living water in her own desert. And the changes she continues to experience, her transformation and healing, make God credible in the world. She takes responsibility for God’s believability.

            Following Jesus directives, we are to do the same. He sent us out to join in the Divine work of repairing and redeeming humankind. It is serious work. It is unpopular with the status quo. It is met with opposition. It is, as Robina Winbush says, a radical reorientation of our purpose. Make God credible in the world. Take responsibility for God’s believability. By your own witness, healing ministries, the way you reach out to those who are disadvantaged, or living with anger and fear, by tending to broken bodies and the wounded earth. By returning again and again to the spring of living water when your own spirits are parched or the fires within you need to be quenched. God sees, God hears, God draws near, and God sends us out. May it be so in your life this day. Amen.

  January 2021  
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