Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7+Psalm 116:1, 10-17+
Romans 5:1-8+Matthew 9:25-10:23
I don’t often tell anyone what to or not to do in order to avoid consequences from God. Yes, I do counsel and preach and occasionally have pointed out sinful behavior, but I’ve never said to anyone to stop doing something or God’s going to come after you.
Well, I’m going to break that rule this morning and offer all y’all one foolproof warning.
Do not laugh at God.
Do not imagine that the seeming impossibility of God’s promises is actually impossible.
Because God will show you otherwise.
Just ask Abraham and Sarah, who were as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12) when God finally came through, and Sarah became pregnant with Isaac.
When God came to visit Abraham in the guise of three angelic visitors by the oaks of Mamre, Abraham offers the most generous hospitality he can. But it almost seems like they are just waiting for him to do what custom requires before they can reveal the real reason for the visit.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” (Gen. 18:9)
It is an annunciation as profound and unexpected and inexplicable as one that would come much later to an unwed girl from Nazareth.
Sarah has given up waiting and hoping and expecting. She was long past childbearing years. She could have been a grandmother or great-grandmother many times over. And here these visitors are telling her she’s going to have a son.
Of course she laughs.
She laughs in disbelief.
She laughs in nervousness.
She laughs because she is so beaten down by hopes denied that the very idea is absurd.
And then, caught in her laughing at God, she denies it. Who wouldn’t? You don’t laugh in the face of God’s messengers.
Ah, is there anything too wonderful for the Lord?
And when she gives birth, Abraham names the child Isaac, which means, “he laughs.” He’s not named that because Sarah laughed. He’s named that because a chapter earlier, Abraham literally falls on his face laughing when God makes the same promise later made to Sarah. The naming of Isaac is a constant reminder that you just can’t laugh at God’s promises. Or if you do, you’ll never live it down.
It is not recorded whether or not there was laughter at the calling of the disciples, but I can imagine that a lot of people got a real kick out of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, gathering around him a band of the least likely characters he could find to change the world. A handful of fishermen, a religious zealot, a tax-collector, and a few others. This is how Jesus is going to inaugurate God’s reign?
C’mon, Jesus. Surely you need a religious leader, someone well-versed in religious law and custom? And how about someone inside the halls of power, you know, to help push things along for you? And you’ve got to have someone with money. How are you going to do anything without money?
No, Jesus did not send out someone like me, a priest with theological credentials. He went to the shelter and invited a couple of the guests to come along. And he went to a toll booth on the turnpike and asked that one to join him. And maybe a bus driver and a sanitation worker, a housekeeper and a food service worker. All those people we once ignored yet now call essential. This is who he empowered to go out into the world to proclaim Good News.
And maybe they laughed at the thought. They had waited so long for something to change, for their lives to be different. They dreamt of escape from the yoke of Herod, Rome’s puppet in Palestine, who had his knee pinned to their necks. They watched as the rich got richer, and the poor just got hungrier and sicker and poorer.
Me, Jesus? You’ve got to be kidding.
But you can’t laugh at God.
This band of twelve passed the baton to another band of twelve, and another and another, until the Word of God spread throughout the world on an exponentially growing number of disciples. And the world was never the same.
God keeps God’s promises, as improbable as they may be.
And here we are in the year 2020 and an awful lot of people are sick and tired of being sick and tired, as Fanny Lou Hamer put it back in 1964. From 1619 to 1787 to 1865 to 1964 to 2020, from Africans brought to this country in chains to their descendants suffering indignity and death today, people are weary. The promises that have been made have been broken time and again. Like Sarah, maybe they are beyond believing that something good is on the horizon.
And maybe they laugh at the thought that things will ever be any different.
But God is moving. As unsettling and painful as it might be for White America, the world is turning. Our country is turning. We are finally paying attention to those voices that have cried out for justice, pointing out the unfairness in the systems and structures that add wealth to the bank accounts of white folk while denying the same to African Americans. We are finally taking a close look at the brutality of policing in America. We are finally beginning to understand what it means to say, “I can’t breathe.”
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (5:8). Well, we are still sinners, but we are justified, made right with God, through faith. There is nothing so utterly astonishing – not Sarah’s pregnancy, not a ragtag band of disciples – nothing so improbable and unlikely as that. God came to us in the person of Jesus who died and rose again in order to restore us – all of humankind – to God.
Don’t ever laugh at God.
You might just find yourself giving birth to the unexpected, wading into unfamiliar territory to talk about God’s love, or actually not resting until we finally live into the promise that we are all created equal.
Is there anything too wonderful for the Lord? Just you wait.