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01.28.18 The One Who Laughs Best Genesis 17:15-17, 18:1-15 Sermon Summary

by on January 29, 2018

Note: This sermon was delivered in 1st person as Abraham.

We all know family life can get complicated. Being a religious person, following God and all that, it doesn’t insulate you from family struggles. Marriage partners can get impatient. Children can still be recalcitrant.

Some things don’t change just because you have God in your life. You and the people around you still have your egos. Feelings get hurt. People get sick and die. The kings above you act badly. The weather changes. The economy falters.

Sometimes things DO change, though, when you’re walking with God. Like my name. God changed it from Abram to Abraham. Abram means “the Father is exalted.” I learned to do that at an early age back in Ur of the Chaldeans, to exalt the divine ancestor, the divine name, the divine father.

Then THIS God comes into my life and moves me to Haran, then to Canaan, promising me this land and descendants as numerous as the stars. That’s what Abraham means: “Father of a multitude.”

Sarah was in on it, too. This God claimed her like he claimed me. The meaning of her name didn’t change. She was a princess before and a princess still. But the pronunciation changed. She would be my partner. God knew I couldn’t have a child without her. Well, except for Ishmael. But this God promised to take care of Ishmael also. He just wanted to fulfill the original promise through Sarah.

So almost twenty-five years after first making the promise God shows up in these three visitors. I wasn’t expecting them. It was the middle of the day. No one should have been passing through. But they appeared there and I did what anyone would do in the desert. I offered them hospitality.

It’s dangerous to be out in the desert too long. Your body gets dried out. You start seeing things all distorted like. You don’t think right. You become tired and hopeless. It’s like that in the desert for your body, but also for your spirit. If someone don’t show you hospitality your faith dries up and dies.

Anyway, Bedouin hospitality rules say you offer your best to your guests—like you did with homeless families last week. Sarai—I mean Sarah—made some bread cakes with our finest wheat and I selected a choice calf from the heard, and we put out a spread for our surprise visitors. To be honest, it was a meal fit for a king, and good thing, too, because these were messengers of the LORD.

It’s like a Rabbi would say to his disciples later, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” We were, as it is written, “entertaining angels unawares.”

Sarah and I became pretty good at hospitality even though we were in a foreign land. Sometimes when you’re waiting and waiting FOR God it’s easier to pass the time waiting ON God, responding to the needs of others while you wait for God to respond to your needs.

Anyway, in the course of the conversation the visitors say they’ll come back and “in due season” Sarah will bear a son. I did the math. In due season I would be 100 years old and Sarah would be 90. “Here we go again,” I said to myself.

Not much earlier God had reminded me of his promise. When he renamed me Abraham: Father of Multitudes. He reminded me of the promise that started it all almost twenty-five years earlier and I fell down laughing. Turns out Sarah was listening at the tent door and when she heard what these visitors said she also laughed.

We’ve thought about this a lot—about this laughing when God makes a promise. Part of the reason I was laughing was because I was nervous. When God changed my name he also gave me the “sign of the covenant.” Remember that long ritual I had to do when I cut the animals in two and waited all day for God to reveal something? Well, the sign of the covenant required something else to be cut—cut around in a circle. “Circumcise”—to put it in Latin for you. Yeah, after that, anything else the LORD said made me a little nervous.

You know how it is. You take a little step in your walk of faith and God reveals a little more about himself and about you and it’s a little unsettling. So you wonder just how far God is going to take you down this unsettling path on the walk of faith.

After the whole “sign of the covenant” the next time God spoke I felt like crying. But I also thought “Well, you BETTER give me a child and it’s about time, after what I just did for you!” Anyway, God spoke and I just laughed.

Sarah laughed for mixed reasons of her own. She thought about our aging bodies. The whole thing is laughable when you envision it: Making the child, having the child, raising the child. Both of our bodies had withered if you get my drift.

Plus, it had been nearly 25 years since the promise first came. About half way through that time we lost patience and brought Hagar and Ishmael into it. God is faithful to his promises, even when we take shortcuts. Or try to, anyway. As I said, Hagar and Ishmael were going to turn out OK.

So Sarah laughed in PART because of our old age and in part because of our old spirits. Like these three visitors we had found ourselves in the middle of nowhere in the heat of the day. Spiritually speaking we were exhausted.

And she probably wouldn’t tell you this herself, but I think she also laughed because a part of her still hoped, After all the years of trying and failing, after watching Hagar with Ishmael, after praying and listening to God’s promises, after following God on this circuitous walk of faith, part of her still wanted to believe.

And that’s what she SHOULD have said, because the visitors heard her laugh and wanted to know why. “I didn’t laugh,” she said. “Oh, yes,” one of them answered. “You did laugh.”

Now you might think the messenger of the LORD would be angry at people laughing at God’s promises. But there was something in the way he said it: “Oh yes, you did laugh.” There was a spark in his eye and a curl to his lips. It was almost like he admired Sarah, or appreciated her mixed up feelings, or knew something she didn’t know.

You’ve heard the proverb, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” It refers to the one who wins a game but only at the end. This messenger looked like he had an ace up his sleeve. It was almost like this messenger wanted to laugh with us, to really whoop it up.

That’s when I realized these weren’t just visitors. It was God was with us. And later I figured something out. Maybe our laughter is the tickling of God’s Spirit, a movement of God’s Spirit in our lives confirming God’s presence. Because when God is around we humans are bound to laugh. Something happens to us when God shows up. We become nervous or afraid or confused. We realize we’re disbelieving or despairing or nearly out of faith. Or we think what a ridiculous waste of time this has all been.

And then at just the right time God heaps the blessing upon us so there’s nothing else to DO but laugh. To laugh at ourselves. To laugh in thanksgiving. And to laugh with the one who laughs last, and who laughs best. Think about that the next time you find yourself laughing.

Eucharistic Prayer

Creator God, we thank you for bringing us together today, for calling us by name as you called Abraham and Sarah, and for leading us in our walk of faith. As you led our ancestors in this faith through trials and hardships, delivering them to a praise and thanksgiving, we remember them, we remember their testimony, and we remember your faithfulness.

To Abraham and Sarah you promised a blessing to the nations, and in Jesus Christ we have received the fulfilment of this promise. He opened the channels of your grace beyond his religious tradition. He welcomed all people to your bountiful table. He paid for his wide hospitality with his life, but you raised him from the dead in order that his ministry of welcome may continue until all whom you created and call are redeemed.

Send your Spirit we pray, that we may receive the tickling presence of your promises once again. Receive our laughter, whether scoffing or rejoicing, whether nervous or confident, as part of our response to and acknowledgment of your presence. And receive and feed us at this table, again as we respond to and acknowledge your presence here by the Spirit. In the name of Christ our host we pray. Amen.

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