In the last couple of months we have successfully navigated our way through Lent, Holy Week, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. Now summer is upon us. Using liturgical language we have entered what the church celebrates as the Season of Ordinary Days. After hearing Jill preach last week, today we are certainly returning to the season of ordinary sermons. But there is nothing ordinary about this morning’s text. I believe it was Frederick Beuchner who said, “Sarah gave birth in the Geriatric Ward and Medicare picked up the bill.” At my age this story reads more like a Stephen King horror story than a biblical fairy tale. Do any of us still harbor hopes for another child? The better question might be who among us has that kind of energy? Even Sarah, who wanted a child more than life itself laughed at the idea of becoming pregnant at eighty. But this text is not about getting in the Guinness Book of Records. It is about dreams and faithfulness. It is certainly about more than just wishful thinking.
God promised Abraham and Sarah they would be the father and mother of a nation. As the couple grew older, being a typical male, Abraham looked at Sarah and decided he needed a back-up plan. Her name was Hagar and nine months later Abraham had a son. What does this say about the faithfulness of Abraham? You might think it dangerous to question the faith of an Old Testament icon. Isn’t this the guy who picked up stakes and headed across the desert looking for the Promised Land? Isn’t this the guy who passed Sarah off as his sister in order that they might receive safe passage through Egypt? Well maybe that is not such a great example. Isn’t this the guy who trusted Lot as his partner in real estate? That really doesn’t help my case either. I’ve got one more. Isn’t this the guy who was willing to prove how faithful he was by sacrificing his own son? We Christians pull the Jesus card when telling this story but honestly, how faithful is it to be willing to sacrifice someone else, particular if the sacrificial lamb is a child? We can talk all we want about the faith of Abraham and Sarah but the only one faithful in this story was God. Abraham bailed out early. Sarah laughed at the absurdity of a senior citizen giving birth. Yet the promise was kept. Sarah became pregnant and she named the child, Isaac, which means Laughter.
Please don’t think I am being hard on either Abraham or Sarah. Paul Tillich suggested, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an essential element of faith.” I imagine everyone here has had a dream complicated by doubt and barrenness. If not, you need to set your imagination bar a bit higher. Having a dream take flight needs to be hard work.
In the gospel of Matthew we encounter the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus and a couple disciples take a field trip up a mountain for a religious experience. If you want to feel closer to God, take a hike up a mountain. If you are not into hiking, go to Montreat. On a weekly basis the best preachers our church has to offer deliver their top drawer stuff and we get excited. When we are on the mountain we feel like we can conquer the world. But then we come back to the valley. So it was with Jesus and the disciples. After the Moses/Elijah experience, the disciples were certain no one could stand in their way. Then coming home they encountered a sick child. The parents pleaded with the disciples to do something. These same disciples who came down the mountain as conquering heroes were left speechless. Jesus healed the child but then rebuked his disciples by asking, “Why couldn’t you heal him?”
There is never an appropriate response to a rhetorical question, so Jesus continued. “You have such little faith. What good are dreams without actions? Don’t you realize nothing is impossible?”
If I am one of those disciples I would first sulk and then rationalize. The circumstances were not fair. Jesus had not given me lessons on healing children. Healing was his department. I signed up to be a follower. My job was to witness and record. We had been to the mountain. We had proclaimed Jesus to be Lord. Now it was his time to take care of me. Embarrassment in front of by-standers was not a good way to continue our relationship. If Jesus picked me, why would he go out of his way to make me look so bad?
Gerhard Lohfink wrote, “Being chosen is not a privilege nor is it proof of God’s preference for us. Being chosen calls us to accept the heaviest burden of all; sacrifice for others.”
Abraham and Sarah dreamed of a child. But over time they came to the conclusion that any opportunity to be parents had passed them by. Despite being promised their heirs would sire a nation, Abraham and Sarah never dreamed beyond themselves. Truth is, few of us do.
Imagine living your life on behalf of others. Imagine your dreams expanding beyond a personal address. Imagine folks you don’t even know depending on your dreams. Imagine the amount of faithfulness needed to fulfill these dreams. No wonder Sarah laughed. She laughed to disguise her panic.
Sarah or Abraham probably signed on for nothing bigger than a new addition to their tent. They imaged a child, not a nation. When childbearing seemed impossible it led to a barrenness of both their faith and imagination. But the God who initiates dreams does not give up so easily. The God who pays little attention to the concept of years has never been fazed by our self-proclaimed limitations.
Remember the call of Jeremiah. The soon to be prophet lamented, “Not me Lord, I am only a child.”
Remember the call of Moses. The soon to be liberator gazed into the fiery bush and begged, “Choose someone else. I failed leadership 101.”
Remember the call of Paul. The soon to be missionary lay blind on the side of the road confessing, “Why me, I persecuted your followers?”
Here is a difficult concept to swallow. God’s imagination, God’s dreams and certainly God’s determination has never been limited to a specific viewpoint or audience. It is not about me. It is not about you. It is about celebrating God’s universal understanding of the pronoun “us”. My mind, my energy, my potential falls prey to my self-proclaimed limitations. But God refuses to be limited by my lack of vision. When I lose confidence, God’s faithfulness surrounds my frailty. When I lose steam, God’s faithfulness transforms my energy. When I lose hope, God’s faithfulness reminds me of Isaac. And I laugh at how special I imagined I was.
You see, in the eyes of the Lord there are no ordinary days or ordinary people. Each moment is an opportunity to lift someone up. Each moment is an opportunity to see beyond our gatepost. Each moment is an opportunity to give birth to a community or a world dedicated to justice, righteousness and the welfare of each sojourner.
Go ahead and laugh. God’s heard it before.
Go ahead and laugh. Just prepare yourself to become pregnant with an inspiration from God’s fertile imagination.
To God be the glory. Amen.