The following sermon was preached on Sunday June 18, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we had a reading about a couple named Abram and Sarai who were told to go on a journey. Today’s story takes place about 35 years later. They have stopped traveling and have changed their names to Abraham and Sarah.

What happened in those missing 35 years?

Last week Abram and Sarai set out on a journey to an unknown destination because God has promised that they will become a great nation.

Abram was 75, Sarai was 65 and they had no children. God’s promise to make them a great nation doesn’t really make any sense so choosing to obey God and set out on this journey doesn’t make any sense either.

Except that they are doing what God tells them to do so it doesn’t really have to make sense to be a good idea.

A number of things happen to them on their journey including the fact that there are two stories where Abram encounters a king and in each story the king notices how incredibly beautiful Sarai is and in each story Abram becomes afraid that the king will kill him in order to take Sarai.

In our culture where you are often only considered beautiful if you are in your 20s, it is refreshing to hear a story of a woman over the age of 65 who is so beautiful that kings would kill for her.

This happens two times and both times, Abram lies and says that Sarai is his sister and gives her to the king.

Gives her, as if she is property.

Abram does this because he is afraid for his life and is willing to sacrifice Sarai for his own safety. Both times God intervenes to protect Sarai and she returns to Abram.

Can you imagine those reunions? The first dinner together after he has treated her that way?

I imagine it was pretty tense, to say the least.

Sarai goes through so much in her life that I can’t even imagine.

In the story just before today’s reading, God repeats his promises to Abram and Sarai and changes their names – they are now Abraham and Sarah.
They are also now 100 years old and 90 years old respectively.

It has been 35 years since God promised that they would become a great nation and they still don’t have any biological children together.

We’re going to look at this story in more detail next week, but about halfway through those 35 years, they decide to help God out. Abraham will have a child with one of his slaves that they will claim as their own.

But God doesn’t need any help and this is not the child that God plans to make a great nation. Once again God will tell Abraham that he will have a child with Sarah and that is the child who will become a great nation.

When Abraham hears this, he falls down on the ground laughing and questioning God. (17:17)

God doesn’t freak out or judge Abraham for laughing, and when Abraham stops laughing, he does what God tells him to do.

In today’s reading, it is a hot day and Abraham is sitting in the entrance of the tent. Probably trying to find a bit of shade and a bit of cool.

He is 100 years old but he seems to be fairly healthy because he spends a good portion of this story running around.

Abraham sees three men approaching and he runs to them and bows on the ground and offer them hospitality – water to wash their feet, a shady spot to sit, and food. (2-3)

When they agree to stay, Abraham rushes off to tell Sarah to make some cakes and then he rushes off to pick a calf from his flock who he gives to a servant to prepare.

Abraham is arranging for a lot of food to be prepared in a short amount of time and we are given a lot of specific details about it. For example, he says to Sarah, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”

Three measures of flour might be somewhere between 16-20 liters of flour . That’s going to make a LOT of cake.

And if I was Sarah and Abraham rushed in and told me not only to make that much cake but also said, use this much flour, knead it and make cake I would have thought, ‘Who does he think he is? I’ve been making cakes my entire life, I don’t need to be told to knead the dough by a man who hasn’t made a single cake in his entire life!”

The food is prepared and Abraham and his guests relax under the tree and then one of the guests says that the next time they come Sarah will have a son. (10).

Who are these guests? The text is unclear. The story begins by saying that “The Lord appeared to Abraham” and then describes three visitors. (1-2) Sometimes in the story one of the three men speaks, and then sometimes we’re told it is God who is speaking.

And although hospitality was an important value in that time and place, the way Abraham greets the strangers and rushes to offer lavish hospitality suggests that he knows these aren’t just ordinary travelers.

All of this has led some people to believe that perhaps this is an early example of God as the Trinity – three and one all at the same time. There is a famous icon of this scene where the three visitors are very clearly God, for example .

Maybe they are God, or maybe they are God’s messengers, it’s not clear. But what is clear, is that they know that Sarah will have a child within the year.

While all of this is happening, Sarah is hovering by the entrance of the tent eavesdropping. She hears these men claim that she is going to have a son with Abraham and she laughs.

Now I have heard a lot of preachers and commentary writers criticize Sarah for laughing – how dare she mock God’s plans. How dare she hear the will of God and laugh?

Abraham, who did the exact same thing just a few stories ago, does not receive the same kind of criticism.

And honestly, I think I would laugh too. The text makes it very clear that both Abraham and Sarah are really old – in fact if there is anything rude happening in this story it’s how graphically and painstakingly the writer works to make sure we know just how old these people are. Just how impossible it is that they would have a child.

Sarah knows she is old, and she knows how babies are made, and I think when she hears these men calming stating that she is going to have a baby she starts to giggle. Because what those men are talking about is really personal and private and unimaginable and embarrassing all at once.

When Sarah is 65 God makes a promise that she will have a child. Over 10 years pass and she still doesn’t have a biological child so Abraham has a child with a slave that they can claim as their own. By the time of today’s story that child is 13 years old so Sarah has spent 13 years thinking that this surrogate child will be the one to fulfill God’s promise. She likely gave up on the idea that she would have a child decades ago.

And now a bunch of strangers insist that she’ll have a child by the end of the year.

So she laughs.

Makes sense to me.

It also makes sense to me that when her giggles give away the fact that she’s been eavesdropping she’s afraid and denies it just as the text says she does. It doesn’t make her a bad person, it doesn’t mean her faith is lesser than Abraham’s. It’s a very human response. (13-15)

The scene is also just genuinely funny. Abraham is entertaining his guests and Sarah is hiding away eavesdropping on their conversation – as a woman she was not welcome at this table.

It seems that she thinks she is well hidden, and also quiet enough that they should not be able to hear her laugh or ask the question, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure.” But they do hear her, and instead of scurrying back into the tent, or freezing silently in place, she responds to their question from her hiding place.

I imagine her realizing she has given herself away, that she’s been caught eavesdropping and clapping her hand over her mouth and then laughing even harder.

Maybe this makes the guests laugh too and by the end, everyone is in hysterics.

The guest who asks the question, also does not repeat Sarah’s exact words, he leaves out the part about Abraham being old too, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye to spare his host’s feelings.

It feels a bit like a scene out of a British comedy to me.

It’s funny, and God’s plans are often funny. A mentor of mine once said that one of the key ways you know that the Holy Spirit is at work is that you are pleasantly surprised by an outcome.

Being surprised means that you could not have imagined this outcome on your own.

Abraham and Sarah could not imagine having a child on their own in their senior years – they try to help God out by using a surrogate, but that was not God’s plan. God’s plan seems so preposterous that they both at various times wind up laughing about it.

But God is faithful and keeps their promise. Abraham and Sarah have a son named Isaac.

The name Isaac means laughter.

I pray that in the next season of your life as a parish you will find many reasons to laugh out loud, that you will resist the impulse to try and help God out, and that you will be surprised and delighted by what God has in store for you.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.