Sunday, June 18, 2017

Waiting to Laugh

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June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
1The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.3He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes."7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent."10Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"13The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?'14Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son."15But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."
1The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.6Now Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me."7And she said, "Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Sermon: "Waiting to Laugh"

What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait for something, I wonder? For me, it was 25 years. 25 years I waited for God to make good on a promise from another life, when I had another name. I was Abraham, not Abram. Sarah wasn’t Sarai anymore. But none of that “descendants like the sand on the seashore” promise had come true. We became what you might call expert waiters (which is just a fancy way of saying we were experts at disappointment).

After God changed our names with a ridiculous promise, we believed it for a while. Any little fleck of sun through the trees was a sign; any unexpected rain was a message from God; any internal nudge was God’s voice. Only it wasn’t. It was just the sun; just the rain; just indigestion. That promise became as old and weathered as our old bodies, and we stopped talking about it (which is a just a fancy way of saying we gave up).

I’d stared at those oak trees in front of our tent for decades. They were just trees: bark and leaves, roots and branches. But on that day, they became something different altogether. And so did ol’ Sarai and Abram. We became our new names. 

It was the heat of the day, and I was getting too old to be working in it. So, I perched myself outside the tent to try to get the best of the fickle breeze. I was admiring those old oak trees, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit jealous of their haphazard, thoughtless ability to give birth to new trees. Sarah and I told ourselves we didn’t need anything else in life (which is just a fancy way of saying we settled). But, jealous as I was, those trees were comforting, sheltering. They put my soul at rest. As I watched those fertile trees, suddenly in the wavy heat of the day, something else appeared in their shade. 

People. But not quite like any people I’d ever seen. I had thought my heart was only full of blood and obligation, and so it was quite a shock when I felt a real stirring (that wasn’t indigestion). I intuitively knew, the way you know when you meet the love of your life, that these strange foreigners were from God. 

I was surprised at how fast my old legs could take me — I ran to them, calling them holy names like “Lord” and begged not to pass by. Those old oaks became the holiest of sanctuaries and I asked them to stay, to rest, and to let me show them kindness. They agreed, and settled down to rest in that shade. I pulled out all the stops: freshly made bread, a fatted calf, curds and milk! Ah, you don’t sound that impressed. Trust me, on a hot day, you can’t beat curds and milk, y’all.

Anyway, I fed them because that’s just what you do when a stranger comes your way on a particularly hot day. I waited, wondering what might happen, or if these silent strangers had any message from God for me. 

Finally, one of them, wiping away his milk mustache, smiled and simply asked, “Where’s your wife Sarah?” 

With a shock I realized I hadn’t told them my wife’s name. The little flicker of faith in me burst to life, and I dared to hope that maybe God remembered a long-ago promise. 

It turns out, God never forgets God’s promises. That foreigner said the most shocking news as if he were simply reading the morning news: “I’ll be back to visit you again, in a year. By then, your wife Sarah will have had a son.” Sarah was of course listening from the tent and started laughing. And she never really stopped: we named the boy Isaac, after all, which means “he laughs” in our language. 

I’ve heard a saying from time to time (I have been around a while). 
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” 
Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but that seems awfully backwards to me! I say that if you want to find out God’s plans for you, follow your laughter. It will show you the way.

What, I wonder, is making you laugh these days? Not laugh at  someone, or with a sarcastic, desperate tone. I mean really laugh, belly to toes, eyes streaming tears of delight. When was the last time you laughed like that? How was God speaking to you through it?

If you feel like laughter is a luxury you can’t afford, that life is too heavy or you’re too old or tired for such frivolity, I’ll tell you this: you need laughter now more than ever. I’ll also say this: Sarah and I never would found our laughter — and our Isaac — if I’d let those strangers pass us by. If I hadn’t made my tired legs and heart run to them, welcome them, show compassion to them, we would have gone on laugh-less the rest of our days. If I hadn’t recognized that those old resting oaks were actually holy ground meant to be shared, we never would have lived into our new names. We would have been Abraham and Sarah, proud and solid on the outside, all the while remaining Abram and Sarai, bitter and afraid on the inside.

Do you want to laugh? Welcome the stranger in. 
Do you want to laugh? Don’t give up on God, or yourself. 
Do you want to laugh? Open yourself to the possibility that God is always doing a new thing, even (and in my case, especially) late in the game. 

Find your laughter. Find your life. 
I promise you, it’s worth the wait. 


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