The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 18, 2017
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:1-15

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     A few years ago I went to Prepared to Serve, a conference held in Pembroke every February hosted by the United Church of Christ.  There are workshops on almost everything, about 20 workshops held each period, and there are about 4 periods during the day.  About 400 people participate, I think.  It is a big day.  Every year they ask the people who led popular workshops the previous year to repeat those, and put out a call for new workshop leaders.  If you have anything you want to present, chances are they will accept you to lead a workshop.  But after a year or two, you start to learn that there are some workshop leaders you really want to see, and others who you have seen in the past and might not be the most interesting. 

     One of my first years up here, there was a workshop led by Carolyn Kelig, who I have more recently gotten to know better as she is the convener of our interim ministry group.  I had heard she had a really good workshop, so I attended.  First activity, she had a bunch of cards with people and events, we just had to put them into chronological order.  Well, birth of Jesus was easy, Adam and Eve were easy.  But it quickly became apparent that even in a group of about 30 ministers and church members, we had a hard time with chronology.  And honestly as ministers, we jump around the Bible all the time, talking about Jesus, then Paul, then something in the Old Testament, but never take the time to put it all together. 

     So the story this morning was about Abraham and Sarah.  This was before the Israelites went to Egypt, where Moses led them out.  So this was before the 10 commandments, well before the first temple was even built in Jerusalem, and well before Jesus.  We donít really know when Abraham lived, as dates were kind of fuzzy back then, but many think it was around 2,000 BCE.  Abrahamís great grandson was Joseph. Many of you know the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.  So this story happened well before that story.

     Abraham is considered the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three religions can trace their roots back to Abraham.  And Abraham is considered to have one of the first covenants with God.  Noah had the rainbow, God promising he will never destroy the world with a flood again.  Abraham was promised the ďpromised landĒ between Egypt and the Euphrates river, and also promised to have nations of descendants.  Abraham had a son, Ishmael, with his slave Hagar, which is where the Islamic tradition traces its roots to Abraham.  Sarah, Abrahamís wife, could not have any children, so at least Abraham had a son, even though it was not with his wife Sarah.  This is Old Testament, so back then they thought the wife didnít have a lot to contribute to the child, didnít understand the whole DNA from both parents, the man was the only one they thought was important.  The mother was more like an incubator to grow the child given by the father until it was to be born.  So Ishmael was considered really Abrahamís son, just born from a different mother than his wife.

     Now in this covenant with God that Abraham made, God said that all of his children would be marked by circumcision.  And not only his children, but also any slaves he owned, any children he adopted, his nation would have this mark.  So at about 99, just before this story, Abraham circumcised himself and all the males in his household as a sign of their faithfulness.  Now guys, remember this was 2,000 years before Jesus, there were no pain killers, no anesthesia, no antibiotics, and even knives were probably not as sharp as a scalpel today. 

     So after this all happens, all the men have been circumcised and they are resting.  Suddenly 3 men appear.  There is a bit of confusion, as it was three, then appears to become one.  Lots of speculation as to what that means.  At this point we didnít have any knowledge of the trinity, so maybe this was foreshadowing what we as Christians would later learn, we donít really know. Abraham welcomes them as was the custom of that day.  He gets some water to wash their feet, asks Sarah to make some bread, gets a lamb and has a servant prepare it.  This was an extravagant welcome.  And then Abraham gets the message that he and his wife Sarah will have a child. 

     Keri and I were both over 35 when we got pregnant with Collin.  Well she got pregnant, but I had something to do with it.  Anyway, after they confirmed she was pregnant, they brought us into a conference room.  They explained that Keri was ďAMA, Advanced Maternal Age.Ē  She was just over 35, but I guess anything over 35 is considered AMA.  So they wanted to start special tests.  They would send us to Jacksonville where they could do a special ultrasound to measure the thickness of the skull.  And then they would offer us genetic testing.  And they wanted to really keep an eye on this baby, lots and lots of ultrasounds, lots and lots of doctor visits. 

     Did you catch that Abraham was just circumcised?  And did you hear about Sarahís age?  99.  Now even if we assume that dates were a bit different back then, maybe she was not fully 99, but certainly was beyond the age of having children.  She was beyond AMA, Advanced Maternal Age.   Abraham was also said to be the same age.  Men donít necessarily change in the way that women do, but letís just assume they are an older couple.  Nothing wrong with an old couple, but as they would say in North Carolina, ďthey arenít making babies no more.Ē 

     And Sarah laughed.  This is church, but pretty clear that Abraham and Sarah had not been together much recently.  And so soon after Abrahamís little self-operation.  So laughing was in order.  It was ridiculous to think that, with all this stuff stacked against them, they would have a child. 

