Genesis 18: 1-15
You’ve got to love the supermarket tabloids. Really. Now I know that NONE of us buy them, neither do I, but I’m sure that a good fair share of us stand there and read the headlines as we wait for the cashier to do a price check for the shopper in front of us in line who picked up a can of peas or something else that most of us wouldn’t buy to begin with, with no price tag. Thank goodness there is up to the minute news for us to check out as we wait, or entertainment as the case may be, for us to read brought to you by the local tabloids.
Check this out…a tabloid from Pascagoula, Mississippi reported, “73 year old Elvis allowed to fake his death so fans wouldn’t know he’d been jailed on drug charges.” How about this one, “Santa’s elves - slaves from the planet Mars” so reported the Egg Harbor tabloid in New Jersey. What about this from the Weekly World News, “Man marries pet goldfish and takes it to Baltimore Aquarium for Honeymoon”, and a personal favorite of mine also from the Weekly World News, “Housewife experiences half-rapture and gets stuck in the dining room ceiling”. Wow, so much for end of the world rapture theories. We better make sure it is the real rapture that will take us completely through the ceiling before we get caught up in rapture theories.
Then there’s this one, “After visited by other worldly, ethereal like beings, woman pushing 100 years old gives birth”. This one was reported by the Holy Bible, the 18th chapter of Genesis. You have to admit; today’s scripture could actually make a very nice, very impressive, very enticing tabloid headline for tomorrow. Surely it would sell thousands of papers.
Let us now hear the story of Sarah and Abraham as they hear the news of her pregnancy.
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. 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. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
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.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 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.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 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. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 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.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Sarah’s story is a very unbelievable story like most of the tabloid headlines. They make you stop and think, could this really be, can this really have happened? Who are they trying to kid? Nope, never happened! And yet, we read on! What’s different about this story of Sarah’s impending motherhood is that it is true. Unlike the splashy, exploitive headlines of the National Inquirer or the Weekly World News, where stories take advantage of our emotions and nurture our ability to dabble into the extremely inquisitive and strangely eccentric side of human nature, Sarah’s predicament, or rather prayers finally answered were divinely orchestrated.
But we know in life that unbelievable, far-fetched things happen. Particularly, and especially, if you are a believer and a follower of God. I think that we are open to a mirage of possibilities that might defy human understanding. For as we know, all things are possible with the Creator no matter how weird and unfathomable it may seem at times. There still are those times that are WOW moments.
Last week, we heard about Hagar and Ishmael, this week we are backing up a chapter or two in Genesis as we explore the ancestral stories or sagas of Abraham and his descendents. Imagine if you were Sarah. Well into the crone years of your life, your youthful beauty now only a shade of your former self, has experienced the cessation of her menses, and way beyond the energy level of a young expectant mother, she finds out that she, and her beloved husband Abraham, are going to parent a child together. Unbelievable! Incredulous! And so tabloid-esque.
Sarah, an aged woman, advanced greatly in years, stooped over maybe with osteoporosis is going to give birth. Imagine being Sarah, and at 102 or 103 you will be taking care of an energetic, determined and strong willed, well meaning and loveable two year old? Oh those terrible two’s. Or even more taxing yet being a 117 year old parent to a 16 year old. Talk about generation gap, this is a generations gap.
And yet Sarah and Abraham, I’m sure after getting over the shock of it all, are elated and happy beyond belief. It is a dream come true for them. Finally after all these barren years, after all these years of wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ and prayin’, they are going to have a baby. And they believe. They trust that everything will be all right, because they have proof that, with God, everything does turn out ok.
God told Abraham to leave his home in Ur and begin anew, and Abraham obeyed. God told Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan, and it was so. God and Abraham are in a covenantal relationship that becomes the hallmark of their association and life together. Abraham was not perfect and yet God tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations. As many stars in the sky, that’s how many children that Sarah and Abraham will beget. This is God’s everlasting covenant and prayer.
Where there is covenant there is relationship. It cannot be any other way. God’s covenant is not necessarily reciprocal like the kind that we make with one another. I am your pastor and we covenant to walk together as the God’s faithful people as Orange Congregational Church. We covenant with other Churches to do the work together of the United Church of Christ. The UCC remains committed to being in relationship with other Church body denominations and to be the gathered Christian community. These covenants are built upon shared interest, a deep and abiding love for God, mutual admiration, respect, and human trust.
A covenant with God is different than other covenants though because it is made by human hearts in harmony with divine wisdom and love whom we call God. God is the sovereign one and we are not. Now God will never go back or turn away from the promises that are made no matter how irresponsible we may be. No matter how many times we may forget our end of the covenant, or somehow blow it to pieces, God doesn’t renege or retract a promise made. I find that so reassuring that God will always be my partner in life and walk with me trough those narrow and dark passages of life, when I’m at odds with the world. And for our part, all God asks for is a little obedience. Not too difficult, right?
Wrong! Obedience goes against every self-evolved, self-reliant, self-sufficient, independent muscle in our body. God lays out the command, love me and love your neighbor as yourself and in return all God asks for is obedience to the command. We often falter. But that’s ok. That’s what redemption is all about. A covenant made, a covenant breached by the error of our human ways, a covenant renewed. It is an ongoing, circuitous movement of relationship. That is God’s love.
Obedience to God is to get out of the way of ourselves and to trust that God will get you to where you need to be. Abraham was called out of his homeland to part unknown and he obeyed. It wasn’t easy, he faltered yet he obeyed and God blessed him. God will bless us too just like Sarah whose prayers were answered, in time, our will be too.
Recently I heard of one man who lost his job and yet each morning puts on his business suit, boards the train and off he goes. Not to his office but to nowhere just so that people would not find out that he had been laid off from his job. His dignity gone, his identity crushed, money running out, he lost his way and could not find the inner strength to believe and remember the covenantal relationship and promise of God. Rather than lean on his friends and church during this time, he ran. But God says, “Trust me, you will make it, you will find another way, you have neighbors who need you and you need them”.
Sarah and Abraham’s baby is born and they name him Isaac. It wasn’t some tabloid headline but a real promise and delivery by God.
In time God made another additional covenant for us Gentiles, who is Jesus Christ. “Trust me”, God says, “my son is for you. Jesus will show you the way in which you must go in your life. He can help you chart out the path that you must take. He can help you with that obedience ‘thing’. He will show you a more perfect love, forgiveness and redemption. Trust me”, God says, ‘follow him’.