An ‘Ordinary’ Visit
Sermon. Pentecost 2A, Sunday June 14, 2020, St Petri
Mr Stephen Radke
God visits Sarah in an ordinary way and grows trust and laughter (and a baby).
This morning’s reading about a mysterious visit of God to Abraham and Sarah is right in the middle of the Abraham stories at the start of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah lived over 1700 years before the time of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham when he was 75 and living in Haran. God told him to leave his family, his country and his gods and go to a country he would show him. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and that all peoples on the earth would be blessed through him. The big stumbling block to this promise is that Sarah can’t have children. Sarah at one point arranged for Abraham to sleep with her slave girl Hagar have a child by her. At the time of our reading this surrogate child Ishmael is about 13 years old.
Over these 25 years from God’s first visit to Abraham, God built a friendship with Abraham and Abraham prayed to God and began to trust him. Just before this reading God made a special visit to Abraham to make it very clear that his promise would come through a child by Sarah his wife not through Hagar’s son Ishmael. Abraham laughed at God’s promise. In today’s reading it is Sarah’s turn to laugh.
Genesis 18:1-15 18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the sacred trees of Mamre. As Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the hottest part of the day, 2 he looked up and saw three men standing there. As soon as he saw them, he ran out to meet them. Bowing down with his face touching the ground, 3 he said, “Sirs, please do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you. 4 Let me bring some water for you to wash your feet; you can rest here beneath this tree. 5 I will also bring a bit of food; it will give you strength to continue your journey. You have honored me by coming to my home, so let me serve you.” They replied, “Thank you; we accept.” 6 Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick, take a sack of your best flour, and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and picked out a calf that was tender and fat, and gave it to a servant, who hurried to get it ready. 8 He took some yoghurt, some milk, and the meat, and set the food before the men. There under the tree he served them himself, and they ate. 9 Then they asked him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” “She is there in the tent,” he answered. 10 One of them said, “This time next year. [a] I will come back, and your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was behind him, at the door of the tent, listening. 11 Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had stopped having her monthly periods. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex? And besides, my husband is old too.” 13 Then the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really have a child when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? As I said, nine months from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Because Sarah was afraid, she denied it. “I didn’t laugh,” she said. “Yes, you did,” he replied. “You laughed.”
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father open our ears to hear your word and our hearts to receive you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
While working on a remote aboriginal community in central Australia. I went to visit someone and an aboriginal lady was making breads for her family. She sat cross-legged on the ground with a sheet of mesh in front of her over hot charcoal. Beside her was a massive bowl of dough and she would take a handful of dough from the bowl, stretch it out in her hands then put it on the grill. It would start to puff up almost immediately and she would deftly flip it with her fingers to cook the other side then flick the flat bread onto a growing pile she had already made.
I can see Sarah doing the same, with her bare hands and a life time of experience stretching the dough watching it cook and flicking it at the right moment and then straight onto the next one until the whole bowl of dough is used up. It is significant that Sarah cooked the bread for these three strangers because they had come to visit her. This reading is about Sarah and the God who visits her and promises a miraculous baby. This God who visits will make her a little frightened but will bring laughter and will grow trust in her heart just like the bread dough grew over the hot coals.
Abraham and Sarah don’t know who these visitors are, they are ordinary hungry strangers who have turned up at their camp. We know who they are because the narrator tells us they are the Lord (or God).
Abraham gives the strangers a royal welcome, he puts his face to the ground and says, ‘sirs, do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you. Let a little water be brought and wash your feet, rest under the tree while I fetch a little bread… Abraham’s hospitality is over the top, a huge pile of fresh flat breads, a freshly roasted calf and yoghurt and milk drink reminds us of when we have been shown generous hospitality. This reminds us of all the strangers we have met and shown hospitality to. Abraham is a compassionate man who lives as a stranger himself; owning no land and moving with his servants and livestock from place to place negotiating for somewhere to camp and graze his animals. It can be dangerous living as a stranger in other people’s country.
