Gareth Flanary

Gareth Flanary

Intrusions of God

Genesis 18:1-15

Narrator:  The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

Abraham:  3 “My lord, if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4 Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5 And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

Three Men:  “All right. Do as you have said.”

Narrator: 6 So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah,

Abraham: “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.”

Narrator: Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8 When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

Three Men 9 “Where is Sarah, your wife?”

Abraham “She’s inside the tent.”

One Man:  10 “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Narrator: Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. 12 So she laughed silently to herself,

Sarah: “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

Lord:  13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Narrator: 15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying,

Sarah:  “I didn’t laugh.”

Lord: But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”

Genesis 21:1-7

Narrator: The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. And Abraham named their son Isaac. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

Sarah:   “God has brought me laughter.All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”

Introduction

  • Today’s text reflects on Sarah: 
    • Illustration:  a lot like Ginger Rogers.  Fred Astaire always got top billing, but as someone said, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels!”    
    • In her late 60’s or early 70”, Sarah was recognized as a beautiful woman (Gen. 12:11,14); yet, she was the first of many women who were barren (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel) while receiving a promise of offspring.  Also, she is part of a recurring narrative of a barren, favored wife who lives in bitter rivalry with a fertile, disfavored wife or concubine.    
    • At 90 years of age (Gen. 17:17), she may have had “age-defying” beauty but one would assume that she had lost a step along the way.  She had a teenaged surrogate son (Ishmael), but her own child-bearing aspirations had long been abandoned. 
    • After years of wondering, her husband, Abraham settled the family in the highlands of Judea near the city of Hebron in a grove of oak trees called Mamre. 
  1. KEY WORD:  “Laughter”
    1. Cynical laughter of unbelief – defense mechanism
      1. Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah.  And I will bless her and give you a son from her! … Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?”  Genesis 17; “So she laughed silently to herself, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
      2. Comes naturally…
    1. Laughter of reversal: 
      1. “God has brought me laughter.All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
      2. It’s the smile that breaks out when things go better than you had expected (essence of many jokes: you’re going down one path and suddenly flip at the end in unexpected ways)…
      3. Comes as a gift… nine months later… she laughed her way from the geriatric ward to the maternity ward… little “laughter” (Isaac) was born…
  2. INTRUSIONS OF A LOVING GOD:  IS ANYTHING TOO WONDERFUL FOR THE LORD?
    1. Illustration:  Fred Craddock; story about a young minister who went to pray with an older woman who was near death in the hospital;
      1. near the end of the visit, the young minister asked her if she would like to have prayer before he left; She said “Yes.”… “What would you like us to pray for today?”… “I’d like to pray I’d be healed, of course.”…
      2. A little embarrassed, the young minister prayed, “Lord, we pray for your sustaining presence with this sick sister.  If it be they will, we pray that she will be restored to health and to service.  But if it’s not thy will, we certainly hope that she will adjust to her circumstances.”…
      3. SUDDENLY… the old woman opened her eyes and sat in bed… she threw her feet over the side of the bed… stood up… and exclaimed… “I think I’m healed!”… She scurried out the door towards the nursing station, saying, “Look! Look at me!”…
      4. The young minister left the hospital  and went into the parking lot.  Before he opened the door, he looked up and said, “DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN!” 
    1. Illustration:  William Willimon;Another young minister… sent to an inner city church…
      1. The bishop warned her, “This used to be a good church, but it’s aged. There’s really nobody left but a group of old people who are just holding on. You keep them comfortable, and we won’t forget about you out there.”
      2. During the first week, she met with the administrative board and sure enough, it was a sea of white hair.  The chairperson of the board said, “Well, dear, tell us a little about yourself—your call into the ministry, how you see yourself as a minister.”
      3. “I’ve always enjoyed working with children. I’ve always felt as if I had particular gifts in that area.”
      4. There was nervous laughter in the board meeting. The chairperson said, “My goodness. You can look at us and see we’re long past those years here. Gladys, when did we last have a children’s Sunday school class here?”  Gladys said, “What was the name of the bald-headed guy—during the Eisenhower administration I think it was. Or was it Lyndon Johnson? It was a long time ago.”
      5. But in the next few weeks, the young minister noticed children marching past the church about 3:00 every afternoon on their way home from school to empty apartments around the neighborhood. She prayed to God, “Show me the way.”
      6. That very afternoon, she was visiting a church member who lived in a small apartment. The woman was showing her an old scrapbook of yellowed newspaper clippings. She said, “You know, I knew Count Basie, and I played with the Dorsey brothers on one occasion. I played clubs up and down the East Coast.”
