Sermon: June 21, 2020

Hope

An Old Woman’s Laugh

Scripture Reading

Genesis 18:1-14 (NRSV)

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. 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. 

He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 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.” 

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 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.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 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. 

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 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.”

May God speak hope to us through the reading and hearing of this passage.

Hope: An Old Woman’s Laugh

Will you pray with me? Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

It is a hot summer’s afternoon, and a woman walks up to a little league baseball game — perhaps she’s a relative or friend arriving late…. In any case, she approaches a boy in the dugout and asks him the score.

“Eighteen to nothing — we’re behind,” He responds.

The woman gets a sympathetic look on her face, “Boy! You must be feeling pretty discouraged.”

I imagine the woman talking to us:

Boy, 29 million Americans unemployed…. You must be feeling pretty discouraged.

Three months of virtual worship and at least another two to go…. 

Schools closed since March and no one knows what the fall will look like… 

Over 120,000 people having died of the Corona Virus just since February….

400 years of racial injustice in the United States and systems that continue to perpetuate inequality and violence to black and brown bodies….

Boy! You must be feeling pretty discouraged!

I imagine her talking to Sarah:

90 years old, way past menopause menopause and childless…. Boy, you must be feeling pretty discouraged!

Yes. I want to say. Yes, we are feeling pretty discouraged. 

I’ve had a couple of conversations this week on the weariness of this time — people feeling discouraged about the financial impacts of the global pandemic. People feeling discouraged about the public health impacts, the personal impacts, the enormous loss of life caused by Covid 19. People feel discouraged by racial injustice that seems not to have improved much in 50 years — violence, protests, calls for change. 

Yes, we are discouraged. Yes, we are weary. Yes, our hearts are heavy. 

For some of us the isolation is triggering depression and anxiety that we were managing just fine until quarantine. 

Our children are struggling with their mental and physical health. 

Instead of finding ourselves united in this time of uncertainty, our nation is more divided than ever.

We are discouraged. 

I imagine Sarah in her tent as three strangers arrive. Her long white hair tied up under a head scarf. Her husband Abraham keeps telling her about God’s promises — as many descendants as stars in the sky. Right! Abraham finally has a son Ishmael with the couple’s servant Hagar, but Sarah is still barren. No children. At 90, she is long past any hope of children of her own.

And then three strangers arrive and Abraham is playing host — offering water, rest and food. I imagine him entering Sarah’s tent: make bread! And do it quickly!

I imagine the elderly woman bending over a bag of flour, squatting on the ground to stoke the fire, kneading and baking the bread. She does not speak to the guests but gives her husband the bread she has prepared. Abraham waits on their guests. Abraham stands by as they eat. 

“Where is your wife?” One of them asks.

“In the tent.” I imagine Sarah listening. Then she hears one of them say, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

Sarah knows better than to laugh aloud, but she laughs to herself. And why? Doubt? Disbelief? Surely! A baby? How ridiculous! “After I have grown old, after my husband has grown old?” she asks herself. Her laughter holds the cynicism of a weary old woman who knows that this long prayed for word cannot be true!

But there is more to Sarah’s laughter…. Relief? The unexpected release of 70+ childless years worth of grief? Will she finally get to hold her own child? Does she feel wonder? Delight? Pure joy — surely! “Shall I have pleasure?” Sarah asks. 

An old woman’s laugh. Sarah’s laughter holds hope — the antidote to her cynicism. 

Hope. Through a child’s eyes — there is no need for cynicism, for there is always hope! 

There is hope for a 90 year old woman who wants a child of her own.

There is hope in the face of COVID-19. This will not last forever. Those deaths will not be in vain. We can learn from this time. 

There is hope in the face of 400 years of deeply institutionalized white supremacy. We can change. We must change. We are already changing.

And there is hope when you’re playing baseball and down 18 to nothing. We, like the woman in the anecdote want to respond, “Boy! You must be feeling pretty discouraged!”

But not a child! For a child LIVES IN HOPE! “Why should I be discouraged?” asks the little boy. “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

“Is anything too difficult or wonderful for God?” 

In due season — all things shall come to pass. 

In due season, Sarah WILL have her child.

In due season, this pandemic will end and it will be safe for us to gather in person again!

In due season, hearts and lives will be transformed and we will love God with all that we are and we will love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves. 

In due season, we will learn to see the biases within us, to own our racism and to act instead out of respect, love and justice. 

In due season, our nation’s people will rise up so that we may truly live into that which we proclaim: that we are a nation of liberty and justice for all! 

“Why should I be discouraged? We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

“Why should we be discouraged? 

A new baby was born into our church family on Friday! Baby Celia!

New carpeting lines our sanctuary floor!

As a congregation, we are learning about discernment and what it could mean to become Open and Affirming — And most simply, becoming Open and Affirming means making a public covenant of welcome to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. 

Energy-efficient LED lights have replaced our old fluorescents at no cost to us!

Peaceful protests are happening all over our nation! Police officers taking a knee, marching hand in hand with protestors. 

People across the country celebrated Friday June 19th the day when we celebrate the END of slavery!

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people joined the virtual Poor People’s March on Washington to call for a moral revival and systemic change so that all of our siblings can earn a living wage, access health care, quality education and safe housing. 

Beloved of God, why should we be discouraged? 

For now is the time to hope. 

Nothing, nothing is too difficult or wonderful for God. 

And we, like Abraham and Sarah, are called to the work of love so that in and through us, God’s transformation may take place.

May it be so! Amen.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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