GENESIS 17:1-7,15-21 (NIV) - When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty ; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers."
Abram fell face down, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
Some things are difficult to believe and some things we don't want to believe. Some promises are hard to trust in, and some we wish had never been made. Consider Abraham, a man held out to us throughout the bible as a man of faith, consider Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old, and his wife Sarah - aged ninety; and consider them hearing someone say to them: you will conceive, and you will bear a child, and through that child you will produce many descendants, kings and rulers will come from you, and the land that you now live in as strangers will belong to your descendants. It seems a little ridiculous doesn't it? Almost a joke. Even when you know that that someone speaking to them is God, it doesn't seem credible. I mean you would have to be pretty naive wouldn't you to accept that promise at face value? Some things are difficult to believe. Even Abraham laughed when he heard God promise him a child; even he, the man held out to us as the greatest example of faith, doubted. Our reading today said that even as Abraham heard the voice of God and fell on his face before him, he laughed; he laughed and he said to himself "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?" "Will Sarah bear a child at the age ninety?" Nooooooooo! It's not really possible! In fact it is ridiculous; and so Abraham laughed, and a few days later, when finally Sarah heard this idea from the lips of the three angels, she too laughed......"After I am worn out, and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure!" she whispers to herself. How often are we like Abraham and Sarah? How often do we laugh at what God has said to us? How often, despite our best intentions, do we doubt his promises? I think it is very common. I think we do it every time we pray to God for our daily bread, but fail to pray for bread for those in 3RD World countries. We do it every time we ask God to help us to forgive someone else, but fail to ask God to help bring peace to countries at war. It is easy you see to trust God for the things that we have some control over, but it is awfully hard to trust God for the things that we don't control, for the things that we can't do anything to bring to pass ourselves. It is easy to trust God for things we think possible, but hard to trust him for things we think impossible. When we trust God for our daily bread, in the back of our minds we already know how God will feed us, we know that if we go to work we will be able to bring home our wages, just as we know that if we ask God to help us forgive someone, that it will most likely come to pass if we call up that person and try to talk to them. But food for 3rd world countries - we don't see how it is possible, just as the disciples couldn't see how it was possible to feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish; nor can we see how war might cease between the nations, just as many of the Pharisees could not see how it was possible for God to love sinners, and so we do not ask God to do the impossible, or if we do, we do not really expect God to do it, instead we look for God to do those things and to bless those things which already lie within our comprehension. That's how it was with Abraham, he trusted God, and he did what he believed God wanted him to do, even when it was difficult to do so; even when he had to leave his own country and his own family. And when Abraham saw he could do something to make the divine promises come true, he did that as well. That is how Ishmael came to be born: Ishmael - the fourteen year old child that is referred to in today's reading, the one that, after he finishes laughing, Abraham asks God to bless. You see from the very beginning of Abraham's faith journey he believed that God was going to give him a son, and through that child's children and their children and their children in turn, that God was going to bless the world, and that he was going to make the name of Abraham great. From the very beginning of his journey Abraham believed in the promises of God, and he trusted God for - almost everything - but after a few years had gone by and he still didn't have a child, and Sarah was getting old, and willing to let him sleep with another woman so that a child could be born to him, well, he kind of figured that maybe this was the way that God meant to bring the promise to pass - and so he slept with Hagar and Ishmael was born; and even as Abraham asked, Ishmael was blessed, but not in the way that the impossible child, the child to be called Isaac, would be blessed. Abraham was a man of faith. As the Scriptures say, he is father of all those who have faith today, the spiritual ancestor of all those who not only wish to see the promises of God come true, but who are also willing to work to make them come true. Abraham was a man of faith, indeed in the bible he is THE MAN of faith; But for all that, Abraham, like so many of us, trusted God more easily when he could see how God was going to do what God has promised to do. That is not a crime. Nor is it a mortal sin. It is simply how it is. Song: God Will Make A Way Intercessory Prayer Song: He Will Carry You Part 2 Although they lived four thousand years ago, Abraham and Sarah were like us, and we as people of faith, are like them. Like them, we believe in God, and like them we tend to laugh at the idea that God will do anything out of the ordinary; like them we tend to rely on our own understanding of how things work, rather than on the wisdom of God. Like them we sincerely endeavour to trust in God, and like them we all too often leave God out of our equations because we do not see how God can make a difference to them. And Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself: "Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" How are those questions different than the ones we so often ask? How are they different than the statements we so often make? I couldn't possibly teach School scripture - I am too shy. I can't do that - I'm not strong enough, I'm not wise enough, I'm not good enough. I don't have enough money. Where is God in our equations when we say: It won't work - we tried it before, no one cares, government policy will not permit it, the rules cannot be changed. Some things are difficult to believe, and some promises are hard to trust in, even if you already believe in much of what God has said, and already trust in many other promises that He has made. The marvellous thing about Abraham and Sarah, is that even though they left God out of their equation when they laughed and said to themselves that it was impossible to have a child at that late stage in their lives, even though a significant part of them doubted God, when push came to shove, a larger part of them trusted in God's promises and believed that God had the power to do in them what he had promised to do. As Paul writes in Romans 4: 18-22, Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed. Without weakening in his faith he faced the fact that he was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old -and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.... And so he became the father of many nations and he was considered by God to be righteous. Some things are hard to believe, and some promises are hard to trust in, but if we trust God anyway, if we believe in his promises to us despite their fantastic nature, then even if part of us laughs, and part of us doubts, we will be what God meant us to be, and God's blessings will abide with us as they did with Abraham and Sarah. In Christ, God has promised us so much; He holds before us not just forgiveness of our sins, and life everlasting, but he offers as well a full and rich life here and now, a life where, if he wills it, we can do what we think is impossible for us to do, and where our brothers and sisters can be what we thought they could never be. People of faith, remember that God is in the equation, that he loves you, and he loves this world, and wants the best for it. Against all hope, in hope believe, Trust God to do what he has said he will do, Put God into all the impossible situations in your lives, and God's power will be set loose in you, and the laughter of doubt will be turned into the laughter of joy.
PRAYER: O Lord, we give you thanks for the example of Abraham and for all the saints who have gone before us - for those who waited in patience for your promises to come to pass - for those who lived in hope while around them it seemed to be only darkness, for those who witnessed to you when it was not considered the proper thing to do, for those who forgot their own selves in their desire to obey your commands and respond to your call upon their lives. Help us today, O God, to examine the level of our faith - to look seriously at our resistance to talk about the cross and about sacrifice; and to consider in prayer our reluctance to give up the things of this world - to risk our reputations, our comfort, and our security for the sake of following you - for the sake of witnessing to you - for the sake of obeying you.
We pray O Lord, that you would make us bold in our faith. By our self- forgetting, our self-denial, help us make visible to all our brothers and sisters the reality of your power and care - that power and care that is so often made evident when we confess our weakness - and so often concealed from others when we are strong.
BENEDICTION: In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.
Go in peace - love and care for one another in the name of Christ; and may the faith of Abraham and Sarah be within you; may the love of Christ and of God the Father surround you; and may the Holy Spirit guide you in the way day by day, day by day. Amen