Last week, we read from the story of Adam and Eve in chapter 2. This week, we move forward to chapter 18 with Abraham and Sarah. I want to give us a little of the story of Abraham leading up to chapter 18. We first hear about Abram in chapter 11 with a quick genealogy of Noah’s son Shem to Abram. In chapter 12, God’s calls Abram to go to an unknown land led by Divine GPS. God tells Abram that He will make Abram’s name great and make him a great nation.
God leads Abram and Sarai to Egypt and Abram gets in a little trouble down there. Abram got kicked out of Egypt and went to Bethel. Chapter 15 begins Abram’s talk of an heir. Sarai plots to give Abram a son through her maid servant Hagar and Ishmael is born. In those days, a child born to a woman’s maid servant was counted as the woman’s child if the father was her husband. So, Ishmael would have been considered Sarai’s child except Sarai became jealous of Hagar being able to get pregnant and grew to despise her.
After Ishmael had grown to a teenager, God gives Abram the covenant of circumcision and all the men with Abram are circumcised. God reiterates His blessing of Abram that he will be a great nation. In this covenant, Abram is renamed Abraham by God and his wife Sarai is renamed Sarah. God said Sarah would be the mother of nations. At this Abraham falls down and laughs saying, “Am I going to be a dad at 100 years old?” God says, “Yes.” God will bless Sarah’s son by this covenant. Ishmael will be blessed, but Sarah’s son who is to be named Isaac will be the one through whom God will fulfill His promise to make Abraham a great nation. Abraham had fulfilled his promise in the covenant of circumcision; now, he had to wait on God to fulfill His end of the promise.
Now, we are caught up to today’s story. Abraham invites travelers to sit and rest with him. Abraham offers them food and drink and extends great hospitality. The traveling men are often thought to be angels. One of the men tells Abraham that when they return next year Sarah will have had a son.
Sarah over heard this and laughed. You can imagine why Sarah laughed. She was no longer receiving her monthly gift and was well past the hot flashes and night sweats. Abraham was very old – he probably would have liked a little blue pill. The thought of these 2, 90 and 100 years old, having a son seemed ridiculous. It was shameful to not have a child and the woman was always to blame for not conceiving a male heir.
So, what was Sarah laughing about? I think this was a cynical Ha, Ha, Yeah right laugh. She laughed at the prospect of God finally answering her prayer for a son after 70 years of prayer. She laughed at the thought of God working a miracle in their old age. She laughed at the possibility that God may be joking about the one thing she wanted more than anything else.
God finally answered her prayer. It is not that God had not heard her prayer before this. God had heard her prayer all along. God just didn’t answer her prayer until now. Abraham and Sarah had wanted a baby for so long and God was finally, in His good time, going to answer their prayer and fulfill His covenant promise to make Abraham the father of nations and Sarah the mother of nations.
Sarah gave birth at the time God had appointed. Isaac was circumcised as God had commanded in the covenant. Abraham and Sarah named him Isaac which means laughter, because Sarah and Abraham had laughed when they heard the news God would do this for them. Now, they laugh because God has brought them joy.
This text is about generosity. Abraham’s generosity and God’s generosity. Abraham’s generosity was shown through his hospitality. God’s generosity was shown through a son.,
Abraham had been lounging at the entrance of his tent on a very hot afternoon. He was likely recovering from the circumcision, no doubt the surgery had taken its toll on the old man. When seeing the travelers, he ran to them, despite the heat of the day in the desert and despite his weakness following the circumcision, he ran to the men, bowed before them and begged them to come stay with him. He offered them a little water, a morsel of bread, a foot washing, and rest.
We are told that the Lord appeared to Abraham and then he looked up and saw 3 men. I imagine that Abraham knew that they were sent from God. I’m sure Abraham hoped that they would give him more information about God’s promise and how it would be fulfilled. Abraham had promised these men little in his invitation for them to come rest with him. But, what he gave them was more than the little he had promised. He gave them cakes, a calf, curds and milk, quite the lavish feast.
