By Elijah Zehyoue
#Sayhername! Tell her story!
Her name is Hagar. And her story is this:
As soon as the Bible begins, we learn of Hagar. As Sarah’s slave we can presume she has been with Sarah and Abraham for a while now. She was a part of the move, she was a part of the settling in, she did as she was told, and she was an integral part of their life and thus the life of the church.
And as immediately as she was integral to the life of the patriarch and matriarch it is also evident just how wrought with ethical complexities and injustice this faith will be. You know the story. God has promised Abraham and Sarah a great nation, but even as they near the reasonable age of death, they don’t even have one child to produce their nation. Hagar, the literal object of their desire, becomes the solution to their problem. After they use and abuse her, they cast her and her son out. They sentence her to death, all for doing as they forced her to do.
From beginning to end she was their prop in an ancient House of Cards. Like Claire and Frank Underwood, Abraham and Sarah attempted to go on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. They would have been content never talking about her and her son — rather their son — ever again!
But the text tells us that, despite what they were trying to do, God sought after Hagar. God saw her and Ishmael in the wilderness. God spoke to her and she was literally the first person in the entire Bible that God spoke to by name. God called her name. God said her name when Abraham and Sarah could not. God saw her as the person, the woman, and the mother that she was.
Hagar’s story is prominently located in the early parts of our text because God wants us to know that in the beginning not only was there the word, not only did God create the world, but in the beginning God saw, heard and looked after people like Hagar. Hagar sees God face to face and doesn’t die. Hagar names God El-Roi, meaning “you are a God who sees.” Hagar is really the first theologian of the Bible. Sarah and Abraham fumble and stumble in God’s midst; Hagar boldly stands in the presence of God.
And from this story on, liberation is the dominant and overwhelming theme of the Bible. Liberation is the first principle of the Bible. It is the most important thing we can ever know about God. God is decisively dramatizing with Hagar — as Scene One — that God will find those in the wilderness regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity and creed.
But too many of us miss this all too important point in Scripture. Too many of us who are privileged tend to believe that the liberating God is only a demi-God for those who are enslaved, poor, oppressed, marginalized, gay, black, undocumented. But Hagar’s story and Abraham and Sarah’s role in it should be a reminder that we are all in need of a God of liberation.
I hear Hagar saying, “Don’t weep for me, don’t worry about me. God has seen me in the wilderness. God answered my prayers. God will provide. Instead weep for Sarah and Abraham! Weep for my oppressors, weep for the people like Kim Davis, weep for Kelly Gissendaner’s executioners and those who continue to callously defend the death penalty, weep for the bigots, racists, and homophobes of our world.”
And I think this is the challenge that many of us are not up for today. I do not think we are actively and adequately praying for actual liberation for the oppressed among us and for the ways we ourselves perpetuate oppression. I think through Hagar’s uncommon but no less powerful voice, God is saying to us that if we want to know God, if we want intimacy with God, if we love God, if we desire eternal life then we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Hagar. We must mourn over Tamar’s rape, journey above ground in our opposition to slavery with Harriet, sit in protest of racism with Rosa, stand with those who are suspicious of the death of Sandra (Bland), protest with our youth as they proclaim Black Lives Matter, and say the names and share the stories of the hundreds of black women who have been killed by the police just this year.
My study of Scripture, my prayers, my desire for intimacy with God, and my convictions about God have led me to believe that the way to God is to know God through them — those mentioned above, those who have been marked as the wretched of the earth. Loving God means loving the Liberating God, God of the oppressed, and the actual oppressed of our world and advocating along with them for justice in our world.
But we shouldn’t stop there; we must tell our own stories about how we marginalize, exploit and manipulate. And we must confront the truth of those stories. We must say to ourselves, to the folks we’ve wronged and to our God that we truly repent for the sins that we have committed.
Moreover, we must come to see that our freedom, our well-being, our quality of life is tied up in our ability to see them, to say their names, to advance their human dignity.
When we do this, we might find that the marginalized people of our world, like Hagar, will teach us a new thing, a beautiful thing, a different way to order society. We will come to see that the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven means that we will see Hagar like God sees her. We will say her name like God says it. We will remember her story as sacred scripture and work to create a world where even and especially Hagar, and people like her, feel at home among us.
#SayHerName Renisha McBride.
#SayHerName Sandra Bland.
#SayHerName, #saytheirnames, the specific names of God’s children, our brothers and sisters out there in the wilderness who have given up on God and God’s people. Say their names and see them as though our experience of eternal life, our ability for intimacy with God, our freedom from sin, and our peace that surpasses all understanding depends upon it, because it does.