FAITH LOOKS BEYOND
Our summer sermon series is “Walking with Abraham,” and this morning we will be taking a closer look at his wife Sarah who, like Abraham, was a person of deep faith and a friend of God. We pick up her story in Genesis chapter 18. The chapter begins with Abraham and Sarah receiving a visit from three men, one of whom we are told is the Lord. Abraham provides them the hospitality of his tent, offering them water with which to wash their feet and a shady spot in which to rest, while he and Sarah prepare a meal for them. We pick up the story in Genesis 18:9-15, and I invite you to join me there
“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied. Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
How do you and I deal with disappointments in our life? Sarah faced the life-long disappointment of being unable to bear a child. We were first introduced to her back in Genesis chapter 11 with these words: “But Sarai was barren; she had no child.” These may be easy words for us to hear this morning, but for Sarah they expressed a reality in her life that brought her deep emotional pain. I can only imagine the high hopes of her wedding day – hopes of a home filled with the laughter of little ones playing their games, running up to her and giving her hugs and calling her, “Mommy.” But none of that has happened.
Are you experiencing disappointment in your life today? Something for which you have high hopes but it hasn’t happened? Perhaps it is a relatively small thing, one soon forgotten as life moves on, or could it be that you are experiencing a Sarah-sized disappointment, something you have hoped and prayed and longed for but it hasn’t come about. And now, like Sarah, you’ve pretty much given up hope, and when anyone suggests that you just need to keep believing and have faith, you laugh silently to yourself. They don’t know your weeks, months, even years of waiting. They don’t know the pain of each day that goes by with no answer.
Beyond the dividing curtain in the tent, Sarah hears the Lord tell Abraham that by this time next year she will have a son. She looks in the mirror at her 90-year-old body, at the whiteness of her hair and the wrinkles in her face, and she sees herself as the woman who has never been able to have a child and who is now certainly too old to bear one. And she laughs silently to herself. She can hardly conceive of anything more ridiculous for the Lord to say than she will have a child. The promise sounds almost cruel, given how long she has hoped and how often she has felt the disappointment of being childless.
But beyond the curtain, the Lord reads her thoughts and says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh . . . Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And we are told that Sarah was afraid. She saw that her heart was known to God, that her years of disappointment were known to him as were the many times she had blamed him for denying her the pleasure of children. So, like we all do at times, she tried to hide her disappointment from God. “I didn’t laugh - I don’t disbelieve your promises; I don’t think that you sometimes forget me or choose not to be good to me; I’m fine with waiting as long as it takes for you to do what you said you would do.” We try to justify or excuse our lack of faith, but that only drives us further into misery and heartache. Our disbelief cuts us off from God, and because he loves us and wants to bless us, he sternly but graciously confronts us: “No, you did laugh.” Oh, oh. It sounds like God is angry with Sarah for her disbelief, for her lack of patience in waiting on God to fulfill his promises, for laughing at God! Well, is he? Remarkably, the account ends right here. Suddenly the subject is dropped, and a different situation is introduced.
If this were all of the story, we would be tempted to say that Sarah is no example to follow. But over in the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews, we get the rest of the story. There, in that wonderful eleventh chapter, the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, Sarah’s name appears in verse eleven:
It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.
What must have happened is that after the men had left, Sarah continued to think about all that had taken place, and the words of the Lord came home to her heart in power – especially the question God had asked, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” As Sarah began to think of the One who had spoken these words, she felt the full force of that question. And she looked beyond the contrary facts of her own life and beyond the contrary feelings of her own heart and said, “Of course not. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. If he has promised, then it shall be done.” Faith looks beyond, beyond all the contrary circumstances we experience, to rest upon the character of the one who promised.
The story is told of a famous pianist scheduled to perform at a great concert hall. Present in the audience was a mother and her fidgety nine-year old. She had brought him in the hopes that when he heard the great pianist play, he would be encouraged to practice the piano lessons he despised. As the mother turned to talk with some friends, the boy slipped away and was soon strangely drawn to the grand Steinway piano on the platform. Staring wide-eyed at the keys the boy sat on the bench, placed his small fingers on the keys, and began to play, “Chopsticks.” The babble of the crowd came to a hush as frowning faces looked in his direction. Someone began to shout, “Get that boy away from there!” “Where is his mother?” “Somebody get that kid.”
Backstage the pianist heard the shouts and came onto the platform. Realizing what was happening, and without a word of announcement, he stooped over behind the boy, reached around on both sides, and began to improvise a countermelody to harmonize with and enhance “Chopsticks.” As they played together, the pianist kept whispering in the boy’s ear, “Keep going; keep playing; don’t quit.”
“Is anything to hard for the Lord?” In spite of whatever disappointments may be in your life this morning, keep going, keep looking beyond your circumstances and the feelings of your heart, keep believing in the One who keeps his promises, and don’t give up.