On Being a Bad Neighbor (A Sermon on Genesis 16)

A sermon given at Colonial Church on November 24, 2019.

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

    you shall call him Ishmael,

    for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.

12 He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,

    and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him[e] Ishmael.

-Genesis 16, NRSV

Let’s pray together.

Oh God who sees us, as we turn our gaze and our hearts and our lives towards Thanksgiving and Advent, God, may we find ourselves more deeply seen and known by you. May we, indeed, find our place in your good and healing story. Give us courage to see the complexities within our own hearts, and God heal us that we might be your people and that we might truly love you and love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

Well, good morning. Are you ready for Genesis 16? The sermon title this morning is “On Being a Bad Neighbor.” If you didn’t already gather this from hearing the reading, this text is rife with complexity, and I want us to talk about that complexity this morning. 

Why a sermon on being a bad neighbor? You see, in this year of the good neighbor, it’s easy to tell stories each other stories about being a good neighbor, to celebrate good neighbors like those in Mr. Rodger’s neighborhood, and to imagine ourselves as decently good neighbors, right? We’re not terrible neighbors, just neighbors in process of becoming good. Yet actuality of our lives and our neighborliness is that it, like this story in Genesis, is more fraught and more complex than we often want to admit or talk about. 

So, to talk about being a bad neighbor, I wanted to start by talking a bit about one of our core values: “Welcome, beloved.” 

I’ll never forget on Kick-Off Sunday last year when we were sharing about our core values what Carol Wachter said about “Welcome, Beloved.” She named “welcome, Beloved” as that space where you are known and seen and loved…just as you are. To my mind, the notion of being seen is one of the most central concepts to understanding what it means to be loved. 

Let me say more about this…you’ve heard me talk about that part of the reason I chose to marry Andy Garbers was because he always saw me and he always heard me.

For so many of us, we have spent much of our lives terrified of being seen for who we really are. We build up defenses, for good reasons—on account of earlier rejection or shaming—sure that if others know who we really are then they won’t love us anymore, right? We bear the scars and pain of what has happened when we’ve shown up in our truth and have been betrayed…so we want to be invisible. We gussy up our stories, and put Instagram filters on our wrinkles, hoping that the other won’t see things about us that we think are ugly and beyond the pale of love. And yet we feel alone and rejected because we aren’t know. But love, when love truly enters, it sees us, it knows all of who we are and says to us with that gaze of love in its eyes, “I like you just the way you are.” Maybe this is part of why Fred Rogers continues to resonate so much with folks, right? What did he do? He’d get down on the level of kids, look them in the eye and say, “It’s you I like, just the way you are.” He saw them. And that seeing was the ultimate embodiment of love.

That same kind of seeing is the fundamental act that the God of Hagar and Abram and Sarai also evidenced. It’s the place where we are welcome as beloved, where we are seen. 

And yet we live in a world where most of us know what it feels like to not be seen. For some of you as you’ve aged, you know what it is to become more invisible in your workplace. For some of you, you know what it’s felt like to remember when you were a young, attractive woman, and now you wonder if you still are worth looking at. For some of you, it was like things that you were super nerdy about, like Star Trek or Star Wars, and you don’t want to let people know you’re super into it. Anybody? It’s not me, but there’s these parts of our story… Oh there, I saw that hand. Thank you.

We know what it is to not be seen. And while we can come together this Year of the Good Neighbor and say, “Yes, of course…let’s be good neighbors!” it’s much more challenging to actually be good neighbors.  We can all (and should) affirm that we should be good neighbors, that we ought to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet the reality of human history and even of the church, let alone our own lives, all tells us that actually being good neighbors is a lot more complicated. I know this from my own story; I know there are people who would say I haven’t been a good neighbor to them. I have often failed at being a good neighbor: I haven’t seen people, I’ve been afraid, or so in my own story and dealing with my own stuff that I wasn’t actually loving them as I should.

