Growing up, one of my chores was to clean up all the dog poop in our yard. I really didn’t like this job and I thought it was totally unfair that I was always the one who had to do it. My sisters chore was to wash the dishes, but we all helped to do that, but I always had to go out in the yard with a shovel and bag by myself to clean up after our two dogs. One day the injustice of this situation was just too much for me so I did what any smart third grade boy does – I ran away. It seemed like a good idea because my sister had run away a few times and she always got a lot of attention and sympathy. When my sister ran away she would pack her bag and go out onto the beach in front of our house and stay for a few hours and then come home, that never made much sense to me, so I decided to run away the right way. I didn’t pack a bag and I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, I just left and hid out in a place where I was sure my parents wouldn’t find me. I ran into the woods not far from our house, made sure I was far enough off the road not to be seen and sat down to pout – I mean, to think about the injustice of my life.
While the details are clearly different, Hagar also ran away from home because she felt like the circumstances of her life were unfair. Hagar was a maidservant to Sarah and Abraham and if you know their story, God had promised Sarah and Abraham that they were going to have a child. They were both well advanced in years when that promise was made and when a child didn’t come after several more years, Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters in their own hands and have a child through a surrogate. Sarah chose her servant Hagar to carry the child, but it was the understanding in those days that if a servant had a child with everyone’s consent and participation – it would be like the child really belonged to Sarah.
After Hagar became pregnant, the personal dynamics of the family fell apart. Sarah got jealous and started treating Hagar poorly. Both women complained to Abraham who, like all good husbands, just told the women to work it out themselves. Over time Hagar grew increasingly frustrated and bitter. She said to herself, “It’s not fair that I should be treated this way. I shouldn’t suffer like this when I am helping them out. It’s just not right.” Like me, Hagar didn’t have a lot of control over her situation, but there was one thing she could do, she could run away. Hagar fled into the wilderness and this is where we pick up the story in Genesis 16:7-15.
This story of Hagar reminds us that there is no place we can run that is beyond the reach of God. Hagar was in the desert and after seeing the incredible vastness of the Judean wilderness…
I can understand why she might think she was beyond anyone’s reach, but Hagar was not beyond the reach of God. The same is true for us today. There is nowhere we can run that is beyond the reach of God. There is no activity or attitude that is so bad that God won’t reach out to find us and then to help us. God is always there. The psalmist makes this clear in Psalm 139:7-12. There is no darkness too dark for God, no place too far from God’s reach and no sin that God cannot overcome and forgive. We simply can’t run away from God completely – we might be living far from him and we might feel abandoned and alone, but just like Hagar found out, God is with us.
But God was more than present with Hagar; the angel said God heard her misery. God hears us too. When things are not what we want them to be and not what we think they should be, God hears us. He hears our pain and frustration and anger. God heard Hagar crying out but God did something more than listen, God sent angels to assure her that He heard her cry and that He was going to help. So God hears us when we cry for help but he doesn’t just listen, God sends people and messages that assure us that God is with us and that God will help us.
So God heard Hagar crying for help and his answer to her was to go home. Go back to your mistress and submit to her. You can go home, Hagar, but going home is going to mean being humble. This is what we heard last week with Jacob. We can return to home but the first step in getting there is to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we have made mistakes and need to work to make things right. Hagar could go home again, but she had to be humble and submit herself to Sarah. But it’s not just humility we see here; God is also telling Hagar that going home isn’t going to be easy. Look at Genesis 16:12. There is going to be tension and struggles that will continue for Hagar and her son Ishmael.
So while God has promised that we CAN go home again, we are told that going home will not always be easy. Sometimes it is hard and the road ahead is filled with struggles. At least that was what awaited me when I went home. After I hid in the woods for several hours and heard my parents drive by calling out my name, I finally decided that I really hadn’t thought out this whole running away thing very well. What was I going to eat? Where was I going to sleep? What was I going to do all night? So I went home again and in my mind I thought my parents would be so happy to see me, that they would tell me I didn’t have to clean up after the dogs ever again and that all would be ok. Well, that’s not exactly how it played out.
