It is important to note that many people struggle with infertility. That for those in our congregation, of all ages, the struggle to conceive a baby is real. Who knows how many miscarriages Sarah had. Who knows if Sarah was one of those who’s body never quite worked right. There are those who long for children or grandchildren for whom it will not be able to happen. There are those who are single and feel unable to start a family without a partner and there are families who have lost a child, one way or another for whom these passages will still sting. This is one of the most real struggles as a human being, and not to be taken lightly.
I personally suspect that Abraham and Sarah are very lonely at this moment. They are living in a tent, which may have been the norm, or may have been a signal that after God called them so many years ago, Abraham and Sarah never really settled down into a community. Perhaps Abraham and Sarah were like my husband and I when we first moved together–sick of each other’s company but so grateful for one another because we were so lonely.
Perhaps this is why Abraham is so excited to welcome the visitors–whether he knew it was God or not–he makes quick to prepare. Maybe that’s why Sarah is listening at the edge of the tent. Engaging as much as she can in her cultural context, obviously without family to take care of, probably never finding real friends among the other community mothers, and we all know how the relationship with Hagar turned out. Burned by their traveling interactions and their own broken attempts to build a family with Hagar, I am convinced that Abraham and Sarah are lonely.
This is the moment when Sarah thinks she has lost all hope. She is not even planting seeds anymore. How can one have a harvest if you are not planting seeds? I put this text not only with Mark 10::27 of with God all things are possible, but also Matthew 13:1-9 about how bountiful the harvest can be. Sarah has ceased menstruating, and in some ways ceased being a woman in any meaningful way. The text pretty much names it that way. And thus she is alone, inside the tent
Is it any wonder she laughs? Perhaps she laughs so she doesn’t cry. Perhaps she laughs at the ridiculousness of life, perhaps she is laughing because strangers think they know what’s best for her. It could be the laugh against mansplaining, right there in the Bible.
Whatever the reason, Sarah laughs and then someone names that to her. The text is unclear, was it God or Abraham who names her laughter? Clearly it’s someone who is beloved.
It makes me think of those truths that only someone you love can tell you, because it’s only then that you can hear what is being said. When I was a new pastor, and was going through the counseling one does to know yourself well enough to pastor. When I had the evaluation, I was super upset because they told me I was still mad about the bullying I endured in middle school; I was fine. I had processed it, moved on, had a great undergrad & grad career & married my high school sweetheart, I was fine. It was at this moment, my best friend Chloe, who I love, said to me “But Katy, you are still mad.” And it was then I realized, she was right, but I couldn’t hear it, til she said it.
I don’t know if Sarah even had realized that she laughed. But she clearly was in denial about it, until either her husband or God said, yes, yes you did. I think it was that moment Sarah realized that she was still nursing a hope for connection and community. I think it’s that moment everything changes, and Abraham and Sarah are ready to try some new relationships. And, as always first it starts with hospitality with God and then it results in relationships with others. The laughter is a new beginning.
Where are you in this complicated text, are you focusing on Abraham or Sarah or the visitors? Let us know how your worship planning is going.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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