Text: Genesis 18:1-14
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jul. 19, 2016
I laughed as Sarah must have laughed when the stranger told her husband that she would have a son. It was a laugh of bitter cynicism. The stranger turned to Abraham and asked: “Why did Sarah laugh?” Why indeed was this her response?
This woman, now ninety years old, when confronted with this question denied that she had laughed for she was afraid. But the stranger’s remark had penetrated to the very depths of her soul. Memories came flooding back. Once she had been beautiful. So gorgeous in fact that when she and her husband made a visit to Egypt, oh so many years ago, the Pharaoh was so struck by her beauty that he wanted to take her as his bride.
As a young woman, with her whole life before her, she had had everything a person could possibly desire. Here cousin, Abraham, had asked for her hand in marriage. He was very wealthy. As a young couple, they were the trend setters of their community.
Unlike other men in his culture, Abraham had loved her so deeply that he refused the common practice of taking other wives, even though he could well afford to and though his position in society almost demanded it of him.
Yes, in so many ways, life had been good to Sarah. But there was one thing in her life that was absent. It just happened to be the one thing that was more important to her (and to any other married women in her culture) than anything else in the world. Sarah wanted to have a son. To bare sons in her society was the most important role that a woman could fulfill. To produce a male heir mean that her ultimate destiny had been realized. Failure to bring forth a son, on the other hand, meant that her whole life was a failure.
At first she tried not to notice. There was still a lot of time. Day by day, week by week she lived in hope. But as the months began to slip by and turn into years, she could not help by hear the whispers of her neighbors talking behind her back. “Sarah has no children. What is the matter with her?” She tried not to let it bother her, but deep inside she could not hide the hurt. She began to wonder what she had done to deserve this fate?
Abraham was kind and tried to be understanding. He did not complain. But always, she knew, that just beneath the surface he held a deep-seated disappointment which would not go away.
As the years slipped by Sarah’s hurt turned to anger, anger that she directed toward 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 failure, a broken woman.
But when the stranger came, she heard him talking to her husband. He spoke with such confidence and self-confidence. All the pain, resentment which she had buried so deep within her heart came flooding back. She laughed aloud bitterly as she sensed the irony and utter absurdity of his statement. 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 trust this stranger? Dare she believe 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, she began to hope. Nine months later, Isaac was born.
Can you identify with Sarah this morning? Is there pain, deep hurt which you have buried? Do you feel the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams? Have the circumstances of your life sought to twist and shape you into their mold rather than allowing you to be the person you were really created to become? Has the hope which once filled your life been replaced by a dull emptiness and only bitterness remains? Perhaps it is not so all consuming as it was for Sarah, but in all of us there are those moments from the past, or even in our present, which prevents us from achieving our goals.
Today, let me tell you of the stranger. He comes to you, to me, in the midst of our hurt and pain as well as in the presence 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 would suggest that we quiet ourselves before Him, as Mary did in today’s Gospel. Step back a moment from busyness of our lives to hear what He has to say. As we become aware of His presences, we see His face, filled with understanding. See His eyes as they grip us in their gaze. Listen to Him as He speaks.
“I too, know about suffering. I too, have experience pain. Did I not take abuse and bitterness upon myself? Did I not die that others might go free? You see the stranger, who comes to us, does not wish to remain a stranger. He desires to be our constant companion, to take the pain and absurdities of our lives upon Himself. And then transform them by His grace to release us from their destructive power.
Than like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of our self-centeredness, we might come to come to learn with Joseph, Sarah’s great grandson, that what others meant for evil, God has transformed into good.
When Isaac was born, Sarah declared: “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” Today, I say to you, the stranger comes to transform our laugh of bitterness into “Holy Laughter”, that with Sarah we might find ourselves, truly laughing with God!