Genesis 17:1-7, 15-22
1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,
4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is a story of God’s promise and of Abraham and Sarah’s trust in God’s promise. I remember many years ago I added Sarah’s name to the Eucharistic Prayer at Communion. Originally the prayer went like this,
Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father: Endless is your mercy and eternal your reign. You have filled all creation with light and life: heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Through Abraham you promised to bless all nations. …
That last line I altered to this, “Through Abraham and Sarah you promised to bless all nations. …
At coffee hour a visitor to our church that Sunday challenged me on my addition. He said that God had made covenant only with Abraham. I looked at him in disbelief and said, “But Sarah gave birth to the child of God’s promise.”
And that is what we find in the reading from Genesis 17. God blesses Sarah with a new name, a new identity, and says that nations and kings of nations shall come from her.
I am not certain that I have always paid attention to the treatment of women in the Bible. The Bible was written in a different time and culture. Besides, I likely read the Bible as a male.
But it is very important to note that Sarah is included in the covenant and given her own place of importance, not just as an appendix to Abraham. There cannot be a child of promise without Sarah.
However, there is another child and his name is Ishmael. Perhaps you remember the story. It is a case of triangulation that Sarah had set up but there is more to it. Hagar was enslaved to Abraham and Sarah, and having given up on God’s promise, Sarah made Hagar have sex with Abraham in order to conceive an heir. The child of that event is Ishmael.
The Bible is not silent on the treatment of Hagar by Abraham and Sarah. Abraham gave Sarah license to treat Hagar in which ever way she chose and Hagar ran away. The narrator does not blame Hagar and God does not abandon her.
An angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in the wilderness promising her a son and to be the mother of a multitude. She is the first person in the scriptures to receive an angelic messenger from God, and she is the first one to name God, calling God Elroi, which means God sees.
And so we see in the midst of God’s call of Abraham, there is a place for Sarah, and in the midst of God’s call of Abraham and Sarah, there is room for Hagar, the victim of slavery and sexual violence and for her son Ishmael.
The narrative of Abraham and Sarah’s culture had no room for others, yet God did and God does. May we too.
Thanks be to God.