Holy Laughter Genesis June Covenant

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					                                Holy Laughter
                           Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
                    June 15, 2008—Covenant Presbyterian
                          Rev. Catherine Robinson

The story says
       that the Lord appeared to Abraham
               in the “heat of the day.”
               We know about the “heat of the day.”
                       Actually, I understand that an afternoon siesta
                                      was very much a part
                                             of the “heat of the day” routine
                                             in Abraham and Sarah’s culture.
                               And without stereotyping too much,
                                      maybe for a couple in their ‘90’s
                                             it was not just a siesta time in the day.
                                             Maybe it was kind of a
                                                    siesta time of life—
                                                    a time that one might expect
                                                            to slow down and rest
                                                                   just a bit.
But into this siesta time of day
       and into this siesta time of life
               step three visitors.
       And, siesta time or no,
       Abraham jumps up and becomes the model
               of Middle Eastern hospitality—
                               getting water to wash their feet,
                               asking Sarah to make cakes,
                               choosing a tender and good calf,
                                and asking the servant to prepare it.
               It’s beautiful to watch him.
               We just don’t extend
                       that kind of hospitality
                               in our culture.
Well, the next thing that happens
       is that the honored guests
               break some earthshaking—
                       no, perhaps we should side-splitting—news
                                      to Abraham.
Pack your bags, old man,
               and start practicing your breathing exercises
                       because you and Sarah are headed
                               for labor and delivery!
                                                                                      2


Well, so what does 90 year-old Sarah do,
       as she’s peeking out from behind the tent flap
               and listening to the goings on?....
                       Well, wouldn’t you laugh?
               I’d laugh!
               At age 90…
               I imagine I’d laugh…
                       or more likely,
                               I’d cry…
                                      and I don’t think
                                      that I would be crying tears of joy!
       After a seeming endless stretch of barrenness,
       after longing for a child for so long
               that she had given up longing—
                       Now—in the siesta time of her life—
                               someone says that she’s looking at
                                      dirty diapers,
                                      and two o’clock feedings,
                                      and terrible twos,
                                      and everything else
                                              that comes along with being a parent?
Right!
God isn’t too happy with Sarah for laughing.
       Sarah’s laughter here
               is definitely not
                       the laughter of joy.
       Sarah’s laughter
               is the laughter of disbelief,
                       the laughter of derision
                               and contempt.
But lest we blame all of the disbelief on Sarah,
    we need to realize,
       on this Happy Father’s day,
               that when God comes to Abraham just one chapter earlier,
                       with similar news (that Abraham is to be a father!),
                               the story says that Abraham
                                              falls on his face
                                              laughing at God!
One preacher suggests that that
       maybe Abraham and Sarah feel
               kind of like we might feel
                       if we’re having a big party
       and we have our heads set on playing one special song.
               But we can’t find it.
                                                                                              3


              So, we scramble around like crazy people all evening,
                      searching and searching for the song.
                      But we still can’t remember where it is.
And then, finally we find it.
And we run to play it.
      But it is too late.
      The party is over.
      Everyone has gone home.
Abraham and Sarah are at the party
      saying to God the Host,
       “Hey God!
      There’s no point in playing the song, now!
      Don’t bother!
      It’s too late.”
         (John Unger, “Faith in the Face of Doubt, http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?640)
Hey God! Abraham and Sarah say.
It’s too late!
They don’t allow cribs in the nursing home!
Besides, God, we really are okay, now,
        with what we’ve got.
We’ve made do
        with the life we’ve got.
Sure, it wasn’t exactly
        the life we had hoped for,
                but it’s been a good life.
        We’ve got Ishmael, Hagar’s boy.
                        No, he’s not really the son we wanted,
                               but he’s a good boy.
We’re okay, God…really!
We’ve actually gotten kind of used
        to this barrenness business…finally.
Barrenness is our way of life now.
Don’t spring a future on us now!
We’re too old for a future!
So, when God gives them a future,
        Abraham and Sarah laugh in disbelief…
                because at this point,
                        they’re not sure that they even want a future.
                               They feel too worn out
                                      for a future.
                               They just want God to leave them alone
                                      so that they can take their siestas
                                              in peace.
Sometimes we get that way.
                                                                                  4