     But Sarah denied laughing, saying, ďI did not laughĒ; for she was afraid. The guest said, ďOh yes, you did laugh.Ē  I donít sense a hostility here, and find the conversation kind of funny.  It was not ďYou should not laugh because it is going to happen,Ē just an acknowledgement that this may seem ridiculous. 

     Many of us have heard the quote ďWith God all things are possible.Ē  It is found in the book of Matthew, but I think fits this story pretty well also.  With Abraham and Sarah, the impossible could happen.

     When I started thinking about seminary, I really didnít know much about seminaries.  I had passed all the classes I took in college.  For most, I was a solid C student.  Couple of Bís and a few ďAísĒ in there, but also that C- in Chemistry and that D- in Calculus.  In a non-major class, when I was going through Maine, a D- was considered passing. 

     I didnít know if I could get in.  It is a graduate school, and they wanted my transcript to make sure they felt I could do the work required.  And it was going to be tough, they made that clear.  More reading assigned then you will ever be able to do, lots of long papers, some pretty hard classes your first year, plus you were expected to work 10 hours a week in a chaplain program somewhere they would assign you to.  I had moved to the East Coast at that point, so would be moving to Missouri, or Pennsylvania, I was considering two seminaries at that point, but they were pretty similar. 

     And then there was the cost.  I was very lucky; my Grandfather had put away money when I was young to help my sister and me through college.  My father also had added to that, and I knew they probably had some savings they could dip into.  But my sister went to medical school before I applied to seminary. If there was that pot we could dip into, it was probably gone after medical school.  And my parents later told me that they didnít really expect me to even finish college.  I was a solid C student in High School, so they thought I might go for a year or two, and then decide to do something else.  So saving for their sonís possible graduate school was not on their radar. 

     I applied and was accepted.  I was offered a full scholarship at both seminaries.  The second year, when money was a little tight, the church where I was working 10 hours a week offered to up my hours to 15 hours a week, helped me put food into my belly. 

     Looking back the odds were stacked against me.  Marginal grades, lack of funds.  When I was a senior in college, my college chaplain suggested I consider seminary. I laughed.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, I could not imagine that happening, too much stacked against me.  A year after she suggested that, I was accepted.  A year after Abraham and Sarahís visit, Sarah gives birth to Isaac.  The root of the Hebrew for Isaac is to laugh. 

     When I look carefully, I see miracles every day.  I will brag for a minute, it seems like just yesterday I brought my boys home from the hospital.  Remember little babies are so weak they cannot hold their heads up on their own, you have to support them.  I bought Glenn a little rattle, he had no clue.  He could not shake it himself, and no matter what I did, he didnít seem to have any interest in what I was doing.  He wanted to sleep and eat.  As a teenager, kind of feel like he has done back to the only wanting to sleep and eat, but heís grown.

     But both boys can make some music.  They can both read.  They can both have conversations.  In just a few short years, they went from not even holding their heads up to being able to discuss some deep issues.  Just the development so far have been full of miracles.  Seems as a baby, both of them had everything stacked against them, could do almost nothing on their own, totally dependent on others.  A few years go by and everything changes. 

     And I have also seen it in the hospital.  A few years ago, got a call from a church member that her husband was in intensive care, heart attack.  I went to the hospital.  He was on a ventilator, on drugs to keep him asleep, and they were going to look at his heart that afternoon, see how much was damaged.  He had died, his heart had stopped, but they were able to put in a pacemaker to keep it beating.  It was really touch and go.  He ended up having a few surgeries, got out of intensive care, and eventually was discharged.  About a year after his heart attack he walked into church. 

     Sometimes we laugh out loud because the suggested outcome is unimaginable.  You can find story after story of the unthinkable happening.  Jesus, Godís own son, was born in a stable to a young girl.  He preached and lived among us, and did miracles, and then he was killed on a cross with common criminals.  He didnít take over the world like we expected.  But then the unthinkable, the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive.  We see it in the stories of our faith, and we see it in our lives.

     Sarah, old, well past Advanced Maternal Age, and Abraham, just as old and just circumcised are going to make a baby.  Robert is going to go to seminary and become a minister.  Glenn and Collin are going to grow up and be able to have discussions.  A man in the hospital, in bad shape is going to walk into church a year from now. Jesus, our savior, is going to be killed but also be resurrected.  With God, even the most laughable outcomes are possible.