Sermon preached for Pentecost 8, Proper 11C, on Sunday, July 18, 2010.
I watched a TV show recently about women found out they were pregnant when they were delivering their children. I would not have believed it but I did visit a woman in the hospital and asked what brought her there. She said she had a baby. I admitted I did not know she was pregnant and she said neither did she. So what do you say then? Would you like to pray now?
Today we remember a woman who was promised a child but no child came – not until she was well past child bearing years, anyway. Imagine Sarah hearing the promise of a child. Here was a woman caught between laughter and tears at the prospect of finally bearing a son to Abraham so late in life. Surely there was laughter at the irony of it all – a child coming when they had given up hope and decided that this part of their life had passed them by. But there were also tears – tears of joy at the prospect of finally having a son after a lifetime of tears of disappointment for waiting so long for a moment that now comes near life's end.
Between laughter and its disbelief and tears and their joy – that is the place we find ourselves so often as Christians. We find ourselves caught like Sarah between the heart that wants to believe and the mind that says “give it up.” All because of that basic question: "Is anything too difficult for God?" We come to the Lord with so many impossible situations and part of us fears that there is nothing He can do, just as there is nothing we can do. We come to God with disappointments and are never sure whether we should be reconciled to their loss or keep on hoping for them to see our hopes and dreams fulfilled. We come to the Lord with His promise on one hand and the circumstances of our lives on the other – which one do we trust?
God can do all things, we say. We say it but we seldom really believe it. Part of the pain we feel in life is when we speak these words with our mouths but in our hearts have given up on God and given up on the situations we face.
God can do all things. This is not some nice little saying found in a greeting card but the truth we confess by faith. It is not some philosophical statement but the personal and practical conviction that when our minds see no way through this and our hearts have almost given up hope, God can do all things. These words are bolstered by His track record in doing all things. Isn’t that the purpose of the Old Testament? To see how God has kept His promises so that we learn from it that God can be trusted NOW?
He can give a child to a man and woman too old to have their own. For the story of Abraham and Sarah is the story of the God who keeps His promises, who does all things, and for whom nothing is too difficult. Not even physical impossibility. And this should remind us of another surprise and miraculous pregnancy.
He can give a child to virgin, but not just any child – His own Son in human clothing. He can give His own Son into the womb of a Virgin and she can bear the child who will become the Savior of the world, taking away the biggest sins from a guilty people and restoring the most lost and fallen of all God's creatures. No, the story of Abraham and Sarah is not the final chapter of God's surprising grace but merely the down payment of the greater surprise of the Virgin who bears a son who is the Son of God.
He can give a life stronger than death. From the first days of life after the fall, God's people have marked the passage of time under the curse of death. We have eaten health food, invented drugs, sought the lifestyle that might ward off death but have not found its cure. Not until God gave us the One in whom there is life stronger than death, so that those once marked with death and the grave might be born again to be His own for today and for all eternity. Jesus was raised from death as the first born and down payment of all those who will rise through Him to new and everlasting life. Whether an unlikely child or a life stronger than death, grace doesn't disappoint us!!
And what do you and I need in order to receive this surprising grace? He requires of us no impossible journey but simple faith, faith formed by the Spirit and shaped by the power of His Word. Faith that is trust, that believes in the bottom line of the God who can do all things and will do all He has promised. Faith that sees His Word not as some informational textbook or a book of history and facts – but the record of promises kept – unlikely and impossible promises kept. A son to an old man and an old woman... A baby in the womb of a Virgin... A death that can pay for all of life's sins. A life strong enough to reach into the grave and pull us from death's grasp...
All God asks of us is trust... Trust Him with the sins your guilt knows only too well, have been overcome in Christ... that the life you know will end in death will be reborn in Christ to eternity... that the most real life of all is not this present moment or the things and events of this world, but the forever that you were marked with in your baptism and the life that proceeds from the cross and empty tomb.
In the movie Steel Magnolias there is that great line "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion..." Is this not the perspective of faith? God offers us laughter (the surprise of grace) in the midst of and through the tears of all our disappointments (especially the dead end of life)? We daily live out this laughter amid our tears, clinging to the surprise of grace that is hidden even in suffering, sorrow, and struggle. “Is anything too difficult for me?” asks the Lord. And then He points to an old man and an old woman and the child in their arms... to a Virgin who bore His own Son in human flesh and blood... to a cross where death seemed to win and an empty tomb where the surprise of life triumphed... to sins that seem too big to be forgiven and too hurtful to be overcome and the blood that paid its whole price and paints us with reconciliation as one people forgiven in Jesus Christ.
We come here today to meet the God for whom nothing is impossible. We bring into this room all our disappointments, all our fears, all our wounds, all the things that we have given up hoping and dreaming about, all that we have been unable to accomplish for ourselves and by ourselves... We come here today with the word of the world that has told us it is time to cut your losses and let your hopes fade away... in order to hear the Word of Christ who says look at Me, look at the record of the promises made and kept, at an old man and old woman to whom as son was given... at a Virgin to whom the Son of God was given, that He might redeem us... not only from our sin and death... but also from our hopelessness and disappointments.
What is too difficult for God? Nothing. We laugh because it seems impossible and we cry because it seems too good to be true... but Scripture speaks, the cross shines forth, the empty tomb has the last laugh, and Christ's mercy shows this is no pipe dream... this is the truest reality of all! Amen.