The notion of love as being seen, and recognition as central to our ability to fulfill the greatest commandment and live out a neighbor ethic that respects human rights and dignity, is a major reason as to why I ended up doing a doctorate in ethics. I’ve told the story before about how when I was in junior high, I learned about World War II and Nazi Germany, and I could not understand how humans could do such violence to one another. I was the kid who came to faith on account of John 3:16, and thought: “God made everybody, God loves everybody. How could there be a Holocaust?” It blew (and still blows) my mind. Could anything fly more directly in the face of love of neighbor than the egregious horror of genocide? I didn’t understand how someone could see the person before them and not see them as human.[1]

Yet the actuality of our lives, and of history, is that not seeing the other before us happens in ways great and small. But if we are to be Christian in the world, we must be people who seek to see and cognize the other before us at all times as we strive to be people who are good neighbors, following after this God, being the answer to Christ’s prayer, that God’s kingdom would come.

And in preaching on being a bad neighbor, I wanted to be sure we spend at least one week in this sermon series acknowledging that to actually be good neighbors is hard work. Our stories are complex, and sometimes we’re really bad at seeing. Likewise, though the call of the Bible is to see our neighbors as we ourselves are and have been seen by God, there are plenty of stories in the Bible like the one in Genesis 16 that make clear the all to frequent failure of our vision and our ability to live out the ethic of neighbor love. 

As I move into the passage, I want to acknowledge a few places and people to whom I am indebted to in crafting this sermon. You’ll see some of these on the screen. Their voices are important to me because honestly even though I grew up in church and read the Bible a lot I cannot remember ever hearing about Hagar, really hearing about Hagar.

That is, until I started listening to my friends and scholars from the African-American community. Indeed, the first person who pressed me to examine Hagar was a black woman from my former church who, when I was going to preach on Genesis and talk about Abram and Sarai’s journey, asked me if I was going to talk about Hagar. My face surely reflected my lack of knowledge for why I should do so, and she said… “You know Hagar is one of the most important stories in the Bible for Black women, right? You’ve been taught to just focus on Sarai because you’re a white woman, but we black women know the story from the perspective of the slave woman.”

I took her challenge as an invitation (and a deep reflection on how our location and identity effects how we read the Bible, and why it’s important to read diverse voices) and began to read commentaries on Hagar, particularly the work of womanist author Wil Gafney and her book Womanist Midrash.[2] Another one of my teachers has been the book Hagar, Sarah and Their Children.[3] This, along with Stephanie Spencer’s work at 40 Orchards (Stephanie leads our Scripture Circles and she’s also going to speak at the Women’s Christmas brunch, small plug) have both opened new space for me to look at Genesis 16.[4] I will also be pulling from white theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary, and Toni Morrison’s book Song of Solomon which features a character named Hagar.[5] I wanted to note these voices and people because so much of what I’m going to talk about is very indebted to them.

The reason I didn’t know about Hagar, or really hadn’t read this text much, let alone heard a sermon about it has something to do with being white and living in a world where we tend to tell hero stories, and identify with the hero or central actor of the story. 

Abram and Sarai are central to our faith. Throughout the Bible we read that we are the children of Abraham; we are children of the promise; we are from Sarah, not Hagar. So the stories I know and grew up hearing about were about Abraham and Sarah…how they are the people of God and then Jesus makes us part of the people of God, and so here we are today, right? I mean, it’s a great story! But it’s not the whole story…and if we are going to live and tell true stories, then we need to tend to the complex story that makes for the story of the promise. If you want to, you can follow along with me in your Bible. 

In Genesis YHWH appears to Abram and says to him, “Hey, here’s the promise. You are blessed to be a blessing.” And he is called out from his land, along with his family. By the way, Sarah and Abraham, they’re their siblings, just a note. They’re called out from their land and they begin to travel to find the land where God is calling them, where God will fulfill God’s promise to them. They end up in Egypt because there was a famine. The journey to Egypt happens many times in the Bible and this turn to Egypt when there is famine will happen again in the Hebrew Scriptures. When they get to Egypt, Abraham is like, “Oh my goodness. Sarah, you’re like super beautiful, and the Pharaoh is going to kill us, so just pretend that we’re not married, tell them that you’re my sister and everything will be good.”

