Genesis 18:1-15 sermon, 7.21.19
Try Not To Laugh
Visualize a verse for a moment. That is, I’d like you to create some picture in your mind when I say this Bible passage: Blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and obeys it. Does your mind light up to think of what blessed is there - can you see the blessed person who hears the Word? Sure, you might picture Mary from today’s Gospel, but how to picture “blessed”? Do you have concrete examples of what it means to “obey” - is it some stoic and rigid, strict and serious obedience, like on a tightrope suspended over a cavern of death - obey or else? Or how about the thoughts and speech and behavior that those blessed by the Word demonstrate Colossians 1 for today - did you hear it - the gospel has come - how blessed to hear it - and it bears all these fruits, these outcomes.
It is with this marvelous purpose that three strangers appear, a coming of God yet again in lowly and hidden disguise that we might be tested and learn to trust in words by faith in God...angels of God and God himself to Abraham in the heat of midday - does not come for the inglorious outcome that we would hear his transformational word and walk far away from it with disbelieving laughter in our bellies.
Abraham has had this and shows it here with the visitors. How do you get the outcome of such gracious hospitality and generosity? Abraham has heard the Word with Spirit-taught obedience and he knows he is blessed. Really, that is all God has been working in Abraham since we first heard his name in Genesis 12. Chapter 15 started to work on the promise of a people through Abraham...not just land issues - but an heir! The safety of his family, the promise of land a future nation would surely possess and the certainty of a male heir, a son, coming from Abraham’s own body - God even changed his name from Abram to Abraham - “father of nations or your name means nothing!”
The result here is beautiful. Abraham is running in full stride of faith and we can “see it”: strangers are a chance to serve as one who bows before God, so I bow humbly not to worship but to serve any person God has made. It is Abraham’s first witness to them that they are important because they are people and God loves people and has a promise to say to them. Though they be strangers, and though they be God and his angels (John 8:56). God has given us stuff to use just for this - for our family, for those in need, to support the government and to carry out his mission in the Church in our world. What else is that milk, bread and tender calf given to be used for?
Then the business surfaces, the purpose of their visit in the context of Genesis and God’s plan revealed and put into action to make a nation from Abraham and Sarah. “Where is Sarah?” is the key transition that calls our attention to
A matriarch of a nation - or is she? She had long abandoned this idea. Don’t you get it? Do you feel her feelings and know her thoughts? This day was, in a sense, 25 years in the making. She was 65 and childless when Abram first heard the voice of the LORD to pack it up and be a stranger in the world and starter of a nation. “You will be many nations...and a blessing to all!” What promise - this involves every person forever!” And she had her goosebumps!
But when do you start to doubt things? Or worse, quit hoping? Sarah had grown beyond uncomfortable with her own situation. Disappointed? Hurt? Calloused? Feeling left on the sidelines of someone else’s promise and life?
Sure, Abraham may still father a child, but how many month-to-month cycles had she waited and wondered about getting pregnant and it never happened? 10 years later...Moses tells us age for a reason...a now 75 year old Sarah says to her 85 year old husband Abraham, “the Lord has kept me from having children. Here, take Hagar my servant and have an heir through her. God must not want me to be such an integral part of this to have a child myself.”
Chapter 17 - Another 15 years passed - 15 years! she is 90 years old. God speaks to Abraham and changes both their names to promise by such a certainty that their names testify that he will be “father of many” and she, like a “princess” will give birth herself that she might be matriarch of nations - kings will come from her.”
All these words were given to Abraham. Surely he passed them on and called her by her own new name, but she didn’t believe them. It was all too late. And that’s why three Strangers have arrived and are ready to speak God’s Word with a “push”: “Where is Sarah?”
“There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
She overhears them from the tent - just as we are overhearing it from Scripture today. The matter is the same for us both - God says things too wonderful to reason and sense - but he says them nevertheless, he says them as truths to be taken in, conquering all contradiction. Keep in mind too that this promise of having a son is tied and linked together to the same hope in a Savior you have - it is no different - this child was for spiritual descendants too because we needed a Savior come as God-with-us!
All God has done for us that has been revealed is here spoken to Sarah, just at a different stage - here the seedling, the shadows, now have the same God and same spiritual hope in him given to us but in reality; Jesus is the Word God speaks to the world then and now. You are called to hear this Word, you are empowered to believe it and transformed by it to live altogether differently because of the sure love of God and his power at work. When you hear God say “is anything too wonderful, too difficult, too miraculous for the Lord - it is a timeless truth about God that no physical entity has ever stood defiantly against God like some immovable, unalterable reality. No, our God is in heaven - he does as he pleases! (Psalm 115:3, 135:6)
But she is sick, infected by a powerful lie because it is based on material things like human age and human ability, but not on God’s Word. Such a disease made her laugh in disbelief at first.
