From Despair To Destiny

This sermon was delivered by Rev Caroline on Wednesday 5 July 2017.

Genesis 21:8-21 (NLT)

I don’t know if any of you have watched Star Wars films? I’m not a huge fan but I caught them in the early days. There is a striking scene where Luke Skywalker talks to Darth Vader who tells him “Luke, I am your father”.

As he tried to encourage Luke over to the dark side he then  said “Luke. This is your destiny” although Luke resists that particular destiny and, in doing so, he broke the power of an evil emperor.

In today’s reading in Genesis we see destiny starting to be fulfilled. Just as Esther was able to save her people by being obedient to God in her context “for just such a time as this”, Hagar (who gave birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael) was called by God into a specific role as part of his plan.

We all have a destiny in Life. God has a destiny, a plan for all of us, Sometimes that is had to see in the moment where challenges are happening – but it usually becomes much clearer with hindsight.

Our account today is about Hagar, the Egyptian slave who gave birth (on Sarah’s orders when she couldn’t conceive) to Abraham’s first son Ishmael. When Sarah successfully gave birth to Issac long after the normal childbearing years, she was jealous of Ishmael and wanted him gone so that he did not impinge upon Issac’s birthright.

Earlier in Genesis we hear that Hagar and Sarah did not get on and fell out with each other. When Hagar ran away from home and angel appeared and told her to return home to Sarah reassuring her that, whatever happened, God would watch over her and protect her.

The demand that she and her son be dispatched from her sight was upsetting to Abraham but God told him to oblige Sarah’s wishes as he would look after them. Abraham was always faithful to God.

To be sent away like this would have been deeply shocking to Hagar. She was, after all the mother of Abraham’s first son, with Sarah’s consent. Where would she go? How would she survive? How would God’s promise to protect her be seen through when she was now wandering aimlessly? A single mother with no home or protection wandering in the wilderness.

She began to doubt what God had told her as well as God’s promise to her.

Before Isaac was born it must have been easier to connect with the sense of God’s provision and protection. When those outward signs were removed, it takes greater faith to hold on to that assurance when the going gets tough.

Hagar must have been wondering – what had happened to the care she was used to receiving from God. Had she imagined those promises? Her doubt started to quickly turn into despair.

As she refused to watch her son die when the water ran out, her doubt turned to despair. She gave up on God and was giving up on life. When we are caught up in the storms of life that inevitably come along, our hope is in clinging fast to God’s steadfast love, knowing it in the depths of our being and drawing upon that live to sustain us through.

God had already warned Hagar that life would be challenging and that Ishmael would be a handful. Yet, just as she started to engage with her despair, God reminded her of his promise to her and of her destiny, She was the mother of one who God would bless with a great many descendants.

God told Hagar that you and your son have a destiny. I will make a great nation from him and his descendants. That was her destiny.

And we, too have that destiny of eternal life alongside the destiny of all that God has called us to be in this life. We have his promise that he will always be with us through the times of joy and of challenge. This is beautifully summed up in the poem by Mary Stevenson, “Footprints”:

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