Sermon on Sarah and Abraham

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

I want to note that I would have probably never written this sermon if it wasn’t for it being assigned to me. It’s difficult to know what to do when you’re given a story that is 1/5 of the book of Genesis. Because this is the “last” sermon I’ll preach for a while, it gave me more anxiety than it probably should have…

Sermon at the Brookline Church of Christ

May 11, 2014

You’ll have to forgive me for this… It’s the end of the semester, the end of my time in Boston, and you’ve all been so good to me. As nervous as it makes me, I’ve really enjoyed being able gain this experience preaching here, and I have no idea when or if I will ever be able to again. That being said, I hope I’m not judged too harshly here, this one being the “last” I will preach, but also being second in a sort of series on Salvation history leading up to Pentecost.

It’s also Mother’s Day! Clint told me that I somehow need to incorporate Pentecost, OT salvation history, AND Mother’s day into my sermon. And what woman am I given–Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

This might be a bit of a spoiler alert, but this is the passage to keep in mind:

God says in Genesis 17:15-16, “As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai, but Sarah. I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her. Her also I will bless; she will give rise to many nations, and rulers of people will issue from her.”

Pray with me. God, Thank you for our mothers. Thank you for this gift of life. Help us to use this gift in service to others.

Sounds pretty good. But it’s a long story that spans over 100 Bible years, and a lot of chapters in Genesis. I’m not going to read it all, so let me tell you what you need to know/I think you need to know about Sarah and Pentecost and Salvation history and [maybe] Mother’s Day…

As we are introduced to Sarai and Abram in Genesis, we are told a couple things right off the bat. Sarai and Abram are married. Sarai is barren. But God has chosen Abram, and God tells Abram over and over that he will be a great nation, he will be blessed, he will bless his descendants, leaders will be in his lineage, he will have descendants as numerous as the stars, and HE is the star of this story.

Sarai is barren.

She is marked unworthy. She is alone. She is at the bottom of the social ladder of her time. Not only is she a woman, but she can’t bear children. Why is she in the story? What good is she? Why does Abram have and keep her in his story?

And as far as we know, Abram isn’t flaunting his choseness with a barren wife. Sarai doesn’t appear to know that Abram is the chosen one. He even tries to offload her more than once! As if he is trying to force God’s calling.

For example, there is a story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt in Genesis chapter 12. It really looks like Abram is trying to get rid of Sarai (because really, what does he think is going to happen). Without any preface in the story, Abram assumes the Egyptians will kill him for Sarai, and instead he gives her to the Egyptians.

Again, what does he think is going to happen? Is he going to secretly be married to Sarai and live peacefully amongst the powerful Egyptians? Maybe one day become a Pharaoh? Maybe this is how God’s call will come to fruition! We don’t know.

So, God miraculously enters into this story by plaguing the Egyptians for taking Sarai when she is Abram’s wife, the Egyptians don’t kill them, and she and Abram are simply kicked out of Pharaoh’s house.

In reading through this part of the story, Abram looks like he is forcing what he thinks God wants… He is impatient and frustrated, understandably so. I’ve felt the same way…

But there is also this picture of him not just impatiently forcing what he believes is God’s call, but also shrugging off the the characters who are weak, unworthy, and getting in his way.

Genesis 15,

“Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, if I die childless and have only a servant of my household, Eliezer of Damascus? [Now obviously impatient] Look, you have given me no offspring, so a servant of my household will be my heir.” …Then the word of the Lord came to him: No, that one will not be your heir. …Abram put his faith in the Lord, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.”

The next time that Abram tries to get rid of Sarai is in his 80’s. As was custom, Sarai is old and offers her servant Hagar as a possible surrogate for an heir to Abram. Abram jumps on the opportunity. FINALLY, Abram will have a son.

This story is starting to get ridiculous, and I’m not even giving you all the details.

The point seems to be that Abram can’t force God’s plan. Another 13 years go by.

We arrive in Genesis chapter 17. Abram is 99 years old and God comes to him, again, to tell him the same thing except this time it includes Sarai, now to be called Sarah (while Abram is to be called Abraham).

Abraham, again, is reluctant, frustrated, and asks God, “Is Ishmael not good enough?” He laughs, “Can a child be born to a man who is 100 years old, and Sarah who is 90?”

God says in Genesis 17:15-16, “As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai, but Sarah. I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her. Her also I will bless; she will give rise to many nations, and rulers of people will issue from her.”

Abraham still doesn’t tell Sarah!

During another divine encounter, Sarah learns that she is chosen to be a great mother of a great nation…

Sarah laughs.

Is Ishmael not good enough as an heir? Can an old barren woman, now, bare children? Why? How? Seriously, God?

Abraham and Sarah both laugh at God’s call.

And understandably so! I have a 97 y/o great grandma, and if she was called to have a child, that would be extremely laughable and also terrifying!

They are coming to the last bit of time on earth. They have no children of their own. They are resolved to let Ishmael be the chosen one. And now, God changes the game AGAIN, even at 100, their story is not over.

When I was talking to Clint last week, one of the words he wanted incorporated, and happens all the time throughout Israel’s history is this idea of rescue. Humans screw up, and God rescues them (or punishes them…).

Kind of like this:

  • God loves humans.
  • Humans trust and have faith in God.
  • Humans screw up.
  • God rescues.
  • God loves humans.
  • Humans trust and have faith in God.
  • Humans screw up.
  • God rescues.
  • God loves humans

Personally, I’m not feeling the rescue part… I don’t always notice, or trust, and I think it could be because I’m thinking there is something I can do. Like Abram, i might be trying to force God’s call. Like if I trust enough, and get in the right place at the right time, God will finally rescue me, and deliver my call.

