When Complacency Turns to Surprise

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 2
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 100 and Genesis 18: 1-15
Sarah laughed to herself and thought, “After I am old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Genesis 18: 12 (NIV)

BACKGROUND

Here we are at week two of a series that focuses on how God is the God of the turn arounds. God has a way of taking that which is negative for us and tuning it into something positive and good. Last week we used the story of creation in Genesis 1 to talk about how God turns chaos into order and that God does that in order to provide the environment in which you and I can flourish and fulfill the purposes for which God put us on this earth.

This week we are moving on in the book of Genesis to the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18. Here’s a bit of background if you aren’t familiar with the story. Abraham was the first man with whom God made a covenant. A few chapters earlier in Genesis 12, when Abraham was seventy-five years old God promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation. But so far, things have not quite worked out as Abraham thought they should. The biggest problem is that, in order to create a great nation, Abraham has to have children. But it seems that Abraham’s wife Sarah is barren and has not been able to conceive. At one point Sarah took things into her own hands and decided that if she could not have children for Abraham, she would give her servant girl Hagar to him to have children in her stead. I don’t want you to get stuck on the morality of that right now and I would not recommend that to anyone trying have children. Suffice it to say that that’s the way they did things in those days. In any event Hagar had a child and they called him Ishmael. But one child a great nation does not make.

VISITORS ARRIVE

Now we get to Genesis 18. It’s been almost twenty-five years since God made his promise to Abraham. Abraham is now ninety-nine years old. His wife Sarah is eighty-nine. Still they have no children of their own. Let’s see what happens. In Genesis 18:1-2 (NIV) it says, “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” This takes a bit of explanation. It says, first of all, that the Lord appeared to Abraham but then it says that he saw three men. What’s that all about? What it means is that God did indeed appear but he appeared to Abraham in the form of three men. And these actually weren’t men; they were angels. That’s because in the Bible angels are the messengers of God. In fact, the Greek word that we translate into English as angels is “angelos” which literally means messengers. So angels are messengers of God. God has something to say to Abraham and so God sends three angels with the message. These are the men whom Abraham sees.

Abraham realizes that something is up and that these men are special and so he bows down to them. This is not a act of worship. It is rather just an act of homage. Abraham is submitting himself to them as honoured guests. The story continues in Genesis 18:3-5 (NIV):

He said, “If I have found favour in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way – now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

These verses may not seem overly special but they are because they are setting the stage for the rest of the story. What Abraham is doing is being a good host. He recognizes that these are special people who are visiting him for a reason. He doesn’t yet know what the reason is but he’s going to treat them as honoured guests until he finds out. And so what he does is offer them the traditional things that host would offer guests.

He has some water brought for them to wash their feet. That was very important back then. All people wore on their feet were open sandals and the roads were very dusty and so it always felt good to wash the dirt off your feet. In fact, the Bible has numerous foot washing stories in it. You may remember that in Luke 7, Martha washed Jesus feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And then in John 13, Jesus himself washed the disciples’ feet. Foot washing was just part of the culture of hospitality of the day. It’s what you did for guests as part of your welcome.

Along with the water for washing their feet he also feeds them and gives them a place to rest under the shade of a tree. He is, in fact, doing everything that is expected of him in those days. He is being the perfect host.

THE SURPRISE

Verses 6-8 talk about how Abraham had the food prepared, a little bread, some meat from a choice calf of the herd and some milk and curds. Good food for those times. The men sat down and ate. In the middle of the meal, in Genesis 18:9 (NIV), there is a change of direction. “‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘There in the tent,’ he said.”

This is a surprise because all along Abraham has probably assumed that the visitors were there to see him. But they weren’t. It is Sarah they want to see. The message they have really involves Sarah. Yes, it relates to Abraham in a secondary way but Sarah is the primary recipient. Note that she’s in the tent. The tent is right near where they are eating and the walls of tents are not overly thick so she can hear everything they are saying and we can just imagine how her ears pick up when she hears them mention her name.

