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Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-14

1The Lord appeared to {Abraham} by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10aThe Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” 10bAnd Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Psalm 27:1-14

1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid? 2When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell. 3Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; 4And though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him. 5One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; 6To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 7For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. 8Even now he lifts up my head above my enemies round about me. 9Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord. 10Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. 11You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek. 12Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. 13You have been my helper; cast me not away; do not forsake me, O God of my salvation. 14Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will sustain me.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:21-29

21You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

38Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Age is Just a Number

When you stop and think about it, there are all kinds of reasons to laugh. Sometimes we laugh out of embarrassment.  Other times we laugh because something is witty.  Or, we could laugh to cover our despair.  I recently read about a man who awoke one morning to find a puddle of water in the middle of his king-size waterbed.  In order to fix the leak, the man drained the bed, carted the heavy mattress out to the back yard and refilled it with more water so he could locate the leak more easily.  However, there was one problem.  The back yard was steeply sloped and once overfilled, the enormous bag of water was impossible to control and began rolling on the hilly terrain.  He tried desperately to hold it back, but it headed downhill and landed in a clump of bushes which poked it full of holes.

Frustrated, he threw out the waterbed and frame and moved a standard bed into his room.  The next morning, he woke to find a puddle of water in the middle of his new bed.  Frustrated and confused the man looked up to complain to God when he noticed the wet ceiling.  The upstairs bathroom had a leaky drain.  What do you do at times like these?  I’m sure in the years to come the whole thing will seem funny.  There are all kinds of reasons to laugh.  In fact, there’s a man in the Bible who got his name because his mother laughed at an inappropriate time.

Our Old Testament reading begins one hot summer afternoon.  Having spent 4 tours in this part of the world I can attest to how hot it can get in the summer.  On one occasion in July, the daytime high reached 130 degrees.  It was so hot, all outdoor maintenance work was suspended and you had to wear gloves to touch anything metal.  For those who live the Bedouin life, the only relief available on days like these was the shade of a tree.  Unbearable heat like that dulls the senses, clouds the eyes, and clogs the ears.  On days like the one described, you can see little but haze rising from the desert.  That’s why Abraham was startled to see the three visitors coming toward him.  It was as if these strangers had appeared from out of nowhere.

When Abraham saw the visitors approaching, he jumped up and ran out to greet them.  Bowing down before them he welcomed them to his home.  In biblical times hospitality was very important to people in the Middle East.  It was almost a sacred obligation.  Hospitality was given to any passing traveler, even a member of a hostile tribe.  Abraham invited the travelers to stay with him.  He and Sarah did all they could to take care of these unexpected guests.  This brings us to the first point I’d like to make this morning: God has a plan for each of us.

Because we have the privilege of knowing the whole story, we know that God had a plan for Abraham.  Some 25 years prior to this meeting, God had called Abram to leave his home in Ur, to be the progenitor of a new people, God’s chosen people.  God promised Abram he would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.  There was only one problem.  Abraham and Sarah had no children.  Recall that Abraham at this time had reached to ripe young age of seventy-five years old.  By most 20-year-old’s estimation, Abraham’s best years were behind him.  And Sarah was no spring chicken either; at the age of 65, one could easily say that she was well past child-bearing age.  So, the question is asked, how could it be that Abraham and Sarah could produce children, let alone be the Patriarchs of an entire nation?  

Fast-forward to our text for today.  Abraham now age 99 and Sarah age 89 are rapidly reaching the 100-year-old mark and God now comes to them a third time and reminds them of His promise.  This time-tested couple have all but given up on ever seeing the fulfillment of the promise, so much so that Sarai a decade ago had given her handmaiden to Abram to try and fulfill God’s promise through Hagar.  Sarah had long ago resigned herself to the fact that she was well beyond childbearing age.  The passage even bears this out, “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” 

All things considered, anyone of us here would ask the same question, can a child be born to a man who is almost one hundred years old and a woman of nearly 90?”  Had it been you or I, we would have probably joined Sarah in her laughter.  It’s hard to condemn either of them for their skepticism.  However, as we discover throughout the Bible, God calls and equips people of all ages and situations to fulfill His will.  The bottom line is, no one is ever too old, or too young, to be used by God.  Remember the prophet Samuel may have been as young as 6 or 7 when God called him.