I may even sometimes think that if I mess up enough times—eventually, I’ll get the rescue that I want, or the attention, or the love. (Now, this is usually an unconscious situation.)

The fact is that I’m trying to get out of one situation so I can be in a better one, or at the very least–a different one. I want God to move me from here to there. This, I think, is the rescue that we expect from God.

But it doesn’t necessarily work that way…

The narrative of Abraham and Sarah follow a pretty common structure. Many of Israel’s matriarch’s were “barren”, and God then enters into the story to miraculously transform the situation.

I believe there are moments where God can and does pull us up out of whatever pit, tragedy, trauma, but God also, even more so works in us and enters into the story to transform these experiences. Which, IMO, is the harder part…

You can take a woman out of an abusive situation, but how do you make her trust in relationships again?

So, maybe I’m not identifying with this God of rescue, salvation, and pentecost, because I don’t notice or give credit to the Sarahs in my life… Mother’s or otherwise. I don’t pay attention to these characters who will be the conduit of radical transformation in my life…

I’m so focused on MY calling, I don’t give gratitude and credit to the people right by my side, who I deem weak, or a subordinate character in my story.

And from these characters is where God enters in and transforms us.

And in this story, the lowest of the low, a barren woman, is called to literally deliver God’s chosen people.

Unjustly, Sarah suffered silently as a barren woman for almost 100 years. She probably blamed God. She may have at some point hoped for an heir, but never expected it–even when she was called by God to have children. She laughed! She still didn’t expect it.

Similarly, we live in this constant hope that God will rescue us. God will deliver God’s call. But we never expect it. Or never, I never expect it.

So, we, as the readers don’t expect God to use Sarah.

Abraham doesn’t expect God to use Sarah.

AND Sarah doesn’t expect God to use her.

What’s a little bit sad is that Sarah ends up treating Hagar the exact same way that she’s been treated. Sarah throws Hagar out, and is afraid that somehow, Hagar and Ishmael will “mess up” God’s call.

Even with this, honestly sad, part of the story, it’s not the end.

Even though Abraham and Sarah had probably days and years where they lacked trust and faith, it was still credited to them throughout all of Israel’s history as their righteousness.

So, what does all this have to do with pentecost and salvation and Mother’s day?

I don’t know…

What do we need to be saved from or by or for? How are we saved/rescued by God? What is the link to pentecost?

These are very big questions…

1) I keep thinking, and maybe this is because this is what I need to be saved from, is our lack of trust. (Clint mentioned it last week a little bit, being saved from our fear.)

I’ve been thinking of fear and trust on opposite ends of a spectrum, similar to a spectrum like faith and doubt.

TRUST———————————————————————————————FEAR

Even in the garden, that was what the serpent was getting at, insinuating God wasn’t trustworthy, that there was something better. And then when their eyes were opened, they were afraid.

Sarah laughed at God’s call and was actually understandably afraid.

When we’re afraid and we don’t trust, we are alone, naked, barren, and full of fear…

And then God comes, and covers us, calls us, speaks to us, and rescues us. Maybe nudges us over a little more to the trust side of the spectrum.

2) Once God nudges us over a little over to the trust, then we can also be saved from our blindness and ungratefulness to who or what we think are the sub-plots and sub-characters in our lives. The Sarah’s, the weak, the servants and slaves, the lesser, the other.

We can begin noticing and be attentive and patient. Actively incorporating these characters in the larger call of God’s salvation.

There is a horrible/beautiful reading today from 1 Peter 2, and, in this particular section, the basic gist is “Slaves and wives, suffer in silence, like Christ suffered.” It’s harsh… And I bet you’re glad I didn’t preach on that, but I think the bigger point is that those who are the least are lifted to the example of Christ, and ought to be given appreciation and gratitude, respect and dignity, and care.

Sarah, is one of these considered the least, suffering silently in the story. And maybe with a little trust, we’ll finally see her as chosen/called by God.

This story, and many stories in the OT, are ridiculous. Everyone laughs for fear, reverence, and for joy and faith.

Then once we’ve been lifted out of our fear, found transformation and gratitude for all the relationships in our lives (not just the ones we deem as worthy), then maybe we can look back and be joyful.  So, 3) that we might be saved from our seriousness.

Paul Keim is professor of Bible and religion and ancient and classical languages at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, who also wrote a sermon on Abraham and Sarah:

“Biblical faith is about loyalty, trust, devotion— about durative commitments lived out over time… Biblical faith, according to most of the narratives, and the laments and the prophecies, is about failing, about acknowledging responsibility, about receiving forgiveness, about starting over. Biblical faith is mostly about human failure, and the possibility of redemptive transformations.”

These redemptive transformations are what cause us to smile when we look back on those times where it was hard to believe. And hard to trust…

This long story, this story of the life of Abraham and Sarah, is just like the story of us. That’s why it’s here, I think. It’s kind of a silly point. But true, even the end of this story isn’t perfect. Even while I was writing this sermon, like a microcosm of God’s grace, I felt fear, lack of trust, was trying to force it…

But in this story and all stories there is the possibility of a redemptive transformation, of rebirth, and continuous salvation–what pentecost is.

The transformation of my own fear into trust through love and forgiveness.

The transformation of our hearts to recognize the invisible people around us.

And the transformation of our attitudes as we look back on the ridiculousness of our own story.

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Author: Paige

Explorer. Healer. Eater. School counselor, teacher, party planner. Personal passions are holistic healthcare education, spirituality, food, and writing.

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