Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Scripture: Genesis 18:1-5,9-15; 21:1-6
These days, I identify, more and more with Sarah and Abraham: two
aging people, on a never-quite-settled journey.
This morning’s Bible story comes twenty-four years after God told
Abraham: “Leave your country and your kindred” and promised to
make of Abraham and Sarah “a great nation.” Twenty-four messy
Ten years after God’s first promise, with nothing to show for it,
Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands. They decided
to produce an heir through Sarah’s slave, Hagar. And while Abram
seems satisfied with that solution, God is not. God insists that Sarah
will mother to Abraham’s great nation (a vestige of matriarchy?).
Then, after Ishmael’s birth, and thirteen more years more years down
the pike, three visitors show up at Abraham and Sarah’s tent. These
strangers inquire where Sarah is. And one declares, out of the blue,
that when they return next year, Sarah will have a son.
And Sarah laughed.
Whereupon the storyteller (who might have had the decency to warn
her) lets us know this is no ordinary visitor but God, who demands to
know “Why did Sarah laugh?”
Numerous commentaries berate Sarah for her disbelief. But easy
religion makes faith too easy. I’m with Sarah. God had had twenty-
four years to deliver on the promise. Why should she expect a
different outcome now?
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. The Civil Rights Movement unfolded
on TV. I came of age in the hope and idealism of anti-war protests in
the late 60s and early 70s. And we marched and campaigned for
justice over four subsequent decades. While Nixon, Reagan, Clinton,
two Bushes and a Trump rolled everything backwards.
Like Sarah, we have seen a long, long wait. And although God
appears to accuse her for her skepticism, I wonder if God isn’t a bit
defensive in that retort, “Yes you did too laugh.”.
The promises of God sound simple, but the path to them can be
messy. Those twenty-five years until Isaac’s birth were messy ones.
Not only was there that whole abusive relationship with Sarah’s slave,
Hagar and her son, Ishmael. But twice, Abraham himself turned
Sarah over to other men, who he feared would kill him to get her. The
journey to the divine goal incurred a lot of collateral damage. In this
story, hope seems to come in spite of its main characters, not
because of them.
Like Abraham and Sarah, our journey with God can be convoluted
and messy. We are a community striving to live toward hope: hope
for justice, hope for reparations, hope for radical new ways to order
society less non violently. Our lives are messy. We fail along the way.
We want to believe that the arc of the moral universe bends toward
justice. But we cannot see beyond the near horizon.
Is the current uprising the apocalyptic moment? Will this be the
tipping point to genuine change? Are we just one year away from the
promise? Or still twenty-four years away?
The story of Sarah and Abraham professes one thing. Hope will
come. It will happen on its own timeline. It will not be set back by our
doubts or necessarily propelled by our convictions. Our task is to
align ourselves with the promise, and when we fail, get up and keep to
Twenty years ago, I thought marriage equality was a pipe dream.
When it arrived, it felt like an arrival. And now we know it was just one
baby step—but a step nonetheless.
Today, a new uprising promises hope for a new, just order. We can no
yet know its significance. But hope will rise. According to our story,
the promise will come. Unbidden. Relentless. Sweeping us along in
In the lectionary verses from Genesis 21, Sarah holds a child. She
laughs. But now the whole world echoes her laughter.
God will have God’s way. Whether we like it or not, whether we seek
it or not, in my lifetime or not. Inevitably, messily, despite our moral
failings and our righteous victories. Tomorrow or twenty-four years
from now. Hold fast to the journey. It will come.
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is
a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate
the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight;
I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it
bends towards justice.”
Abolitionist Theodore Parker, 1853
Photo by Huyen Nguyen on Unsplash