This is not the first story of Abraham’s generosity. In the story of his nephew Lot, Abraham is revealed to be generous. Lot’s father Haran had died and Abraham had taken Lot under his wing. When Abraham set out to unknown lands, he took Lot with him. Over time, both men had grown in flocks, herds, and tents. Both were wealthy. The herders of Lot and Abraham had begun to quarrel, because the land where they were was not big enough for all of their family, servants, flocks, and herds.
Abraham said to Lot, “You go one way and I’ll go the other.” Abraham gave Lot the choice of his direction. Lot looked around and found the place he thought was the most fertile and well-watered place. He chose to go that way and Abraham went the other way. Abraham did not say, “I have given you so much. I have taken you under my wing. I have been like a father to you. So, you go this way and I’ll go that way.” Abraham said to Lot, “You choose.” It would have been very easy for Abraham to pick the best land and head in that direction, but out of Abraham’s generous heart he gave Lot the right to the land that he chose.
Again, and again, Abraham is generous in these stories. Abraham negotiated with God for the righteous people of Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared. Abraham asked for God to also bless Ishmael after he had been told that Isaac would be blessed by the covenant. Tradition even says that Abraham’s tent was open on both the east and west side so that Abraham could see travelers coming from both directions and invite them to rest with him.
Well before the Bible institutes tithing, Abraham knew that the proper response to God’s generosity is his own generosity. God had not yet given Abraham and Sarah a promised son. They were generous in all these stories because God had already given them so much. They weren’t giving to God so that God would give to them. They recognized all that God had already given to them. God had made them a promise of a son and they were being generous with God for what God would give them and what God had already given them. In Abraham’s generosity, he was giving thanks for the blessing to come and the blessings that had already come and trusting that what God had promised God would do.
I think there are many reasons why we come to church. One of the most important reasons is to give thanks. We praise God in song and give thanks in prayer. There are hundreds of songs I could have chosen for this morning’s worship that express our thanksgiving and our need to recognize and acknowledge what God has done for us, like “give thanks with a grateful heart”, “count your blessings, one by one”, “Jesus, we just want to thank you”, for the beauty of the earth, Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise”, or “in thanksgiving, let us praise Him; in thanksgiving, let us sing.”
One expression of our worship is thanksgiving. We give thanks at the Table and in our offering. Our Elders pray with thanks for the bread and wine symbolizing Christ’s sacrifice and grace. We give our offerings and I remind us that we are giving from what God has already given us trusting that God will give us more. Our offerings are like a thank you note to God. Writing this check or giving this cash as a note of our appreciation for God’s generosity. Rev. Kent Millard says, “Our motivation for giving is not out of obligation or guilt or to meet a church budget.” He says, “Our motivation for giving is ‘just to say thanks’ for all God has first given us.”
Last Sunday, at the Habitat for Humanity house blessing, I was praised for all the work I had done for the care-a-vanners to have meals every day while they were here. I said, “All I did was call on some generous people.” The traveling care-a-vanners passing through were shown gracious hospitality by you out of thanks for what they were doing for our community and for what God has done for us. This church is a generous church. In addition to our weekly offerings, you give a little here and a little there to contribute to various ministries which all adds up to great blessings to our community and groups like the care-a-vanners.
Over the next 2 months, Lisa Schultz as chairperson of Finance and Stewardship and I will be writing to you about stewardship and generosity. I will be leading a Bible study about living abundantly and generously. In our budget planning process, you will receive 2 budgets. One will be a budget that we will adhere to if there is no change in our offerings. Another will be a dream budget including the things we can do if we have a greater offering. These will be the things from our vision and ministry plan that we can’t afford to do with our current offering, but you will have the opportunity to invest in through a greater offering.
You will receive a commitment card and on November 29th, the first Sunday of Advent, we will have a celebration in which we will all offer a commitment to an offering for next year. Whether you give $1 a week or $1,000 a month, whether there is no change in your offering or a 20% increase in your offering, we will all offer a commitment to God to be generous in the coming year and say thanks for what He have given us.
As we begin a focus on our generosity and think about planning our gifts for next year, I invite you to consider how you say thanks to God for His generosity through a variety of offerings, tithes, time, and talents. Consider the many ways you say thanks and consider a greater note of thanks in your offerings.