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9:30AM Sunday School
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God Hears

Emily Beghin

June 22, 2014
Gen. 21:8-21

Scripture: The child [Isaac] 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 for 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.

Sermon:  People do not often talk about Hagar and Ishmael. We tend to focus on Isaac and Abraham, but Ishmael and Hagar have something to tell us in this passage and it speaks volumes! This passage is about the power of a prayer. It tells us that God will always hear our prayers and that God will fill our cups when we pray for relationship with God. God hears the voices of God’s children. “Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.”

Hagar and Ishmael were wandering the barren land of Beersheba in the southern region of Israel. In the summer, the temperature there can get as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity around 30% with no precipitation. It was a vast wasteland of sand and hills. Abraham had given Hagar and Ishmael one skin of water probably equivalent to about one gallon. They wandered with the one skin of water and one loaf of bread without any knowledge of when or where they would find refuge. Imagine walking around a sandy oven for days on end! Jewish scholars speculate that Hagar began to seek her Egyptian idols. She wandered, thirsting for their salvation perhaps forgetting the God of Abraham. Who knows how long their weary feet traveled before their water jug finally ran dry.

When Ishmael could no longer bring himself to walk he was at the mercy of God. His body was thirsting for water and for life. As he lay under the brush where his mother placed him, he may have known this was the end. Dry, alone, weak, and desperate, what were his dying thoughts? Was it the hopeless longing for water or was it something deeper? Death affects us in mysterious ways. We realize what we thirst for above all things in as little as the flash of a moment.

Thirst does not only apply to water of course, but to anything we desire. We thirst for many things: water, love, peace, happiness, or a better world. We crave and when we crave we reach out for that which we desire. We move towards what we crave in different ways. Ishmael communicated with a faith that reached the ears of God. He called out for God in a way, as he lay dying, like a small child who calls out in the night with the faith that their parents will surely come to them. Scared, alone, vulnerable, and in need they call out.

I have a younger sister, Sarah. She is four years younger than me. I remember when she was about four years old as though it were yesterday. Bedtime was always an intricate routine! We had separate rooms and my parents stayed on a different floor in our home. Outside her door they kept a baby monitor and she knew how to use it! As soon as the lights went out she was like clock work! Ten minutes would pass and surely the calling would seep through my parents’ end of the monitor. “Mommy? Daddy? I need you. My head hurts. Mommy?” This was like a show for me. They would come bounding up the stairs like medics on a late night television program. They had all the right supplies. This was after all, nightly. They would lean over her in her bed and ask her to point to where it hurts. “Here,” she would point. Then they would stick a band-aid on her perfectly smooth forehead. “Better, Sweetie?” “Yeah,” she’d reply. Then they would turn around, “No no no no wait! It hurts here too!” She would point to an absurd spot on her foot or leg. Soon enough she would be covered in band-aids! It was really quite silly. She craved something though. She thirsted for something that made her whisper in the night for them. She wanted to be sure that no matter when she called they would come every time. She thirsted for their attentive care and affection and of course my parents heard and came.

God hears our thirsty cries. The stories never tell us what Ishmael uttered or how he communicated with God, but only that he did and God heard him. Interestingly, in Hebrew, Ishmael literally translates to God Hears. God hears.

God hears us. How do we speak in order that God hears our thirst? We pray. When we thirst, we reach out. When we thirst, we pray. We all pray in different ways. Ishmael was heard by God, but nobody knows if he even could have lifted his dry voice. The stories do not tell us, but only that he was heard.

Prayer holds a sacred power we don’t always realize. Prayer is the voice of our souls. Not so long ago someone asked me, “How do we pray?” I looked at him and realized that prayer is one of the few things we can do without firm instruction. I replied, “We pray how we pray.” We pray with our voices, with our dance moves, our marches, and our paints. Many of you have seen me play trumpet up here before. I pray with my trumpet. The notes become the sounds of my own soul. We all pray uniquely. No matter how we pray, God hears. Ishmael was heard. In his final fading breaths, he somehow managed to whisper to the very ear of God and God heard him.

The beautiful thing about prayer is that it itself is an act of faith. Even when we doubt God’s presence, if we are praying in and through that doubt, then we have some belief that there is someone hearing our prayers. If we prayed through a phone line, we would trust that there is someone on the other end who will pick up the ringing phone! We have all been in a place of uncertainty and that’s okay. What is faith without a dash of wonder? What is a prayer without a little faith?

Ishmael used his faith, trusting that God would hear him and take care of him whether in life or in death. God heard the thirsting boy who for all we know, was silent. Ishmael in some form prayed. He had a thirst, perhaps it was literal, or maybe he thirsted to reconcile to his creator before he passed. No matter his thirst, God heard him. God hears.

God heard the boy where he was. “Then God opened [Hagar’s] eyes and she saw a well of water.” God heard Ishmael’s prayer and answered his thirst. Though we do not know if Ishmael asked God for water, we can say with certainty that God will always fill the cup of those who seek a relationship with the Lord. In the very act of prayer we create and maintain a relationship with God. When we thirst to know God, God fills our cups with God’s everlasting love and adoration.

We don’t always feel heard by God. We pray so often with our thirsts in mind and many times nothing changes. God, please, if I just got that promotion I could spend more time with my spouse. Lord, please help me pass my test tomorrow. We ask, but it is not always given to us. We pray, but we do not feel as though God has heard us. Sometimes we focus so much on our personal thirsts that we forget to thirst for God himself. We forget that when we seek God only to know God our cups will be filled every time!

As I was thinking about how God fills our cups there was actually a particular cup that came to mind. It was invented by Pythagoras and it is called the Pythagorean cup. Pythagoras was a rather social man and he held many parties, however he had a problem with his guests always drinking up all of his wine. They would fill their cups to the brim and often spill throughout the night. To Pythagoras this was a tragedy. So wasteful! Pythagoras loved his wine so he invented a solution for their gluttony. He invented his own brand of cup. This cup is special because on the inside of the rim there is a line in the clay. When the user fills the cup only to the line or below it, their cup fills and remains full. However, when the user pours more than his or her fair share into the glass there is a mechanism inside that releases every last drop of it from the bottom onto the floor and the person does not get to drink anything.

Pythagoras’ cup is much like the cups we hold spiritually. Sometimes we thirst for other things more than we thirst to be in relationship with God. We are distracted from our loving creator and giver of eternal life. We thirst for other things. When we thirst for that which distracts us like Pythagoras’ partiers who thirsted for drunkenness, our cups may empty from the bottom and we may go dry.

But, when we thirst for God, we thirst undistracted in our prayers. Such a thirst for God is always quenched. When we pray to know God, God allows us to better seek and discover God’s many faces in our world. When we thirst for God and channel our love into relationship, like the partiers who cared for their wine cups, our cups will never empty. If we care for our spiritual cups we will never have to watch as all of our wine splatters to the ground. God provides his seekers with a sharper eye to see him and fills our cups with love in reconciliation.

Ishmael called somehow to God as he lay dying in his thirst. God heard Ishmael’s thirst. God heard his prayer and God filled his cup with life. God filled a well with water and his spirit with life everlasting. God hears our prayers. “Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is… [And] God was with the boy.” God hears us. God is with us. And the Lord will always fill our cups when we thirst for God. Our creator and sustainer, God will fill our cups with the water of everlasting life in faith when that is what we thirst for. “Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” Do not be afraid, for God hears the voices of God’s children where we are.