So Sarah ends up though being taken into the Pharaoh’s house, which means she becomes part of his harem. Well, eventually Pharaoh figures out that Sarah is actually married to Abraham, and then basically… (I mean, we don’t know this for sure from the text), but I kind of think he’s like, “Oh my goodness, I took a married man’s wife. This is not good. Take some stuff and get out. Go, go, go, go!” And God is faithful in getting them out and keeping them safe. So they go out from Egypt (we are now in chapter 13) and they journey from there to the land. Some stuff happens with Lot (we’re in chapter 14)…let’s keep going (this is how I read the Bible really fast). Some other stuff happens. We’ll keep going.

Chapter 15: God shows up again and makes it clear that the promise is not just “blessed to be a blessing,” but it’s that their descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Now keep in mind that at this point, Abraham is in his 70s. Sarah is only 10 years younger. In our present time you are labeled as “advanced maternal age” at 35…Sarah was far beyond that. They don’t have any kids, but have been told that they’re going to have them and, in fact, that their descendants will be as numerous as the stars. And Abram’s like, “Okay, sure God, definitely possible (sarcasm).” 

Chapter 16: I’ll come more back to this in a minute, but this is the text we’re focusing on today. The story continues on after this chapter however, and basically what happens is that eventually (spoiler alert) Abram and Sarai do conceive and have a son named Isaac who figures prominently in the Jewish history and community.

We get to chapter 21. By now I’m on page 18 (for those following along in the pew Bible); if you can speed read, congratulations! Isaac is born, he gets circumcised (circumcision is the evidence of that they’re the people of God). Ishmael also is circumcised. And basically, some bad stuff happens, Sarai gets jealous and again kicks Hagar out like she did in chapter 16. So God shows up again and Ishmael is saved. 

We come to chapter 25, which now is on page 23. Abraham dies. The end. Okay. Oh, I forgot the other part where Abraham for a second time gives his wife Sarah to another person and pretends that he’s not married to her. So…that happens. Fin.

Why am I doing subjecting you to a fly through of Genesis this morning? Don’t worry, it’s not because I dislike you. No, it’s because I want to remind us that this story is a really complicated story…and if we just gloss over it in a quest to tell a really great, happy story, we fail to do justice to the complexity of how God shows up in real people’s lives, just like God does in our stories. So I wanted us to talk a little bit about the larger, complicated story. Now, let us turn more deeply back Genesis 16. You can follow along if you’d like.

We start off in 16, and again what we know about Sarai, which we’ve learned about her before, is that she can’t conceive a baby; she doesn’t have any kids. She had an Egyptian slave-girl who they had evidently received when they were in Egypt and was sent along with them. Now, it was a common practice at the time that when someone couldn’t conceive, they would actually have another woman in the household (another wife or slave) take their place in order to have a child who would continue the patriarchal ­­­family line. Interestingly through, in this text, it’s not just that Hagar is a slave, a concubine, as sometimes it gets translated…she’s actually a wife, a second wife. Sarai elevates Hagar so that the child could actually be the heir to the promise. Now this wasn’t the promise God had given, for it was supposed to be through Sarai and Abram.

But Sarai was like, “All right, we’ve got to figure this out. I’m really old. It’s not happening. Come on, here we go. Take Hagar.” I want to note here that even though what Sarai did to Hagar was common practice at the time, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that what’s going on in the text is that Hagar is an enslaved woman who’s given to a man, not by her own choice. That’s complicated, it’s real, and it’s not ok then even if it is in line with the cultural norms for it is a violation of the image of God in Hagar. Hagar is given to Abram by Sarai ends up conceiving. And at this point the text says, “Hagar looks with contempt on her mistress.” The word in Hebrew is better understood as Hagar looks at Sarai like she’s a lightweight; she’s of little account. Which, in this society would have been true: Sarai’s not being able to conceive made her without value in her society; a worthless lightweight.