If God speaks with a push, like a wind in the sail. If God’s Word breathes spiritual life into spiritually dead people, then whatever is not believed in and used remains your own dead weight. God doesn’t want any of that – it’s a full-steam ahead goal, all parts active and made useful to you. Satan stretches all our realities into untruths and anti-Scriptures – yes, you are a sinner, but he wants you to think you are such a sinner that no God would ever lift a finger for you.
Are you bothered having a fly zoom free in your house? What if a hundred wild monkeys ran about? Sarah is in danger of being tied up in a bundle of thought-knots without God's Word.
You may not be saying “and I don’t think we’re sinners anymore or that Jesus, true man and true God, died and rose for us.” But teachings of gender and relationships and marriage and life at conception and sin and forgiveness are all in the same book - taking a whack at anything God says puts a crack of doubt in the same foundation, the same Word.
Sanctity of human life is much more than a social issue or cause - it is what it is because of the LORD, the author of life. At his Word, life is given and taken away. Why one man and one woman, why life at conception? Why an ethic for end of life issues? Why address gender identity and sexual orientation? We care about these because God does first. We value marriage because of what God said. If God were silent on the issue, our passions and efforts would be meaningless. We get our courage and strength to say what we say and live as we live only because God said something first!
This is what cleaning the floors and cooking meals can’t provide you, Martha - it’s what makes what Mary chose - sitting at the Lord’s feet - something that Jesus calls “better”.
Now she shows another sickness by lying. Not surprisingly perhaps. Another chief enemy found within her own heart is self-defense mechanism. The button we always want to push to save face. Rather than show our weakness and find strength in God, rather than reveal the deadly wounds of our own sin and be healed/cured by full and free forgiveness. We’d rather cover them over so no one could see our gaping wounds - especially ourselves.
Perhaps we should rejoice that this conversation didn’t continue – that three times or four she did not continue to deny like kids at recess – no I didn’t, yes you did, no I didn’t, yes you did – to an endless and empty argument that accomplishes nothing.
That the full array of heaven’s lightning rods failed to deploy upon each hair of her head is remarkable and remember the loving discipline we have from our heavenly Father in our own weakness and bold denials of sin. Weep and mourn – but know there is a laugh for you that remains – one that is not apart from God, but with him – in the joyful surprise of the depth of grace and his love – the clasp your hand over your mouth awe at mercy too wonderful for us, but faithfully given and new every morning from the Lord. There’s a fruit of that faith in a loving and merciful God – a fruit worked by the Spirit in one whose trust is made to increase and is strengthened: peace and purpose. It’s time to tell a story and lead a family – to take the Word we have received and live it as those passing it on in stories and by example.
What God actually says to Sarah here leads her to himself and the promise of a Savior. It’s not just a distraction to talk about her laughter when we’d really like to talk about the promise. It’s shepherding her soul. So we end up with “yes, you did laugh” - for I hope you know Christianity is not primarily about presenting information and then you have some human choice of deciding to trust the promise and who doesn’t - but a much more personal word that ministers to us about sinfulness and the great work of God to save. God goes there because it’s worth it and it’s the way he keeps us close to him and his grace.
How much more intensely does she recognize the value of the promise by grace and not earning her spot as matriarch by persistence - what if she never came to grips with this at work inside? She may have valued some words of God, but would she ever bend at the knee, and treasured up the grace shown to her in the midst of this? So we see how gracious God is in all his ways and all he has to say in his Word to us.
Now we see who the real guests in life are - such a better life it is - don’t assume your hosting and handling life yourself is the way to live - no way! - let God serve you as he so longs and desires to, with his Word and let his Word keep its wings to soar above imagination and reason and nevertheless be true and real because our heavenly Father is giving it.
"God’s angels protect me." Childlike trust - don’t laugh in disbelief! When wicked people who’ve committed epic, public sins repent and have eternal life through faith in Jesus – don’t laugh in disbelief.
Was all this positive in the end? Yes. Sarah learned a new laugh. Not a laugh in disbelief, but bent over by joy in God’s great power and mercy. Chapter 21, she gives birth to Isaac and holds his frail body in her frail arms - “too wonderful for me, but not too wonderful for God,..” and says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” Yes we will giggle for delight in the Lord - in fact, that’s what I see now with the verse, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and obey it.”