Laughing with Sarah
Genesis 18:1-15, Matthew 10:40-42
Rev. Doug Van Doren
Do you ever get tired...?
· of trying to do the right thing, when it doesn't seem to get you anywhere and no one else seems to be?
· of working for the cause of justice and peace when those who spout war and division seem to be at every turn and when division, racism, and xenophobia continually rear their ugly head and are exploited by so many?
· of praying the same old prayer that God has not answered in all these many years?
· of defending the label "Christian" against all the loud-mouthed, condemnatory preachers and politicians that have the airwaves and much of the political process?
· Do you ever get discouraged at carrying the same label as those who make literal nonsense of the Scripture, or use it as a club to batter others, or as a secret codebook to predict the end of the world?
· Do you get tired of trying to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt when they are just acting hateful and foolish or you just don't understand them?
· Do you get tired of trying to keep the faith, believing that God is mindful, that anyone, including God, cares in the face of the loss of a loved one or bad news after bad news?
Well, I sometimes do!
It is hard to hold on. It is hard to keep the faith. It is hard to act in the way we believe God wants us to, especially in the absence of measurable success, or when we are tired and lonely and feel like a motherless child. It is hard to hold on and keep the faith when God seems to have been silent to us for a long time. I can relate to that great theologian, Woody Allen, when he said something like, "Why doesn't God give me a sign I can understand, like a hefty deposit in my bank account?"
That is the way our Hebrew forebears felt, only 100 times worse, when they sat on the edge of the River in Babylon and wept. They wept the loss of their homeland, the loss of their whole way of being, the loss of their faith. Had God withdrawn the promise? Had they been wrong all along? Was it all just a pipe dream; all this about being a light to the nations, all this about a God who was the Good Shepherd and the one who will bring peace to the earth?
In their crushing despair, they forgot that they had a story. They were part of a people, part of an ongoing story that was far from finished. We are part of the same people. We are part of the same story, individually and corporately. The priests, in that 6th century BC exile in Babylon, reminded the people of how they came into being, of their progenitors, Abraham and Sarah. They reminded them that this isn't just their story; it is God's story. They reminded them of Abraham's great faith and how their very beginning as a people was an impossibility by human standards. God did an impossible thing by bringing them into being. God will not be thwarted by their waywardness or some human despot.
I have sense, however, that it was Sarah with whom the exiles really related and from whom they gained strength to carry on. I think it was from Sarah that they learned about God's grace. If they thought they were in a hopeless situation, what about poor Sarah? Abraham is the one who usually gets all the attention, but let's tell Sarah's story. Who was Sarah? How did she get to this god-forsaken place out here in this desert wilderness in the heat of the sun, which is the setting for today's text?
All we know about Sarah is that she was Abraham's wife. And that says a lot. Like nearly all women of that time, she lived a derived life. Her identity was as Abraham's wife. She did not have an identity of her own. No one paid much attention to her. She was not consulted about this great move to nowhere that old Abram comes home and drops like a bomb one day. Though she was the matriarch, she probably had very little say in anything. After all, of what was she the matriarch? She had no children. Her main role, and that from which she would derive the most status, was from having a child, providing an heir for Abraham. She had not done this. Many would have looked at her as a failure. Almost certainly that is how she saw herself.
She most likely had lived all her life, at least all her adult life, there in Ur of the Chaldeans. She was 75 years old, according to the story when God spoke with Abram and told him to pick up everything and move. By the age of 75, Sarah would have been an elder. Though, as I said, she had no children to give her status, she would at least have gained some status and respect due to her age. (Unfortunately, that is not an advantage of age in our culture.) Life would have been as good for Sarah as it was going to get.