Reflecting and Doing
Let’s paint some ‘How Are You? Stones‘. These are small stones that help us think about what is going on inside us. You can keep a set in a small bag and use them when you feel the need.
You will need:
- 10-20 small stones
- Gloss or enamel paints and brushes
- Permanent markers
- Small bag (optional)
We can use emojis, faces or words to describe different emotions.
If you want to prepare this ahead of time paint either yellow circles (for emojis) or white patches (for words) on the stones, and give out marker pens for personalising. If you have more time, people can paint their own stones.
Using paints and pens, make each stone represent a feeling. They should all relate to ‘me’ somehow. You can just write the words or have a face and words. You can make up your own feelings or use the suggestions below. Decorate your stones to match the words.
Eg, I’m worried – I’m excited – I’m confused – it’s not fair – I’m waiting – I hurt you – I’m hurting – I don’t believe you – I’m lost – who am I? – I hate you – I love you – I’m scared – stay with me – I did wrong – help me – I’m cross – keep away – I’m trapped – I’m free – I want – I can’t – I must – I’m sure
When your stones are dry, take some moments to look at them. Bring near to you the ones that reflect what is on your heart and in your head. Push others further away or turn them over. Sit with the stones a while, then offer the mix of emotions to God.
First, some background.
Back in chapter 15, Abram (as he was then called) lamented that had no heir, and God promised him a son. All fine and dandy, and they would live happily ever after.
Abram’s wife can’t bear children, so she makes her servant, Hagar, have kids in her place. OK, that’s not really what God promised, but I guess she was trying to help. Then Hagar becomes pregnant and madly-jealous Sarai sends her out to die in the desert. What? Honestly – this could be a soap opera!
But God steps in, Abram gets a son at the age of 86 and they all live happily ever after. Sort of.
Skip ahead 13 years to chapter 17. Abram becomes Abraham and God promises to establish his covenant with his offspring for ever. All fine and dandy. Abraham’s promised heir is now a young man, and they live happily ever after.
God says that Sarah’s son will be the focus of the covenant. “But Sarah doesn’t have a son, and she’s kind of past it”, says Abraham (I paraphrase). “Can’t we just use Ishmael?” Nope. Skip ahead again to chapter 21 and Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Finally, they all live happily ever after.
Err, you think?
And so we come to our passage.
Abraham and Sarah, although often held up as icons of faith, and the archetypal happy family, are nothing like. Isaac means ‘laughter’, and both Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s promise of a son. Not the faith-response we might expect! Abraham also had a habit of conveniently bending the truth when it suited him, and often did things that he knew in his heart were not right. There are loads in the preceding chapters, and another in our passage today.
Sarah takes offence at Ishmael again. Different translations say he was playing with Isaac, or laughing or mocking. But whichever, Sarah flies into a jealous rage that has been boiling away for the last 14 years, and insists that he and his mother be sent away.
But why? God has already promised that her son, Isaac, will be the inheritor of the covenant. Does Sarah think that God will go back on his word? Or is she thinking of a merely financial inheritance? Ishmael, after all, is at an age to start taking over the family business, and were Abraham to die, that would make Ishmael the boss of Sarah. Perhaps that’s what’s behind it. Money and politics. Nothing changes.
So Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. Again. To die in the desert. Again. They are stateless, trafficked people; homeless, penniless foreigners. Remind you of anyone in the news today?
I’m not too impressed with Abraham here. Bread and a skin of water – is that it? He’s one of the richest men in the land and sends off his firstborn with provisions for just a day or so? He knew it was wrong and he still did it.
Sarah’s no better. First she tries to force God’s hand by making his promise come true her way (Lady Macbeth?), then she tries to undo that by killing Hagar, then laughs at God when he promises her the biggest blessing she could wish for, and finally tries to kill the firstborn for financial gain. And Abraham just goes along with it.
Despite Sarah’s machinations, despite Abraham’s weakness, despite everything, and even in the deep pit of Hagar’s despair, God hears and God acts. And while I’d not say it was happy families ever after, we can be certain that if God can work in this dysfunctional, mixed up family, he should have no problem with my situations.
We can find ourselves in Hagar’s place – victims of corporate or domestic injustice, pushed into situations not of our choosing, left without the resources we need, desperate, afraid, alone. And help may seem a very … very … long time coming. And not what we hoped for when it comes, if it comes at all.
Other times we can find ourselves doing a Sarah – acting out of fear, insecurity and other pretty unflattering motivations, if we are honest. And although God can, and does, redeem our foolish mistakes (and Lord knows I make plenty), the consequences may live on. Sarah didn’t cope well with the consequences of her actions, and Hagar’s distress was the result.
Was it fair? No. Was it just? No. Was it just how things are sometimes? Yup.
Perhaps you are in a ‘Hagar’ place at the moment – treated unjustly, suffering through no fault of your own, feeling excluded and abandoned.
Perhaps you are in a ‘Sarah’ place – struggling to cope with the consequences of your actions, insecure, fearful, causing hurt to others – by fault or by accident.
Perhaps, like me, you are a mixture of both. Bring them before your maker, who knows all you have done, all you are coping with, and all that you fear.
Genesis 21:8-21 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
‘Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert‘ by Jean-Charles Cazin (1840-1901)