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Second Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Our Old Testament lesson this morning draws us into the life of Abraham and Sarah.  In matters of love, marriage, family, and relationships, few stories in all of Scripture seem more compelling than theirs; at least to me.  Theirs was certainly no fairytale and yet, they are listed among the most faithful.

They greet us today in the winter of their lives.  Abraham is near 100 years and Sarah in her 90’s.  You may remember the promise of a son, Isaac when Abraham was 75 years and how God told him to pack up his belongings and go to a land not known.  Abraham and Sarah were to leave their homeland; leave the familiar, their families, customs and traditions, and become refugees, immigrants in a foreign land.

Now it takes a bit of courage to do something like that.  How many of us would have been stuck right there, paralyzed by fear and anxiety because we could not imagine a future for which we did not already have all the pieces worked out?

But faith doesn’t work that way, at least not in my experience.  In their old age just as they should have been ready to kick back and settle down on easy street, God tells them to get up and go.  And God doesn’t even bother to tell them where they are going.

This seems especially daunting since we humans tend to like to have all the answers worked out ahead of time and want to know the ending from the beginning.  We prefer the predictable and dread ambiguity.  And for most of us, we most assuredly like to think that we are in charge of our lives and can control our own destiny, do we not?

Then God makes what seems to be an even more ridiculous promise: “You will be the father of many nations and your offspring will be like the stars in the sky and sand along the seashore.”[1]    Such a thing to say to old people!

Ten years after the promise, Ishmael was born because they got tired of waiting. Who would not have?   Another 5 years and God renewed the promise once more – but still no Isaac.  And then, another 10 years pass before we get to our lesson today.  Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a promise, is it not?  Twenty-five years waiting for a dream.

And so we find them today.  Angels come and say to Abraham:  “Next year this time your wife will have a son.”[2]  And they were perplexed by it all and Scriptures tell us that Sarah laughed.  She laughs and I’ve tried to imagine that laugh.  I understand, don’t you?

Sarah laughs, I think, at the absurdity of it all.  She laughs because she realizes the improbability of what she had just heard. She laughs because she is smart enough to do the math and she knows that there are parts of her body that have been long dead.

Sarah laughs and I think she laughs for all of us – perhaps to keep from crying or screaming or going into hysteria.  She lives in the real world and she knows something about disappointment, pressing against the odds.  She knows about trying to live faithfully and trying to please a God that seems silent.  She laughs because she sees no answer to the dream in which she had hoped.

Do we not laugh at the absurdity of God’s dream for the world and our shared humanity?  Do we not laugh in utter disbelief that something else is possible for us; something new and wonderful and transformative beyond the hatred and indifference; the malice and lies that flood our days and our news?  Does it not seem ridiculous to keep holding out hope that justice will prevail; that right will win in the end?  That love is the highest good and civility will one day be normative?  That people will be celebrated simply for loving and it won’t matter in the least the color of their skin, their gender, or sexual orientation? It’s almost laughable, isn’t it?  Except of course, it’s so painful; so dreadfully painful.

Sarah laughs perhaps because in the moment she forgot that God is not limited by human impossibilities.  She forgot that God is able to bring newness and life into the most final of human endings.  I think she had a momentary lapse in memory – like we sometimes forget that faith allows us to live with confidence in the present knowing that in the end God’s love will prevail somehow.

We may be long gone; it might take years and decades and it might appear that there is no movement at all but we must keep trusting; and we must keep endeavoring.  We can hold fast to the promise and keep hope alive because Sarah did have that son just as God had promised.  And down through 40-some generations of Sarah’s son, Jesus Christ, our Lord was born.

Hope is not blind, my friends. It does not deny the reality of the present. It takes the present into consideration but hope allows us to keep going beyond ourselves because we realize that we are not walking alone. We are walking with the One who demonstrates his love for us over and over again.

I’m hedging that Abraham and Sarah were just as overwhelmed about things as we are. They became heroes of the faith not because they did not experience doubts, frustrations, fears, questions, and anxieties; not because they did not grow tired and weary, but because they were able to transcend all of that.  They were able to look beyond and cling to a future they could not see.  They kept moving, never allowing themselves to become stagnant even when life appeared hopeless.

Call it faith or courage or some days, sheer determination but we have all set out on a journey, through paths untrodden and perils unknown looking for a place of promise.  I think that’s what it means to really follow Jesus – to be fully alive; fully human.  We set out looking for the promise and being willing to make it true.

When asked which the greatest commandment is, Jesus said:  “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”[3]  This is our hope:  that we might love our neighbor as we love ourselves.    Not just those persons who look like us, who think like us, or vote like us.  Our neighbors.  Not just those who live in our building or on our street.  Our neighbors for which all walls come down.

As you desire good for yourself, do good for others.  As you desire healthcare and privilege, and safety for yourself and sanity and hope for yourself, desire those same things for others and work toward that good.

Walter Brueggeman says that:

People who hope have confidence in God’s coming shalom, a rule of order, peace, security, justice, and abundance. Without denying any present disorder, confusion, or distortion, people who hope, watch, they wait, they pray, and expect that God’s shalom is as good as done. People who hope are people who act in the conviction that God’s future is reliably “present tense” and act upon it before it is fully in hand. The future is not in hand but it is at hand and when we understand THAT we not only have hope for ourselves – but we have hope for the world in which we live.[4]

The apostle Paul in Romans 5 helps us with this. Paul says: we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.[5]

It is a nice formula and it sounds good but deep down, I don’t like it very much.  I don’t like it because it starts out with suffering and I would rather not suffer. There are days when I feel like I have suffered way too much already; I’ve paid my share.  How about you?  I would much rather not go through anything more; not even to get to the other side of promise if I can help it.  I would much rather grow in faith in some other way if possible.

But alas, I am reminded that I don’t get a free pass, and neither do you.  To love God does not exempt me from anything.  We live in a broken, fractured world as we ourselves are broken, fractured, wounded, encased in flesh that is decaying.  We travail in dust and sometimes, the dirt gets all over us.  We are not exempt from the pains of life; as a matter of fact if you are never in pain given what you see and hear on a daily basis, then, my guess is that you are probably not doing something right. We ache for ourselves and for our world.  It’s uncomfortable and burdensome.

But Paul also tells us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Not tribulations.  No.  Not hardship or distress or persecution; not famine or nakedness; peril or sword.  No.  For in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, northings present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[6]

Never give up hope my friends.  Never.  Hold onto your faith come what may.  On the other side of the struggles and challenges are brighter tomorrows.   God counts on ordinary people like you and me.  Abraham and Sarah.  Methodists and Presbyterians; Catholics and Lutherans.  Gay and straight.  Black and white; young and old.  God counts on us to shine a light in the darkness and to make the impossible possible.  I am sure of it.

 

[1] Genesis 15:5

[2] Genesis 18:10

[3] Luke 10:27

[4] http://ngkok.co.za/Artikels/SufferingProducesHope-WalterBrueggeman.pdf

[5] Romans 5:3

[6] Romans 8:38-30 Paraphrase