I got to preach at First Unitarian-St.Louis on August 3rd—six days before Mike Brown was killed.
Unless I just can’t find one that fits, I always have one of my readings from the Bible (preferably Hebrew scripture). So for that Sunday, I went to a story that has always fascinated me; Genesis 21:8-21.
8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ 14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
I had picked this passage long before anything happened to Mike Brown. In fact, I had picked the passage before Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD (which is now going to go to the Grand Jury in Staten Island). I picked the passage because it seems to fit the American situation.
For the longest time, when the church has talked about Abraham sacrificing a child, they are talking about the story in Genesis 22–“the sacrifice of Isaac”. Yet far too often they ignore the story of Genesis 21, where Abraham sacrifices Ishmael. This doesn’t really surprise me; for the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac too closely mirrors America.
Slavery created a dynamic in this country that not enough people want to recognize. Just like Hagar and Ishmael there is the misuse and abuse of black bodies and then the discarding of them as if they were the problem.
America, like Abraham, sacrificed one child for another. And just like Abraham, America has to live with the consequences of that decision.