This week the Narrative Lectionary points us to Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7. Abraham and Sarah’s too-old-to-give-birth-but-did-it-anyway story is amazing and pertinent for Bible students on several levels. The central place of Abraham and his faith is hard to miss as one reads through the Scriptures. While one may point to any number of circumstances where Abraham made a faith decision, the birth of Isaac is the culmination of the greatest challenge the elderly couple faced.
The three visitors who visit Abraham at the oaks of Mamre is a Divine appearance. Though there are three, they are referred to throughout the passage as ‘The Lord‘. Giving them the kind of hospitality of which a wealthy man like Abraham was capable, he listened as they delivered their message. Was it an unexpected message at this point? It has been quite some time since God promised Abraham that his generations would be like the sand of the sea or the stars in the sky. Now he is old. Sarah is old. It’s physically impossible for them to give birth to a child. But this is the message anyway.
I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your sife Sarah will have a son!Genesis 18:10, CSB
It must have felt like a Candid Camera stunt. Nobody could believe such a message to the elderly couple. It was so ridiculous that Sara laughed… she literally LOL’d! It was enough of a laugh that the Lord heard it and asked, “Why did Sarah laugh?” But the Lord also asked a much more profound question.
Is anything impossible for the Lord?Genesis 18:14a , CSB
In fear of potentially angering the Lord, Sarah denied laughing, but the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.” It is a funny story. Two elderly people were told they were going to have a baby. Maybe the response of the Lord is to serve as a reminder to Sarah and all who will read this account that when the situation is so outlandishly impossible that a solution seems laughable, we should ask “Is anything impossible for the Lord?“
The passage in Genesis 21 is the culmination of this promise. We are told there that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born to him. I can’t help but reflect on the time, way back in Genesis 12, when God made this promise. He conveniently left out the fact that Abraham would be 100 when this actually came about. How often do we give up on God’s promises, thinking enough time has passed for God to do what He said he would do?
I love Sarah’s assurance that “everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). So, it just seems natural to name this newborn son Isaac, which means he laughs (Genesis 17:19).
There is both drama and humor in this text. Even though it is a familiar story, it is also a favorite story in the Bible.
He believed, hoping against hope, so that he became the father of many nation according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body to be already dead (since he was about a hundred years old) and also the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God…Romans 4:18-20, CSB
By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the one who had promised was faithful. 12 Therefore, from one man—in fact, from one as good as dead—came offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and as innumerable as the grains of sand along the seashore.Hebrews 11:11, 12, CSB
The principle of faith – believing in a God for whom nothing is impossible – is an open door to the preacher for this text. September is National Recovery Month and our sermons and classes are aimed at opening up conversations of faith with the recovery community. But whatever applications the preacher makes at the congregation, there are some things that are brought to the forefront in these texts:
*God Never Forgets His Promises. Abraham had journeyed many miles since he first heard God’s amazing promise. Yet here he is 100 years old just now seeing it come to pass.
*God Does Not Rescind His Promises. Though some promises of God are conditional in Scripture, He keeps his promises even when we bumble our way on the journey of faith. Abraham and Sarah were certainly not faultless in their faith, but they continued to believe God would keep His promise somehow. In spite of their very human capacity of faith, God’s capacity of power was never in danger of failure.
*God Is Never Constricted By The Difficulty of His Promises. Humans always have an out. “I couldn’t help it” or “It was beyond my control” – at some point, we reach the edge of our capability. God, however, has no end to His capability. Medically, this is a birth that shouldn’t have happened. But God does not have the limitations that are a part of the construct of our lives.
My thoughts for the recovery community reflect back to the first three of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I think the message of this text is that when life becomes unmanageable, believe that there is a God and turn your life over to Him. I appreciate the AA community and what they teach us about addiction. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from them is that recovery might seem impossible when you first begin, but it is possible because it is empowered by God.
Isn’t it true that all of us have problems going on in our lives, in our minds, in our families, in our behavior, in our speech, in our obsessions, in the substances we refuse to give up (alcohol, drugs, sex, sugar, nicotine, screen time, gambling, work, porn, etc)? Though destructive, we allow them to continue to cause issues in our lives. Maybe we think they are impossible to leave behind.
But look to Abraham and Sarah, friends. Is anything impossible for the Lord? Every week in support group meetings around the world people are finding impossible progress being made in the lives of those willing to turn it all over to a God who loves to make the impossible possible.
You’re invited to join the conversation on the text of each week, share resources, and read the ideas of others in my Facebook group called NARRATIVE LECTIONARIANS.