A lot of commentators interpret this interplay as being about the natural rivalry between women in a society where the majority of your worth and identity was predicated on if you could conceive or not. Another way to read this though is through the perspective of an enslaved woman’s contempt towards another woman who has mistreated her and used her a sex slave for her husband. We so often roll right over moments like this in the Bible, and it behooves us to read more slowly so that we don’t skip over the suffering and injustice in stories during our time either. So, pause here: imagine how you’d feel towards another woman if she had enslaved you and then made you a sex slave, a forced baby maker? Has anyone seen Handmaid’s Tale, or read the story? The story of Hagar, Sarai, and Abram makes me think a lot about the dynamics in Handmaid’s Tale.[6] It may be that Hagar looks at Sarai with contempt because she’s like, “Look what you did to me. You’re not treating me as a person. You’re not seeing me.” And it is so bad that Hagar ends up running away, risking her life so that even if she dies, she dies in freedom.

In verse seven then, we’re told that the angel of the Lord finds Hagar by a spring of water. In Hebrew, what is translated here as “spring of water” is the same word for eye; she is found by the “fountain by an eye” in Hebrew, in the wilderness. This notion of the “God who sees” is already starting to come into view. Sarai doesn’t see Hagar. Abram, he doesn’t see Hagar. They have mistreated and abused her and refused to acknowledge the image of God in Hagar. But Hagar, she goes to the wilderness and is seen

The wilderness figures prominently throughout the texts of our tradition. The wilderness is a place where God shows up, where you hear from God and are changed, and indeed in this place, God shows up to Hagar. Interestingly, as the messenger of God shows up to Hagar, this is one of the only times in scripture, the messenger doesn’t say, “Fear not.” Now, we don’t know why. Maybe it’s because she’s already pretty afraid. She gets to see God, which the Bible says no one can do and live. And yet here she does: she sees God and she actually lives and finds release from the abuse and fear in which she had been living.

So she’s there in the desert at this fountain by an eye because she’s run away. And she is asked, “From where are you fleeing?” She replies, “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai.” She is told to return to her mistress and submit to her. I want to note here that this text has been utilized in the history of slavery, even in our own country, when enslaved persons would run away to say, “See, we have an evidence in scripture of that slaves should return.” I would argue that that is a profound misapplication of this passage. We see what happens is what would happen to this woman who has nothing. She’s in the wilderness and she’s pregnant. God shows up to her and says, “Go back so that you won’t die out here and can live.” And eventually we see in chapter 23 through her son, she ends up having a life and a future for herself.

Oof– this is complex, right? This isn’t an easy part of Scripture with which to deal. This isn’t as wonderful to read as John 3:16, right? This doesn’t feel like “God is love.”

So Hagar goes back. But she goes returns, held in a promise: “I will so greatly multiply your offspring, that they cannot be counted for multitude.” She is given a promise like Abraham was given, but she, as the woman by herself is given this promise by God’s messenger (whereas the earlier promise wasn’t given to Sarai but to Abram). Hagar is told in verse 11 that she shall conceive and bear a son. This sounds very familiar to passage that we know and read during the Christmas season, where the angel appears to Mary. “You have conceived and shall bear a son and you shall call him Ishmael, which means God hears. For God has indeed given heed to your affliction.”

Now, interestingly, the translation that we read in the NRSV says how basically Ishmael will be at odds with all of his brothers. This is one of those moments to think about the complexities of the histories that exist between Israel and Iraq and Iran; between the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions, because Ishmael indeed figures prominently, as does Hagar, in the Muslim tradition. But when we go back to the actual Hebrew, what is translated as “at odds” doesn’t necessarily mean that they will live at odds. In a recent 40 Orchards study, Stephanie Spencer noted that actually a way to understand this is “the hand of all will be in him and his hand in all. And he will be in the face, in the presence of his brothers is where he shall dwell.”

So another way to read this is that they were supposed to be in community with one another as siblings. Why then has it been translated as an assumption that there was always going to be tension? Might that be because of our own histories and desire to make sense of conflict?

Let’s move then in verse 13 where God speaks with Hagar. Do you know that this is the first time in the Bible that someone names God? In fact, it is one of the only moments where this happens. Hagar names God, she calls God “El Roi,” “the God who sees”. And she names the place as “the well of the living one who sees me.” She goes back, she bears Ishmael and the story continues from there, but her life has been changed because an unseen, violated woman is seen by the one who sees all things and, in that seeing, makes life possible for all suffering ones.

