September 13, 2015 Sermon
A Different Type of Laughter
1st Reading – Genesis 18:1-15
18 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
2nd Reading – Genesis 21:1-7
21 The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
“A Different Kind of Laughter”
My youngest son, Josh, is the kind of person who really enjoys a good joke. He’s always had a wonderful laugh, the kind that can get the rest of the family laughing uncontrollably, unable to help ourselves. And now, he spends a fair bit of time on the internet reading jokes and watching videos of comedians telling jokes. And every couple of days, he’ll try to get everyone in the house to watch a video of whatever new comedian has him laughing the most or looking on his computer screen at whatever meme – that is, a funny combination of words and pictures – at whatever meme has him laughing the most.
Here are a couple of jokes Josh shared with me this week:
- I bought the world’s worse thesaurus yesterday. Not only is it terrible, it’s terrible. (You might need a minute to let that one sink in.)
- How do you make holy water? Put it in a pot and boil the hell out of it.
Today, we continue the story of God’s relationship with humanity found in scripture. We’ll be spending the next 9 months traveling through the narrative – the story – of the Bible from beginning to end. We’ll do so with the help of the Narrative Lectionary. Last week, we began with the story of the creation of people, which was also the story of how God ordered the relationships involving people – as told in Genesis 2. Today, we skip forward 16 chapters in the story, 16 chapters in the book of Genesis. And quite a bit has happened that we will not cover in detail.
- Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they committed the first sin, and God punished them;
- Adam and Eve had some children, and their firstborn son, Cain, killed their second born son, Abel.
- Humanity became more and more numerous…and more and more wicked, that is, acting in ways that went against God’s desires…until God was sorry God had created people and decided to destroy them all.
- But God relented because one man, Noah, pleased God. So God decided to start over with Noah and his family.
- After doing so, God made a promise, the first in a line of important covenants with people. In this covenant, God promised to never curse the ground or destroy every living creature again in response to humanity’s wickedness.
- Once again, people filled the earth. Once again, they were wicked, even to the point of trying to demonstrate that they deserved a place alongside God. They tried to build a tower that stretched into the heavens, and so God took away their common language and scattered humanity throughout the earth.
- And then, God decided to call one specific people to be a beacon of light for God to the rest of humanity. God chose one man and one woman to be the beginning of this people, this great nation. Their names were Abram and Sarai, later changed by God to Abraham and Sarah. God called them to leave their homeland and inhabit a new land, a land of promise, that would become the land of their descendants. And God made the second important covenant, this one with Abram and Sarai, a covenant that God would be their God and would also be the God of their descendants, a covenant to have a special relationship with the nation of their descendants. And so Abram, at the age of 75, left everything he knew and together with his wife set out for the Promised Land.
We encounter Abraham and Sarah in our reading today 24 years after they originally set out on their journey to a new land. We encounter them when Abraham is 99 years of age and Sarah is either 89 or 90. We encounter them after Abraham has already had a son by Sarah’s slave-girl, Hagar, because Abraham and Sarah didn’t think there was any way the children promised by God to Abraham could come from Sarah. She was too old to conceive a child. We encounter Abraham and Sarah three days after God appeared to Abraham and told him that the people he was to father would, indeed, be born of Sarah, not Hagar or anyone else. We encounter Abraham and Sarah at the moment when Sarah hears for the first time that she isn’t going to be the figurative mother of a great nation but the LITERAL mother, that she is going to conceive a child and bear that child at the age of 90.
And Sarah responds by laughing.
Y’all, as I read this story again this week, and I thought about Sarah’s laughter, it struck me that Sarah’s laughter wasn’t the same kind of laughter that we experience when we’re laughing WITH someone, like a comedian. It’s not even the kind of laughter we experience when we’re laughing AT someone who does something unfortunate enough to bring out laughter from us. No…this is the laughter of incredulity. This is the type of laughter that occurs when we hear something so preposterous that the only logical response, the only rational response, is laughter.
It’s a type of laughter that is all too common in the world today when it comes to faith…even among people of faith.
- It’s the kind of laughter that I’m sure occurred when a carpenter’s son from Nazareth proclaimed himself to be the Son of God.
- It’s the kind of laughter that I’m sure occurred when Jesus told a crowd of mourners that the girl whose death they were mourning was only sleeping.
- It’s the kind of laughter that I’m sure occurred when the crowd who gathered to stone Stephen heard him say, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
- It’s the kind of laughter that I’m certain has occurred many times when followers of Christ have proposed to build shelters for the homeless and kitchens to feed hungry people.
- It’s the kind of laughter that occurs when followers of Jesus stand up to bullies and tell them to stop preying on the weak.
- It’s the kind of laughter that occurs every time followers of Jesus say “no” to oppression, even though they have no force to stop the oppressors.
- It’s the kind of laughter that takes place when a follower of Jesus Christ becomes sick and asks to be taken to a healer instead of or in addition to a medical doctor.
