Today is Father’s Day. When a small boy was asked what that meant, he replied: "It's just like Mother's Day only you don't spend as much.”
We have the mother of all Father’s day stories in our reading from the Hebrew bible today when we learn how Abraham became Father Abraham. Let’s set the scene:
It is hot, hot, hot and Abraham is reclining outside his tent, trying to find some shade. In the distance he sees travelers approaching. In Bedouin fashion, he offers them extravagant hospitality, instructing Sarah to make flat bread; offering them water, milk and roasted meat. The visitors rest and gladly take refreshment. Much later, in Hebrews, we read of how important this is: “And do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
The three men eat silently for a while as Abraham stands watching them. They ask him: “Where is your wife Sarah?” Abraham gestures; “There, in the tent.” Then the leader speaks, and Abraham knows that he has been entertaining not angels, but the Lord. Twenty four years before, this is the one who promised him and Sarah a son. Now he repeats that promise: “Then the Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah, your wife will have a son’ ”.
Through the thin fabric of the tent, Sarah hears this promise. She’s heard this story before. But now she is in her nineties, and Abraham is nearly one hundred years old. She has long since given up hope and she is surprised at what she feels now. When she hears the seemingly empty promise again, it strikes her as . . . funny! “ Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ ”.
Oh, oh. The Lord has heard her laugh and now asks; “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Terrified at what is happening, she shouts from inside the tent, “I didn’t laugh.” Without even turning in her direction, the stranger says, “Yes, you did.” The Lord is disappointed in Sarah for her timid faith in a tiny God.
Sarah and Abraham have their son and name him Isaac. Sarah is incredulous at this miracle in her old age. All I can think about is that Sarah would have been just over 100 when her son entered his teenage years. Ay.
Sarah laughed when she heard the Lord’s promise and that does not go over well with him. She thinks it is impossible for God to bless her with a child. Perhaps that is exactly why God does so. Maybe God likes to do the impossible.
In April of 1994, I was widowed at the age of 38. Beyond my overwhelming grief over losing my husband was my grief over not being a mother. I had so wanted a child but it wasn’t possible. So there I was, a broken, deeply grieving, mess of a woman, looking ahead to the impossibility of building back my strength, eventually trying to date again, hoping to someday find a husband and then maybe, maybe getting pregnant? How many years would that take?
Four months later, I met Kevin and we married soon after. We prayed and prayed for a baby. When I was 40, I had what the doctor’s described as a ‘geriatric pregnancy’. (Had they heard about Sarah and Abraham?) Kevin and I became the parents of a huge, healthy son in 1996. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
God asks this question of Sarah when she doubts his promise. In the Gospel of Matthew, many years later, the angel Gabriel will reassure Mary, another woman who is contemplating the impossible, with a strikingly similar phrase: “Is anything too difficult for God?”
When Sarah hears the promise that she will have a child, she laughs and asks; 'After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Terry Thomas Primer writes; “Scripture reminds us that no one is ever too old to receive fresh promises from God. Trust, therefore, in the Almighty, and continue to hope. For hope ignites life, laughter, and generosity, even in the twilight of one’s life.”
Perhaps this story is an invitation to us, here at St. Mark’s as we age and feel worn out, to continue to live, love and hope. Even as our bodies tire, our minds slow, we must remember that we are all made in the image of God. God, who is love. God, who invites us to grow together in faith and love, even in our tired old age! If we can remember just one thing with our bad memories, let it be this: nothing is too wonderful for our God!