During his reporting career, Charles Kuralt traveled across the United States meeting interesting people.  He told about an old man he met in Kansas.  “We never caught his name,” he wrote.  The old man was a pilot.  Charles and his crew were doing a story about an artist whose canvases were eighty-acre fields, thus, the best way to view this unusual artwork was from a plane.  Kuralt and his photographer spotted an old J-2 Piper Cub parked in a barnyard.  They asked the old farmer if he would fly them.  “Sure, I’ll take you up,” the farmer replied.  “We need to take the door off so I can take pictures,” the photographer told the farmer.  “Fine!” was his reply.  

Flying at 2000 feet the photographer asked the old pilot, “How long ago did you get your ticket?”  “Ticket?” the man asked.  “You know, your pilot’s license,” the photographer explained.  “I don’t have any pilot’s license,” the old farmer told them.  “I just found this thing wrecked out here and patched it up and taught myself how to fly it.”  It’s never too late to learn, to grow, to have new experiences; we’re never too old or too young.  Remember Moses was about 80 when God called him from a burning bush and John the Baptist was commissioned in his mother’s womb.  For God, age is just a number.  We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, but we know that God has a plan for each of us.  That’s the first important lesson we need to recognize.

The second lesson we need to glean from our first reading is that with God, all things are possible.  The three unexpected visitors confirmed what God had told Abraham previously.  He and Sarah would become parents in their old age.  Sarah was in the tent listening to every word and when the Lord told Abraham that Sarah would conceive and bear a son, she laughed.  However, true to God’s promise, Sarah and Abraham were about to discover that nothing is impossible for God.  God had a plan for them, and God has a plan for each of us.

A young boy was born into poverty in a rundown section of San Francisco.  The boy was a great fan of football legend, Jim Brown, who then played for the Cleveland Browns.  Because of malnutrition, the young boy had some health problems.  At the age of six his legs had become permanently bowed and his calves so atrophied that his nickname was “Pencil Legs.”  But he set a goal to one day become a star running back like his hero, Jim Brown.  He had no money to attend football games, so whenever the Browns played the Forty-niners, he would wait outside the stadium until the maintenance crew opened the gate late in the fourth quarter.  Then he would hobble into the stadium to watch the last minutes of the game.

When he was thirteen years old, he walked into an ice cream parlor after a game and discovered, much to his amazement, that his long-time idol was there.  He approached the football star and said, “Mr. Brown, I’m your biggest fan!”  Graciously, Jim Brown thanked him.  The young boy persisted, “Mr. Brown, you know what?”  Patiently Brown asked, “What is it, son?”  The boy replied, “I know every record you’ve set, every touchdown you’ve ever scored!”  Brown smiled and said, “That’s great,” and returned to his previous conversation.  “Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown,” the boy persisted.  The football star turned once again to the boy.  The boy looked him in the eyes and said with determination, “Mr. Brown, one day I’m going to break every one of your records!”

The future Hall of Fame football legend smiled and said, “That’s great, kid.  What’s your name?”  The boy grinned and answered, “Orenthal, sir.  Orenthal James Simpson.  My friends call me O. J.”   Despite O. J.’s run-ins with the law, O. J. Simpson did indeed go on to break all of Jim Brown’s records and set some new ones of his own.  We live in a world of amazing possibilities.  Abraham and Sarah would go on to have a son, just as God had promised, and just as the divine visitors had now confirmed.

Finally, there’s one more thing our reading confirms for us, God always keeps His promises.  Sarah understandably laughed when the announcement was made of her impending pregnancy.  But God asked, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”  It makes you wonder what kind of celebration occurred during that intervening year?  When it became obvious that God had indeed fulfilled His promise and Sarah was pregnant, did Abraham throw a huge BBQ?

