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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

Old Age & Strangers


Genesis 18:1-15

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord?

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This is a sermon preview for a sermon for a message which is part of the "Promise & Threat" series.

“The history in which our Scriptures show that God is involved is every bit as messy as the history reported by our mass media in which God is rarely mentioned apart from blasphemies… There are punishing consequences, of course, but the fact is that all these people, good and bad, faithful and flawed, are worked into the plot of salvation. God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work. As one medieval saying has it, "God draws straight lines with a crooked stick." He can and does work with us, whatever the moral and spiritual condition in which he finds us. God, we realize, does some of his best work using the most unlikely people.”

- Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Abraham and Sarah do not receive a message from God via a burning bush like Moses. They do not experience the message from the Lord in a startling vision like Isaiah or some of the other prophets.

“The Lord appeared to Abraham” we’re told. But how does he appear? In these three strangers to whom Abraham offers hospitality.
The Promise of the child is relayed to Sarah, who has provided these strangers a meal, found herself listening in – and her response?
Laughter.
"Abraham and Holy Trinity" (angelic visitors at Mamre). Byzantine mosaic in Monreale. (Wikimedia Commons)


Two points stick out to me here. The first is how ordinary this scene is. Abraham and Sarah provide a meal to strangers and welcome them into their home, and they are (as the book of Hebrews says): “...shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2).


In the same way, the promises we receive from the Lord may not seem flashy or even overly spiritual. God is always giving gifts, and often our hands are too full to receive them. In the same way, God speaks, and we are too busy to hear. In everyday hospitality, extraordinary promises come. In a world where loneliness is epidemic, that may be a message we especially need to hear.


The second is simple: God doesn’t care how old you are. No, I’m not suggesting that senior citizens should expect to have a child. But I am suggesting that God has a role for you – even if you feel you’re “too old” (or not the right person, or not skilled, or whatever other reason we might think of for not being able to serve God)!


Laughter can do a lot of things. It can be a sign of joy. It can unite people. It can express a sort of joy in things to come. Fleming Rutledge once described the laughter of Desmond Tutu in this sort of way– as having a hopeful laugh: a laugh which is rooted in the promise to come. She noted that, unlike some spiritual leaders, he did not use his laughter to distract from uncomfortable subjects.


Sometimes we do use laughter this way. Awkward laughter, doubting laughter, scorning laughter. And (while understandable in many ways!) this is the sort of laughter which comes from Sarah’s mouth and may come from us when we hear the sort of things God is promising us.


We might also use entertainment this way: as a laugh to distract from where God is calling us. In an age of prestige TV, and growing isolation, we may just be entertaining ourselves to death.


Old age, strangers, these are just some of the things we see in this passage can seem like threats to the promise of God. And yet they’re also the context in which these promises come. God calls the laughing, the mocking, the unsure, and uses the ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday. And the terrifying, wonderful thing that means is that God’s promises are for you too.

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