Abraham and Sarah - God's Faithfulness
This week’s sacred story comes from Genesis 18 and 21, where Abraham and Sarah are promised a child, yet again. We engage this story that is perhaps all too familiar to some of us, and wonder together about God’s faithfulness even during times of doubt and fear.
I grew up in a very “God helps those who help themselves” kind of world surrounded by the quintessential faith communities one might expect to find in the southern portion of the Bible Belt. I grew up in an ELCA Lutheran church, but most of my formative years were spent with my friends in attendance at their southern baptist and non-denominational churches in town. These were the places I first learned about God’s unending faithfulness and promise to provide for me and my life.
...if I did all the right things and immediately repented the second I found myself living a life of sin.
I remember so vividly the palpable discomfort I felt when the call went out during worship to come forward if you felt that the Lord was calling you to ask him into your life and heart.
Because the things was: I knew that God had already called me Beloved. I knew that I’d been baptized as an infant, and that I was already a child of God, and that there was NOTHING I could do that would make that go away.
And yet...the doubt crept in. What if all that wasn’t enough? What if because I hadn’t done this specific thing, made the specific decision and said the specific prayer, I wasn’t ready to REALLY be a Christian and receive the promises of God’s faithfulness?
Doubt and fear are found in our sacred story today too.
Abraham and Sarah are one of the first few families we are introduced to in the Bible following the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, and his family. The story of Abraham and Sarah is one full of trials and tribulations and at the same time great joy and triumph. Their story is so important to us as people of faith not because of their perfect behavior or faithfulness, but because they were REAL people with real doubts and struggles even in the midst of God’s plans and promises.
Today’s story finds Abraham and Sarah in the home they have made for themselves as Abraham is healing from the circumcision God instructed him and all his household to have.
God has promised to make of Abraham many great nations, that Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the sky, and that he will be a great ancestor. All of this, in the structures of a covenant where both Abraham and God had things to uphold on each of their ends.
Abraham was 75 years old when God first made these promises. He was 75 years old and had not lived anywhere other than his hometown of Haran. And yet when the voice of God spoke and promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, Abraham listened. Abraham listened and he and his wife Sarah left his father’s house as God instructed. They were faithful to the covenant God made with them.
In today’s sacred story, Abraham and Sarah are at 99 years old and there have been lots of bumps along the way. Abraham and Sarah both do things that don’t honor their relationship with one another, or their relationship with others. Abraham gives his wife Sarah to other men TWICE telling them she is his sister, in an effort to make his life simpler, and y’all that just feels all kind of messed up!
And yet BOTH TIMES God intervenes and returns Sarah safely to Abraham and tells them to continue on their way.
Just two chapters before today’s text, Sarah grows weary of waiting for God’s promise of children to be fulfilled and instructs her husband Abraham to conceive a child with one of their enslaved women, Hagar. This is clearly an abuse of power on both Sarah and Abraham’s part. Hagar’s position as a slave makes it next to impossible for her to say no the request and demands of Abraham and Sarah, her employers and the people whom she depends entirely on for survival.
In this demand from Sarah, several relationships are fractured and the wholeness that God desires for all people is shattered. Sarah messes up, big time.
And God sees the pain inflicted on Hagar and has compassion on her. He asks her to return back to Sarah and Abraham - something that I still struggle with - but promises too that Hagar will have offspring more numerous than she can count and a relationship of trust is re-established between Hagar and the Lord.
Fear and doubt crept in and caused Sarah and Abraham to act in reprehensible ways, and yet God continues to journey with them and in infinite grace and mercy, the covenantal relationships she established at the beginning of time, continue.
And so here we are in today’s text. Three visitors have arrived at Sarah and Abraham’s tent and the voice of the Lord speaks through them to Abraham at 99 years old. And as Sarah prepares bread and yogurt for them, she listens and hears the same promise spoken from these visitors that she and Abraham have been living and working towards for literal decades. And she GUFFAWS. She laughs with years of pent up frustration, doubt, anger, and bitterness. She laughs in the kind of way that you might when things are SO bad that it’s laughable. Maybe she laughs so she doesn’t cry.
She laughs and the Lord hears her.
God hears Sarah’s laughter and with it all of the fear and doubt from years of frustration.
But God does not punish Sarah for her doubt. God acknowledges it, and God at long last fulfills the covenant that Abraham and Sarah will have a child. And this child is named Isaac, which in Hebrew means laughter, or, he laughs.
“God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”
Sarah’s bitter filled laughter is turned to a laughter of surprise at the unending faithfulness of God.
God’s faithfulness and grace can be like that sometimes. Shocking. Unexpected. And yet, there when we seem as though there is nothing else left to hope for.
Thanks be to God that God doesn’t always help those who help themselves, but brings us back into a right relationship with God even when we try to help ourselves.
And thanks be to God that even in our fear and doubt, we always remain God’s Beloved.
Thanks be to God that there is nothing we can ever do that will separate us from that love.