      7. The pastor said it was as if a light came on, as if a dove descended. She said, “Do you still play the piano?” The woman said, “Given enough time, enough Ben-Gay, I can. Yeah, I can play the piano. But I can’t have a piano here in the apartment. It’s too small.”
      8. “Meet me down at the church, 2:30pm Wednesday.”  Then she called up a couple of other people. “Come to the church at 2:00. I need you to spread sandwiches.” They came down; they spread the sandwiches. They opened up those creaking doors of the fellowship hall that led out onto the street—doors that had not been opened in years. They pushed the old upright piano out on the stoop overlooking the sidewalk.
      9. Around 3:00, the old woman started to play. She played a medley of hits from the forties. The children started walking down the sidewalk. A crowd gathered as she moved into another tune.  Around 3:15, the minister came out. She taught them “Jesus Loves Me,” and everybody sang. Then the minister told a story and brought peanut butter sandwiches out. The minister said, “If you like this, we’re going to be doing this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week.”
      10. Now, three days a week, they’ve got about fifty children in that fellowship hall… some bring their parents on Sundays… virtually doubling their Sunday attendance…
      11. A bunch of old ladies in a church headed for death got intruded upon; they got a bunch of children. Is anything too wonderful for God?
    1. Illustrations: William Willimon tells about one church that decided to start a neighborhood evangelism program…
      1. they prepared by reading books about church growth and decided to canvass the neighborhood… They brought little brochures and split up the neighborhood.
      2. Gladys and Mary were told to go down Summit Drive two blocks and take a right. They went down Summit Drive and got disoriented, so they took a left and evangelized the wrong neighborhood.
      3. At 5:00 they gathered to make their reports… the pickings were fairly slim; very few people were interested in the brochures… Gladys and Mary said, “We started knocking on doors, and we met Verline. She lives in a two-room apartment with her two children. She didn’t know anything about church, so we told her about it, and she said she was interested. We told her about the Wednesday morning women’s Bible study, and she was interested in that.”
      4. Meanwhile, Willimon said that he was a little upset that the two ladies ventured into the wrong neighborhood. 
      5. Wednesday morning came and it was time for the Women’s Bible study… Gladys pulled up, and Verline stepped out of the car with her two children. Somebody volunteered to keep her children down in the nursery during the Bible study. Verline had a Bible with her—the first Bible she ever owned. One of the women’s circles had gotten together and bought it for her. She was so proud of that Bible. It had leather binding and her name in gold letters on the front.
      6. We got into Bible study. We were talking about the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4. I said, “Jesus was tempted, but he resisted temptation.” Then I asked, “Have any of you ever encountered temptation and resisted?”
      7. One woman spoke up: “Yes. Last week I was at the supermarket. I was checking out. There was some confusion at the line, and before I knew it, I was standing in the parking lot. I had a loaf of bread I had not paid for. I thought to myself, The supermarket is not going to miss that loaf of bread. But I thought, Wait! You’re a Christian. I went back in that store and paid for that loaf of bread.”
      8. I said, “Well, good. Now that’s resisting temptation.”
      9. That’s when Verline spoke up. She said, “Well, a couple of years ago, I was into cocaine—I mean, really heavy. You know what that’s like. I was just as crazy as ______. My brain was fried. I didn’t know where the ____ I was, and you know what that’s like. That cocaine gets in you, and you don’t know what you’re doing. I was living with this guy—not the man that’s the father of my children, but a guy that came in after that.
      10. “So one night, he’s got his eye on this gas station he wants to hold up. And sure enough, we go down there and hold up that gas station. We get two or three hundred bucks. It was like taking candy from a baby. But I knew it was coming.
      11. A couple of days later, he’s got his eye on this convenience store. Something deep in me just said no, and I told him, ‘I’ll hold up that gas station. I won’t hold up that convenience store.’ And he beat the ­­­____ out of me, and I threw him out. But, you know, it was the first time in my life I’d ever said no to anything. For the first time, it was like I was a real person.”
      12. Willimon said, “Well, okay then… I think it’s time for our prayer time now.”
      13. As I was helping Gladys into her car, she said to me, “Your Bible studies used to be dull. I’m going to go home and get on the phone. I think I can get a crowd for this.”
      14. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But I heard Sarah laugh.

[1] Resources:  All Scriptures are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).  William Willimon, “Evangelical Laughter,” https://www.preachingtoday.com/ sermons/ sermons/ 2007/august/evangelicallaughter.html. John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, part two.  Robert Altar, The Art of Biblical Narrative.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter

More Sermons

Being human

On Being Human

Introduction The earth was a chaotic void… and darkness covered the face of the deep… while the Spirit of God hovered over

Matthew Series

TIME FOR JUDGMENT How Did You Respond?

Textual context:  The last discourse (23-25) anticipates an impending judgment on the Jewish leadership – the scribes and Pharisees.  They have focused

Matthew Series

Our Generous God

Matthew 20:1-16 Introduction The “parable of the laborers in the vineyard” is unique to Matthew. The stories that surround this parable —