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2CH sermons

Sarah’s snigger (sermon by Graham Agnew)

Everybody has their own way of doing it, but we all do it.  I’m talking about “the snigger” – the sarcastic little laugh…the sound and look by which we express our disbelief over something.

A phone company or a bank sends you a letter explaining that their revised charges (increased of course) will actually be of benefit to you the customer?  Sometimes they may even say the increased charges are in response to customer demands.

Or we hear a politician make an outlandish promise and in response to these and many similar scenarios we’re inclined to say: “Yeah, right!”

Now it’s one thing to express our doubts about companies and politicians in this rather sarcastic way, but would we ever do that in response to the promises of God?

Well, we know one person who did and her story is found in Genesis 18. I’m talking about Sarah, Abraham’s wife and she got herself into a little bit of strife because of an inappropriate snigger.

***

Sarah, Abraham’s wife is 90 years old when we read about her in Genesis chapter 18.  24 years earlier this couple had had a miraculous encounter with God, in which he promised Sarah would bear a son and Abraham would become the father of a great nation whose citizens would be as many as the grains of sand on the seashore.

But nothing happened.  And here she is, eavesdropping on a conversation between her husband and 3 mystery men who suddenly appear in the camp (one of whom turns out to be God himself).  At one point, Sarah overhears the Lord say “I will surely return to you about this time next this year and Sarah your wife will have a son…”

Sarah’s immediate response is to go: “Yeah, right! I’ve heard that one before!” It’s recorded in verse 12: “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, after I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

But here’s the thing I find amusing: God picks up on this and asks Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh?”

And what follows is a humorous exchange where Sarah, out of embarrassment tries to deny the laughter. Verse 15: “I did not laugh” – but the Lord is quite insistent: “Yes, you did laugh”

Now here’s a woman who’s about to embark on a steep learning curve and her first life lesson, arising out of this incident is: Honesty is not the best policy with God…it’s the only policy!

It was understandable that Sarah would try to conceal her doubts – after all, she was a woman of God; known for her faith and obedience to the Lord – what would people (let alone God), think if they knew she had doubts!

But what’s the outcome?  Does God withdraw His promise in the face of disbelief?  Does he rebuke his servant because of her little snigger?

No! True, he pushes for honesty, but in actual fact in verse 14 he restates the promise as if to say: “I’ll show you…”

You know, we serve and can be in relationship with an all-seeing, all-knowing God who wants us to be totally upfront with him in all areas of our lives – even when we have to deal with doubt and uncertainty.  That’s one of the unique aspects of the Christian faith because our relationship with God through Jesus is, ultimately, not about how good we are… the extent to which we can maintain the standard and never put a foot wrong – it’s all about Him and what He has done for us.

One of the primary requirements for a strong relationship is honesty and that’s exactly what we can have in our relationship with God.

***

So here’s Sarah and she’s been waiting for decades for God to fulfill his promise and for her to become a mum!  All that time she was learning another important life lesson for the person of faith – namely, God’s delays are not God’s denials.

I imagine this is something we’ve all experienced at some point or another. After all, it’s a huge part of our walk of faith: the fact that more often than not, God seems to move at a slower pace than we’d like.

But of course, sometimes we look back and realise we were not ready to receive the answer at a certain point in time or other factors came into the picture which directly impacted on the original request.

Ultimately, in our journey with God, it’s a matter of trust that his will for our lives is unfolding and that his strength will get us through – whether answers to prayers are swift or very slow and drawn out.

Then, of course, there are those times where we readily identify with Paul and the answer he received from God regarding his so called “thorn in the flesh” and the answer was: “my grace will get you through…” In other words, the problem will remain but you will become stronger as you press into me.

This next life lesson from Sarah’s experience is expressed via a kind of slogan which I heard originally from Nick Visuvic. Nick is the young Australian who’s been given a lot of media exposure over the years.  He’s a dynamic Christian writer and communicator who has been profoundly disabled since birth.  Nick has no limbs whatsoever – no arms and no legs and yet this remarkable man is active in a number of sports including golf and diving!  Nick has astounded everyone by the level of his determination and courage.

