Sarah Laughed

Gail Arnall

June 14, 2020
Text: Genesis 18:1-15

Sara laughed.  Here’s what I think really happened.  Sarah overheard the discussion and once again was stabbed in the heart.  She, a woman of 90, had been barren.  When she married Abraham, there were big dreams about children – lot of them.  But year after year, when all her friends were having children, she could not conceive.  Then four times she conceived but lost the babies within a few months into pregnancy.  And here was this stranger saying she would have a child at her old age.  How ridiculous.  How absurd.  And Abraham just listened, as though he believed it.  “Yeah, right,” she thought.  “God says I’m going to have a baby after all this time?  What a joke.”  She laughed. 

It was just this past week that I connected my sadness with Sarah’s sadness.  I am not very familiar with the feeling of sadness or despair, but I confess over the past few weeks I have felt a level of despair and grief about the events in our country surrounding the killing of George Floyd.  I have lived through some difficult times in our country – civil rights movement, Vietnam War, Women’s rights movement, the impeachment of Nixon, 9-11, the Iraq War – but the way in which George Floyd was killed, and the demonstrations that have followed, have left me feeling so sad.  After 150+ years of continued brutal racial discrimination, how can we still be so oblivious to the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters – many who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Is there no end to this? 

So, here is the discussion between Abraham and Sarah after the men left. 

Sarah speaks first:  Abe, why in the world would you believe total strangers that come from who knows where and tells you that I am going to have a child at this late date?  That’s ridiculous. 

Abraham: But Sarah, you know that the Lord speaks in the most unlikely ways.  You know that we have been led by the Lord in mysterious ways before.  Why is this prophecy so different? 

Sarah: Because it makes absolutely no sense.  I know you have heard the Lord speak in amazing ways in the past, starting when you came home one day to tell me we were moving, and you couldn’t even tell me where.  I know that you have a long history of hearing and responding to God’s call on your life, but really.  How can you even imagine such a thing as me having a child now?  You and I have struggled for over 50 years wondering why God would not give us children.  Why is God finally going to give us a child now? 

Abraham: I don’t know.  What I do know is that we must continue to be faithful.  We must continue to serve those who show up.  And, we must keep our hearts and our minds open – that is what faithfulness is.  I truly believe that the men who visited us today are prophets telling us that what we cannot even imagine, can in fact, come true.  I wonder if the depth of your grief over these years has, in fact, has kept your hope for a child alive?  I know that is a strange thing to say, but of all the things you overheard our visitors say today, it was the promise of a child that you heard and remembered.  I know that hope for a baby will be hard for you to maintain for nine months.  We have had miscarriages in the past.  I want you to lean on my faith that this time, a baby will come. 

As I think about this story, I wonder if Sarah represents that part of us that simply cannot imagine a different world, a different relationship, a different job.  We hear a call on our lives, but our Sarah within knows it just can’t happen.  Sito and I talked this week and he mentioned Brueggemann's book, The Prophetic Imagination.  Brueggemann says that the role of prophets is to keep imagination alive.  He says the empire cannot thrive if people can imagine a different world.  When I hung up talking with Sito I thought about my own response to sadness years ago and imagining a different world. 

When I was 27 years old and about to finish graduate school, I heard a sermon on Psalm 137: 

By rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there are captors asked us for songs. 
tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? 

It was the spring of 1974 and Richard Nixon was being impeached.  As I thought about the sermon and this Psalm, I realized for me that the foreign land was the world outside the church.  I was the daughter of a Baptist minister and had been in the church my whole life.  With my new degree I could easily have gone to work at the Baptist’s Sunday School department creating curriculum for churches to use.  But I heard the call to go to Washington and work for the federal government — a foreign land, outside the church.  Nixon was being impeached; our country was in peril.  I literally thought that I could be a part of change for our country by putting my talents to work to make sure our government worked better.  How ridiculous.  How absurd.  But that was the call I heard, so I went.  I didn’t have a car, so a friend drove me, pulling a small trailer carrying all of my possessions: a brass bed, a Victrola and books.  I did not know anyone here, but a friend of my sister’s let me stay with her for a month.  I did not have a job, so I got someone to stretch the truth so I could rent an apartment.  And for three months I worked the night shift at Dart Drug Store – now CVS – for 60 cents an hour until I finally got a job working at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  I had written my dissertation about the FCC so going to work there felt like a miracle.  During the three months while I handed out over 150 resumés, my little dog Oliver ran away.  I was devastated.   I called my mother and I cried and cried over losing my dog.  Mother said, “Gail, you can always come home.”  “I can’t mother; I know I am supposed to be here.”  In two weeks, I found Oliver, and two weeks later I got the job at the FCC.  Three years later I was hosting brown bag lunches for FCC staff to learn about servant leadership.  I will save many other stories for another time. 

We are at a moment in our country where many of us are feeling overwhelmingly sad and even feeling despair.  So, in this moment, what do we imagine is the most outrageous thing we, YOU, can do?  What is God calling you to do that is as outrageous as Sarah having a baby at age 90?  Be brave.  Be courageous.  Be faithful.  Eight of you have stepped up to help lead 8th Day in various leadership positions.  As we affirm you in these roles, we ask you to imagine outrageously – for yourselves and for our community.