Below is my sermon from June 18th, the second Sunday after Pentecost. It focuses on the story of Sarah laughing when God tells her she will bear a child, found in Genesis 18. If you’re curious, the whole story of Sarah and Abraham starts in Genesis 12, with the initial promises.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, in addition to being Father’s Day, is an important day in the church. The second Sunday after Pentecost, the first after Holy Trinity Sunday means that today is the first in our long, long season of ordinary time. It’s the non-festival half of the church year, and we will be in it from now until October.
Do I sound excited enough about this yet? I must say that the long months without festivals—without big celebrations—tend to wear on me. It doesn’t help that green just isn’t my favorite color, either.
But there is one thing I am excited about: this summer, we’re trying something new for worship, and will be using a different set of first lessons. Instead of jumping around, our first reading each week will more or less follow the previous week’s. And so, from now until October, we will work our way through the books of Genesis and Exodus, hearing the continuous story of the beginnings of God’s people.
We jump into the middle of the story this week, with Abraham and Sarah, and God’s promises to them. When God first called Abraham, God promised to make from him a great nation, God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants so that through them all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky, as many as the grains of sand on the earth.
But some time has passed since the promise was made, and Abraham and Sarah are now in their old age, and there are no children. It’s starting to look like there is no hope of the promise coming to fruition.
And here our reading for today picks up the story. God, disguised among three strangers, appears to Abraham and Sarah, who offer them welcome and hospitality. And God once again reminds them of the promise, saying, I shall return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.
And Sarah laughs. She laughs to herself because it’s all so implausible. Sarah knows as well as anyone that she is no longer capable of bearing children, and her husband isn’t exactly the picture of youth either. So she laughs, and asks herself the incredulous question—after I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?
Can’t you just imagine it? Sarah, eavesdropping on God’s conversation, is faced once again with the reality of her disappointment. Reminded that the whole of the promise rests on her ability, or inability, to bear a child. And so she lets loose the laughter of desperation, of lost hopes, the laughter that is the only option left to her unless she wants to cry.
I’m familiar with that laughter, and I know a lot of you are, too. There are times when it seems the only appropriate response is to laugh in the face of God’s promises. When God has promised that all people God’s children and deserving of love and respect, and yet we continue to struggle with racism, and sexism, and homophobia in our culture and in our own hearts, that bitter laughter can all too easily come bubbling up.
When God has promised to hear our prayers, to give us whatever we ask, and yet the cancer remains, the depression and anxiety are still there—Sarah’s laughter doesn’t seem so ridiculous. When God has promised that there will be a day when no one is hungry and everyone has what they need, it seems laughable when we look at the reality of the world, where growing inequalities mean that while some have plenty, more and more people struggle to even put food on the table or keep a safe home.
And in our frustration with the way things are, our despair at our own inability to effect real change, we join Sarah in her laughter. But then God’s question comes, interrupting Sarah’s laughter: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Can God fulfill God’s promises, despite the facts on the ground? Can God bring life even out of the dry husk that is Sarah, not to mention the 100-year-old Abraham? Abraham and Sarah don’t believe it to be possible.
But as Paul writes in Romans—hope does not disappoint us. We often talk about hopes as wishful thinking: “I hope it won’t rain”; “I hope I win the lottery”; “I hope the Phillies might win two games in a row.” (That last one, I don’t think even God can help with.)
But for Paul, hope isn’t wishful thinking. Rather hope is absolute certainty about the future, because our hope is grounded in God’s faithfulness to keep God’s promises. What God will do in the future is grounded on what God has already done. Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Hope does not disappoint us, because Christ died for us while we were still sinners.
The source of our hope is God’s love poured out for us in Jesus Christ, and in promises fulfilled. God kept God’s promise to Sarah to give her a son—despite her laughter, despite her doubt. Suffering and doubt do not last always, and our weariness can never limit God’s graciousness.
Sarah and Abraham’s son was called Isaac, which means, he laughs. The laughter of despair became the laughter of hope and new life. Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s keeps God’s promises. Like Sarah, we might wonder when, and how. God’s when and how don’t always match up with ours. That’s ok, though.
But let us not despair in the meantime. Let us not lose hope that God will keep God’s promises. And may we, as the church, as the body of Christ in the world, live in that hope, live in those promises. May we trust in God’s promise that all people are made in the Father’s image and let that promise shine forth in our own lives and actions. May we trust in God’s promise that someday there will be no hunger, and let that promise drive our loving kindness.
May the promises of God, may the love of God in Christ Jesus, and may the hope of God, guide our lives and our love. For hope does not disappoint us. Amen.