If this were to occur today, I bet ole Abraham would throw a big ‘reveal’ party.  He would call all the local media stations and ensure Sarah made the nightly news on all the national cable news outlets.  Certainly, the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records would be notified.  Certainly Sarah, at age 90, would be taking regular baby bump selfies and posting them on all the Social Media sites.  The one thing we do know is that the next spring Isaac was born: “The Lord did for Sarah as He had promised.”

A lady named Nellia Garber tells about a Bible she received as a gift from her husband.  She shared the Bible with her son, Doug.  “Doug and I read it together,” she said.  “Together we underlined God’s promises.”  A few years later she received another Bible and gladly gave that first Bible to her son.  Years passed and Doug got married and had three sons.

One day Doug’s house burned to the ground.  “We lost everything,” Doug told his mother.  For a week, neighbors, family, and friends tried to help them.  They supplied clothes, money, food, furniture, and many prayers.  Then one day Doug’s wife visited her mother-in-law.  Smiling she said, “look what I found in the rubble.”  It was their old Bible.  The Bible was soaking wet, its leather cover shriveled and brittle, but with all the pages intact.  Nellia began to dry it off, first with a towel, then in the oven.  When her son came home that night Nellia handed him their Bible saying excitedly, “Open it up.  Just let it fall open.”

The Bible opened to the book of Isaiah and Doug read a verse that they had underlined many years before, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; …when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (43:2).  God keeps His promises.  Sarah conceived and 9 months later Isaac was born.  Isaac’s name means laughter.  Isaac would be a constant joy-filled reminder for everyone he knew of his mother’s disbelief and of God’s faithfulness.  God can be trusted.  God’s promises are sure.  God has a plan for each of us, none of us are too old or too young to be used of God and nothing is impossible with God.  In Romans 4, St. Paul praises Abraham for his faith, however, if we were to ask Abraham, I believe Abraham would praise God for His faithfulness.

Once there was a child prodigy named Ana Maria Trenchi De Bottazzi.  Ana began studying the piano at the tender age of two.  She gave her first piano recital in her native Buenos Aires at the age of four.  She toured many countries.  By the time she was eighteen, she had performed recitals, both solo and with orchestras, throughout South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.  At twenty-three she was a full professor for graduate piano students at the Kunatachi University in Tokyo.  Sadly, tragedy struck.  The gifted world-renowned concert pianist was nearly killed in an automobile accident.

The doctors were honest; the damage to her brain was extensive.  They told her she would never play the piano again.  “For years to come I couldn’t do anything; remember anything,” Ana Maria says of her long recovery.  The doctors removed fifteen blood clots from her brain. “I couldn’t pick up a plate,” she says, “I lost coordination.”  During her years of recovery her mother told her over and over again, “What we are is God’s gift to us.  What we become is our gift to God.  God doesn’t make mistakes,” her mother said.

Ana began to believe in herself once again.  “I could imagine myself playing at Carnegie Hall,” she said.  In her imagination she saw the people giving her a standing ovation.

After a long sixteen years she finally did walk onto the stage at Carnegie Hall.  “I was terrified,” she says recalling that moment of triumph.  “I sat down, and I prayed.  I asked God to help me.”  Ana Maria played the piano for two hours.  “I was totally immersed in music,” she says.  When she finished her last piece of music, she turned to face the audience.  Two thousand people were clapping, giving her a standing ovation. “For a second, I wasn’t sure that it was really happening,” she recalls.  “It was exactly like my daydreams.  When I realized it was real, I broke down and cried on the stage.  As I took my bow, I said to myself, “God, this is my gift to you.”

Since then, she has given ten more concerts at Carnegie Hall.  She’s also played for government leaders and dignitaries throughout the world.  Not bad for a woman who was told she would never play the piano again.  God said to Abraham, “Is anything impossible for the Lord?”  The answer, of course, is a resounding no!  God has a plan for each of us and we’re never too old or too young to be used of God.  We can also count on the fact that with God, nothing is impossible and that He always, always, always, keeps His promises.  Knowing these immutable facts are enough to make you want to laugh out loud, not in disbelief, but in gratitude and in praise.


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