God... Present with Us
Genesis 18:1-15, Genesis 21:1-7
Given by Rev. April S Blaine on Sunday, September 20, 2015
So, today we continue our journey through the story of God’s love for the people and we do so with a story that is very, near and dear to my heart.
Last week we began with the story of creation and the fact that we were made in the miage of God – as partners in creation – and that we were made for community, authentic, real, trusting relationships in community –
And then the story continues – there is some brokenness and loss that happens both between humanity and God and humanity and each other.
There’s a whole story about a flood – and a promise at the end – that this God will forever more choose to relate to us in a different kind of way. Our mess and our brokenness remain, but no matter what happens – God will choose to stay with us – to remain present.
And then shortly after begins the story of Abraham. This becomes kind of the cornerstone of everything else in the Bible. Abraham was living in the predictable urban world of Sumer. A land where it was believed that life was a circle. The future would never look different than the present. What was – had always been – and would always be – And a land where the gods existed up here and dictated what happened with the human pawns below. There was no relationship – there was no partnership that happened – no power or agency.
But Abraham broke the mold – for in the midst of this land of predictability – he heard the voice of God – calling to him, relating to him, and calling him OUT of Sumer. Out of the urban city – and into the wilderness. To a land that God would give him. To a future that would look different than the past. And so Abraham and Sarah left – they listened to God – they left the world where nothing new would ever come – and they held onto the hope that life would bring something entirely new.
But it didn’t work out exactly how it planned. There were people in the land that God was going to give them. So they take a detour to Egypt. And they are promised a child. In fact, promised that Abraham would be the father of a new nation. That so as there were stars in the sky would be his descendents. But with this hope and this promise that they have received is a whole lot of waiting and waiting and waiting.
Years, decades, pass. Where is the child?
And then we arrive at the story of today. Abraham and Sarah are elderly – very old – past the years of childbearing – and these visitors come to see them.
As would be the custom, they welcomed them in and made for them a generous and great feast. Or, should we say, Sarah made it – Abraham just barked out the orders.
And it soon becomes clear that these are no ordinary visitors – they have come to bring the word of good news –. Where is she? They inquire. In the tent – says Abraham. And they begin to tell him -
We’ll be back in a year – and when we are back – Sarah will be with child.
Sarah overhears them -
And under her breath – Sarah laughs.
Ha! Now that I’m old? I would finally receive this pleasure?
I think there is a lot going on here underneath this laugh.
I’m not sure it was just about the preposterous idea that an old lady might become pregnant.
I might be reaching a bit – adding a bit of creative license to the story here – but I’d venture to say that this laugh of hers - under her breath – was likely laced and layered with the years of pain and grief and unanswered prayers.
Now? After all these years? Now? God has chosen to show up? Isn’t that great?
God has not seen it fit to grant me this desire of my heart in the last 60+ years – why, oh why, would today be any different?
You and I know what it is to have such a laugh about the hardness that life brings us sometimes. All of us have those things that we've been battling with, dealing with for years upon years, hurts that are long buried in our spirits and souls but every now and then get reopened…
I was talking to someone this week about the struggles that they have had with their daughter-in-law. We talked about the years and years of hurt, of rejection and the ways in which she tries to laugh it off, to use humor to dismiss the pain that still comes – with each new slight and dismissal.
On Tuesday night after our Bible study was done at Stonewall, Steven and I had the chance to sit with someone who was incredibly down on his luck. The hardness of life – years in prison, rejection by those who see him as a second class citizen, and the ending of a relationship with the woman he loved – the pain was raw and real. But “I’ll be alright” - no really, “I’ll be alright.”
Whether we try to laugh it off, use sarcasm, say its alright when its not, or even try to deflect our problems and pain onto others – so we don’t have to look inside and admit what is going on.
We know that behind Sarah’s laughter is the same thing behind much of our fronts that we put up – pain, grief, sorrow, and the need to heal.
Those of you who have spent any length of time with me probably knew a bit about this particular story – because this is the story associated with my most favorite Christian icon – it hangs in my office and of course – I could not pass up the opportunity to share it with each of you again today.
Andrei Rublev painted this icon in 14th Century Russia, during a time of incredible grief, violence and turmoil in Russia. During a time where people were experiencing great pain, sorrow, and grief – during a time where they wondered where God was and what the future might still hold.
And the story of today was the basis of this Icon. The story itself suggests that it is the Lord with two angelic attendants, but Rublev imagines that these three visitors were in fact, the members of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – come to not only deliver the good news to Sarah and Abraham of the upcoming birth of Isaac, but to sit and be present with them – in the midst of their waiting – in the midst of their pain and their suffering.
They could have sent a messenger – they could have simply given a vision – a voice from the clouds - or even a word of comfort through another person.
But this God – who has promised to walk with us through all of our brokenness and struggle and suffering – has come to just be with Abraham and Sarah. This God comes to their home. To their dwelling place – to their tent – to dine and to be present.
The scene depicts the trinity at a table – which for the story would have been appropriate – because they were about to eat with Abraham and Sarah – and the icon is designed to be viewed from this vantage point where you can see that there is room at the table for others
A seat for Sarah or Abraham – or as Rublev intended – a seat for us…
Sarah’s laughter – under her breath – her years of hurt and pain are noted by the visitors – for the Lord says – Why did Sarah laugh?
I think this might have been the moment where she realizes that something bigger is going on with this visit – that this visitor is no ordinary visitor – she denies the laughter out of fear – but I think she knows that she has been seen.
Her grief and pain are seen – recognized – named – out loud – by these visitors by this God who has come to be present.
It is obvious that the visit left an impression on Sarah. For when the time finally comes to pass that Isaac is born – the name that she chooses is “laughter.” A direct reference to this encounter. When God showed up in her home – to be present with her – in the midst of the pain and grief and cynical laughter – and to share with her a message of hope and renewal.
A reminder, each time she looked at her son, of the presence of God – the real presence of God with her – in the midst of her grief and struggle.
I don’t know about the things that you are battling in your own life – the things that weigh on you at night and keep you from sleeping – the things that have been there for years or the hurts that are more recent. Life brings us so many disappointments – so many hurts – both from each other and the ones we inflict on ourselves – and seasons and times of heaviness and grief that we carry with us.
And the unfortunate thing is that from the beginning – God doesn’t promise us that it will be taken away – that we won’t suffer - that it won’t be hard. Or that we won’t have to wait – and wait – for the things that we long for – for the things we might never fully see.
But in this story – in nearly every story from this book – God promises that we won’t be alone. That God will see us – our cynical laughs, our attempts to say we’re alright – and that somehow – there will still be hope.
Hope for healing.
Hope for restoration.
And the hope that the future might look different from the presence.
So, may you be reminded that the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow is still with you – present with you – in the place where you are now – and is seeking to help you see that hope remains.