Grace and Peace to you, Dear Church,
from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen
Seven years ago I found myself in the emergency room of a Davenport, Iowa hospital. It was below zero and I was present for a swimming pool incident. Don’t worry, I wasn’t present for hypothermia due to a polar bear swim. Instead, the incident happened at our hotel’s indoor pool. As I hobbled down the hall and into the exam room, the pain grew exceedingly worse. I hopped up on the examination table, removed my snow boot, and sock, and revealed to the doctor and nurse, a swollen and very crocked second toe. The doctor took a quick look and said, “It’s not broken, it’s just dislocated.” I sighed a sigh of relief for a brief second. That is, until the doctor said, “This may hurt a little.” As the doctor reached for my toe I began to laugh. I laughed so loud folks on the other side of the emergency room heard me. I laughed until I cried. As I sat there crying, my friend Joyce, trying not to laugh herself said, “It will be okay. I promise.”
That was the first time I remember personally experiencing nervous laughter. Nervous laughter: the uncontrollable sound that comes out of your mouth in a tense situation, or at a time when you are afraid to be weak or vulnerable, or when a situation is out of your control.
The story behind our scripture today is no laughing matter. Abram and Sarai did not have an ideal relationship, for their day or for ours. They had been waiting for God to give them a child for many years. Maybe they grew tired of waiting or maybe they grew tired of praying… In any case, Abram and Sarai created a plan. They forced their slave, Hagar, to bear them a son. They named him, Ishmael.
Now, about the laughter in today’s scripture. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at God. Abraham laughed because God told him, that he, at 100 years of age, would bear a son. Sarah laughed when God told her, that she, at 90 years of age, would bear a son with her 100 year old husband. Although I cannot say for certain, there was probably more than a little bit of nervous laughter going on here….
From an old couple, near the end of their lives, came new things and it was out of their control. God gave them new names, new purpose, and new life. Their new names, Abraham and Sarah, reflected their new purpose; Abraham meaning “Father of multitudes” and Sarah meaning “My Princess.” Their new purpose, to be the Father and Mother of God’s people. The new life God gave them was their son, Isaac.
But this story wasn’t just Good News for Abraham and Sarah. Every person in this story received a covenant blessing from God. Abraham received a covenant blessing to become the father of multitudes. Sarah received a blessing to become the mother of kings of nations. God didn’t forget Hagar in her oppression or Ishmael. Ishmael was blessed to be the father of twelve princes and a great nation. Hagar also received a promise from God. And all of this began with laughter, laughter that led to new covenants and new blessings for generations upon generations.
God doesn’t hold back in making extraordinary promises to extraordinary, ordinary, or oppressed people. We have a God who makes covenant promises and blessings with creatures, creation, and yes, even imperfect persons, persons like you and like me.
Church, what will you do with God’s covenant blessings? Will you laugh them off nervously? Will you try to refuse them because it is too late? Or will you give thanks and praise to God who keeps his promises to the old, the young, the slave, and the yet to be? Church, today, let us praise God, who is faithful, for extraordinary promises.
Peace be with you,
Pastor Mary Ann Siefke