Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7
June 18, 2017
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
18The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He 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. 3He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let 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.’ 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.8Then 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.’ 10Then 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. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
21The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ 7And 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.’
Ministers are notoriously bad drivers. Jim told me this on one of our first dates. He said this as he was driving his car with one hand, cleaning his glasses, and looking through a pile of CDs, asking me what music I wanted to hear. I was staring straight ahead, praying we wouldn’t crash or roll into a ditch. I married him, anyway, scary driver that he was. Then, 6 years later, I became a minister and a scary driver, too.
I was thinking about this Wednesday, as I drove to Heavenly Handmade, our needlecraft group. I was running late, so I took a short cut, went North Tropical Trail and discovered the road was closed.
I followed the detour through a housing development that was like a maze; it led me southeast to a congested part of Courtenay Parkway. No light. No left turn.
I turned right and went to the first light that permitted U turns. I waited an eternity. Then the light turned green and I was headed north, again. At the barge canal I encountered road construction. More delays!
Finally, I crossed the bridge and drove what felt like a long way. I forget sometimes how far north Pat lives! Just when I thought the Georgia border must be near,
I turned into the grassy path that is Pat and Gary’s driveway. I pulled up in front of the house. Got out and rang the bell.
No one was home! I was in the wrong place! Peggy was hosting Heavenly Handmade at her house, south of the church. I was already 30 minutes late, and it would take me another 25 minutes to get there. The group would probably be preparing to leave as I pulled up in her drive!
I started to laugh. What else could I do?
My drive to Peggy’s was very different from my drive to Pat’s. It seemed to take no time at all. I relaxed and enjoyed some precious quiet, taking in my surroundings, thanking God for my blessings. I sensed the presence of Christ that is always with us and the joy that is ours when we know Him and seek to share our hope in Him.
On my way to Peggy’s, my phone went “Ding!” I picked it up and read the text, thinking, once again, how ministers are terrible drivers. Someone should take my keys away!
The message was from Peggy, wondering where I was.
“Your HH awaits you!”
Soon, I reached Peggy’s house.
I looked forward to seeing my friends, whatever time was left with them. We might call ourselves a “needlecraft group,” but that isn’t all. We come together for the fellowship.
We tell stories. We laugh, and we never judge! What happens in HH, well you know the rest… My close friends in the Lord are, at times, like angels in disguise, speaking hope and encouragement into my life.
Abram is 75 years old when the Lord says, “Go forth from your native land! Leave your father’s house and go to a land that I will show you.” God promises to be with him always and to bless him with a new homeland. God will give him offspring as numerous as the stars that will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
But Abram doesn’t have any children. Not one. He longs for a son, a desire that God placed inside him but would take many, many years to fulfill. Hearing the Lord’s voice for the first time, Abram believes in God’s promises. He and his wife, Sarai, and nephew, Lot, begin their journey into the unknown, leaving their old life behind, relying on the Lord for their life ahead.
Ten years pass, and Sarai is still childless. Impatient, she persuades Abram to have a child with her Egyptian slave, Hagar. But this isn’t what God meant when he promised Abram numerous offspring. Thirteen more years pass. Abram is 99! The Lord makes a covenant of circumcision with him, and gives him a new name– Abraham. “I will make nations of you,” the Lord says in Gen. 17, “and kings shall come from you.” God gives Sarai a new name, as well–Sarah–and says, “ she shall give rise to nations; kings of people shall come from her.” Abraham falls on his face and laughs, “Can a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?” God assures him, “Your wife, Sarah, shall bear you a son and you shall name him Isaac,” or Yitzchaq in Hebrew, meaning “He will laugh; he will rejoice.”
Then we come to today’s reading, beginning in Gen. 18. Abraham is still waiting for the promised child. “The Lord” appears to Abraham by the “oaks” or “terebinths of Mamre”–at “Hebron,” where Abraham pitches his tent and builds an altar to the Lord in Gen. 13:18. Terebinths are a source of turpentine, and Terebinth resin is used as a wine preservative in ancient Israel and the Near East.
Hebron, Hebrew for “friend,” is named for Abraham. He is called a “friend of God” in Isaiah, 2 Chronicles, and James ch. 2.
Abraham, though he is waiting on the Lord, doesn’t know in Gen. 18 that the Lord has come. He sees only “three men.” But the humble hospitality he shows to the strangers is remarkable. He runs to meet them, bows and calls them, “my lords,” (small l) a title of respect. He brings them water to bathe their feet, invites them to recline in the shade. He tells Sarah to knead and make fresh bread out of choice flour and chooses a tender calf for a servant to prepare. Abraham isn’t wealthy. And calf is a “rare delicacy and a sign of princely hospitality among pastoralists.” (Sarna) He serves curds (yogurt) and milk, which is “highly esteemed in the ancient Near East and offered to the gods.” (Sarna) It is believed to be a “source of vitality” and to possess “curative powers.” (Sarna) Abraham doesn’t eat with his guests. He generously gives his best, then stands, ready to serve and satisfy their requests.
After they are welcomed, one of the strangers–sometimes called “the Lord,” and sometimes “an angel” or “a man”–tells Abraham that he will return in a year and, “Sarah shall have a son!” Sarah, listening in, laughs to herself. Is it amazement? Unbelief? The “Lord,” reading her mind, asks Abraham why Sarah laughs. Fearfully, she denies it.
To make sure the hearer understands the miracle that will take place, the word “old” is used 3 times in this passage–first by the narrator in vs. 11 to describe Abraham and Sarah, who are also “advanced in years.” Sarah calls herself “withered” and her husband “old” in verse 12. Then the “Lord,” in v. 13, asks Abraham why Sarah thinks she is too old to bear a child. The Lord leaves out the part about her saying Abraham is too old, too.
The divine being asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
We can learn many things from Abraham. Here are some of them. His life of service to the Lord didn’t start until he turned 75. So those of you who might be feeling old, well, don’t! Keep on serving—doing the things God wants you to do! Don’t be afraid to try new things!
Abraham’s life of service comes from a heart of love. He is known in Scripture–Old Testament and New–to be a “friend of God.”
We can learn from Abraham’s faith–holding on to the hope of the promised child, though both he and his wife were long past childbearing years. Old Father Abraham is 100 when Sarah gives birth to Isaac, named for the joy he will bring!
We can learn from his remarkable hospitality to strangers–giving generously of what is his best, though he is not wealthy–his choice flour, his most tender calf and milk–a feast fit for princes. As the writer of Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Another important thing that occurred to me when I read this passage is that God can use each one of us to be “angels” in disguise –speaking hope and encouragement to one another.
And if we begin to doubt that God can make something lovely out of what seems to us to be chaotic, confusing, hectic lives, remember how the Lord answered Sarah’s doubts about the miracles of God:
“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you that nothing is too wonderful for you. We thank you that, as the angel tells the Virgin Mary at the annunciation, that nothing is impossible with you! Give us the faith of Abraham, Lord, so that we serve you with our lives, giving generously from our best. Stir in us the heart of Abraham, whom you called “Friend,” that clings to hope and believes in your promises, despite the long time we may have to wait to see their fulfillment. We thank you for always being with us in Spirit and leading us each day. Thank you for sending angels to dwell among us and bring us words of encouragement. We look forward, Lord, to your Son’s return in glory–and to the fulfillment of the promise of your everlasting Kingdom–a new heaven, a new earth. When we see our loving Savior, face to face! In His name we pray. Amen.