My first sermon was delivered to a sea of testosterone Tuesday night. (Yes, my preaching class is male with one notable exception. Smile.) What might surprise you, though, is that I actually referenced the terms menopause and monthly cycle in my sermon. Really.
My central point was that TRUE FAITH GROWS STRONGER THROUGH TESTING. And so I moved through Genesis 18:1-15, talking about the three visitors who came to Abraham and Sarah, their hospitality, and Sarah's laughter when they said she would have delivered a baby boy one year from then.
I explained Sarah's lifetime of infertility, the grief that flooded her being each month when she received her monthly cycle, and how decade after decade went by with no baby, a deep shame in her society. I mean, we know Sarah was an amazingly beautiful woman, but I think if she could have summed up her life to that point in two words she might say: ABJECT FAILURE.
So by the time these three guys (the Lord and two angels) show up on the scene, she is 89 years of age. She hears their prediction, and instead of crying the hot tears that had filled her childbearing years, she does what comes instinctively. She laughs at the preposterousness of it all. I would have, too, I fear. True faith is exposed in a moment. Sarah's faith was still in the incubation stage.
So God ups the ante. If we were to say it in today's lingo, in order to capture God's emphaticness and a fuller meaning of the text's intention, we would say, "Why in the world did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful, extraordinary, or amazing for the Lord?"
The truth is, Sarah is still hiding by the tent, but she cannot stand it. She cannot take the heat. So she blurts: "Really, I did not laugh." And God nails her to the wall: "Actually, you did."
Now all of this would be truly sad if God wasn't up to something big. If He wasn't growing up Sarah and Abraham's faith. But He did exactly that. The New Testament sheds light on Sarah's growth in Hebrews 11:11 (RSV): "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised."
To be honest, Sarah and Abraham make a great pair. God told him in the previous chapter that Sarah would have a son, and he rolled on the ground, laughing. But shriveled-up uteruses and failed dreams are nothing for the God who hung the moon and created our inmost being. Scholars think part of the reason God exposed Sarah and Abraham here was to grow their faith. The other? Quite possibly, to remind them to have sex at 89 and 99 years of age, respectively. To do their part to usher in the unthinkable promise.
True faith does grow stronger through testing. Abraham and Sarah are proof positive.
The sermon was well-received, and the pastor evaluating us encouraged me to preach it again, but next time, even more from Sarah's perspective (which is somewhat reflected above). He made me realize that I was the only one in the class who could preach it that way. I'm surprised to be saying this, but God is using the 20 males in my preaching class to challenge, encourage, and grow me in ways I never anticipated. Abba really does know what He is doing. Always.