Text: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
“There, in the tent,” he said.
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Have you ever had someone tell you something, and your first thought was, “Yeah, right, that’ll happen when pigs fly!”? That was exactly Sarah’s reaction when the visitor told her that she would bear a son. She was well past her child-bearing years, and if she wasn’t able to get pregnant during her “fertile” years, how in the world was she going to get pregnant now?
This is not the first time that Abraham and Sarah have heard this promise. In Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that he will have a son of his own flesh and that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham and Sarah don’t have any inkling how this will actually happen as they are both old and Sarah is past child-bearing years. Sarah comes up with her own plan to make God’s plan work – Abraham will sleep with Sarah’s slave, Hagar, get her pregnant, and bear a son of his own flesh through her (and let’s not even get started on how messed up that whole situation is). Abraham agrees, and Sarah’s manipulative and abusive plan for Hagar achieves her desired results. Hagar bears a son named Ishmael. Much familial abuse and dysfunction ensues.
Now, some years have passed. Ishmael is growing, and God speaks to Abraham again, telling him that Sarah, specifically, will bear him a son, to be named Isaac. God further clarifies the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham and future generations of his family, and Abraham and all of the men and boys belonging to Abraham’s household are circumcised as a sign of that covenant. Laughter and disbelief are Abraham’s response to God’s promise about Sarah’s impending pregnancy.
And yet – despite their disbelief, despite their laughter, God brings the plan about. Not as Sarah or Abraham tried to orchestrate it (which led to much strife and abuse), but as God orchestrated it. Sarah does indeed bear a child well past her child-bearing years, and her laughter of derision and disbelief turns to the laughter of sheer joy and the overwhelming nature of God’s grace.
Did Abraham and Sarah deserve this gift? My own personal impulse, after what they did to Hagar and Ishmael, is to say, “No, absolutely not!” But that’s the thing about God’s grace. It is not dependent upon “deserving” it. God’s grace is a free, and undeserved gift.
Often, as Christians, we are tempted to restrict the idea of grace to the New Testament – “That’s something Jesus brought us,” we say. And yet, when we look at this story, among many others in the Hebrew Bible, aka the Old Testament, we find that God’s grace has actually been present all along. May we all catch glimpses of God’s grace in unsuspected places!
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o Where in your life have you seen God accomplish an “impossible” task?
o Who might you have you hurt in the name of accomplishing your own plans?
o Where have you seen God’s grace at work this past week?
Each evening this week, before you go to bed, take a few moments to pause, reflecting back over your day, and identify the moments or experiences where you have seen God’s grace. Give thanks to God for those moments.
Reach out to someone you have hurt. Talk with them openly and honestly. Repent. Seek forgiveness. Accept their response, whatever it may be.
Surprising God, you are always on the move. Thank you for the ways that you show up when I am least expecting it. Forgive me for the ways that I try to manipulate your plans for me. Forgive me for the times where I fail to trust you. Give me the strength to make things right with those I have hurt, with those I have used, and with those I have cast aside. May your grace be continually at work in my heart, not because I deserve it, but because you desire it. Turn my derision and disbelief into laughter and joy. Fill me with your Spirit and your love. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.