Saturday, September 19, 2015

You Laughed! Narrative Lectionary, Year 2, Second Sunday of the Story

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

What do you do when God’s promises seems as impossible as a 90 year old woman giving birth?

You laugh.

Not a laugh of joy.

A bitter laugh – like laughing at a joke that ceased to be funny a long time ago

A laugh of derision.

A laugh of scorn.

Have you ever stood beside the tent with Sarah and laughed that laugh?

I have.

I sifted through stories this week - stories of people who persevered, who were patient, who never gave up and finally against huge odds achieved their dreams.  I could tell you one of them.

But then I realized that the story I need to tell today is my own.  You’ve heard part of my call story.  The good parts - toward the end when the promise became real, the way that first flutter of life in a pregnant woman’s womb makes the baby real, growing larger and closer as the moment of birth arrives.

But what happens when God’s promises come in a place where there’s no hope of life?  

How old was I when I first felt God calling me to ministry?  I’m not sure anymore - 13, 14, maybe as late as 16, or 17.  

But it was impossible.  This was the 1970’s and women could not be pastors.  I raged against the promise:  why would God call me, give me gifts for something that could not be?  Why would God promise what I could not have?

The promise lay lifeless as I went off to college.  Then I found a way I could make the promise real - (not God!):  I could become a youth minister.  Women could do that.  That must have been what God meant!

Have you ever tried to force God’s promise?  Tried to take it into your own hands and make it happen?  If you have then you know how bitter that road can be.  Sarah tried that when she convinced Abraham to have a baby through her slave Hagar, a baby Sarah would claim as her own son.  How later Sarah looked at the child playing in the yard and knew that this was not right- God’s promise was still empty.

I discovered that I was no more suited to be a youth minister at that time than Sarah was suited to have a child through her slave.  This was not how God’s promise would be fulfilled.

It’s a moment when you can lose all faith.  I tried - and it didn’t work.  I must have it wrong.  This is not really what God is calling me to do, not what God promised.

It’s a moment when you can turn your back.  And I did.  I gave up - faith, God, everything.  

For years, like the fool in Proverbs, I said in my heart, “There is no God.”

Was it like that for Sarah?  How many times did Sarah doubt?  

How many times did Abraham? 

Up to that day by the oaks of Mamre, all the promises were made to Abraham.  Three times God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations - three times Abraham was promised a son, but only the last time, 24 years after God first called Abraham, was Sarah even named in the promise.  

And Abraham laughed - Sarah, ninety year old Sarah, have a child?

Who could blame him for laughing?  

All that wasted time.  When she was a younger woman - say when God first made that promise 24 years ago, and Sarah was 66 -  then maybe.  She had been barren all their marriage, and even at 66, ‘it had ceased to be after the manner of women with her.’  But she was still younger.  It was still impossible, but maybe not so impossible?

I imagine there was a lot of laughter as as he and all the males in his household were circumcised according to God’s command - and not the good kind.  Scornful laughter, snorts of derision, barks of disbelief.  

Bitter laughter from Sarah as she  watched her husband once more trust in this stale old promise God had dangled before him for almost a quarter of a century.

Now this day, outside the tent, Sarah hears the promise herself.  These men - God’s messengers, or the very Lord God - they came for her.  She was the reason they were there.  They asked where she was, knew her by name.  Promised that she would have a son, not sometime, but in a year!

And she laughed.  A dry bitter laugh of one who no longer has any hope.

And yet - is anything too wonderful for God?  

No because with God all things are possible.

Because God is a God that breathes life into dust,

God is a God who makes a way out of now way.

God is a God who can bring life to dried up dreams, and promises that seem to have withered over the years.

God is a  God who snatches victory from the jaws of death, and bursts forth with laughter from a three-day old tomb.

God is a God who laughs when life triumphs over death.

A joyous laugh - just as Sarah laughed when she held her son.  As she watched this child of laughter - Isaac - grow.

Is anything too wonderful for God?

No.  There is nothing too wonderful for God.

And even when you turn you back on God, God stays with you.  God keeps God’s promises.

Even when you laugh at God.

[1] The Simarillion.  I have changed the names Tolkien gave to Eru Illuvtar and the Ainur and Melkor to their Greatest Story (biblical) counterparts in order to facilitate the storytelling to a group who is not familiar with Tolkien’s world.