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Laughing at God: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2017, 12:29 pm
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Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

When’s the last time you had a good laugh?

 

Did you know laughter brings many benefits? I hadn’t really thought about it until reading an article about laughter therapy groups, in which people gather together and laugh. It might have started out as fake and forced, but there’s something so contagious about laughter, it became real. They were healthier for this time spent laughing.

 

People throughout many cultures laugh. What our laughter means can vary. In today’s Genesis reading, laughter expresses the human response to God’s promise and action.

 

Throughout the summer, we’re going to be reading through the book of Genesis and following the families whose stories are recorded. This week, we meet Abraham and Sarah, sometimes called Abram and Sarai, who were promised a new land and many descendants.

 

In chapters 12, 15, and 17, God continually promises they will be the ancestors of a great nation that will possess a fertile land. God uses grand metaphors- your descendants shall be as innumerable as the dust of the earth and as numerous as the stars.

 

Abram and Sarai have conscripted a slave girl to bear a child for them, so in chapter 17, God gets more specific, renaming and promising blessing to Sarah, with whom Abraham will have a son. At this promise, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

 

It is too much to believe. One of my previous parishioners would often say, “I have to laugh or I’ll cry.” Is that what’s found in Abraham’s outburst?

 

In the next chapter, God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. As was expected in their culture, Abraham and Sarah treat them with great hospitality, offering water, refreshment, and rest. Sarah’s been pushed back to her place in the tent. While she’s preparing food, she’s trying to catch the words of these strange and unexpected visitors.

 

What she hears is ridiculous. One says he’ll come back later and by then, Sarah will have a son. It’s so ridiculous, it hurts. How often has she waited, thinking, maybe this time, only to learn a few days later, no, there will be no child this month. Maybe she’s screamed enough into the night that her voice is hoarse, and cried enough that her eyes are dry. She’s past the time of thinking her cries will change anything. All that’s left to come out is a scoffing grunt of a laugh. Ha.

 

 

From behind the tent flaps, Sarah is heard. God speaks up, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” God repeats the promise, “I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

Scripture doesn’t record what happens in those months. We know from what happens later that a child is forming within Sarah. Her laughter is preparing to change.

 

Was there a loosening in Sarah that freed hope? Was there a pure giggle still waiting in her heart? Laughter waiting to finally have reason to burst out? Joy germinating and growing alongside the child?

 

Laughter came when her son was born. Wonder and joy and life- so real and present- in her arms. What other response could there be but amazed laughter? A mother’s laughter transformed when it encounters the fulfilled promise of God.

 

The child is named Isaac, which means laughter. Both father and mother laughed at God’s promise of a future beyond their hope. Now their laughter bears witness to God’s faithfulness. God fulfilled God’s promises and gave new life when it was least expected.

 

Their laughter causes God to ask, “is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” As people of faith, we may answer, no, God can do all things, even as we know that good things do not always come. Gathered today, in this place and in worship centers throughout the world, are those who long for a child, a home, a safe community, an end to addiction, and healing. It might be especially cruel to read this on Father’s Day, as some wish their prayers for a child were answered, or remember in grief the death of a child or parent, or live with complicated and painful – or nonexistent – relationships with family. We might wonder why God does not give us what we want, what we need.

 

God is not Santa Claus, giving us based on a list of good and bad. God owes us nothing, and yet- sometimes, we get to glimpse a wonderful sign of the life God is bringing to us all. We’re in the midst of a process of salvation God is working, the dawn of a new day in which all will be made well. We’re not there yet.

 

This scripture isn’t so much about God giving us something we want as it is about who God is. It points us to a God who keep promises when it seems God has forgotten the promise. It describes a God who has power to give life when everyone knows it’s over. It encourages us to hear God’s promises in trust. God has promised a new creation, peace, life, abundant feasts where no one is hunger, and an end to violence, sin, and death.

 

In this time, we might as well laugh at God’s promises. It is so hard to keep up hope. How can we keep working for what seems impossible- what will never come?

 

We gather to be grounded in God’s promise. We pray for healing. We continue to do what we can to join in God’s work. We help each other wait with faith, reminding each other who our God is and what our God does.

 

God gives life. God brings joy when all is past hope. God does awesome things like resurrecting the dead and making holy the sinner. We read in Romans, “God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Sarah and Abraham receive the fulfillment of God’s promises after they laugh in God’s face.

We have the kind of God who does the ridiculous out of love for God’s creation. God is reckless and foolish, blessing more than our faith deserves. More than we could possibly believe.

 

God acts crazy because God loves you. That’s worth laughing about.

 

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