On the surface, this saying or slogan may appear just like another nice quote, but I think its potency lies in the fact it’s come from Nick Visuvic against the backdrop of the enormous battles he’s had to face. And here it is: If you don’t receive a miracle, become a miracle.

Now I happen to believe Sarah, along with Nick Visuvic, is a powerful personification of this statement.  You see, there’s a sense in which I’m more inspired by what happened in the first 90 years of Sarah’s life than I am with what happened to her at 90!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled and inspired by the stunning miracle that took place when she fell pregnant.  I mean, Sarah must surely be the only woman in history who paid her pediatrician’s fees with money from her old age pension!  It was a fantastic miracle!

But I’m thinking about all those years prior to that event in which Sarah had to cope with the shame, the stigma, the social ostracism and the utter despair of being childless. In the ancient world there was a terrible stigma attached to what the Bible calls “barrenness” but through all her child-less years, Sarah’s faith in God never waivered.  She took the taunts, the criticism, the hurtful remarks and never gave up on God.

So where do we find this gracious, most dignified lady at 90?  She’s still journeying faithfuly with God…still going about the daily routines of life, trusting in her heavenly father…still in the presence of God, alongside her husband…still believing…still worshiping. Now there’s a miracle!  That’s inspiring! So, if you can’t get a miracle, be a miracle!

***

You know, how we respond to the “Sarah moments” in life will largely determine the level of stability and endurance in our walk with God. You see, a Sarah moment is when we have to deal with our doubts…a Sarah moment is when we have to cope with unanswered prayer…a Sarah moment is when an unexpected health crisis hits and no amount of prayer seems to be altering how things are turning out…a Sarah moment can extend over months and years of waiting, wondering and hoping…a Sarah moment is when we are faced with the same question posed to Sarah in verse 14 of Genesis 18:  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

“Sarah, you’re going to have a baby…” (Yeah, right!) Ah wait a minute: what’s that snigger, what’s that laughter? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Now most upright Christians have no trouble answering a resounding “No” to that question as it applies to others.  We say, “No Lord, nothing’s too hard for you and I believe you can do anything…for them; for him; for her!

But what about us? Is anything too hard for the Lord in response to my prayers? My dreams? My hopes? A strong, mature in the faith man or woman of God should be able to answer passionately and enthusiastically…No! But then we have another question to deal with and it’s one which also requires a No answer.  But this “No” answer is not born out of wild, unbridled passion and enthusiasm. The No answer to this question is born out of pain, suffering, doubt and uncertainty.  It’s born out of reality.

Here’s the question:  Does God take all the “too hard” things in our lives and automatically, irrefutably, miraculously solve, rectify and heal them? The answer is No he doesn’t!  For whatever reason, he doesn’t operate like that in every situation.  And I would put it to us, that is the tension we have to handle in our Christian lives every day. Is anything too hard for the Lord? – No! Does he take every too hard thing and automatically solve it? – No.

For the first 90 years of her life, Sarah had to live in the shadow of the second question; then, at 90, she had the sheer joy and exhilaration of basking in the radiant glory of the first question and found, in a special way, that nothing was too hard for God! Yes, these questions represent the two extremes we have to manage (by faith) as we journey with God. At the bottom line, there are really only two certainties in this life: the inevitability of death and, the reality of God in Christ… But that’s enough!

***

You know, we can look back on the experience of someone like Sarah and be very envious; envious of the fact she had a special revelation from God.

But you know, we have a huge advantage over Sarah and these other Old Testament legends, because we are the recipients of the love, grace, power and strength of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ – through the Holy Spirit.  That’s something the Old Testament characters knew nothing about. Passages like Romans 8 remind us of the deep, ongoing intimacy we can enjoy with God our Father through the Holy Spirit; in that passage there’s the assurance he will never leave us or forsake us…that nothing can ever separate us from his love, even when He appears to be silent!

It really boils down to something I heard a number of years ago which has always brought me a lot of comfort and reassurance: When you can’t trace the hand of God, trust the heart of God.

Father, give us your strength and guidance as we journey with you through both the times of great blessing and the seasons of uncertainty.  Amen.

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