Text: Genesis 18:1-14
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jun. 18, 2017
Several years ago, a young mother asked me after church one Father’s Day, “Fr. Bill, how come it is that when a baby smiles she reaches out her arms to her dad, but when her diaper hangs and smells like a land fill, she reaches out to her mom?” She did not expect an answer, and I did not try to give her one.
This past May, I did not focus on my sermon on Mother’s Day as I normally do because we had a tragic death in our parish with the funeral the next day, and as a result, I focused our attention on God’s compassionate love for us in the midst of sorrow. So today I am renaming Father’s Day Parent’s Day and focusing on both dads and moms.
Our Old Testament Lesson is the perfect starting point for us because our Triune God has appeared to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three strangers. At the time of this visit, Abraham was ninety-nine years old and Sarah, ten years younger, was eighty-nine. Abraham was entertaining their guests under an oak tree while Sarah was in the house cooking dinner. (Things apparently haven’t changed all that much in the last three 3000 years!) Suddenly, during their conversation, one of the guests made a startling announcement – “By this time next year you and Sarah will have a son!” It was a warm day, Sarah had the kitchen window open and overheard the conversation. She burst out laughing. It wasn’t just Sarah who laughed. A year before, God had appeared to Abraham and renewed the promise that he and Sarah would have a son. Abraham’s response was exactly the same. (Bob and Peggy, if a stranger told you today that this time next year you would have a baby, would your response be any different?).
I titled my sermon this morning, “Laughing with God.” Looking at Abraham and Sarah’s response, however, one might think a better title might be “Laughing at God!” However, when we take a closer look at what is going on we will see that the laughter involves more that simple incredulity.
First of all. I think their laughter was not simply from incredulity at the thought that they would have a child at the age of 100 and 90 respectively. Twenty-five years earlier God had promised them that they would have an heir. Even at that time with Abraham 75 and Sarah 65 that must have been a bit difficult to take seriously. They obviously had believed God's word to them. But 25 years is a long time to wait! There had to be some pain in their laughter. Deep down inside they had to be thinking, “God, how can you be so cruel? You keep promising things, like “Someday your lineage will outnumber the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore—yet year after year goes by, and we have no children.”
It had to be worse for Sarah than for Abraham. After all, Abraham did have a son. Ten years after God first promised them a son, Sarah gave up hope. She told Abraham to follow the practice of childless couples at the time to sleep with her maid, and conceive a son through her. Abraham reluctantly agreed and Ishmael was born. But it was an action they both came to regret and led only to sorrow.
In so many ways life had been good to Sarah. When she was young she was beautiful, so beautiful in fact that when she and Abraham visited Egypt, Pharaoh wanted to marry her. She was married to one of the richest men in the Middle East, who was well respected. Abraham was a godly man. He deeply loved Sarah and treated her with respect.
But she had no sons. To bear sons her in society was the most important role that a woman could fulfill. To produce a male heir meant that her destiny had been realized. Failure to bring forth a son, on the other hand, meant that her own life was a failure.
Abraham was understanding and did not complain. But as the years went by she could not help noticing, in his unguarded moments, the disappointment on his face. That was what caused her to persuade him to sleep with her handmaiden.
She began to wonder what wrong she had done to deserve this fate. As time slipped by the disappointment turned to anger at God. “Why me, Lord,” she asked. “What did I do to deserve this lot in life?” Anger turned to bitterness and finally to despair. She would die a broken woman.
But then the stranger came. She heard him talking to her husband. He spoke so matter of factually and with such self-assurance. All the pain and resentment which had been buried so deep within her came flooding back. She laughed aloud, bitterly as the irony and utter absurdity of his statement struck her full force.
But the stranger did not waver. He was not angry at her. He understood. He looked straight into her eyes and asked: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Suddenly he was gone.
Sarah was left in a quandary. Could she believe this stranger? Dare she embrace his message? So many times, she had risked hope only to be cruelly disappointed. But the stranger’s words had penetrated to the depths of her soul. They had removed the sting. Despite herself, Sarah began to believe.
Can you identify with Abraham and Sarah this morning? Is there pain, deep hurt which you have buried? Is there disappointment from unfulfilled dreams? Have the circumstances in your life sought to twist and shape you into its mold rather than allowing you to be the person you were really meant to be?
Perhaps it is not so all consuming as it was from Abraham and Sarah. But, I suspect, in all of us there are those moments from our past or even in our present, which prevents us from feeling that sense of fulfillment.
Today, let me tell you of the stranger. He comes to you and to me amid our pain and despair, as well as in the midst of our joy. He comes to speak to our inner ear. He speaks a word of encouragement and brings a message of hope.
Do we listen to his voice? Dare we believe what he seeks to tell us? This morning I suggest that we step back from the busyness of our lives. Let us close our eyes and quiet ourselves before Him. As we become aware of His presence, see His smile, filled with understanding. Look into his eyes as they grip us in their gaze. Listen as he speaks: “I too, know about suffering. I too have experienced pain. Did I not take abuse upon myself? Did I not die, that others might go free?
You see, the one, who comes to us, does not wish to remain a stranger, He desires to be our constant companion and to take our pain, the absurdities of our lives, upon himself. And then transform them by His grace to release us from their destructive power.
Then we can say with St. Paul as he wrote in today’s epistle: “We also rejoice in our suffering, for we know that suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope will not disappoint us because God has poured out his love in our hearts.
Nine months after the stranger’s visit, the promised child was born. Abraham and Sarah named him Isaac, which means “laughter.” Looking at the newborn, Sarah declared: God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.
Today the stranger comes to transform our laugh of bitterness into Holy Laughter that with Abraham and Sarah we might be found, truly laughing with God. Amen.