Hagar -- the lowly Egyptian slave girl who for years served Sarah, served so loyally as to even bear a child to Abraham when Sarah could not -- Hagar is sent into the desert. She squints against the harsh sunlight, her feet dragging across the cracked stone of the land. She scans the horizon for tents or signs of life -- nothing but thistles since she left home. Or, what she had called home; it no longer would be, not after what happened, not after such hurt, betrayal and rejection.
When the water runs out, Hagar knows that her chance for survival has run out with it. She moves to what passes for a bush in this barren wilderness, and places her son under it. Her son — the cause of both her delight and her current dilemma. Feeling afresh the pain and anger of betrayal, she hides what she loves.
And, at the end of her resources and her strength, Hagar sits beneath the limitless sky ... and weeps.
Even with the distance of centuries and circumstances and landscape, I wonder if you know Hagar’s feeling -- know the experience of being at your end, without hope, seemingly without resource.
The angel of the Lord comes beside Hagar as she cries, and asks: What troubles you? ...... What troubles you?
We are troubled by many things in our lives and in our world, but right now some of us might be exceedingly troubled by violence — troubled by school shootings, including the recent one at Seattle Pacific University, our neighbors over the hill. We are troubled by the frequency and by indiscriminate hatred.
Some of us might be troubled that more people aren’t similarly troubled. Some might be troubled that violence in the world has become so normal that we’re expected to be done grieving after just a couple weeks.
We are, at times, troubled in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. We are, at times, troubled.
Some time earlier in her story, Hagar had been wandering in another desert and sat by a stream of water. There, the angel of the Lord came to her and named her situation with such clarity that Hagar names God: “The Living One who Sees Me.” Now, found again in the desert, thirsty again, God sees her with just as much clarity, and sees her pain for what it is: The angel of the Lord says, Do not be afraid. Do not fear.
Because of course the real issue is not our troubles, the heart of the issue is not the world out there, the ultimate issue is not the messy and complex set of circumstances and cultures and systems we find ourselves in. The heart of the issue is that we sometimes we do feel afraid. Like Hagar sitting in the desert, we sometimes think that we are left to our own devices, and we grow tired. We sometimes worry about not having the ability to know every threat, that we cannot prevent every danger. We occasionally don’t know where to go or how to sustain ourselves as we get there. At times, we think it’s up to us, and we are at the end of our resources -- our water skin is dry. At times, we are at the end of our strength -- we must sit. At times, we are at the end of ourselves — we must weep.
“Do not be afraid,” says the angel of the Lord, “for God has heard.”
“Do not be afraid,” says the Lord to Abraham, “for I am with you.”
“Do not be afraid of anyone,” says Moses and Jeremiah and the great prophets of Israel, “Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you.”
And the angel says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.”
And that good news was the birth of our Lord Jesus, who says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
And as Jesus gave himself over to the ones who would kill his body, he said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not be afraid.”
And some days later, the angel of the Lord said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen.”
Do not be afraid. It sounds like an exhortation, a command, but it is a proclamation, the announcement of a new reality — a new reality in which we no longer need to be afraid because God has seen us, God is with us, God has come to us. We no longer need to be afraid because we are not alone. We no longer need to be afraid because God, in the person of Jesus, became living water, offering us a peacefulness that no one can dry up. We no longer need to be afraid because, in coming to us, God showed us that death is never the last word, that death does not get to have ultimate power over us.
We do not need to be afraid because God has come to do exactly what God has always done: God has come to give us a drink of water.
It sounds like a small thing, doesn’t it? A bit of water, that substance that covers most of the earth, a resource in ready supply here in Seattle — you can’t get away from it. But for a young woman weeping in the desert, water is everything. Water is life.
And so the angel of the Lord comes to Hagar and offers her, right where she is, the very thing that she needs to make it through this moment, this day. God doesn’t instantly make everything better. God doesn’t transport her to a safer place, doesn’t take vengeance Sarah, doesn’t restore Hagar to Abraham. God does show up, and shows Hagar that there is water right where she is. He gives her what she needs to get through this one moment, gives her what she needs to make it through this one day, and gives her eyes to see the gift.
Such gifts are available to each of us. It may be water, whether to drink or to rest beside. Such gifts may come as a quiet cup of coffee, or tea shared with a friend. Gifts might be a moment in the sun, the smell of burning incense, a bit of bread…
Gifts are offered in abundance, if we will allow our eyes to be opened.
And so do not be afraid. For God is still offering us gifts. God is still offering us water. God is with us. Look around. Look for water. And drink deeply.