Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

No Laughing Matter

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Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

No Laughing Matter

Dr. Keith Wagner

Early last week I told my wife that I was preaching on the story in Genesis where Sarah laughed when God told her she was going to give birth at the age of 90. My wife replied, “No woman would laugh, she would be hysterical.”

It just so happens that my daughter-in-law gave birth to a son last Sunday. She is only 26 years old, and she said, “It hurt, and it was difficult, but I was happy when he finally arrived.” She was smiling, but not laughing.

The story of Abraham and Sarah having a child in their old age is no laughing matter. I think a more modern response by Sarah would have been, “Are you crazy, God?” Or, “There is no way Abraham and I are ready to be parents at our age!”

But, God responded. “No, I’m not crazy, and Yes, I can make it happen. Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Is anything too hard for the Lord? God was teaching Abraham and Sarah an important lesson here; with God all things are possible. That really hit home for me last Sunday evening when Lin and I went to the hospital to see our new grandson. For awhile we just stared at this new life, wiggling and cooing in the crib. God is simply amazing. This is the first Wagner boy to be born in our family in over 30 years. Just as God had blessed Sarah and Abraham with a son, God has blessed my son and his wife with a son, and Lin and I with a grandson. For us, the family name lives on.

For a woman to give birth in her 20’s is very normal. On the other hand, my son is 31 and we weren’t sure he would ever marry let alone have a son. Although the birth of my grandson is not all that extraordinary I still thank God for bringing us a small miracle.

The story of the impossible birth of Isaac reminds us that God is the source of our hope. We lose hope when things don’t go our way, when tragedy strikes, or when there are obstacles in our lives that overwhelm us. One would think that peace in the Mid East will never come. In Northern Ireland they can’t find a way to get along. The situation on the Pakistan-India border is very tense and the possibility of nuclear war looms over the world.

Can these conflicts be overcome? Is anything too hard for the Lord? God wanted Abraham and Sarah to believe that, yes, with God all things are possible.

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God wants us to have faith. God wants us to believe that God can do the impossible. When I think about the world events in my lifetime I remember the conflicts and crises, but I also remember when the impossible became possible. I remember the collapse of the Berlin Wall. I remember the end of the Vietnam War. I watched the first man to walk on the moon and lived to see the 21st century, which many said we world would never reach. Is anything too hard for God?

When life becomes overwhelming, we lose hope. Everything seems dark and cold. I was counseling a woman one time who was depressed. She was also fearful and paranoid. World events had caused her to withdraw and be extremely overprotective of her children. She had to know their every move, afraid that some predator or crisis would sweep them away from her. Her obsession to protect her children drove her into despair. She couldn’t function. She said the world around her seemed dark. She was stuck and didn’t know how to get unstuck.

About the third session we made a breakthrough. She had told me she liked to work in her flower beds, weeding and mulching them. When she looked over the whole yard it seemed an impossible task. She said that she had completed one bed and felt good about it. I realized that she needed to do one bed at a time. She didn’t have to take on the whole project all at once. In life we are used to doing numerous things. It is God, however who is responsible for the larger picture. God wants us to take each day as it comes, regardless of the stage of life we find ourselves in, and believe that God will bless us with creativity and hope.

The story of the birth of Issac is here to remind us that God promises us a future. Just when we think life is over, God releases unimaginable creativity and surprises us with new life. When all seems hopeless, God comes through, demonstrating to us that God is still in charge of the universe and can do what we cannot do for ourselves. And sometimes, God does that in laughable ways.

In the year 1870 the Methodists in Indiana were having their annual conference. At one point, the president of the college where they were meeting said, “I think we live in a very exciting age.” The presiding bishop said, “What do you see?” The college president responded, “I believe we are coming into a time of great inventions. I believe, for example that men will fly through the air like birds.” The bishop said, “This is heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We will have no such talk here.” After the conference, the bishop, whose name was Wright, went home to his two small sons, Wilbur and Orville. Now you know the rest of the story. Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Sarah laughed when God said she was going to have a child. God confronted her and she denied that she laughed. But God said, “But you did laugh.” Perhaps she was afraid. Perhaps she just wasn’t capable of imagining what God could do. I have known people through my counseling experiences who use laughter as a coping tool. Life is too complex for them or too painful. To compensate they laugh to get by. Laughter becomes a way of covering up their doubts and fears.

Laughter is good but believing that God can do anything is serious business. God wants us to have a strong faith, in order for us to get though life. God wants us to believe that God cares and that God can do the impossible.

A little nun was on a much desired mission assignment to the Apache Indians. She was so excited that she drove past the last gas station without noticing that she needed gas. She ran out of gas about a mile down the road, and had to walk back to the station. The attendant told her that he would like to help her, but he had no container to hold the gas.

Sympathetic to her plight, he agreed to search through an old shed in the back for something that might suffice. The only container that would hold fuel was an old bedpan. The grateful nun told him that the bedpan would work just fine. She carried the gasoline back to her car, taking care not to drop an ounce. When she got to her car, she carefully poured the contents of the bed pan into the tank. A truck driver pulled alongside the car as the nun was emptying the container into the tank. He rolled down his window and yelled to her, “I wish I had your faith, sister!”

It’s okay to laugh, just as Sarah did, as long as we don’t become cynical. The cynic is one who doubts and expresses those doubts with sarcasm. When that happens it is offensive to God since God wants us to believe, especially in the impossible.

God didn’t punish Sarah and Abraham for disbelieving, nor did God judge them for laughing at the news of having a son. Instead, God made believers out of them by following through with his promise. In chapter 21 we learn that Abraham became a father at the age of 100 and Sarah a mother at the age of 90. Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me.” In other words, God had the last laugh.

So to the cynic, beware, God will have the last laugh, since nothing is impossible with God.

––Copyright, 2002, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.