No Laughing Matter Sunday, July 6, 2008 Genesis 12-22 Looking back I understand a little better what happened. I say a little better because it was all so twisted and strung out that I know I’ll never understand it all. Looking back, though, I see all the elements of our lives coming together ultimately to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham and me. But, oh, at the time it was so hard to deal with – all of that waiting and waiting for that promise to come true. The promise, ah yes, the promise. That’s the crux of the matter – the promise God gave to Abraham, my husband, to bless him with possession of this land Canaan and many, many descendants as well. That meant babies and we had no babies yet. Oh, that sounded so grand when Abraham came and told me to get packing. We were going to leave Haran and go to Canaan. So we move, we settle at a place called Bethel, rent some land and wait and wait and wait. Nothing. I am as barren as ever I was, and I’m not getting any younger. How can we have a myriad of descendants if there are no children? And besides – this business of God speaking to Abraham one-on-one. I’d never heard of that before, but I trusted him as he trusted this God. So we waited and hoped, waited and hoped. Ten years go by, nothing. We’re no spring chickens you know. When will it happen? Well, you know we have brains to use to figure things out for ourselves. Maybe this is what God wants us to do, work this thing out for ourselves. And I thought of a brilliant plan. We had a slave girl who worked as a personal servant to me. We acquired her when we lived in Egypt during the famine. She was sort of a consolation prize for my allowing Abraham to say I was his sister, not his wife in order to save his own life. I was very attractive, if I do say
so, and he was afraid that an Egyptian would kill him to get me. Oh, yea! A good man my Abraham. Anyway, here we are ten years into the promise and nothing has happened, so I decide to make something happen. I decide to get sons by Abraham through a surrogate. It is a common enough practice here in this part of the world. A slave woman is given to the husband to make more sons. So why not with us? Abraham readily agrees, and just to make sure that the child will be legitimate, I have Abraham marry her. She becomes his wife number two, but the child will really be mine to raise and claim as OUR son. It all seemed so good. Why wouldn’t this be a good answer to my barrenness? Not so. That woman becomes pregnant so fast it made my head spin. Just like that, easy as pie. Oh, the pain that caused within me. On top of that when she knows she is pregnant she taunts me with it. She turns on me and refuses to obey me any more. She thinks she is the one with the power now. Well, what could I do? I just couldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior and Abraham was no help. He didn’t take my part at all. Maybe there was more to their relationship than just this contract to bear a child for us. I’m pretty sure Abraham was more than mildly affected by her. Foreigner or no, a woman is a woman to a man, right? He leaves it up to me to deal with her, so I pick on everything she does, I find fault with everything she does, I cut her meals to one a day, I have her whipped for even looking at me. So she takes off, runs away. I could care less what happens to her. Pretty soon she turns up again. She says God told her to come back and behave herself. So I take her back. She has a son, and I remain without a child of my own.
Thirteen years go by. We settle into a kind of truce over the whole situation. Life goes on and the promise seems to rest with her child. But God had other plans. That promise was still there, just lying dormant for awhile. Abraham tells me that God has renewed the covenant again with him, and says yes indeed I will bless Sarah with a son by you. My blessing is upon her and with the son you will name Isaac. Abraham is 100 years old and I am ninety. And again the hope is renewed, but how long again? Soon, God comes again, this time not just to Abraham but also to me. This time I am present when the promise is renewed. I hear it given to Abraham as I am in the tent listening to these three strangers predict that I will have a child even though my periods are long over, and even though Abraham and I have not had sex for years. And Abraham too is so old. How can anything living come out of two dried up old people? Oh, God, this is just too much. How can this be? Incredulous, I laugh out loud and the angel scolds me. He says it is true, this time next year Abraham and I will have a son. “Is anything beyond the Lord,” he asks. And there it is. Apparently, nothing is beyond the working of the Lord. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I do conceive. I do have a son by Abraham. We call him Isaac – “he who laughs.” The name God gave him as a reminder of our laughter of disbelief before his birth, and now our laughter of joy at this long awaited birth. The joy was there, but also the tension of living with Abraham’s other wife and son. It wasn’t long before they were making life hard for Isaac and me. Her son now thirteen bullied Isaac. The teasing and mean tricks were unbearable. I know she pushed him to do that as another
way of getting back at me. I mean how could she do that when she had her son and had such pleasure in him, could she not let me have pleasure in mine? So again, I ask Abraham to do something about this slavegirl, and again he says it is up to me to deal with them. So I send them off to the wilderness to fend for them selves. I didn’t care what happened to them. Out of sight out of mind. Looking back I do see God at work through it all. No it was no laughing matter yet God’s work was being done through us regardless of our understanding of it all. The hard times and the good times, the waiting and hoping, the lessons learned and unlearned and relearned. The coming to know that through all of the messiness of life, God is always right there coming to us in God’s good timing, in God’s good plan, never wavering in His desire to keep that covenant relationship with us humans. Nothing is too hard for the Lord., but it is hard for us to know for sure – to go, to wait, to stop, to believe in that covenant promise, to be faithful, to work it all out with patience and hope. We listen and we follow. We listen, and laugh at God’s command and we disobey. God calls again, we obey. Life with God is a process both for us and for God. Life with God is no laughing matter, but it is always joyous because God is always ready to start again. Come back to me, he calls. Come and follow.