Sarah and Hagar

I’ve said this to you before: hurt people… hurt people.

When we feel small, we make ourselves feel bigger by standing on the backs of other folks. When we feel weak, we make ourselves feel strong by showing other folks that we can control them. When we feel afraid, we make ourselves feel safe by proving that other folks should fear us.

When we feel threatened, we lash out. When we feel voiceless, we shout. When there is nothing that we can do to be seen or heard or cared about, we tear it all down and burn it to ash.

Not every time… not all the time… but often enough… hurt people… hurt people.

Trauma is an heirloom that gets passed from generation to generation. Sometimes, it is a gift that we present to a new acquaintance.

The first thing that we need to know about Sarah is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of the God who knew her before she was knit together in her mother’s womb, loved and worthy of love.

And the second thing that we need to know about Sarah is that she is a woman in a deeply patriarchal society. As much as Abraham loves her, she lives under his authority. And he can do with her as he pleases…

Twenty-five years ago, when Abraham and Sarah were in Egypt, Abraham was worried that Pharaoh would see her, and think that she was beautiful, and know that she was Abraham’s wife. And Abraham was afraid that Pharaoh would kill him so that he could take her.

So Abraham and Sarah pretended to be brother and sister. And Pharaoh saw her, and thought that she was beautiful, and believed that she was Abraham’s sister. And Pharaoh dealt favorably with him and took her.

And Pharaoh gave Abraham sheep and oxen and donkeys and camels and slaves. And Pharaoh did with Sarah as he pleased. Until God came to her rescue.

Later, Sarah knew that God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand in the desert; that Abraham would be a great nation; that everyone who blesses him will be blessed, and that everyone who curses him will be cursed, and that all of the families of the earth will be blessed by him.

But she also knew that she could not have children and that Abraham could send her away. So she did the only thing that she could do: she turned her slave over to him, so that he could do to her as he pleased. And the slave got pregnant. And the slave had a child.

And when that child was thirteen or fourteen, there was a miracle, and Sarah got pregnant and gave birth and nursed a child. And now…

The son of that slave woman and her own son are playing together. And Sarah will not have it. The son of that… that slave woman… will not inherit with her son.

So she goes to Abraham and tells him… turn. them. out.

Because hurt people… hurt people. Trauma is an heirloom that gets passed from generation to generation. Sometimes, it is a gift that we present to a new acquaintance. And sometimes, it is weapon that we wield against our enemies… or our competition.

The first thing that we need to know about Hagar is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of the God who knew her before she was knit together in her mother’s womb, loved and worthy of love.

And the second thing that we need to know about Hagar is that she is a slave. As valuable as she might be to Sarah, she lives under her authority. And she can do to her as she pleases…

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, Sarah had turned Hagar over to her husband, so that he could do to her as he pleased. And she had gotten pregnant. And she had a child. And she had hoped, maybe, a little bit, that this—that carrying her master’s child—might put her in a better position. But all it had done was make Sarah jealous. And ever since then, Sarah had dealt harshly with her.

And then, a year-and-a-half ago or so, there was a miracle, and Sarah got pregnant and gave birth and nursed a child. And now…

Hagar and her teenage son are in the wilderness… and the water skin is empty… and the teenager is barely dragging along… all but collapsing in the sand. So Hagar sets him down under a bush… and walks a little ways away… and falls to the ground… and wails.

Because the trauma that has been passed from person to person—the trauma whose history goes back to the dawn of time—has been passed to her son. And there are only so many ways that the cycle can end. And Hagar cannot stand to watch her child die.

Trauma and sin are two sides of the same coin: they might not be the same thing, but they are intimately related. They are heirlooms that get passed from generation to generation. They are gifts that we give to new acquaintances. They are weapons that we wield against our enemies… and our competition… and complete strangers.

And they distort everything.

In our trauma, we turn to sin as a balm for the pain. In our sin we traumatize one another. And we do that until we have built whole systems—economic and political, educational and familial, even religious, and so much more—that cause trauma and perpetuate sin… even if no one who is in them is trying to do any of that… like prayer wheels spinning lazily in the wind… filling the world with brokenness.

And there are only so many ways that the cycle can end.

It can end in death. It can end in literal death: the death of a worker in a sweatshop fire, the death of a teacher in a classroom, the death of a child in the wilderness. It can end in more subtle death: the death of the hope that animates, the death of the compassion that cares, the death of the generosity that provides. It can end in death; in the thousands of sacrifices—in the thousands of thousands of sacrifices—that we make to our trauma and our sin.

Or… sometimes…

It is easy to see the moment when Hagar sets her son down under a bush, and walks a little ways away, and falls to the ground, and wails, as a moment of defeat. And it is; but a defeat is not always a loss. And while the trauma that has been passed from person to person—the trauma whose history goes back to the dawn of time—has been passed to her son and is prepared to sacrifice them both…

…Hagar raises her voice… and calls on the God who hears… “Do not let me look on the death of the child.”

And God hears the cries of her son—and I suspect that God hears Hagar—and shows them a well… a source of water… a source of life.

In that moment of defeat, Hagar has the courage—and it is courageous even if she is out of options and there is nothing else that she can do—to hand it over to God. And God provides a solution.

Because the other way that the cycle can end… is grace.

And that’s not to say that the cycle ended completely and forever. Trauma is an heirloom that gets passed from generation to generation. Sometimes, it is a gift that we present to a new acquaintance. And sometimes, it is weapon that we wield against our enemies… or our competition… or complete strangers.

But in that moment, God was present, and the trauma was gone, and sin was absent. And Hagar and her son survived. And God made a great nation of them.

I know I say this a lot, but it’s worth saying a lot. God loved the world this way:

God came into the world as one of us. God lived the life that we could not lived. God was the person who we could not be. God showed us how to live and how to love and how to be human.

And we responded by hanging God on a cross… by sacrificing God to the machinery of empire… to our trauma and our sin. As though that would work. But we did not know what we were doing.

And God responded by taking that trauma and that sin to the grave. And then God responded by getting up again, and offering us an outstretched hand, and pulling us out of the grave… from death… to life… through grace.

And the first thing that you need to know about yourself… and neighbor… and your enemies… and complete strangers… is that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of the God who knew you before you were knit together in your mother’s womb, loved and worthy of love.

And the second thing that we need to know… is that the only way out of the cycle of trauma and sin and death… is grace. The only way out is to see the grace that God has provided to us, and to share that grace with each other.

And I know that is not a simple thing. I know that is not an easy thing. I know that is not just a matter of letting go and moving on.

It is a process. It is a journey. It is a way that curls around hills and dips into valleys and leads through dense fog; that we lose in the underbrush and have to clamber through briar patches to find again; where we have to put one foot in front of the other, and take our next step, and hope.

But it might just be the only way out of a world full of hurt people who are hurting people. It might just be the only way to dismantle the systems that we have built, that cause trauma and perpetuate sin, that fill the world with brokenness. 

It might just be the only way into a world full of loved people… who love people.

And what an amazing world that would be!

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