Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17; Romans 4:13-17
I would guess that 99.9% of all jokes about heaven have something to do with our unworthiness. This is not an open invitation to tell me jokes about heaven after the service. I suspect I have heard every heaven and preacher joke told. After all, I play golf. Once I join a foursome, golfers figure they can’t cuss so they have to tell jokes and evidently the only clean ones they know are about preachers and heaven.
Jokes aside, the great misguided theological question of our time might just be, “Am I worthy enough to get into heaven?” When I arrive at the Pearly Gates will I find an entrance that rivals the access to Augusta National or an elevator that only goes down? Will a guy resembling Alex Trebek be standing there with a tally sheet that announces if I qualify for the final Jeopardy question? Did I do enough before my final breath was taken? The Apostle Paul rejects this talk about our unworthiness and reminds us of God’s faithfulness.
I will be the first to admit the answer Paul gives this morning will hardly be satisfactory to a vast majority of folks who fall into two distinctively different categories. The first group has carefully evaluated the worst society has to offer and come to the logical conclusion that their sinfulness is really no big deal. When we compare ourselves to Hannibal Lector, it is amazing how easy it is to conclude that we are fairly good folks. The Apostle Paul burst our bubble by reminding us that the original expectation of God is perfection. God knows the corners we cut, our thoughtlessness, our deeds done and undone, our selfishness and pettiness. Paul sums it up by saying all have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations.
The second group believes sin is beyond even God’s forgiveness. These folks sink so deep into human despair that pharmaceutical companies can’t keep up with the increasing demand for Prozac and the like. To this group Paul would say the grace of Christ restores our relationship to God and to each other so stop rehashing your failures and your sins.
Paul is usually so serious. Therefore I find it refreshing that Paul uses the comical story of the announcement of the birth of Isaac to make his point that God’s faithfulness trumps our merit…….. or the lack there of.
I love this story. One can hardly read it and keep a straight face. Abraham, the father of three great religions, was nearly 100 years old. Years before, Abraham and Sarah had left the home of their ancestors on the promise that God would establish a great nation in their name. Everything God had promised had come to pass, except a child. At the ripe old age of 86, Abraham decided he had waited long enough. He impregnated Hagar, the slave of Sarah, and Abraham was blessed with a son. Now between you and me I am not sure how dealing with the terrible twos at 86 is a blessing, but I didn’t write this story. 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, God came by for a visit. The news God brought was, to say the least, interesting. Ishmael will not be the link to greatness. There will be another child and Sarah, ninety year old Sarah, will be the mother. In one version Abraham laughed. In the other, Sarah laughed. Does it matter who laughed loudest? Frederick Buechner wrote, “Isaac was born in the geriatric ward and Medicare picked up the bill.” We should all laugh, first in amazement and then with joy when we tell this story.
Beyond the humor, beyond the absurdity, exists a God that knows no limits. We can get all caught up in the exact ages of Sarah and Abraham. We can write volumes concerning their faithfulness and sometimes their unfaithfulness. But the truth is, the One who is the most faithful is the One who makes the covenant, the promise, with the blushing bride and groom, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
From the beginning of the Abraham story, we are told that Abraham will be the father of a great nation. Except for the birth of a son, wonderful things happen. Abraham and Sarah are given land, wealth, prestige. They settle into their retirement home and have a beautiful view of the mountains. They seem quite content that almost everything God promised came to pass. But this story is not to end incomplete. This story was not to end with the death of Abraham and Sarah. This story was not destined to end with the family of Ishmael. God made a promise, a covenant. And God’s faithfulness does not fall short.
I am reminded of the people of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt. They had no hope of survival. All that kept them alive was one memory, the covenant Yahweh had made with their father Abraham. And God was faithful.
I am reminded of a young boy standing before a giant in the valley of Elah. No man or woman of Israel dared to stand in the shadow of Goliath, except this boy….. this boy who trusted the God of Abraham….. this boy who demonstrated a radical faith in a God of radical possibilities. And God was faithful.
I am reminded of a poet, living in exile. Amidst the towers of Babylon this grandson of Abraham, sang, “Comfort, comfort, my people. Every valley shall be lifted up. Every mountain made low and we shall know the faithfulness of our God.”
I am reminded of a cup, a cup of salvation lifted by a great grandson of Abraham. “This is a new covenant, a covenant for all people, a covenant for the remission of all sin. Drink all ye of it and rejoice in the faithfulness of our God.”
We laugh at a 90 year old woman getting pregnant. Is that more impossible than a nation walking on dry land to liberty? Is that more impossible than a boy slaying a giant? Is that more impossible than the Jews streaming out of Babylon without a hand raised to stop them? Is that more impossible than the grace of the God of Abraham being poured out on all people?
No matter your age,
God is faithful.
No matter what imprisons you,
God is faithful.
No matter what lords over you,
God is faithful.
No matter what sin taunts your spirit,
God is faithful.
No matter what transgression haunts your soul,
God was faithful……..Yesterday God is faithful……..Today
God will be faithful……Tomorrow.
Laugh….. Rejoice……. even Cry,
In the faithfulness of our God.