Genesis 18:10 (NIV) goes on to say, “Then the LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’” Remember first that God’s message is coming through the angels which means that even though Abraham hears the angel’s voice, it is still God’s message. And what a message it is. We’re not quite sure what Abraham was expecting but the last thing that was on his mind was probably a birth announcement. “Abraham, your wife Sarah is going to have a baby, a son, and you are going to be a Daddy again. Isn’t that great news!” But I’m not sure that Abraham thought it was such good news. Remember that God had been promising him a children for decades and so far the closest he has is an illegitimate child from Sarah’s servant girl. Is Abraham going to set himself up for another disappointment?

The truth is that when you’re in your twenties, the idea of having babies can be pretty exciting. When you’re older, while you still love babies and you may be looking forward to grandchildren, the thought of having your own may be less enticing. I think that’s more true for men than for women. I remember when Ruth and I went through what we called the Abraham and Sarah stage of our lives. After our third son Stephen was born, I asked Ruth if she wanted to try for a girl. She said no, that she’s love to have three sons and a daughter but there was no way on God’s green creation that she wanted four sons. I told her that she had until I was forty to change her mind. She didn’t. But it was a number of years after forty that she came home from the doctor’s office with an spring in her step and a glint in her eye. “Guess what honey, I’m pregnant.” I remember what it was like telling our family and friends. When Ruth told her friend, to a person they all got a touch of baby fever and said, “Oh, I wish it was me.” But when I told my friends, to a man they said, “Glad it’s you.” But the point is that we view raising children differently as we age.

SKEPTICISM AND DOUBT

So what are Abraham and Sarah going to do with this news? It doesn’t sound like Abraham responds at all. Shock can do that. At least the Bible doesn’t record his reaction. But it does tell us Sarah’s response as she eaves drops through the thin walls of the tent. Listen to Genesis 18:10b-12 (NIV):

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Sarah has kind of nailed it, hasn’t she. There are a couple of problems here. The first one is that both she and her husband are old. She is eighty-nine and he is ninety-nine. That’s way older than they should be to have children. And furthermore, Sarah knows that she hasn’t had a period in decades. How’s this going to happen? What does Sarah do? She laughs. Why? We don’t know. Maybe it just seemed to incredulous. Maybe she’s heard it all before. Maybe she just thinks the idea is so utterly proposterous.

But her laughter is not lost on the visitors. Genesis 18:13 (NIV) says this: “Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”’”

The angel has picked up on something important here. What he realizes is that Sarah doesn’t believe a word of it. Sarah has heard these promises for so long that she no longer believes them. In fact, I don’t think she even wants to believe them. She has become complacent with her life. She has accepted the fact that she is never going to have children and she is reconciled to that. Life for her is as good as it’s ever going to be. She’s lived a good long life and been healthy doing it. Abraham has grown rich and they have everything they need and more. There’s the issue of her servant Hagar and her son Ishmael but Sarah has come to accept that as well. Who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to be in her position at this stage of life. Life is good and she is quite content. But one thing she doesn’t need is more disappointment. And so she laughs at the thought of being a mother in her advanced years. That is one dream that she has given up on.

Sound familiar? How many of us are living lives complacency? How many of us are walking through life, living from day to day, going through the motions, getting up, going to work or school, coming home, having supper, cleaning up and going to bed only to get up the next morning to repeat it all over again. And I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that. There is nothing particularly wrong with routine. We can get comfortable where we are and with what we’re doing. In fact, there are seasons in life when all we are called to do is carry on. After all, the world need some structure and our lives need some consistency. It’s not always a bad thing.

