What makes you laugh? Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s ridiculous promise that Sarah would have a child in her old age. Their cynical laugh was not unfounded as it came from a place of shame and disapointment. Yet, God demonstrated that God’s desire is to transform our laughter into the laughter of hope.
This sermon traces God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 12-21. God walks with real people, with real pain and fear, and forms within us a real faith.
What makes you laugh?
I’ll tell you one thing that doesn’t make my children laugh. My jokes. I usually get eye rolls.
We laugh for many reasons, and we laugh in many ways.
Maybe you remember this scene
[I love to Laugh from Mary Poppins video clip]
Didn’t that just make you feel better. Research has shown that laughter truly is good medicine.
Give it a try. Start with a smile. Go ahead.
Now giggle a little. Don’t worry. We’ll all look silly together.
Now laugh a little. In your own style.
That physical act releases good drugs in your brain and it just makes you feel better.
Here’s the thing about laughter. It’s not always about joy or feeling good.
I was bullied when I was in fourth grade. I still hear the echoes of the kids laughing at me. It hurt.
Sometimes people laugh when they’re nervous. It is a way to deflect the fact that they have to deal with something deep or intense.
Some people laugh out of disbelief.
“Really, I’ll clean my room, I promise.”
“Bah! That’s a good one.”
Our Bible story this week is a story of laughter. It is the story of a couple who laughs at God out of nervous disbelief.
I wonder. What kind of laughter is in your life right now? Maybe you are in a season of great joy. That’s awesome.
But, maybe, you’re here today and when someone talks about God’s love, or finding hope, and you look around at the news headlines, all you can muster is a “bah! That’s a good one.”
The reason we’re looking at this is because our series this Fall is called Real People. Real Faith.
The series was motivated by your survey results from last year. One of the main reasons that you like Easter Lutheran Church is because we believe God is calling Easter to be a beacon of hope to a new generation.
We want to search the stories of the Bible and see how God worked with real, broken, and messed up people and used them to be a beacon of hope. How can we do this for the new generation when there seems to be so many reasons to feel hopeless.
So, we want to look at this story. It is found in Genesis 18:1-15. It is the story of a couple named Sarah and Abraham. They are visited by three strangers.
“Hey, wait,” you may be thinking. Weren’t we in Genesis chapter 2 last week?
Yes, thanks for paying attention.
We skip a whole bunch of the story and land toward the end of Sarah and Abraham’s story.
So, in order to really understand what’s happening in this moment of the story, we need to say…
“Previously in the book of Genesis.”
The story really starts back in chapter 12.
Abram and Sarai had been married for a long time. They were in their 70s and had never had children. In the ancient world, this was kind of a shameful thing for them. Abram’s family line would be cut off.
Then God shows up and makes a promise to Abram. God tells him two amazing things.
First, “I will make you into a great nation.”
OK, how is that going to work? I don’t have any kids.
Second, “I will bless your family, and through that nation I will bless ALL nations. You are blessed to be a blessing.”
That’s so important I’d like you to repeat it with me.
Blessed to be a blessing, say it, “Blessed to be a blessing.”
Wow! That’s a big promise to a couple that can no longer have children.
How would you respond to that promise?
The next few chapters show how these real people wrestle with their real faith. It’s not pretty.
In chapter 15 God gives another reminder.
God says, “I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.”
Abram responds, “My only heir is my servant Eliezar. He’s not my child.”
God says, “look up at the sky, Abram. Try to count the stars. That’s how many children I will give you.”
Then Abram has a vision of God cutting an animal in half and a smoking pot floating between the halves. From our perspective it’s freaky, but in that day it was the sign of a lasting contract. God’s promise is real.
Sarai’s not buying it, though. She knows her own body. She can’t have children. So, she comes up with a plan B to help God out.
“Hey Abram. Make a baby with my servant girl, Hagar.”
Abram’s like, “OK.”
Poof. There’s Ishmael. Abram loves him. Sarai gets jealous. Things get ugly. It’s a mess.
God gives another reminder. God says, “My name is el Shaddai.” This term is usually translated “God Almighty.” Many scholars believe that this is actually a feminine reference for God and basically like a fertility Goddess. Either way, God is saying,
“Hey, I created life. I can do this. In fact, I’m going to change your names to Abraham and Sarah.” Abraham means father of a multitude and Sarah means noblewoman.
Do you know what Abraham does?
He laughs at God.
“Bah! That’s a good one, Lord.”
Then God gives another symbol of the promise. He introduces circumcision to Abraham’s family as a sign that God has made this promise to him and will keep it.
The child is not Ishmael. You will have Isaac.
This brings us to the story for today.
Let’s read it together. I would like this side of the room to read Abraham’s lines. This side of the room be Sarah. I’ll read the narration and the three visitors. OK.
Here we go.
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.”
Isn’t that interesting.
Abraham and Sarah both laughed at God.
The visitors replied, “Is anything too wonderful for God?”
Then let’s jump to chapter 21.
Sarah has a baby.
“Bah! That’s a good one.”
No, seriously. She does.
God kept the promise.
Do you know what she named him?
That’s what Isaac means.
Today, I wonder what your laughter looks like.
I want to remind you of something.
God has made a promise to you as well. This promise was made through Jesus Christ.
God says to you.
You are loved.
I am with you, and I am for you.
Do you believe that?
Maybe you hear that and say, “Bah! That’s a good one. God doesn’t love me. Have you seen my life? Have you seen the mess?”
Remember this. Abraham and Sarah were a mess, too. God didn’t choose them because they earned it. God chose them because God is love.
Look at me right now.
I don’t care what you have done. I don’t care what people have told you about yourself.
God loves you. God is crazy about you. And, no matter what you are going through, God is with you in it and wants to walk with you through it.
This is what our children need to hear every day. They can’t hear it from you until you believe it about yourself.
My prayer for you and for the children that look to you is this. May you fully realize God’s love for you and let God turn your laughter of pain into a laughter of hope.
I hope you will connect with someone to talk about this. Reach out to a friend. Join a life group. Call a pastor.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ge 18:1–15.