- It’s the kind of laughter that takes place when others beyond these walls hear that we solve our problems through prayer and listening for the voice of God instead of solving our problems with money or with force or with political might or even with logical and reason.
- It’s the kind of laughter that I’m certain takes place almost every time a group of people – even a congregation – chooses to follow a seemingly crazy vision from God that defies all logic and reason – like a vision to meet the needs of adults over the age of 50 in the Grand Valley instead of doing what most of the other congregations are doing and trying their best to attract young families.
Y’all, stop and THINK for a second. For those of you who are over the age of 50…and especially for those of you who are at or are quickly approaching the ages of Abraham and Sarah in our scripture reading for today…stop and think of how you would respond if, at your next doctor’s appointment, you heard the announcement, “You’re going to have a baby!”
You would laugh, right? You would laugh an incredulous laugh. You wouldn’t believe it. Because the scientists of our world tell us that such a thing just isn’t possible.
But when it comes to this faith thing, that’s exactly the point. The story of scripture is filled with people who responded to God’s request to do things that most people would only laugh at – scoff at:
- God told Noah to build a giant boat in an area surrounded only by land;
- God told Joshua to lead his warriors to march around the city of Jericho for seven days and conclude by blowing trumpets in order to defeat that great city;
- God told Gideon to face an army of more than 100,000 warriors with an army of only 300 soldiers;
- God told the prophet Samuel to anoint David, the youngest, the smallest, the least regal-looking of Jessie’s 8 sons to be the next king;
- God guided Esther to appear before the Persian king uninvited, an almost certain death sentence, to plead on behalf of her people, God’s people, the Jews;
These stories are but a few of a great many. And in almost every such instance, there is a similar outcome, an outcome illustrated as far back as our story from Genesis about Abraham and Sarah:
Abraham and Sarah, at the ages of 100 and 90, did, indeed, have a child. And “Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”
Y’all, that’s the thing with God. God might ask us to do some crazy stuff – crazy by the ways of this world, anyway. God might ask us to do some things that cause the people around us – the people who operate according to the ways of humanity, the ways of this world – to laugh at us with an incredulous laugh.
But then God acts:
- God sent a 40-day storm in the days of Noah;
- God made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down;
- God gave Gideon’s tiny army a victory over an army that was as thick as locusts and as countless as the sands on the seashore;
- God made the shepherd boy David the greatest king in all of Israel’s history;
- Through Esther, God saved all the Jews in the vast Persian empire from destruction;
And God gave Abraham and Sarah a child from whom would descend God’s chosen people…so that “everyone who hears will laugh WITH” the people of God. Do you see how the laughter changes? That’s how God works – from the laughter of incredulity to a DIFFERENT type of laughter – the laughter of joy and celebration and wonder at what God has done, what God can do, and what God WILL do.
And so, as we go forward in faith, First Christian Church, as we go forward in faith on this Kick-Off Sunday, ready to begin our ministries anew, I wonder: what kind of thing that doesn’t make any sense by the ways of the world, what kind of thing that is likely to bring the laughter of incredulity, is God calling us to do?
- Might it be to finally, once and for all, give the full support of our resources to the vision God has called us to?
- Might it be to embark on a new ministry that supports God’s vision for us?
- Might it be to show the world that a bunch of people over the age of 50 really CARE about the younger generations of folks in the Grand Valley, that a bunch of people over the age of 50 are willing to act on behalf of someone ELSE?
That’s the message of Abraham and Sarah for us as a congregation, to work together to discern how God is calling us to act in a way that might seem like foolishness to those around us. And the message for us as individuals isn’t much different.
How is God calling you, specifically, to do something different from what the other people around you are doing? How is God calling you to do something different from what the world says is the best thing to do:
- with your time;
- with your energy;
- with the skills you’ve honed from a lifetime of work;
- with your money;
- with your material possessions, including your house and your car?
If you’re wondering how to figure this out, I recommend you do a couple of things. First, make a list. Really, for each of the things I’ve mentioned: time, energy, skills, money, stuff – make a list and write down how you’re using these resources every single day of the week. Then, look at them and pray over them and ask God whether or not these are the things God is directing you to do with your resources. Finally, pick a day each week – whatever day works best for you – and pray over each list, asking God to show you ONE thing, just ONE thing, that you can do DIFFERENTLY that week with each of those resources for God and God’s seemingly foolish plan. And whatever the most wild and crazy and absolutely unachievable thing God encourages you to do in prayer, choose THAT one.
My friends God IS calling you to live differently so that, in the end, you will laugh a different type of laughter, the type of laughter you so long to laugh. God IS calling you to live differently so that everyone who hears – everyone who pays attention to how God is working through you – will laugh WITH you, will laugh with you a laughter of joy and goodness. All you have to do is choose to go along with God’s plan.