That was the way Abraham and Sarah lived. They were comfortable and cozy. Things were good. God had let them live in this comfort zone for twenty-five years. This was for them a season of complacency. But then, at the most unexpected time, God shakes things up. “Guess what Sarah. You’re going to have a baby. At the age of eighty-nine you will become pregnant and within a year you will be a mother.” Is Sarah surprised? You bet she is. Would you be surprised if that happened to you? Who would have believed it? In fact, not even Sarah believes it. As far as she can tell there is no way that she is going to conceive and there is no way that she will ever have a baby. There’s just no way.

God popped into their comfort zone, into Abraham and Sarah’s complacency, and told them that things were about to change. After waiting for twenty-five years God is finally going to do what God promised Abraham in Genesis 12. But the promise was met with skepticism and doubt.

A lot of us live very complacently. Most of us have everything we really need. We have roofs over our heads and food on our tables. Most of us drive cars and contribute to our RRSP’s. Life might be a little bit boring but, on the whole, it’s pretty good. But let’s not become complacent about that because, as Abraham and Sarah discovered, at the very time when you think that you’re cruising along God may just be preparing to toss you a curve ball and break you out of your complacency. And God might just do that in the most surprising ways.

NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR GOD

There are all sorts of examples in the Bible of God calling people in the most surprising ways. God surprised Abraham and Sarah with a birth announcement. God surprised Moses by talking to him through a burning bush. God surprised Mary by telling her that she would bear a son even though she was a virgin. Jesus surprised Peter by telling him that he was the rock upon which the Church would be built. Jesus, in fact, surprised all of the disciples by rising from the dead and appearing before them. He also surprised Paul by meeting him on the road to Damascus and telling him that he was going to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. The list goes on. God has this habit of taking the most unexpected people and using them to do the most extraordinary things. Often God’s call is met with skepticism and doubt because people just don’t believe that God could possibly expect them to do that. Isn’t that exactly what we see in the Genesis 18?

2,000 years after Jesus’ death, not much has changed. God still calls the most unexpected people to do the most extraordinary things. And when God calls us, we are often skeptical. Me God? You’re talking to me? Are you sure? I can’t do that. I’m not prepared. I’m not equipped. I haven’t a clue how to do that. You must be thinking about someone else who, I am sure, could do that far better than I could. There’s only one problem with that line of reasoning. God isn’t calling someone else. God is calling you to rise up out of your complacency and do something surprising for him.

Have you ever had those little twinges of ideas that keep on coming back? Have you ever had the notion that you should be doing something different with your life? Is there a mission or ministry that you’d really like to do but just don’t see how it could be possible? I’m not necessarily talking about quitting your job, selling all of your possessions and moving to the Congo, although some friends of ours did that twenty-five years ago and are still there with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

I think about Sadekie who preached here at our anniversary worship in 2016. She’s the minister at Emmanuel United Church in Windsor. Sadekie and her family immigrated to Canada two years ago from Jamaica. What would it have been like to pack up yourself, your husband and your three kids, sell all of your possessions and move to a country where water freezes in the winter and, she tells me, the summers are hotter than in Jamaica? And you bring nothing with you except a strong sense that this is where God wants you to be.

God may not be calling you to make life altering choices like that – then again, God may be calling you to do just that. But God may be calling you to do something else. Maybe you feel called to help out at the downtown Mission or to volunteer at Gleaners or some other mission. But you don’t know how you could possibly fit that into your schedule. And like Abraham and Sarah, you are filled with skepticism and doubt.

When that happens, and it does, we need to look at one more verse in Genesis 18. After expressing her disbelief, the angels said this in Genesis 18:14 (NIV): “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Isn’t that a good question? Is anything too hard for God? You remember God, the one who formed creation out of nothing and gave order to the chaos, the God who created time and made things as diverse as whales and butterflies. I’m talking about the God who made colours and textures and every scent, who knit you together in your mother’s womb and breathed life into you and will someday take you home when you have breathed your last. That’s the God I’m talking about. Do you really think that he can’t deal with any skepticisms or doubts that might arise in your mind? Do you really think that your concerns are too big for God to deal with?

