The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “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. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Of all the stories in Scripture, this one is certainly in my top twenty. I love the image of God coming to us in the form of a guest. Think about that this 4th of July at the family reunion. I love the image of Abraham racing all around like Martha Stewart over-caffeinated, getting everyone into a tizzy for this dinner. I love that Sarah laughs. What an honest and heartfelt prayer. I love the icon above as one of the ways that brings this passage to life. Three figures, draped in robes, feasting on a holy meal as an image of communion.
What I don't particularly care for is Sarah feeling she has to deny her honest response. And I don't like that Abraham gets to laugh (see the previous post on chapter 17) and does not get called on it by God. I really wish Sarah would have said, "Um yeah, God, I did laugh. It's been, like, ten years since we left our home. We've been all over this You-forsaken desert always lured by a promise of a son. Now...now you are asking me why I am laugh? Because I have given up hope."
Hope is one of those oft-used, rarely-understood words. We get hopes confused with wishes all the time. I wish I could go buy a new car...I hope for a world where none exclude. I wish my children would listen so I would not have to yell...I hope for a world where our leaders listen. I wish the media would quit interviewing Christians who preach hate/discrimination all in the name of the One who died on a cross...I hope my actions/blog/life can in some way suggest Christianity is about something else. Wishes are wrapped up in the trinity of me, myself, and I; hope calls me out of myself. Hope calls me to stop navel-gazing and start God's-realm-gazing.
Even with the above examples...I am not sure that really helps differentiate between hope and wishes. But I think hope has to do with more than just my desires...hope has to do with God's desires. God's deepest desires for a world where God's realm is not just a glimpse or a trace, but fully realized and shared by all God's people. Hope has to do with me putting my wishes on hold for God's hopes; which is why we, as Americans, struggle with hope. We get our wishes/desires confused with God's desires all the time. It is easy to do...to conflate our desires and God's desires...let ours hold the trump card. We need to wake up in the mornings, most of the mornings, and say what am I going to do today that makes no sense and makes me vulnerable for the sake of God's love/prayer/desire for this world? That questions will take my morning prayer time to new places every time.
Which is why studying Scripture is so important and why it is important to be honest about the absurdity of faith. I know why it is easier to go to Starbucks on Sunday or a soccer game, then I don't have to deal with God's faithful/loving demands for my life. Scripture reminds me that God will show up at the most inconvenient times. Not only when I least expect it, but also when I least want God hanging around. Scripture shows us the surprising serendipity of God sense of humor. And perhaps, God's final words to Sarah are not said laced with anger or judgment, but maybe a chuckle. "Oh Sarah, knock it off, laughter is a prayer. Own it and live it and pray it."
What in the world and in your life causes you to laugh? So often faith becomes this somber and serious ritual where laughter rarely happens. But I believe God laughs. I believe God shows up for dinner unannounced, when we are least expecting it. I pray this week you will sense traces of grace in moments of laughter and in meals where bread is broken.
May it be so for you and for me.