In telling this complicated story, I am doing so because in this particular moment in our world, it’s easy to tell uncomplicated stories. I was joking with Jeff the other day because he’s a boomer and I’m a millennial. And recently on Twitter there’s been a hashtag #okayboomer. Have any of you heard about this? It’s basically that whenever a boomer person says something that is out of touch, racist, or annoying, millennials and Gen-Z folks will dismissively respond: “Okay boomer.” In so doing, it sidelines them and their (very often in the case of most of the tweets) problematic positions and perspectives. We were really good at telling uncomplicated stories and dismissing one another with ease. If I don’t like what you say I can just be like, “Whatever boomer, I don’t got to listen to you!” I can roll my eyes and be like, “Oh, you know the white dudes, they are the WORST!”

It’s easy to do this kind of stuff, to tell simple stories about one another where we just say, “I’m done with you, don’t have to deal with you.” Whether it’s because of our race, because of our socioeconomic class…whatever it is, it’s really easy to not have to see each other. I can just label you and the conversation is done. If I am a black and you’re white and you’re being racist or ignorant, I can write you off: “Whatever white person.” Or if I’m white, I can lash out and dismiss you by saying, “Oh, you know, black people…” But the actuality of our lives and our stories and who we are is so much more rich and fraught and complex.

And I wanted to talk about this complexity as we’re seeking to be good neighbors because when we lose sight of our own complexity and the complexity of the stories even of the people who are supposed to be the people of “blessed to be a blessing,” who lost their way because they forgot about the God who actually had given them the promise in the first place…that’s when things went haywire. And they were called back into alignment with the God who already saw them and knew all the stuff, the God who had never forgotten the promise. And sometimes we also forget that the promise is for us too, and so then we live in relationship with one another as like, “I don’t need to see you because I don’t feel very seen right now.”

And so, if we really want to be good neighbors, we need to turn to these characters and look at them as real people. We re-look at Sarai: she’s mentioned more than any other woman in the Bible, 55 times. She’s actually Abram’s sister. She is barren. This is what we know about her. Her being named as barren is an agricultural term. It means her womb is inhospitable to life, since at the time they thought only men had anything to do with procreation. She’s beautiful and she’s desired, by the way, we’re told that about her when she’s in her 80s, ladies. She’s twice farmed out to men, so she is a survivor of sexual violence. They get money from the Pharaoh because she was sold off. She’s also absent from the text in many places and is a secondary actor. The promise isn’t even really given to her. She blames Abram for all the stuff that happens to her. She banishes Hagar when she’s barren, and then, when she has a baby, she sends Hagar to the wilderness to die. She dies at 127. She is both an oppressor…and she’s oppressed. She’s known pain and she’s inflicted pain. She’s believed in the promise and forgotten it as well. She’s loved her spouse and also not treated him well. 

So then we have Hagar, whose name means “a foreign thing.” It’s the root word that is translated as “sojourner” or “foreigner,” which, as a reminder, Israel is told that they’re responsible to care for the sojourner in their midst. Here in Genesis, Abram and Sarai are failing at this job right? Hagar, the sojourner, is treated unjustly: her body is not her own and she’s given as a surrogate wife. Her source of her power in one way is her fertility, but its fertility without autonomy. She sees God and she lives. She names God. She has known what it means both to be in a privileged position of one who can bear a child and yet is radically vulnerable and marginalized as well. She’s known pain and suffering, but is also told that her son will become a great nation. 

And we have Abram himself who is the “father of our faith,” who totally forgot what the faith was all about. He’s the guy who though the patriarch, often responded in fear and disappeared, “Hey, not my deal, I’m going to go chill in the corner over here where it’s a lot safer.”

These are real stories. They’re human stories. They’re invitations to us. They remind us that when we remember the promise, that is when we’re able to live in alignment with all that we are called to be; we are blessed by the God who sees us so that we might be a blessing. We have the promise of God’s love, of the God who has always seen us. And God keeps reminding us, “Don’t forget.” 

All of our stories are complex. I don’t know every piece of your story. I don’t know about the grief and the pain and the trauma you may have endured. I know some though, and I’m learning more, and I’m always grateful for that. I want us to be a people who remember what it means to live in the promise. And that promise is of the God named El Roi, the God who sees us, the God who sings to us in a more profound way than Fred Rogers, even: “It’s you I like, just the way you are.”

