Rev. George Miller
June 18, 2017
Here we have one of my favorite biblical stories. Maybe because it starts off like an oasis, placing us in the comfortable shade of the mighty oaks.
Maybe because it features the kind of southern hospitality that Maya Angelou wrote about, featuring an opulent meal.
Maybe it’s because of the skepticism of Sarah. Here she is, nearly 99 years old, hearing that she’s going to have a child.
So she laughs, which is such a human thing to do, reminding us that people of faith are really just like me and you.
Maybe I like this story because it features Abraham, the father of our faith. Of all the people in the Bible, Abraham catches my attention the most.
How out of nowhere God says to Abraham “Go!” and Abraham goes, leaving behind all he knows to venture into a new land.
How God makes Abraham a promise and though it takes decades to come true, Abraham does not give up.
How Abraham is far from perfect.
He makes mistakes, lacks durable decision making skills, gets everyone wrapped up in his drama, and has to be assured again and again that things will be alright.
How for most of his life, Abraham was without a child or anyone to pass on his legacy to.
Then, when all logic says his family lineage will flicker out like a flame, God surprises him by saying “Look up to the heavens and know that your family will be bigger than all the cosmos combined.”
Abraham starts off as an insignificant nobody who becomes the Father to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
Who says one person can’t make a difference or that the reality of the world dictates what God can do?
The core of the Abraham and Sarah narrative is the frailty of faith- that everything God is planning to do rests upon a childless couple, and the choices they do or do not make.
A reminder that basically every church, every family, every nation, every organization is in reality just one generation away from perishing into oblivion, and yet, here we are…
…Last Monday I had the opportunity to visit Kathryn at The Palms. She was laid up in bed with such severe pain. Her whole body ached, and the doctors weren’t sure what was going on.
We talked and I told her about today’s reading, asking “If you were to give the sermon, what would you, in your current situation want to hear?”
I asked, because I knew that if I could not give a message from the pulpit that I could also give to Kathryn in her pain, then my theology was false.
Kathryn’s response surprised me, because she said something along these lines- “If you want to get better, if you want to get well, if you want things to change, you have to work.”
Work- that was the message Kathryn gave to me.
Immediately, I got a smile, because I liked that idea, and I’ll share with you why-
The idea of us working does not take away the wonder and the mystery of God.
It allows God to be free, be wild, be holy and otherworldly and it also allows us to have freedom, make choices, and play our own role.
What I heard Kathryn say, and we discussed in great detail, is that God is able to do many wonderful things, but- we have to be willing to do our own part as well.
In other words- Kathryn could pray to God for healing, she could hope for a speedy recovery, but she would also have to do her part by going to physical and occupational therapy, getting her rest, and working with the medical staff.
What Kathryn proposed was a faithful form of partnership with God, in which the Lord will do God’s part, and that we do our part as well.
Faith is work. Faith is not always easy.
One has to deal with naysayers. One has to deal with circumstances that say otherwise.
Faith is work because we are asked to believe in a God we cannot see, a Savior who’s supposedly been resurrected, and a Holy Spirit that may come as a breeze or a fire, as a sergeant or a still-speaking voice.
Faith is work.
Think about it- God could part the Red Sea, but the Israelites had to be willing to walk through it.
Jesus could turn water into wine but the servants had to first gather it.
The Holy Spirit could fall upon the disciples but they had to leave the safety of the upper room to share the Good News.
In order for any of these things to be possible, they required action, bravery, and belief.
Each of these things involved work that needed to be done.
Now, mind you- Kathryn and I had a good chuckle when we realized the kind of work that Abraham and Sarah had to do to conceive a child was a very different kind of work. But still, they had to do their part…
I’m thankful for Kathryn’s insight into today’s story, because it is something I think we all need to be reminded of.
That the world we live in is a mysterious, wonderful place in which miracles and the unexpected does take place. Things happen that common sense says should not.
The Holy Spirit breaks in at unexpected times. Jesus meets us upon mountains.
God takes dark voids, death-filled tombs, and empty wombs and brings forth creation, resurrection, and new life.
But we- we have our own part to play; we have our own work to do.
God can call out to us, but we have to be willing to hear.
God can part the waters, but we have to be brave enough to step out, get our feet dirty, and cross to the other side.
God can send bread from heaven but we have to be willing to see it, gather it, share it, and not hoard it.
We can meet the Resurrected Christ upon the mountain but we aren’t meant to stay there.
We can receive the Holy Spirit but it means nothing if we remain fearfully behind closed doors…
One closing thought, going back to Sarah and her laugh. The mysterious 3-in-1 shows up in her life and shares the stupendous idea that she will finally have a child after all these years, and she’s skeptical.
I’d like to say “Good for Sarah.”
Others want to condemn Sarah for laughing; some will claim she must have had little faith.
I’m thankful Sarah laughed- you know why?
Because maybe that’s what God needed to hear.
You know how some people seem to drag their feet; some people keep putting things off; some people seem to slack off until you give them a firm reminder?
Maybe Sarah’s laugh is what put the fire under God’s butt to take action.
If you read the full story in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are about 75 years old when God first calls them to leave their land and have a child.
Which means it takes God 25 years and about 3 more visits for the promise to come true.
If that’s not slacking, I don’t know what is.
Sarah’s laugh was steeped in years of waiting.
Maybe Sarah was doing her own kind of work when she laughed. Maybe she was tired of waiting and she knew the best way to move God along was to goad him on with a laugh.
Maybe Sarah’s laugh was her way of saying “Oh yeah”, which prompted God to say “I’ll show you.”
And a year later- the promised child was born…
…By the oaks of Mamre God appears- are we willing to do the work of welcoming?
In the heat of the day the hungry appear- are we willing to feed them?
In the safety of our own structured lives God speaks an impossible word- are we willing to listen?
We can be skeptical, we can laugh at the absurdity of it all, but are we also willing to do the work?
Can we, like Abraham and Sarah, do our own part to make God’s promises come true and to ensure that the blessings of God’s Kingdom keep coming down?
Amen and amen.