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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
First-time readers of the Old Testament often make the mistake of interpreting of the Book of Genesis as a chronical of the world. Biblical scholars, however, regard Genesis as a statement of faith intended to explain the Jewish people’s relation to God, their neighbors and the creation. Historians generally divide the book into two parts. The first part, roughly the first eleven chapters can be described as primeval history. It is the relationship of God to the past highlighting the major events of the Creation of the universe and humanity, the Fall of Man to Sin, the Flood of Noah, and the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel. The second part of Genesis, which we begin today, turns to the remaining thirty-nine chapters, and the fundamental relationship of God to the aging patriarch Abraham, his wife Sarah and their descendants through the long awaited birth of their son Isaac.
Abraham and Sarah knew the advantages and disadvantages to old age. In old age, you can be inconsistent. It’s the time when you complain that your grown-up children don’t visit enough; but when they do visit, you can’t wait for them to leave. Old age sneaks up on you. One morning, you walk past the mirror and you see yourself in the prime of life, and the next day, you pass the mirror and you see your mother or father standing there. Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering, “What happened?” Old age is so subtle and coy. When you’re over the hill, you tend to repeat yourself. Old age is so subtle and coy. When you’re over the hill, you tend to repeat yourself. You try to live one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack you at once. And when you look depressed, people say be of good courage keep your chins up.
Yes, Abraham and Sarah understood the advantages and disadvantages of aging better than most of us. And in spite of it all, at God’s invitation, they journeyed to a new land, leaving everything behind, with the hope and trust of a new beginning. How did they manage to keep on going, and not give in to disappointment, disillusionment and despair? That is what I would like to explore with you today. It may be the wisdom and insight you are seeking in these unprecedented times.
Abraham, and Sarah had grown to know that time was a great healer, but they all understood that as a beautician, time was not so hot. In fact, in scripture, they are described as good as dead. Now that depiction isn’t completely fair. The two descended from healthy stock who lived well beyond the scripture’s 120 years. Ten generations had passed from Adam to Noah, and then ten generations had passed again between Noah and Abraham. If you read the genealogy of Abraham carefully, you will discover that Noah was Abraham’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather. And if you follow the years in which they lived, you will also note that Noah and Abraham were actually contemporaries, living together at the same time upon the earth.
According to rabbinical tradition Abraham’s father Terah lived in the city of Ur, and it was there that he fathered three sons, Abraham, Nahor and Haran. The city of Ur which is believed today by scholars to be located in modern day Iraq was a well-designed, wealthy city, with houses of brick, whitewashed or plastered on the outside. It was also the center for the worship of the moon god Nanna. Abraham’s own father Terah was a priest of Nanna who produced and sold idols. In one ancient legend, Terah left Abraham to mind the store while he was away. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abraham then took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the hand of the largest idol. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abraham explain what had happened. The boy told his father that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick. It was this practice of idol worship that was the reason that Abraham and Sarah need to leave the city for somewhere new.
As for Sarah, scripture tells us that, in spite of her age, she was remarkably beautiful. She was stunning. In fact, she was so attractive that she drew the attention and affections of both pharaohs and peasants alike. Hebrew folk lore ranks Sarah right next to Eve, who was regarded as the most attractive and perfect woman who ever lived. Although the Bible says that “beauty is a fading flower,” the opposite was true for Sarah. She was “aged to perfection,” and only grew more radiant with each passing year.
Abraham and Sarah had known each other since childhood. Sarah’s name was originally Sarai, which means princess or one who rules- and rule she did- often with an iron clad fist. Abraham, on the other hand, was the model for “a happy wife a happy life.” And he knew that whenever Sarah was unhappy, beware. The two may have had ancestors that lived up to 5-6 centuries, but these two were feeling old. They had no legacy and no children. They knew plenty of tears in their letting go of dreams. Many waiting parents have known such tears. Sometimes, letting go of a dream is a matter of choice, and at others times it is beyond your control. A child is diagnosed with a chronic disease that will need your constant attention. A pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. A friend dies who was to be with you all your life. You painfully recognize that the rest of your life is not going to be the way that you once imagined or expected it to be. That is how Abraham and Sarah experienced their tears, and then, one day, God surprised them.
When Abraham was 75 years old, the Lord called him, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.” So Abraham together with his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and his entire household departed, and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the promised land, they discovered that it was by no means empty. There were a number of inhabited cities. None the less, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abraham built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord.
Unfortunately, Abraham and Sarah experienced one new challenge after another. There was a great famine in the land, and so he and his wife, and their household, were forced to become refugees in Egypt. Tensions grew within his own family, as he later parted ways with his nephew Lot. Then Abraham was caught up in a rebellion between the Canaanite cities of the Jordan River. After 10 years, living in the land he had been promised, still with no child, Abraham wondered how he would ever become a father of a nation. Abraham and Sarah tried to take things into their own hands with a slave women named Hagar, but this only complicated matters. A son was born to Abraham through Hagar, which they named, Ishmael.
I imagine most of us, if we were standing in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes at that point, would have asked the question, “And when, Oh, Lord, will this happen?” Three times God spoke the promises to them that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as grains of sand upon the seashore. But apparently they never asked, “But Lord, when will this come to be?” It is not easy to live and walk by faith, especially when the present age is so uncertain. Somewhere along the way, many of us have developed a terrible idea that the faithful life was to be a carefree life without trials. Indeed, when trials do come, we act as if God is out of town on vacation. We question God: Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Perhaps, Abraham and Sarah weren’t exactly convinced by God’s word either. But in spite of the tears and years of waiting, they remained disciplined and followed.
That is what the story of Abraham and Sarah teaches us. The happiest and most patient people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way. Happiness waits for those who cry, for those who hurt, for those who have searched, and for those who have tried. This is what Abraham and Sarah experienced year after year of waiting, but they never lost faith. You see, God’s “no” in your life, may not necessarily be the final word. The new word God may be saying, is, “So what’s next?” Through your tears, God may be opening your eyes to a new possibility.
And so we read that 11 years after wandering in the occupied, promised land, and 13years later after the birth of Ishmael, when Abraham was ninety-nine years of age, the Lord appeared to him again as he sat at the entrance of his tent. He looked up and saw three men standing near him sitting at the oaks of Mamre. They said, “Where is your wife Sarah? And he said, “There in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”
It’s a characteristic of faith. We laugh because we know, as Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her foot in the maternity ward. Faith has the power to make us laugh in the face of things we don’t understand, but we trust God’s promises just the same. A year later, 25 years after first being given a promise, Sarah gave birth to their son, and they named him Isaac which means laughter. Nothing is impossible for God. We need to cling to that image of a God in the worst of all times. God can do all things.
In the Book of Hebrews, we read that Abraham set out, by faith, not knowing where he was going, and he stayed in a foreign land, living in tents, but he always remained faithful to God and the vision he had of a trustworthy God. “For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
My friends, like Abraham and Sarah, you and I are all wandering in a foreign land. None of us has endured a pandemic before, and we are suffering from quarantine fatigue. We certainly do not know when we will arrive at our destination. But we do keep moving on this journey, with laughter and tears, trusting that God will be faithful and fulfil his promises. That is the advantage of old age. Faith comes in knowing and experiencing that God has been faithful in the past, and will continue to be faithful to his promises in the future. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.