You know that answer to that question. Of course, God can deal with anything that might hinder you from doing that which he has called you to do. As the angel said to Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Of course not.

Our challenge is to believe that and not only believe it with our minds but also live like we believe it in our hearts. Let me ask you a question. Is there something missing in your life? Do you feel like you should be doing something or even something else? It might be a big thing or it might be a small thing but it’s there niggling away at you and it won’t let you go. You might even think that God is calling you to do something surprising. But you just don’t see how it would be possible for you to do it.

If that’s the issue going on in your head then remember that nothing is too hard for God. If God really wants you to do something different with your life, then God will equip you to do it. God will also provide the environment in which you can do it and, finally, God will deal with all of your skepticisms and doubts one by one until they are all gone and nothing is left to hinder you from fulfilling God’s call upon your life.

There may come a day when God calls you to do the most surprising thing. And when that happens and you aren’t sure if you can do that which he has called you to do remember that nothing is too difficult for God.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Blessed are you, O God, whose river of hope washes over us with refreshment and healing. We thank you for your presence in our lives. When we call you come to us with love and compassion. When we are blinded, you enable us to see. When we are deaf, you unstop our ears. By your love, you invite us to enter into life fully and freely in Jesus’ name.

We offer our thanks for the gifts of creation. Thank you for the warmth of the days and for cooling evening breezes. Thank you for fishing and walks in the bush. Thank you for the songs of birds and the cry of the ducks and geese.

We thank you, also, for the new facility at the Downtown Mission. Thank you for the vision of people who want to make a difference for the poor. Thank you for the dedication and persistence of people who call upon your name knowing that nothing is too difficult for you.

We pray for the churches in Essex Presbytery as so many congregations struggle to find their missions and goals in life. Open us, O God to the wonder of your unseen power. Reveal you way through the light of Jesus and help us to find the courage to step forward in faith. Be especially with The Rev. Robyn Sherman as she takes on the mantle of Chair of Essex Presbytery this week.

We lift up our concerns for the world. We pray for the people of Latvia as Canadian soldiers prepare to begin their mission in that part of the world and to put a face on resistance against Russian aggression. We mourn the senseless violence that wracks various corners of creation. Enable nations and peoples to put aside their pride for the cause of peace. Give us the courage to resist the temptation to make beasts out of those with whom we disagree.

We pray, finally, for those who are sick at home or in hospital. We think, especially of Sharon Chalmers, Millicent Wormald, Don Raymont, Helen Upcott, Jacqui Seguin and Ken Brown.  Bless all who are sick with your healing touch, filling them with your Holy and Healing Spirit. All of these prayers, we lift to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

June 18, 2017 / Pentecost 2

SCRIPTURE

Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE:         Turn your ear to us, O God;

ALL:         Hear our prayer.

ONE:         Turn your eyes to us, O God;

ALL:         see our actions.

ONE:         Turn our lives to you;

ALL:         in worship and praise.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

O God, be in our head, and in our understanding. God be in our eyes, and in our looking. God be in our mouths, and in our speaking. God be in our hearts, and in our thinking. God be at our beginnings and at our departings. We gather in worship and praise to remember your great love for us. Fill us with your Spirit and open our hearts to your incredible Word in Jesus Christ. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Mercy, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We open our lives to your mercy. Nothing can be hidden from you for you know all things. You see us at our best and at our worst. You notice every success and every failure. Turn us from our self-imposed path of destruction and lead us unto the streets of gold that are in your heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God sees the sparrows and cherishes their every breath. How much more does God love us. The Mercy of God is great. The love of God is everlasting. God calls us to repentance that we might be freed from our sins and live the renewed life in Christ.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

You sow the seeds, O God. You water the plants and send the sunshine. You make all things grow, O God of Creation. What we give to you is yours already. Our prayer is for the wisdom and courage to use it to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

May the love of God be with you. May the grace of the Son rest upon your face. May the strength of the Spirit renew your life and give you peace.

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