We live in a world of connections, wherein we can so easily be in touch with anyone whom we have ever met. Yet we still pass many people by, content to stay mutual strangers. Despite our vast repositories of information and contacts, it is likely that you do not know what happened to the sister of the young man that your cousin dated in high school. You probably do not know the story of the mother of the man whom your parent did not marry. The saga of the third cousin of the neighbour who moved away ten years ago is lost to you and to yours.
Yet, we cannot know everything. We cannot know everyone. We can, however, remember that their stories, even unknown, touch up against our own through God. Christians think frequently about how God is shaping us, about God’s promises to those in our faith community and to us, about God’s work in what is our known world. What about God’s work that goes on, unknown to us? The passage of scripture from Genesis 21 this week opens these questions up for us.
Did Isaac ever wonder what happened to the dark-eyed teenager he remembered so faintly from his childhood? Did Ishmael ever speak of his half-brother whom he enjoyed making laugh? Did Abraham tell Isaac of his folly? Did Hagar tell her son of Abraham and of Sarah and of her broken heart? Did both boys grow up, knowing of God’s promises to their parents and their role in fulfilling them? And, if they knew, did they imagine God making the same promise about each of them?
Isaac and Ishmael are both signs of God’s providence and commitment. In human history, they represent two significant personal, political, and religious streams whose currents have significantly shaped the sands and rocks of time. If Isaac had known that Ishmael was also the start of a great nation, what might he have done differently? If Ishmael heard of the twin promises, did it soothe the ache of rejection or fire up his frustrations at his father and at Isaac?
God’s promise to Hagar is a powerful and significant promise. Offered to a woman in the worst of circumstances, watching her child die, it is not a hurried consolation prize, but a powerful offer of hope and future. While Ishmael may have been second place in some households, in the eyes of his creator, he still mattered, as the offspring of Abraham and as the offspring of Hagar.
All of creation, including all people, receives this promise of hope and a future. Even those of the Middle East, Russia or in the USA receive this promise. God considers each person worthy of shaping, of wholeness, and of salvation. We are called into seeing that worthiness in one another. Furthermore, we are called into working together toward the fulfillment of those promises. Now that is quite a challenge, as it is hard to see that people in Terrorist organisations are worthy in God’s eyes let alone ours. Something to ponder.
We do not always know the stories of the people around us, but we can know the promises that have been made to them. God is with them. We cannot pretend their stories do not matter. When I sit at the bedside of someone facing hard times, when I talk to someone in the street or pass the beggar or homeless person I do not know their story. Yet, hard as it is, we are called by our God to recognise each person is worthwhile, each person has a story, each person’s story is important and each person is loved by our God.