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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Loves To Surprise Us and Bless Us With Laughter - 06/14/2020

Consider what this story from the lives of our ancestors in faith tells us about the ways God acts and moves and conspires for abundant and sacred life among God’s people.

If we had been in God’s creation some 4,000 years ago, and we heard that God was preparing to choose the forefather and foremother of our faith, I don’t believe any of us would have guessed it would be Abraham and Sarah.

Their story really starts when they were still called Abram and Sarai. Abram was 75 years old and he and Sarai had remained childless.

Even so, “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:1-3) Wow, that’s a lot to promise – many descendants, enough to make a nation. Promises of sure protection, of being a beneficial and welcome presence to everyone.

It’s an unexpected choice. And it continues to be quite inexplicable as the story continues. They go to Egypt first, where in order to save his own skin, Abram tells the Pharaoh Sarai is his sister and he can have her, and Pharaoh takes her. Abram feared if he knew Sarai was his spouse, Pharaoh would just kill him and take Sarai anyway. Guess it worked out better for Abram. Maybe not so much Sarai. Abram also got quite wealthy while in Egypt too. But while they were there, a plague hit and Pharaoh caught wind of what Abram had done. Assuming the plague was a punishment for taking a living man’s spouse. So Pharaoh sent Abram and Sarai packing.

And, it’s not what we might have guessed, but again, God offers promise and blessing. “The Lord said to Abram … “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.” (Gen 13: 14-18)

And that is where we find our fore-parents of the faith where we join the story today, although a lot happened between that day Abram pitched his tent at the Oaks of Mare and the day the three divine visitors arrived.

For one thing, Sarai decides to tell Abram to take her Egyptian slave Hagar and see if he could conceive a child with her. At least then he would have an heir. Abram did so and he did have a son. He was 86 when Ishmael was born. Not surprisingly, the whole arrangement caused a lot of trouble in the household, some of which we’ll hear about next week.

And then when Abram was 99 years old and Sarai was 90, and they still had no child of their own, unexpectedly, God spoke with Abram again and made the covenantal promise again. This time God also renamed this unlikely couple. They would now be known as Abraham and Sarah. It was as though they were just born; as though life were just beginning for them. To Abraham God said: “I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” (Gen 17:5-6)

And for Sarah God said, “I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Gen 17:16) God also told Abraham of the son Sarah would finally give birth to and that he would be called Isaac.

Before that finally happens though, there was more family drama and the whole Sodom and Gomorrah episode, not to mention another incident in a foreign land where Abraham tried to pass Sarah off as his sister again. But God was quite serious about establishing Abraham and Sarah as our forerunners of the faith, and so prevented wrong-doing and wrong-going and brought about restoration in relationships, health and wholeness, and then, finally – Isaac.

We will hear more stories of Isaac and Abraham and Sarah and Ishmael and Hagar in the weeks to come. Just remembering this much of the story, though … is it really any wonder that Sarah laughed when she heard the three strangers talking to Abraham? “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Gen 18:12)

I mean she too left everything she knew to go with Abraham as God directed – she had heard the promise of descendants more numerous than stars in the sky since she was only 74 years old. It was implausible then! Now here she is nearly 100 years old. Her child-bearing years – by any sense of reason and logic – are long-over. Any of us would have thought the same thing. And so when she hears one of the of strangers say, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son,” (Gen 18:10) – of course she laughs! The idea is laughable!

But here’s what we learn from this story about this God of ours and how God acts and moves and conspires for abundant and sacred life among God’s people. This is not a God constrained or limited by human reason or logic, like all the other little, small “g” gods we tend to worship in this world.

This is a God who surprises us and blesses us with laughter, even in the dimmest of situations, even when so much human reason and logic points elsewhere.

I think we are in shoes like Sarah’s today …

… Reason and logic might make us fear that because we must be very cautious and avoid gatherings that can transmit COVID-19, we are going to lose too much …

… Reason and logic may convince us that risking and maybe even sacrificing the health and lives of God’s people is necessary to maintain a strong economy or rescue the GDP or fix the unemployment problems …

… Reason and logic may even try to make us believe that we are abandoned to the pandemic, to systemic racism and to a bleak national future by our God.

It’s not likely we will come out of this stronger and more deeply connected to God and each another, right?

It’s inconceivable that our faith community may even grow in a future in which we will finally birth one nation, with liberty and justice for all, right?

It’s implausible that we could walk away from everything we’ve ever known, everything we though was “normal,” and maybe even screw up a lot along the way … and then come out of it all into a future full of promise and blessing and abundance and God’s presence, right?

It’s laughable, isn’t it?

That’s what Sarah though – and then came the day when she said, “‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ … ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” (Gen 21:6-7)

Friends, we ae in for a prolonged time of finding different ways to be God’s church. Until we have a vaccine, we cannot gather as we have our whole lives, most of us. But I implore you, do not let your faith be overpowered by the endless doses of reason and logic the world serves up for us. Because we are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah – the ones who are as numerous as the stars of our night skies – and we know, this is a God who surprises us and blesses us with laughter, even in the dimmest of situations, even when so much human reason and logic points elsewhere. Amen.

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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