So what if the invitation and the pathway to be a good neighbor is to open our hearts and the vulnerable places to the God who sees? To let ourselves find that God gazes at us and says, “I see you, even if you don’t feel seen, and where you don’t feel seen, let me call you beloved and heal you with my love.” Because when we let our whole selves be seen by God then we get to remember the promise. And then, as we ourselves know what it is to be loved by God, we find our place in the story of God’s goodness and promise, and we get to truly see, honor, and love one other…we get to actually be good neighbors.

I’ve said this before, but one of my greatest joys is seeing you all come alive. This, above any other reason, is why I’m a pastor. Begin able to bear witness to the moment when someone experiences themselves as being seen and loved by God in the totality of their story…this is a thing of beauty.

When we are seen we then get to see each other. And then we get to see our neighbors. We are loved by God and that love transforms and invites us to breathe and live the promise in our lives: We are blessed to be a blessing. We are seen by God so that we might see. We are loved so that we might love. So in this Advent season, might you find your place in the story. For indeed, even though we are just one of those stars of the promise that was made in Genesis, we are one of them.

And Emmanuel, God-with-us, the God who sees us, has come. 

May you find yourself seen in the story. As you leave the service today, you’re going to receive an advent companion card with whom to journey this season. You are invited to imagine and know yourself as seen in the story of God’s advent on earth, to put yourself in the position of someone else: whether a manger, an angel, or Elizabeth. Where it’s not just about a hero’s narrative you need to tell about yourself, but it’s imagining how this story is experienced from someone else’s perspective. Maybe it’s an innkeeper. Maybe it’s everyone’s favorite, the ass (donkey). Maybe it’s Mary. Maybe you’re a man and you get Mary… great! You can then wonder what it would be like to be a young woman who could get killed for being pregnant.

How does that change what it means to be seen by God in your own story? So to encourage you, you can go on the website, you can sign up to get the advent devotional because every day we’re going to be inviting one another to engage the story and to see from a new perspective. 

El Roi, the God of all love sees you. Let yourself be seen. And in that seeing, may we see one another, that we might indeed be heirs of the promise: to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbors. For indeed, everything in the Bible is summed up by that: to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So might you know yourself as on who is fully seen so that you might see and that we might then truly be good neighbors.

Let’s pray together. 

God, you know that being seen can be terrifying. For when we are actually seen, there’s a lot of us that doesn’t get to live. But what does get to live is the deepening emergence of your new creation within us. Of your image and your beloved creation of us. God, grant us faith in this Advent season to be a people who re-approach you with an earnest hunger and willingness to be vulnerable, that we might indeed be seen by you and emerge from the wilderness and from the long winter as people who see and are then better neighbors. May your kingdom come, oh Lord, our El Roi. 


[1] Recognition Theory is a significant field of study inside of ethics. Much work arose out of the ashes of the Shoah as scholars sought to make sense of the genocide. See, for instance: Axel Honneth, “Recognition: Invisibility: On the epistemology of ‘recognition’,” Aristotelian Society Supplementary 75:1 (2001): 111–126. Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995). Simon Thompson, The Political Theory of Recognition: a Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Polity, 2006). Paul Ricoeur, The Course of Recognition, trans. David Pellauer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2005). Hille Haker, “Misrecognition and Recognition—A Necessary Conversation Between Critcal Theory and Phenomenology,” 8th International Critical Theory Conference of Rome (May 2015). Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesene Press, 1998). Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2001).

[2] Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2017).

[3] Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell, eds., Hagar, Sarah and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006). Also, see: Katharine Dobb Sakenfeld, “Sarah and Hagar: Power and Privileges (Gen 16:1-16; 21:1-21),” in Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003). And Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror : Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984).

[4] To learn more about 40 Orchards, see: https://40orchards.org.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching series (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982). Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). 

[6] Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor Books, 1998). The book provides the initial storyline and characters for the recent Hulu series: The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, 2017-Present).

One thought on “On Being a Bad Neighbor (A Sermon on Genesis 16)

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