God’s visit gets personal
Suddenly these strangers get personal and ask, ‘where is Sarah your wife’. How did they know her name? This question digs into Abraham and Sarah’s relationship which was not a beautiful Christian marriage. Many years earlier Abraham had passed Sarah off as his sister in Egypt when they went there to survive a drought because he was frightened that Pharaoh would kill him to have his wife. Sarah is exceptionally beautiful and Pharaoh’s took her into his harem until he found out the truth and sent Abraham and Sarah out of Egypt. To this day Sarah remains childless her the surrogate son Ishmael and his mother Hagar caused jealousy and did not make for a happy family life.
The visitor says to Sarah through Abraham, ‘I will surely return next year and Sarah your wife will have a son’. Now Sarah and Abraham know that God is here visiting them in these three strangers. God is in the flesh visiting her.
God’s visit stirs up fear, trust and laughter.
Some time ago I was talking to 3 students in a senior Science class and we talked about science, about where the universe came from then about faith. One student asked me if I believed in God and when I said yes, she asked questions about right and wrong, sexuality and whether there would be a day of judgment. I explained that I believed there would be a time where God would separate good from evil and end evil. That God will bring in a time where there will be no more tears and suffering. She said that this made her shudder and feel fearful inside. Then she talked about the conversion of the rapper Kanye West and the music he had written. We listened together as she played one of his Christian songs on her phone.
When I read here that Sarah had laughed to herself about God’s promise that she would have a baby next year and was afraid because she lied to this visitor turns out to be God. I thought of the conversation with this young person and the way she felt when she realized that God was much closer and more real than she thought. In Kanye’s West’s song Jesus walks’ he raps about a very ordinary visit of God. A God who comes in the flesh and visits you and I when we lose strength and the will to live. God who visits us when we don’t have a job or a house. God who visits us when we don’t know if we will have love again or laughter. The same God visits our remote aboriginal communities where many people live off very little. He visits our nursing homes during lockdowns. God visits our daycare centres, our schools, our youth detention centres and in our prisons in very ordinary ways. Like Abraham’s visitors, God comes as a thirsty, hungry, tired God in need of a meal and conversation. As Jesus many years later says, ‘I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink.’
Yet this ordinary God announces a miracle to 90 year old Sarah way past menopause that her and her 100 year old husband that they will again be intimate and be able to conceive and give birth to a child together. God did return and Sarah had a son, Isaac and Isaac means, He laughs. Sarah in this story had laughed at God’s promise as Abraham had in the previous story to this and soon they will be laughing again at the birth of son and God would be laughing with them.
1800 or so years after the time of Abraham and Sarah the NT tells us that Abraham is the father of all who believe in Jesus. St Paul in the NT says Abraham believed God and God considered him to be in a right relationship with him. Like the loaves of bread Sarah cooked on the hot coals God grew trust in Sarah and Abraham.
This relationship of trust meant God was their friend they were right with him and had nothing to fear. God did NOT judge Sarah or Abraham for laughing at his promise of a child in their old age. He accepted them with their weak and imperfect faith. He does not judge you or me with our imperfect trust in him or our poor understanding of him but accepts us as his friends. You and I know this for sure because there was another miraculous birth promised to a young girl Mary, a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, a child Jesus. He is God with us in the flesh. He is God who visits the earth. This is God who himself suffered and died in your place and mine, on the cross. It is his death and coming alive from death that sets in stone the fact that God does not judge you but forgives you and accepts you as his friend because of Jesus’ cross. All of your failures and mine have been nailed to that cross and you and I are God’s friends. This friendship with God begun when we were baptised and continues to give us life beyond this life, a life forever. Life that stretches beyond this world of suffering and unfairness, a time when God will make all things right.
Abraham and Sarah were lucky to have those visitors but so are you, God is visiting you today and is growing this same trust in you. Like the breads Sarah cooked that trust in God is growing in your heart.
Please pray with me.
Lord as you visit me today, grow in me that trust you grew in Sarah and Abraham. Amen.