Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
(watch here: https://youtu.be/bpxdeVCkhjw)
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ 7And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’
Our reading for this week reminds me of the one about a couple of British friends, John and Keith, who decided to go to Scotland for a weekend of golf. After driving for a few hours, they got caught in a terrible blizzard, so they pulled into a nearby farm and asked the beautiful lady who answered the door if they could spend the night. “I realize it’s terrible weather out there and I have this huge house all to myself, but I’m recently widowed,” she explained. “And I’m afraid the neighbors will talk if I let you stay in my house.” “Don’t worry,” John said. “We’ll be happy to sleep in the barn and if the weather breaks, we’ll be gone at first light.” The lady agreed, and the two men found their way to the barn and settled in for the night. Come morning, the weather had cleared, and they got on their way and enjoyed a great weekend of golf. But about nine months later, John got an unexpected letter from an attorney. It took him a few minutes to figure it out, but he finally determined that it was from the attorney of that beautiful widow he had met on the golf weekend. He dropped in on his friend Keith and asked, “Keith, do you remember that beautiful widow from the farm we stayed at on our golf holiday in Scotland about 9 months ago?” “Yes, I do,” replied Keith. “Did you, er, happen to get up in the middle of the night, go up to the house, and pay her a visit?” “Well, um, yes!” Keith said, a little embarrassed about being found out. “I have to admit that I did.” “And did you happen to give her my name instead of telling her your name?” Keith’s face turned beet red and he said, “Yeah, look, I’m sorry, buddy. I’m afraid I did. Why do you ask?” “Well, she just died and left me everything.”
What?? Didn’t expect that punch line?? Well, that’s the beauty of it!! That’s what makes it so funny…you think that John is the poor sap being hit up for child support when he’s actually being blessed with an inheritance from a complete stranger. The joke’s on us, isn’t it?! Of course, it’s a cleverly crafted joke designed to take advantage of our tendency to assume things. But we can’t help but laugh at it…at ourselves…at the absurdity of the situation. Not unlike Sarah laughing at the absurdity of her situation. Three random strangers approached the tent in which she lived and her husband was beside himself in showing them hospitality. He had their feet washed, fed them, and offered them a place in the shade to rest, certainly not the typical ways strangers were welcomed in Sarah’s day. And to add to the absurdity, the strangers claimed she and her husband would be parents in spite of their age. What an absurd situation all around! It’s no wonder Sarah can’t help herself from laughing at it. I wonder if I would be so brazen as to laugh at the absurdity though instead of simply dismissing altogether. But that is the response Sarah gave to the three men, a response not all the common in all Scripture. In the days of the events of Scripture taking place, few people laughed at the absurdity of their life situations and encounters. Perhaps that’s why Scripture makes a point of noting Sarah’s uncommon response. There is little laughter in all of Scripture, this passage being one of but a handful of incidents. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t more laughter in Scripture…why all the seriousness? Laughter is good for the soul, it cleans you out on the inside. If you can’t laugh at the absurdity of life, then you’ll probably be overwhelmed by it all and you’ll lose control of your life. And God doesn’t want that for our lives. God wants us to have full control of lives even though He’s the one that ultimately leads them. Besides, what we consider to be absurd may be perfectly normal to many people, if not most people. So many dystopian sci-fi books and movies have played with this idea of personal perception being different than the perceptions of the world as a whole. I’ll leave that idea to those authors and movie makers. Instead I think it would be more appropriate and fruitful to reflect on would be where God is in the absurdity of life.
Many of us have experienced absurd and unexpected times in our lives. The sudden loss of a loved one or a long-held job, the change of living arrangements, the decline in health, the welcoming of a new child or spouse…these are all disorienting and disruptive times. We may no longer have clear guidance and direction in our lives. One day we know who we are and what we need to be doing, the next day we have no idea who it is staring back at us in the mirror. Perhaps even scarier than a disjointed personal identity and purpose can be a broken relationship with God. In the absurdity of our situations, we may no longer feel God’s presence and love. To me that is more terrifying than not knowing who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. I need to feel God’s presence and love! I need to be assured of his guidance and strength. I may fail but God cannot! I need him to be a steady, unchanging rock in my life. I need him to be faithful in his promise to never leave me or forsake me. I need him more than anything in this life…
He IS a faithful God. As absurd as it sounded that He would bless Abraham and Sarah with a child despite their age, God did provide them with what he promised. God made the impossible possible! Our God is an awesome and mighty God! We ought not ever doubt this about our God. He can do things we can’t even imagine and He regularly does them. Our God is continually creating new opportunities and possibilities. He did it for Sarah and Abraham, He did it for Man as we heard last week when He created woman from one of Man’s ribs. Recall God’s words as spoken to the prophet, Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11) Our God is all about HOPE. Our God wants us to live in hope and trust. God gave Abraham and Sarah a new hope through Isaac. God wants to give us new hope too. We ought not despair as we are prone to do. God will find a way for us! David was a man continually struggling with despair and hopelessness. Over and over again, he found himself in absurd and hopeless situations. How did he respond? By crying out, “[God] reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:16-19) This is the God we know and love! He helps us and gives us hope!
For two weeks, our readings have exposed us to the awesome and mighty power of our God. He’s created hope in hopeless and absurd situations. And He’ll create that same hope in us if we but open ourselves to him. He’ll do things we couldn’t even imagine were possible. Trust in him and him alone. He is a good and gracious God. As we go forth, let us heed the wisdom of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (3:5-7)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.