"Do You See Me?" A Pride Sermon on Hagar

This is a sermon preached by Beth Carlson-Malena at our GS Queerantine Zoom Pride Service on July 21st, 2020. Scroll down past the video to find the full transcript.





Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

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Hi everybody, my name’s Beth, and I wore my bowtie for y’all today, so happy Pride!

When I volunteered to preach today, I really didn’t realize how many different holidays and major world events would be happening this weekend.

So I mean, just this weekend we’re celebrating the first day of summer, Father’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and World Refugee Day. And we’re also, of course, in the middle of a global pandemic and a global anti-racist revolution. And it’s Pride month, which is the actual focus of this service.

So I have made it my ill-advised mission to draw together all of those threads - except maybe summer solstice, I didn’t quite work that in - and to pull them through the loom of this Hagar story, which is one of the lectionary passages for today, which means there’s a whole bunch of Christians around the world reading this same passage today. So buckle in – let’s try this out!

Photo looks up at a black man standing on a streetlight and triumphantly holding the official street sign, which says "Black Lives Matter Pl."
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

On Friday I participated in a Juneteenth march here in Vancouver, along with my wife Danice and my brother and his husband. As we marched alongside a diverse crowd here in Vancouver, we were led in chants by a young Black woman with a megaphone on the bed of a slow-moving truck. We joined her in shouting, “Black lives matter!” “No justice, no peace!”

But then she would pause from time to time and take a whole different tone. In a quieter, more tentative voice, she would ask simple questions. “Vancouver, do you hear me? Do you see me?”

“YES,” we replied each time. “Yes, we hear you. Yes, we see you.” And then five minutes later, she would ask us again. “Do you hear me? Do you see me?”

Jumping 4000 years in the past, we find another young woman of colour. Hagar was an enslaved Egyptian woman; she was the property of a Hebrew woman named Sarah, one of Israel’s matriarchs. This situation, if you’re a scholar, if you study the Hebrew scriptures, is a reversal and a bit of a prequel of Israel’s subsequent slavery in Egypt – backwards.

Hagar’s name almost certainly wasn’t Hagar. “Hagar” in Hebrew means “the foreigner” or “the other.” She was not afforded the dignity of having her chosen name remembered or recorded in scripture.

We first meet the woman known as Hagar in Genesis 16, when she’s being forced to marry Abraham, who is already married to Sarah, in order to bear them a child, an heir.

Both of these women are marginalized. Sarah can’t conceive children, and that’s the only role that really matters to her patriarchal society... and Hagar is forced to use her body to bear a child for Sarah against her will.

There’s a writer named Sara Maitland who reimagines this story through a queer lens, with Sarah and Hagar as queer lovers, torn apart when the demands of childbearing bring Abraham between them. But even without queer subtext (which I find very fascinating), there’s plenty of fuel for jealousy and resentment. Sarah and Hagar treat one another with contempt and disgust. But Sarah holds the power in the situation, and gets away with violently mistreating Hagar in chapter 16. Abraham refuses to intervene, not even to protect his unborn child, so Happy Father’s Day everyone!

So Hagar, very pregnant, heads into the wilderness for the first time, and there she is met by YHWH, God of the Hebrews, disguised as an angel, who asks, “Where have you come from? Where are you going?”

The text says God called her “Hagar, slave of Sarah” – but because Hagar leaves this experience feeling heard and feeling seen, I’m willing to bet that God actually called her by her real name, and somehow God made her feel like more than just an enslaved woman. And then she, in turn, calls God not by the name God gave, YHWH, but by her own name for God, “El Roi” – the God who sees. The God who sees her as so much more than Hagar, slave of Sarah.

I think it’s both vulnerable and liberating to be really seen for who you are. When you spend your life feeling ignored, or trying to blend into the background, or forced to hide and mask yourself – and then for the first time, someone gives you permission to be your fullest, realest self, and you take that risk... that’s life-changing.