This should be a funny story. It’s not. We might laugh, but not in humor. There are moments, but that’s not the gist of the story. The memorable moments are what we tell more often. So many memorable moments recorded in scripture occur in the heat of the day. (So many that I’m tempted to understand why the Bible Belt includes so many southern states.)
There in the heat, Abraham shows hospitality to God. Like the woman at the well did for Jesus, a giddy Abraham receives, with respect and resources, the familiar presence of God’s messengers. We met them last week. And here they are again; this isn’t the first encounter. Remembering the moments of Abraham’s life can be like scrolling a friend’s Facebook page. You know that friend: the one who routinely meets noteworthy people and regularly encounters the holy – that one. Well, Abraham’s practicing hospitality here, the hospitality that marks his character, the kind of hospitality in action that God expects of God’s people, in that he requests not to be passed by. And their affirmative response to Abraham noticeably does not overlook his wife, Sarah.
What audacity God has! At this juncture in Abraham and Sarah’s life, that promise that has been repeated over and over again - it provoked an involuntary outburst of laughter from Sarah.
God had promised all kinds of audacious promises to us, not those that make us laugh. Or would they? God promised that he “will never forget the needy – the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18). God promises to move between our yesterday and today, giving us a glimpse of tomorrow. God promises to stand between us and our enemies so that both our attentions turn to a divine alternative and forgiveness becomes possible.
We serve an audacious God whose promises often leave us speechless. A God who sends out ordinary people like you and me into a chaotic world. But hearing God’s voice will probably leave you speechless - and maybe you should laugh aloud.
Deborah probably wanted to laugh when Barak said, go with me. Esther probably wanted to laugh when Mordecai suggested she was positioned for such a time as that. Naomi probably almost smiled when Ruth said she would stay with her. Rahab must have laughed when the spies asked for her help. Tamar might even have smiled when she realized she had outwitted Judah. The woman at the well may have wanted to laugh when a thirsty Jesus claimed he had water for her. And Rhoda’s glee was so great she forgot to let Peter in when she realized he was released from prison. Laugh at God’s audacity to call ordinary people to do extraordinary tasks.
Which reminds me of the question: Are we willing to be available to God like Abraham and Sarah? Not just saved by grace, but set apart in a world of contempt and complacency, sanctified by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Christianity requires behavior that is more recognizably Christlike than vocal claims to follow Jesus - #jesusisnotatweeterfeed. Among those who manipulate, we are to do good; among those who oppress, we seek justice; among those who lie and kill, we help the downtrodden; among those who kill, we defend the cause of the orphans and fight for the rights of the widows; among those who ignore the realities of confinement, let us set the captives free.
Each of these are radical practices of hospitality that remain awe-inspiring, now as they were then, because the words of Jesus remain true: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And the joyful noise of proclaiming the good news: “The kingdom of heaven has come near”? Well, that remains an incredible promise. We see glimpses, but we may have lost the awe.
Medical facilities cure the sick, but cleansing the lepers couldn’t mean providing vaccines for diseases like measles, polio, or COVID 19. A few Pentecostals may cast out demons. And, Jesus, no one wants to raise the dead. But what if the people of God were available to do God’s absurdity in the world? Or were so aware of God’s presence that we recognize when the stranger we encounter might just be an angel sent from God? Like Abraham, we will have to not only recognize their need, but generously extend to them hospitality.
Righteousness is not merely good beliefs about the God made known in Jesus. Righteousness is a demonstration of that trust through words and deeds in a particular time and in a particular place.
John Wesley understood that God has never been looking for a Sunday-only religion but a society of love and mutual care which astonishes unbelievers and is recognizable as something entirely new. The divine intention has always been for the people of God to turn heads, to turn the world upside down, and to draw attention to itself as the location of hope and belief in a world shot through with cynicism. This is the way to heaven, the scriptural way of salvation, the struggle toward holiness.
And this is possible! A lying, doubting Abraham and a laughing, doubting Sarah show us. Abraham has a promise from God, a promise that is bigger than anything he and his wife can do for themselves. A clear indicator that you are in God’s will is when the thing to be done is so incredible, so audacious, so laughable that you find yourself speechless at the possibility; when the thing to be done is so significant, you can’t do it on your own.
This was so unbelievable that Sarah couldn’t help but laugh. It happens. And when she was caught, she lied. It happens. Abraham will follow her lead in this more times over through their journey, but what they did next made all the difference in the world. Sarah and Abraham yield to God’s will. Trust in God is to surrender all you can imagine for yourself to do what God has designed for you. Trust is leaving where you are to find the home God has prepared for you.
In our moments of darkness, in our moments of doubt, in our moments of uncertainty, in our midnight moments, there is a light that shines through asking us the same question that was posed to Abraham and Sarah: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The resurrection light of Jesus Christ guarantees nothing is too hard for God, because the Lord dealt with Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.
So, this story is our story. And this promise is our promise. Which means the responsibility is ours. Just as Jesus sent the disciples, God’s Spirit is still nudging into the world those who are available to him.
Abraham and Sarah were willing to change their name, their residency, and their vocation when the promise of being parents was planted. Their imaginations were shifted, and Abraham, an old man, became giddy with the hospitality he loved to pass out. So giddy that when his friends showed up again, he was giving out instructions to his wife and to his servants for how to cook. Those expectations should shift our imagination too, because God’s promises and God’s expectations are no less audacious for us than they were then. Laughable, indeed. This is yet one of many demonstrations of God’s faithfulness that result in a woman getting the last word.
We can know God’s voice. We can allow our lives to be shaped by God’s Word. The rumors of the resurrection (started by something a few women said) have us here in a chaotic moment with an audacious God, who’s making an incredible promise that leaves us speechless centuries after Jesus’ public death. And we’re still trying to make sense of the radical promises of God.
Go ahead and smile. Or maybe, you’re going to laugh out loud at God. Amen.