My parents were very relieved when I came home, but they were also pretty upset and there were some consequences to my running away – like I was sent to my room without dinner AND I was going to have to clean up after the dogs the next day AND that would continue to be my chore. (Not what I had planned.) My choices had consequences and while I was welcomed home with open arms and thankful hearts – there were still struggles to endure and consequences to work through.
God says we can come home again and we can enter into a strong and vital relationship with Him that brings healing, hope and life, but sometimes coming home is hard. Sometimes we have to work through the consequences of our sin and failures. Sometimes there are financial consequences as we work to set things right or rebuild our lives on the financial principles God has given to us. Sometimes we have to work through broken relationship and ask God to heal us and other people to forgive us.
Starting in 2 weeks we are going to begin a new series called Life Rules. For six weeks we are going to explore the rules God gives us for life that if we follow will not only bring us into a deeper relationship with God but will strengthen our relationships with one another. Making these new rules a part of our lives is some of the hard work we are talking about when we talk about coming home. Having our lives reflect the love of God and the life of Jesus is not easy, but I want to encourage us all to keep the journey home going by not only being in worship for the series, but joining with others in small groups or a Sunday School Class to discuss what these rules mean for us and how we can follow them in our lives today. Coming home is always a road open to us, but it is often a difficult road to travel – but the good news is that we don’t travel it alone.
God not only hears us when we cry for help, but Hagar understood that God was also the one who sees us. During her encounter with the angels, Hagar called God, El Roi, which means – the God who sees. This is the only time that a woman gives God a name in the Bible and what is significant is that this woman was not Jewish but Egyptian. It was an outsider who gave God the name and what that means for us is that when we feel like we are far from God and outside the reach of his love and grace, God is the One who sees us and God is the one who will see us through.
But let’s be clear and understand that God doesn’t see us through our home coming as a passive observer but as an active helper. God seeing us means God is an active participant in our lives where when we ask for help – God is there and helps. God helped Hagar return home. God helped her through the pregnancy and gave her the strength and courage to make it through the difficult days that were ahead of her as her child grew and as the promised child to Abraham and Sarah arrived.
God remains just as active and powerful in our lives today. God sustains us and gives us the strength and courage we need to face the challenges of this day and the next one. Many times we may not feel God’s help or activity – but that doesn’t mean God isn’t there. He is. God is always there and if we agree to work with God and yield our lives to Him – we find our lives changed.
Communion today is another opportunity for us to cry out to God for help, yield ourselves to God’s love and grace, and allow God to heal us and strengthen us. This is a time and place where we can return to God, where we can come home again, and this is a time and place where God can strengthen and sustain us for the journey ahead. We all need some nourishment for our lives and faith and we all need some help – this is the place where we can get it. You CAN come home again to this table and share this meal with God and if we will, we will find God’s strength and power for the days to come.
You CAN go home again! Part 2
God Sustains Us
1. Read the full story of Hagar found in Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:8-21. Notice how often God hears and sees the problems of Hagar and her son Ishmael.
2. Hagar calls God, El Roi – the God who sees.
• How have you experienced God in this way?
• What problem or concern in your life do you need for God to see today?
• Does God see the problems of our world today?
3. Coming home means returning to God or returning to a life of faith and a life in the church.
• What struggles will you face along the journey home?
• Where will confession be needed?
• Where will forgiveness be needed?
• Where do you need the help of God? Others?
4. What one specific step do you need to take today to continue on your journey home?
5. The journey home often means working to heal and restore relationships. Join us September 21- October 26 as we learn God’s Life Rules that can help strengthen all of our relationships. Join a small group to discuss these Rules with others and to find support in living them out. Stop by the connection table for a listing of open small groups.