Archive for January, 2016

The One Who Sees

Clothespins in blizzard.jpgOn Saturday, you could not see much.  In the Washington-Baltimore area, we had snow. And more snow. And more snow. It snowed steadily from Friday afternoon until about 10:00 on Saturday evening at my house.  At times, when I looked out, all I could see was whirling snow, and as I peered out of the window of my front door, I thought–more than once–how grateful I was to have a warm, snug house, with plenty of food and hot chocolate at hand.  It was okay to watch–as long as I was safe and warm inside. My biggest concern was whether the power stayed on–which it did. A first-world problem, you might say, and you would be right.

This morning, I was doing my usual early morning devotions. Genesis 16 has the story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar. Sarai realizes that she cannot have children, which is a sign of shame and embarrassment in her society. However, legally, any children borne of her slave-girl will belong to Sarai. No doubt Abram and Sarai had bought Hagar back from their life in Egypt. So now, without asking Hagar’s permission, Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, who “went in to Hagar, and she conceived. . .”

Far from her home, far from her family, a woman whose skin is probably darker than that of her owners, marries a man she has not chosen (nor would she, in that culture, even back home), and whether she wants a child or not, she is having one. But this leads to even more issues, one being jealousy. Now it is clear that Hagar can have children for Abram, so maybe he will prefer her to Sarai–even though scripture lets us know that Sarai is beautiful enough that Abram was nervous when they were in Egypt–to the degree that he lied to Pharoah and said she was his sister, not his wife. Yet human beings have been broken from the time of the Garden, and so this continues in this story–the broken-ness.

Sarai is mean to Hagar, but Abram will not intervene. In desperation, the pregnant slave-woman runs away.

Who finds Hagar? Who sees her? Sarai has not seen her as a human being, nor has Abram. She is property, pure and simple. A vessel for children whom she will never call her own. The one who sees Hagar is a messenger from God. The angel tells Hagar to go back to Abram and Sarai, that the child she will bear will be the beginning of many generations, and that his name is to be Ishmael.

Very quickly, Hagar realizes that this is no ordinary conversation. She understands with Whom she is having this desert conversation. “So she names the LORD who spoke to her. ‘You are El-roi;’ for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive. . .?'”

El-roi.  The God of seeing.  This is the first woman in the Hebrew scriptures (after Eve) to whom God speaks directly. In fact, Hagar is the first woman to name God. She sees. She understands. She gets it. She names the God who speaks to her, the God she encounters.

I have thought about this amazing woman off and on all day long today. She gets very little credit. Yet she was a stranger in a foreign land. Alone. Without any rights at all. Her very existence dependent upon people who were obviously not always kind to her. Yet she saw the one God sent to her. She named God. She obeyed God. In her faithfulness lay the lives and loves of generations to come. Today, I give thanks for all the women who are in her situation. I ask God for the opportunity to SEE–to really see–and to understand what or who it is that I am seeing.

Thank you, Hagar. Thank you for your sight. You are blessed among women.

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star-of-bethlehem“They offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:12)




If you have looked for the Light and then you think you see it,
and then you pack everything you have and travel for a very long time, 
then finally, finally, finally, you find that light
for which you have been longing. . . 

If you stumble into that Light’s round, warm beams, you may not be sure,
but what you do know is that your knees weaken
and you stagger and fall and kneel
and then a peace you have never known
floods your soul with light and warmth.

Of course you go home by another way.
The old way will never do now, will it?

(c) Sheila N. McJilton 01/06/15

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Sermon for Second Sunday after Christmas   Luke 2:41-52

003-young-jesus-templeAs she walked along the dusty road, all Mary could think of was “What in the world are we going to do with Jesus?” The boy knew she was angry with him. This time, he had pushed his limits further than he ever had before. This time, he had moved too far out of her protective circle than he should have. So he kept his distance from his mother. He scuffed along the edge of the road, kicking stones, looking out at the horizon, deep in thought. They all said little to each other. Joseph was always a quiet man, so his silence was not unusual. But the usual easy conversation between Jesus and his mother had vanished, and the younger ones looked at each other for cues. They weren’t used to this stony wall of silence, either.

Jesus had never been like the other children in the village. But then Mary’s firstborn had not had the usual beginnings. It is true, her memories had faded a bit. Over the years, practical life had pushed aside the memories. Every day, she had to bake bread. She went to the market in Nazareth. She haggled about prices of olives, dates, a little meat, oil for the lamps. As Joseph and the boys worked in the shop on carpentry jobs for the building project in nearby Sepphoris, she and her daughters tended a couple of scrawny goats, worried over a few grapevines, swept the dirt floors. With a growing family, Mary was busy. With all of King Herod’s building projects going on in the next town, Joseph and his sons were busy as well.


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Butterfly on Fruit SmWe are going to bring in the New Year quietly, just the way we like to do. As I think about this past year, the biggest thing I feel is gratitude. So thankful for deep friendships, for some warrior women who have faced cancer with courage and grace, for my expanding family, for the absolutely amazing joy I got out of seeing Star Wars this week (okay, call me crazy, I don’t care. . .), and for another few minutes of sheer and utter joy when I watched Aretha Franklin sing “You make me feel like a natural woman” and got to see Carole King’s face of stunned disbelief, then her own sheer joy, and to see Pres. Obama weep as he listened. Life is full of sacred moments. My own journey is still being written, and there are many sacred moments to be lived. I know that the next year will be graced with new adventures and some surprises. I bless all of you, with the cup with which you have blessed me. Drink deeply of blessing. Be kind, children, to each other. We are all we have. And look for those sacred moments and those moments, however fleeting, of deep and utter joy.

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