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Hagar must have felt extremely fearful and very much alone.  She was pregnant.  Abram’s unwise and unfortunate counsel for his wife Sarai to do “whatever she thought best,” had resulted in Hagar being mistreated by her jealous mistress.  Whether that mistreatment was verbal, emotional, physical, or all of the above, the abuse became so unbearable that Hagar ran away.  At a spring in the desert where she had sheltered, the angel of the LORD appeared to her and asked, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”  Hagar only answered the first question, probably because there was no answer she could give to the second.  She didn’t know.  There was no plan.  She couldn’t see a path forward.  She had no idea what the future might look like.  There had just been fear, pain, panic, and a response of self-preservation for herself and her unborn child.  She knew what she was running from, just not what she was running to.  When the angel, representing God himself, provided her with a message of comfort and confidence, Hagar spoke directly in response to the LORD.  She gave him the name, El Roi, meaning, “the God who sees.”  Hagar went on to say, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Hagar was apart, but she was not alone.  She had fled beyond the sight of any other human, but not outside the gaze of God.

Fast forward 2,100 years.  With the guidance of John the Baptist’s teaching, Andrew became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and he went and found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus.  Like those brothers, a fellow native of Bethsaida named Philip similarly accepted Jesus as the Christ and sought out his friend Nathanael with whom to share the exciting news.  Nathanael was quite dismissive and highly skeptical of the notion.  “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?”  His mind and heart turned on a dime, however, when he was approaching Jesus and the Lord said to him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.  Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  I have no idea what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree.  I don’t know whether Jesus’ words filled him with extreme comfort or with a searing sense of shame, but the result was the firm conviction that only God or God’s Anointed One could have known where he was.  Nathanael had mistakenly thought he was alone.  He came to realize, however, that, though he may have been apart from other people under the fig tree, God’s unseen presence meant that he was never truly alone.

Fast forward another 2,000 years.  I don’t know exactly what your fig tree looks like today, but it has most likely been defined and determined by “shelter in place” and “safer at home” orders as we continue to navigate our way through the coronavirus pandemic.  Many of you are working from home today in your makeshift home office.  Others of you, as medical professionals, are on the job right now, working on the front lines of the treatment of COVID-19 and meeting other serious and urgent medical needs.  Some of you are at work today in other fields as essential workers who are ensuring that these challenging days are made more bearable for the rest of us.  Some of you are continuing the homeschooling routines of your children.  Other parents are assisting their children as they adapt to distance learning through online classes, from the elementary school level to those taking college courses.  Some of you are sewing masks today.  Others of you are cooking meals for individuals and families in need.  Some of you are making phone calls and sending text messages to friends, family members, and members of your church family in order to stay connected, check on their welfare, and inquire about any needs they have.  Some of you are doing these things while physically by yourself in your home or apartment.

Regardless of what your fig tree consists of today, even if it involves being apart from others, be assured that you are not alone.  We are blessed to be in relationship and fellowship with El Roi, “the God who sees,” the God who has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  We abide in Jesus who assured us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  We are sanctuaries of God, indwelled by his Holy Spirit, from whom it is wonderfully and blessedly impossible to be apart.

Psalm 139:7-12 

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

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April 2020