This sermon was preached on June 21, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
We are in a summer series: I Love to Tell the Story
The text is Genesis 18: 1-15
We keep hearing that we are living in an extraordinary time and it certainly feels true, though I don’t really know what it fully means. I do know that there is much good and hard work to do, but am I up to it? I know that the road is long, pandemics, systemic injustices and wounded creation don’t just go away quickly or easily, as let’s be honest it’s been around since the beginning of humanity. And I know that I am a part of the ills and the solution. A solution that seems beyond my imagination. It feels that I, too, need to be extraordinary and I can tell you that I feel anything but that 99.99% of the time and people who actually are extraordinary have been doing this hard work for decades and there’s still much to be done. Will this time be different? Should we dare to hope? Will we be discouraged and disappointed for another 50 years? Knowing this cycle can lead me to keep my imagination limited and narrow to avoid heartbreak. I certainly don’t expect the extraordinary to really happen. It’s safer to not.
Sarah resonated with me this week from our Genesis text. This woman had been told most of her adult life that nations will be born from her and Abraham, that they will have a son and descendants that will be more numerous than the stars or grains of sand. Now at the age of 90, she still doesn’t have any children. Thinking that she had to help God fulfill the promise, she had given Hagar, her slave to Abraham for progeny. And let’s be clear that Hagar didn’t have any agency in this and yes, it is human trafficking. Such stories are why we must be cautious in how we interpret the bible for ourselves today. We don’t glorify this or normalize it in any way. Ishmael was born from Hagar and Abraham, and Sarah thought that this would fulfill what the Lord had said. Though God kept saying to her, no, this is about you having a child. The promise of descendants was as much about Sarah, as it was about Abraham. If it was only about patriarchal lineage, then the birth of Ishmael or the other six children that Abraham had with the wife he married after Sarah’s death, would have fulfilled what God had promised. It’s clear that God’s work was beyond human imagination.
The three visitors in our story, who arrive at the oaks of Mamre, are divine indeed but when or how Abraham and Sarah know this is not clear in the text. Did Abraham and Sarah’s imagination allow for the possibility of God to come to their tent for a meal and conversation? Abraham shows impeccable ancient near east hospitality, down to the best flour, veal, milk and curds, not to mention precious water for drinking and washing of their feet. The visitors asked Abraham where Sarah was, which might have been the tell that they were divine beings, after all how would strangers know his wife’s name? And then the prediction once more, that in due season, that Sarah will have a son. Sarah, after all the work of preparation for these visitors, of course is listening in to the conversation to try and figure out the purpose of these strangers who appeared out of nowhere in the heat of the day. And upon hearing this prediction one more time that she will have a son, after more than 75 years of that promise going unfulfilled, she laughs. Not out loud, but to herself, it says in the Hebrew, laughs in her guts. This is now ridiculous. She has given up on that future. She had always pictured herself as a mother, that wasn’t the issue, but not at 90! She had stopped imagining this dream long ago. She had stopped expecting the extraordinary.
But God knew her incredulity. The stranger we now know is God, called it out, and questioned, Sarah’s laughter at having a son and then asks the million dollar question that hit me like a ton of bricks this week and I think struck Sarah hard too: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Or the Hebrew can also say, “is anything too extraordinary for the Lord?” Sarah was forced to confront her own wrestling and striving to make the future happen in a way that she wanted. She probably was afraid, maybe not of God’s rebuttal, but fear of God’s power to really bring about the promise. What if it was really going to happen after all these years? It would indeed be extraordinary and beyond her imagination! Her laughter released the pent-up disappointment of all those decades. Her laughter covered up the deep wounds. Her laughter was honesty at the audacity of the promise. I love that God doesn’t chastise her laughter but simply names it. God sits with her in the reality that she is wounded, that she has given up hope, that God’s power is beyond her imagination. God’s promise will be fulfilled, and Isaac, whose name means laughter, will be born. Sarah will be the mother of nations, more than she ever imagined.
I recognize my own incredulity and lack of imagination at what God can do in my life and in the world. I recognize my internal laughter at daring to hope that miracles can occur. God responds to me “why are you laughing? Have you not seen the what I can do? Have you not seen the sunrise, the moon, the seasons that change in due time, flowers that know when to bloom, hearts being healed, people being fed, love hanging on a cross and the empty tomb?” reminds me that nothing is too extraordinary for God. That despite my own laughter, striving, control and doubt, God’s promise of extraordinary, wonderful, vibrant and hope filled life, is coming, it will be born with or without me, and will be more than I can imagine.
What can we imagine dear ones? If nothing is too extraordinary for God, the one who sent God’s own son, Jesus, to affirm that people’s lives are more important than buildings, rules and rituals, who died for the sake of love, wholeness and ending the reign of death for us all. If nothing is too extraordinary for this God, then nothing is too extraordinary for God’s people and creation. We are called and equipped through our baptism to unabashedly participate with God in this extraordinary activity of radical love, even if we are laughed at for our audaciousness. We are given the God-sized imagination that we need to do the extraordinary work of God as Jesus showed us: equality for all who are denied it, unity for those who are separated, health for the sick of mind, body or spirit, a world where death isn’t the last word, and the wholeness and goodness of life, is here, now and for all people. For nothing is too extraordinary for our God.