Genesis 21:8-21, Lectionary 12 A, June 22, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Kakenya Ntaiya grew up in a Maasai village in Kenya. She recently gave a TED Talk where she described something of her childhood. Even in our modern times, in her village boys always become warriors, and girls only become mothers. She didn’t have any choices in her life. As a young girl, she was already engaged to be married. Whenever this boy walked near her home, her mother would say, “Your husband just passed by.”
Kakenya’s village expected her to grow up to be a submissive wife and mother just like all of the other girls that she knew. Yet, her mother hoped that she could become more than just a mother. Kakenya’s mother had a hard life, and she knew that education was the way out of the system. Kakenya wanted to please both her village elders and her mother; she hoped to grow up to be a wife and a teacher.
When Kakenya finished the eighth grade, she participated in a weeklong celebration where one of the women from the village cut off her clitoris. Then she was left to bleed until she fainted. She was lucky to survive at all.
Then in high school, she met a classmate who had spent some time in America. He encouraged her to do the same. So, Kakenya worked hard to persuade the male elders of her village to support her. In the end, she did go to college in America, and her eyes were opened. She learned that female genital mutilation is illegal in Kenya. She discovered how closed minded her village was. She learned that the world was full of so many opportunities.
There are always multiple ways to resolve an issue, yet we can’t always see every solution. The elders of that Masai village were not able to see any other future for Kakenya except as a wife. So also, Sarah could only see one possible way for her son Isaac to inherit his father’s property: Ishmael had to go.
To Sarah, Ishmael was a constant reminder of her impatience. Ishmael was how she refused to wait for God’s blessing to come true how God intended. But now that God fulfilled that blessing through Isaac, Ishmael was standing in the way.
It seems that as soon as Hagar conceived, Sarah regretted what she had done. Sarah was supposed to consider Ishmael as her own son, but she never did. She could barely handle the boy growing up in her household. She only let Hagar and Ishmael stay because Abraham had no other heir - until Isaac came along ten years later.
Once Isaac survived his first three years, his family was fairly certain that he would live into adulthood. Abraham had a feast when Isaac was weaned, a celebration that Isaac had already lived through the most dangerous years of his life. Now that Isaac was the one true heir, Sarah could no longer stand the sight of Ishmael. In her mind, there could only be one person to carry on Abraham’s name.
To Abraham, the situation was completely different. For Abraham, Ishmael was not just the son of a slave, he was Abraham’s son. Ishmael was not a second-rate citizen. Abraham loved his firstborn son just as much as he loved Isaac.
For Abraham, he didn’t care that his sons had different mothers. He didn’t care that they were born ten years apart. He didn’t care who would inherit what. They were both equally his sons. Why couldn’t they both inherit his name and God’s blessing?
Sarah put Abraham in a really hard place, forcing him to choose between the sons that he loved equally. Sarah wanted Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, even though she was the one who created this mess in the first place.
To the question of inheritance, Sarah decided, “Only one. Only my son.”
Abraham concluded, “Why not both? They are both my sons.”
Then God entered the debate and said, “Yes! Yes to both of you!”
Isn’t it funny how God can do that? In a situation where only one of two options seems possible, God is able to make them both work. God told Abraham to follow his wife’s orders. God did intend, after all, for Isaac to inherit Abraham’s blessing.
Yet, God will also make Ishmael great. Only God is able to take what we screw up and make it work. God may not have intended for Ishmael ever to be born, yet God will honor him for the son of Abraham that he is.
So, Isaac will inherit God’s blessings and become the father of the Jews. Yet Ishmael will also lead a great nation and become the father of Islam. God is able to take a difficult decision out of Sarah and Abraham’s hands and turn it into something good. God’s love extends beyond God’s chosen people to embrace all who live.
Maybe God had a hand in Kakenya’s life, too. Her village elders only wanted her to become a wife and mother. She wanted to become a teacher. In the end, Kakenya never married. She had seen too much of the world beyond her village to blindly submit to a man. But she couldn’t stay away from her village either. So, she started a school for girls.
Her goal is to teach these young women so that they will never be forced to submit to the traditions of her village. Now, there are 125 girls studying in that village. Those girls will never be mutilated, and they will not be married when they are twelve. They will be able to dream big and then achieve those dreams.
Even though Abraham followed Sarah’s will in the end, he did so knowing that both of his sons would become great. God told Abraham that Ishmael would leave a legacy that nobody could forget. Abraham fostered love and respect in both of his boys, just like Kakenya is fostering courage and knowledge in her students.
Kakenya challenges us to do the same. We are not confined to the only solution put before us. Kakenya says to us, “Be the first because people will follow you. Be bold. Stand up. Be fearless. Be confident. Move out.” If we can change the life of one child, then we can change the life of a community. And if we change the life of the community, then we can change the world. May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit help us make this a reality. Amen.