We get used to some kind of barrenness in our hearts,
                 in our lives,
                 even in our churches.
        And when someone suggests that some new life may be on the way,
                 we just roll just our eyes and laugh.
                 We don’t want to have anything to do with it.
It is no state secret
        that our Associate Pastor Nominating Committee
                 has been conducting on-site interviews
                         for our associate pastor position.
        We have interviewed three
                 extraordinarily gifted candidates.
        As you know,
                 our associate pastor will spend a lot of time
                         working with children, youth, and their families.
        So, of course, we have asked
                 these bright young folks
                         a lot about what they would expect to do
                                with our children’s and youth programs.
                                        Each has offered some very exciting ideas.
                 But do you know what each one
                         has also said?
                 Each one has said,
                          “If any of this is going to work,
                         we have to have adults in the congregation
                                who are willing to be a part of the program,
                                who are willing to teach
                                        and lead
                                        and love
                                                the children and youth.
                 None of these ideas can work
                         without committed adult leadership.”
There it is, brother and sisters.
A call out of barrenness.
It is a call, in one way or another,
        to you and to me…
It is a call
        to teach, to lead, to cook, to drive, to hug, to give money, to do something!
So, are you rolling your eyes and laughing?
Are you saying, “I’m too old for that?”
Are you saying, “I’d rather just take my siesta right now?”
And Sarah laughed.
        Sarah laughed.
And then, just a few verses later,
                                                                                  5


         God asks Sarah,
                  “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
Well, that’s a good question.
What do you think about that?
Is anything too wonderful—
                 is anything too hard—
                 is anything too impossible—
                        for God?
Let’s just leave that question hanging there,
         because really, that’s what the story does.
         Did you notice that,
         at the end of that first passage that we heard,
                 Abraham and Sarah still seem to be doubting?
                 Sarah is afraid,
                        and is denying that she laughed.
                        And God is saying,
                                “Oh yes honey…
                               oh yes, you did laugh.”
                               Is anything too impossible for God?
Now, look at the second passage we read.
         Ah, here the laughter has changed!
         Somewhere between Chapter 18 and Chapter 21,
                 there clearly was a point
                        when it hit Abraham and Sarah
                               that this absolutely insane picture
                                      of their having a child was true
                                             and they decided that it was
                                                     glorious after all.
                                      They embraced the miracle,
                                             embraced the promise,
                                             embraced the future that
                                                     God had in store for them.
                                      And now, their laughter is full of joy.
                        So by now, this story is absolutely brimming over
                                      with laughter.
                               Who’da thunk it?
As we were saying with the children,
      Ha! It’ll never happen!
      But it did!
Bill likes to tell the story
      of a sleepy afternoon—
                 maybe it was about siesta time?—
                        when he was plodding along
                               leading a confirmation class
                                                                                   6


                                       for 7th graders.
He says that he doesn’t really remember
    what he was talking about,
           except that he was probably trying to get
               those wonderful, bored kids
                      to see how the story of Scripture
                               is a story about how God keeps on
                                       pursuing us,
                                               no matter how much we run away
                                                      and try to hide.
And all of a sudden,
    Tammy,
       in the midst of all of the usual 7th grade
                      squirming and impatience,
           looked up in a moment of surprise and she said,
                  “Well, why?
                  Why does God love us so much?”
And there was this moment of stunned silence
       in the group.
Then they all eyed each other cautiously
       to see if it was all right to giggle.
           And then they all began to snicker and then to laugh—
               not at Tammy,
                      but with her.
                               They laughed
                                       because they had never heard the question
                                               put that way.
                               They laughed
                                       because they knew
                                               that there was no answer
                                                      to the question.
                               They laughed
                                       because maybe the news
                                               was better than they guessed.
                      And Tammy laughed too,
                                       because she knew that she was not alone
                                       in asking that unanswerable question.
                                       “Well why?
                                       Why does God love us so much?”
That, brothers and sisters, was holy laughter.
       It is a kind of laughter
               that can sneak up on us in all kinds of ways.
                      Maybe it snuck up on you
                      in the words of a hymn
                                                                                     7


                             that you had sung all of your life,
                                    but all of a sudden these words
                                            jumped out and grabbed your soul
                                                    and you were singing
                                                    with a lump of joy in your throat.
               Maybe it snuck up on you
                      in hearing words that we hear each Sunday—
                             “In Jesus Christ you are forgiven!”—
                                    and for some reason,
                             the forgiveness bathed you that day,
                             and you were truly at peace,
                                    and maybe no one but you noticed
                                            the silly little grin on your face,
               Maybe it snuck up on you
                      in the experience
                             of having been at a dead end in life
                                    and in some unexpected way
                             the future opened up
                             and suddenly you were walking through life
                                    with a new bounce in your step—
                             practically dancing with the possibility
                                    that God’s hand was at work in all of this.
Because of our dour Scottish heritage,
    Presbyterians have a reputation
       for being rather serious and solemn.
       You know…God’s frozen people, and all of that.
At Covenant,
    we try hard to buck that reputation!
    And sometimes we succeed pretty well!
But sometimes, we still need to hear the invitation of this story
    to throw off the wet blanket of pious solemnity,
       and to let the tears of holy laughter roll down our cheeks.
Abraham and Sarah looked at their barrenness and they said,
    Ha! It’ll never happen!
    But it did!
Oh yes…
    It sure did!
    And his name was “Laughter.”
You’ve gotta love it!
Oh, you’ve gotta love it!
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

				
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