May 12, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Keep Hoping!

"Wonderful Women of the Word" is the series of messages I am beginning (appropriately on Mother's Day! Happy Mom's Day Mom!) In this series I will be focusing some much needed attention on the story these wonderful women have to tell us about this marvelous and powerful God we worship! My prayer is that you find encouragement for the journey, a fresh perspective on some well worn stories, and a renewed challenge to keep on keeping on in your walk with God.

Joyce Baldwin in her commentary on Genesis states, "Prayers that receive no immediate answer, though based on God's word, can be a source of considerable unease." I think she's right on target. How long do we wait for an answer? Is God even listening? Has He forgotten us? Is there any reason to keep hoping? These seasons of God's seeming silence in the face of our increasing anxiety certainly stretch our ability to trust.

One woman who encountered this "considerable unease" in her journey with God was Sarah. Hers is a story of a ridiculous promise, an equally ridiculous hope, and a laughter-filled ending. Walk with me as we revisit her story...

When Sarah's husband Abraham got word from God that he was to uproot the family and go to some, as yet, unspecified place she was already pretty far down the road of adult life. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was some 10 years younger when this move happened. Moving is never easy and it seems to be more difficult for the fairer sex than for men. I imagine the same holds true in Sarah's life.

It's likely that Sarah had settled into a reasonably comfortable existence in Haran. I find it hard to believe she was terribly dissatisfied with life with one glaring exception...she had no children. This had to be a sore spot in her life. It hung over her life as a constant reminder that all was not well. In the culture of that day and time a childless woman was looked on as a cursed woman, not favored by God. Part of the attraction for moving to an unknown place may have been Abraham's comment concerning God's promise of becoming a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Was it possible that even at her age she might bear a son?

The journey takes place and years pass. Lots of years. Not just a few, A LOT. Twenty-four, to be exact, and Abraham and Sarah have done all God has asked of them but somewhere along the way it seems that God forgot about His end of the deal. Sarah is still childless and if she was a little old to be having children at 65 it's past hoping at the age of 89. That's when all the laughing gets started.

It seems that Abraham has an incredible experience of worship in which God reminds Abraham of the promise to make a great nation out of him. At first Abraham must have been mystified by all of this talk of offspring and generations. Maybe he was even pained by the insensitivity of God at bringing up this most glaring omission. All of these feelings were replaced by laughter as the pure ridiculousness of the situation dawned on him. Here he is, a 99 year old man with an 89 year old wife, and God is talking to him about having kids. Abraham worships, but he's laughing all the way. (Gen. 17:17)

Pretty soon Sarah is joining in on the laughter. God drops by for dinner one evening (Gen. 18) and in the course of the after dinner conversation He makes the statement that "This time next year Sarah will bear you a son." In case we've somehow manged to miss the point that Abraham and Sarah are past their childbearing prime, we are given this memorable line, "Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah." (v.11) Which is "nice" way to say Sarah was a "dried up old lady" and Abraham was not up to the task. (Translations are nice but they sometimes shield us from the vivid rough and tumble language of the Bible.) So, understandably Sarah laughs to herself saying, "After I am worn out, an my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" (I'll let you fill in the blanks here...)

25 years after the promise was made it is fulfilled and there is more laughter! Genesis 21 tells the story of this marvelous moment. But let's not forget the preceding 9 months of unbelief becoming belief! What an astonishing sight Sarah must have been wearing her maternity clothes at 90 years of age! I'm sure there were a lot of laughs as she made her way through the market or when she visited with the neighbors. I can't begin to imagine the ribbing Abraham took down at the coffee shop! But then there's this moment of birth, this can't really be happening but it is!

"It's a boy!"

"What'll we name him?"

"What else, Laughter!"

And so Isaac (which means "Laughter") arrives and an old man and little old dried up lady learn the great truth that whatever God promises He will do. Even, and maybe especially, when it seems ridiculous to believe that it could ever happen.

Perhaps there are some of you who have come to the end of your hope. Keep hoping. Maybe you don't believe God can do it for you; you're too far gone, too far beyond the possibility of belief, too messed up. The God Abraham and Sarah encountered, the same God who continues reaching out to ordinary people like us, is the God unafraid of seeming impossibilities. His words to Sarah can offer you hope today, "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen. 18:14) The answer is, "Of course not!"

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