We’re coming back indoors Sunday, June 20.
We all have a longing to be seen and a longing to be loved. It’s common to expend so much energy to make sure we are seen as worthy and valuable. I think we’re asking this question over and over:
Do you see me?
This is really the question you were asking your parents as they watched your concert or your baseball game when you were just a kid.
It’s really the question you’re asking as you contemplate your prospects for a romantic relationship.
It’s this same question you’re curious about every time you’re up for a promotion.
And it’s the question you ask when you enter a church community like Epic. And it’s even a question you have expressed or that you have wanted to express to God: Do you see me?
This isn’t the only question we’re asking. Here’s one that follows that first question:
If you do see me, do you like what you see?
We live in a world that tells us we’re only valuable if. If we’re the right age. If we’re the right race. If we have a high enough position in the company.
You might be asking, “What does my desire to be seen have to do with a teaching series on shame?” EVERYTHING.
Feeling like you are invisible causes your shame and your shame makes you want to become invisible.
Our text for today is Genesis 16. I want to let you know that this is a beautiful, yet very complicated story. You’ll notice this is about Sarai and Abram, whose names will be changed to what we’re most familiar with: Sarah and Abraham.
Genesis 16:1-14 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
There are so many aspects of shame in this one story.
Shame shows up in all kinds of people and in all kinds of ways.
Let’s talk about Sarai’s shame for starters. The first sentence in Genesis 16 says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.” One commentator says that a closed womb was a deep personal tragedy during Old Testament times…and that the social pressure to bear children was so great. Can you imagine? And some of you ladies would say, “Yes, Ben, that is unfortunately not hard for me to picture.”
But Sarai isn’t the only one to deal with shame in this story. Hagar is an Egyptian. She is a slave, under Sarai’s authority.
Sarai instructs her husband to sleep with her slave because she sees this as the only way to build a family. Abram agrees to this plan. He sleeps with Hagar and she conceives.
If we try to cover our shame all by ourselves, it will often lead to even greater shame.
Sarai takes matters into her own hands, to work around God’s plan…because He hasn’t done what He should have done by now. At this point, it’s important to know the promise God had given Abraham in Genesis 15.
Genesis 15:5-6 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abram is going to be known as a man of great faith. But his faith must have wavered when Sarai presented him with the idea of sleeping with Hagar because in verse 2 we read, “Abram agreed to what Sarai said.”
Is there any shame you have that is due to your lack of faith in God?
I don’t know about you, but when God isn’t doing what I think He should be doing in the timing in which I think He should be doing it, I get so tempted to take things into my own hands and build it myself. This is what Sarai is doing when she says, “perhaps I can build a family through Hagar.”
In trying to cover her shame due to being barren, she brings even more shame onto herself and Hagar. Now you can imagine the dynamics in this household. Hagar begins to despise Sarai after Hagar gets pregnant. If you’re Sarai in this moment, you’re beginning to wonder if you’ve lost your place or value in the family.
So she tells Abram that he’s responsible and to some degree, this is true. But notice what she says – “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms.” Wait a minute. Who’s responsible? In week 1 of this series, I said that shame causes us to blame God and each other.
Though Sarai doesn’t handle her shame in a helpful way, let’s be a little compassionate to her. Think about how many times she has been with Abram. And no babies. And Hagar gets pregnant the first time she’s with Abram. I’m sure you can at least imagine how that might bring an overwhelming sense of shame. Before, it was her and Abram together who couldn’t produce a child. But now she knows the issue wasn’t with Abram.
Our shame drives us to mistreat and shame others.
Have you ever done this because of the shame you were experiencing? Though it’s been over 25 years since I was in high school, I still remember the moment. It was a Friday night and I was with all of the popular kids. But they began to make fun of me and one other person. As I began to feel the onset of shame in that moment, I knew what I had to do. I had to join them by piling up on this other person because I thought that was my only ticket out of the shame storm I found myself in. And that memory is still so vivid in my life. Is there anyone you’ve mistreated due to your own shame?
This caused Hagar to flee. Hagar’s name actually means stranger or flight. She runs away because she doesn’t want to be seen any longer – at least by Sarai.
Is there any area in your life where you’re trying to stay invisible?
After last Sunday’s message, a young woman came up to me and Minnie and basically told us it’s become so natural for her to want to stay invisible. Perhaps you can relate.
When you see that God directed Hagar to return to the mistress that has mistreated her, anyone besides me have a problem with that? Why would God tell her to do this? I don’t know. But I do know this – I don’t want the fact that we have a problem with this moment to cause me or you to miss out on what God is wanting to teach Hagar and us today.
These two very different women both experience intense shame. One woman is old, barren, and free. The other is young and fertile, but a mistreated slave. Hagar is part of the minority race. She is the foreigner. She is the stranger. She is the one who is most likely to be treated like she doesn’t belong. And it’s into this moment where God shows up to her in a profound way. In verse 7 we read, “The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert.”
Hagar was found when she thought she had been forgotten.
God comes looking for us when we think we’ve been completely forgotten.
And Hagar becomes the first human in all of Scripture to give God a name.
El Roi – the God who sees (me)
You need to start relating to God as this.
Not only does she name God, this well gets its name changed too.
Beer Lahai Roi – Well of the Living One who sees me
Have you seen the God who sees you?
God is inviting you to come sit down at the well of the Living One who sees you.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector who was wealthy and I’m guessing he experienced his fair share of shame because of his vocation and how everyone else thought about him. He’s heard about Jesus and he does everything he can to try and see Jesus. He thought he was coming to find Jesus and see Jesus. But Jesus came and found him and saw him and saved him.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Jesus wants to find you, see you, and save you even more than you want to be found, seen, and saved.
I think for many of you, He’s showing up right now. Be seen. And see the One who’s come to seek and to save you.
For all of us – we’re being invited by the Spirit of God to come and drink from the well of the Living One who sees us.
And for us as a church community: Be seen here. You are valued here because you are made in the image of God…not because of what you’ve accomplished or how spiritual you are or what you bring to the rest of us. Let us see you. And for all of us – let’s not let anyone stay invisible. Notice them. Express value. And make sure they know they are seen here.