Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7 Summer Series: Top Ten in the Bible
Elizabeth M. Deibert 12 June 2016
So we’re starting our summer series, which I hope will be meaningful to everyone, and will give us all a fresh look at a Top Ten List of Characters in the Bible. Obviously, we are not going to choose any member of the Trinity as a top ten character, because the Trinity is both one and three, but doesn’t add up to four. No, just kidding. But really every Sunday is a celebration of God, our loving Father, of Jesus, our Brother/Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our sustaining, mothering Counselor. So the top ten group does include some couples, some pairs, and some groups. The point is this: we are trying to get an overview of the whole story of the Bible. We are hoping that for all of the Sundays you are able to be here, you will capture the essence of a character or family of characters in the Bible. We start not with Adam and Eve, nor with Noah and his family, but with Abraham and Sarah, the couple who journeyed with God to a new place, who heard many promises from God and struggled to believe that these promises would come true.
Abraham and Sarah are like us. They experience the Divine Presence, hear the promise, and then life happens, and they say, “I don’t know. Do you really think God’s going to come through on that promise of numerous descendants? How could God possibly accomplish that, old as we are? We are going to need to take matters into our own hands.” (slide) And they do take matters into their hands and other body parts, and Ishmael is born to Hagar, Sarah’s servant. And we do not have time to go into all the pain that decision created for all parties involved. We do not have time to discuss now all the conflicts that have emerged generation after generation from that original mis-guided action. And another thing we will not have time to discuss, but it will emerge again with Joseph and his brothers next week: How bizarre is this world in the Old Testament in which women are property given over to men, and the men have children with wives and servants of wives. This is not an understanding of marriage that makes sense to us. So we will sift through some of the details of the stories, to find the heart of the message. I believe the message is this:
God takes Abraham and Sarah, who are sometimes trusting and going with God, and sometimes not trusting and going their own way, and God makes a big, audacious promise to them and keeps it. But they have to wait for twenty-four years. Seeing the promise to be impossible, they must still wait and trust. We enter the story as the promise is being asserted again and fulfilled in the gift of Isaac.
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." 10 Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." 15 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh." (NRSV)
The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Now Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." 7 And she said, "Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age." (NRSV)
Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born after those divine visitors came by. Now that is something to laugh about. But Sarah did not want to admit she laughed when the visitors were there. She was afraid that her laughter would demonstrate her mistrust of God’s promise. Abraham had laughed too, when God told him about this son and said to him, “Name him Isaac.” Just a bit earlier in chapter seventeen, Abraham and Sarah had been given their new names. Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah. And Abraham was told of physical sign of circumcision, a symbol of the covenant, a tradition which Abraham started with his family and household, when he was 99 year old. (slide) I expect that was NOT a laughing matter the day all those grown men got circumcised. (today’s about laughter so hope you don’t mind the humor, guys)
(slide) But laughter is the meaning of Isaac’s name. Name your son Laughter, for all will snicker at the boy born to a couple so old. Name your son Laughter, and remember that even when the promise is ridiculous, God will still come through for you. Name your son Laughter, Isaac, so that for generations to come, people will know that God bring joy just when we’ve given up. God brings joy and surprise when we have taken matters into our own hands, and messed up our family life with terrible conflict. Instead of being so worried, so upset, name your laugh about the blessing of God which is sure to follow your trouble. With a little laughter at yourself, put your trust in God. With the joy of humor, diffuse the hopeless or tense moment. Laughter has many meanings. For Sarah in the beginning, there was the laugh of disbelief, but then after Isaac is born, her laughter turns to relief and joy.
There will be other moments of tension to follow in the life of Abraham with his two sons, Ishmael, son of the maid Hagar, and Isaac, Sarah’s son. Ishmael’s name means “God listens” but this name has complex layers of meaning just as laughter.
(slide) Names are significant. Not just in the etimology of the name but in the reason the name is given. For instance, I was named for my grandmother Elizabeth Hancock Pruette. I was Elizabeth Pruette Mangum, and I knew that I was given her first and last name because my grandmother was upset with my mom for the name of my brother. So my naming was to make my grandmother happy. And my grandmother said, “Do not give her a nickname, but they did because they thought it was so cute that baby sister could not say her own name.” But as soon as I got old enough get away from the nickname, I went back to the full name of my grandmother, the singer.
What about your name? Why is it your name? How does it carry meaning for you? My name means “pledged to God.” When Richard and I discussed our names, we always wanted our children to have one family name as their middle name, one Biblical name (first or middle name), and we wanted their first name to be their called name and not a namethey shared with anyone in the immediate or extended family. Names are important, and how we handle names is equally significant. There are no excuses for not working hard to remember people’s names. Sorry. Names are important. They are part of who we are. They need to be handled with great care, attention, and affection. We have a Methodist pastor-friend named Henry in N. Carolina who uses your name frequently when talking to you. It can be meaningful.
(Who would have thought) Back to the boy called Laughter. Who would have thought? There was a day when his father was not laughing at all, but nearly crying, because it seemed that the death of his son was surely. Surely this was not right. And in fact, in late surprise, too late by most people’s sensibilities, God came through again, testing Abraham’s commitment and fulfilling the covenant. God can be trusted to come through, even though we go through times of laughter and tears, times of chaos when we take life into our own hands, times of worry when we wonder how God can possibly make it. But the remarkable and amazing thing about the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is this:
God reached out to humanity, and put trust in them/us—flawed human beings as bearers of the covenant by which God would bless all the nations. The covenant was never that just Abraham and Sarah and their family would be blessed. It was never that the people, Israel, were chosen to be special – just for themselves. No they were picked to become a blessing to all the peoples around them, even the Palestinians. So we must continue to pray for the fulfillment of that covenant of blessing. God said, “I will bless you and make your name great – that you might become a blessing.”
(slide) And so it is with us, the people of Christ’s new covenant, we have been blessed with this amazing grace of God that we might be a blessing to others by sharing God’s love in Christ. We are called as Abraham and Sarah were, to live faithfully in the covenant with God, that grace would abound, despite our failings. We are called to live faithfully in this covenant, trusting most of all, that God will make good on the promises, even when they are audacious and unbelievable. That’s where faith steps up to believe, to trust, to hope, and to wait to see God’s promises fulfilled in due time. As the Psalmist says many times, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait patiently for the LORD! (Psa 27:14 NRS) It took twenty-four years of waiting, but God made good on the promise. For as we read in Romans 8:28 All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to God’s purposes.”