Too Good to be True, but True!
Sermon 1742 Genesis 18.1-15 April 25, 2021
This is one of those nice sermons because it is about a nice story. Maybe you’ve noticed—probably not, we are so desensitized by bad news—most of the sermons have been about the big stories, the bad stories. As a believers we had to dig deep to find the Gospel we all know is in these stories. But the problem with big stories is that we seldom live big stories. We have never built an ark to save all life from a world-wide deluge. We’ve never had the Lord come and talk to us, promising us our family tree will produce the Savior of the world. We’ve never been driven out of the Garden of Eden. Just like people who only see babies getting baptized in church and think baptism is only for babies, so we see the big stories unfold in the Bible and think the Lord is only concerned about the big stories. But we don’t live big stories. Most of the time we feel like we are just the supporting cast. Show up for work. Do your job. No use complaining, because it won’t help anyway.
This is a sermon for you and me. This is not a sermon for the champions, the gold medal or blue ribbon winners. This is a sermon for everyone left holding a participation ribbon.
Too Good to be True, but True!
1. The LORD is our guest.
2. The LORD is our friend.
Twenty-four years before our story in Genesis 18, God had promised Abraham a son from whom the Savior of the world would come. “All nations will be blessed through you (Genesis 12.3). But, at least to Abraham’s thinking, the Lord was slow to carry out that promise. Maybe Abraham misunderstood. Easy to do. Whenever I mishear someone, I always mishear them to my favor. When Abraham appointed a servant to be the executor (and legal heir) to his estate, the Lord repeated and clarified his promise. “A son coming from your own body will be your heir (Genesis 15.4).” The stars in the sky were the pledge of the Lord’s faithfulness. “That’s how many descendants you will have.” Everyone who believes in Jesus, the descendant of Abraham, is one of those stars, you and me included. But still the promise was not fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah still had no children. The thought crossed Sarah’s mind, maybe the Lord wasn’t talking about her. Maybe some other woman would bear this promised son to Abraham. Her maidservant, Hagar, was a beautiful woman. She could produce a fine son for Abraham. “Go, sleep with my maidservant (Genesis 16.2).” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know how that will turn out. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, will get the short end of Sarah’s stick as they are driven away about a decade later. There’s need for a little more clarity in Abraham’s mind. The Lord shows up again.
“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them. ‘Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant (18.1-2, 4-5).’”
Too good to be true, but true. The LORD is our guest.
Notice the name for God. LORD. Yes, we’ve heard it about a dozen times this past year. That’s the name for the God who keeps his promise to send the Promised Savior into the world, no matter what. And it is that promise made flesh, Jesus, the Promised Savior, the Good Shepherd and Friend of sinners. Good things happen when the LORD is our guest.
At first Abraham doesn’t know it is the LORD. There are no rainbows streaming behind him. A host of angels is not leading a parade in front of him. The LORD appears as a man. Abraham sees three men, the LORD and two angels, all disguised as men. They want to talk to Abraham, not scare the bejeebers out of him, so they do not appear in their heavenly glory. But Abraham, being the godly man he is, proves to be the good host. Hospitality was valued highly in the ancient world. There were no Holiday Inns or Marriott. Food on the road was hard to come by. If you were forced to travel, you had to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Abraham is kind. After he offers to feed them, he hurries in to Sarah. “Quick, get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread (6).” That’s a lot of flatbread. The three strangers will have lots of sack lunches when they hit the road again. He goes to the herdsman and tells him to butcher a calf. You don’t have to age veal to soften it up. He went to another servant for curds and milk. It won’t be a royal banquet, but it will be a filling and delicious meal. In the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to show hospitality. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13.2).” It wasn’t only angels who were guests of Abraham, it was the LORD.
Too good to be true, but true! The LORD is our guest.
Have a picture of Jesus in your house? Why? I imagine it is to remind you that Jesus is the Lord of your house. Maybe some of us even have a plague or sign that says as much or has a Bible verse on it. Do we say table prayers? Prayers before you eat? You know, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” In an interesting side note researchers have found that people who pray before a meal do not indulge in gluttony as much as those who don’t pray. They theorize people who pray recognize the hard work that has gone into making that meal. But anyway, when we say our table prayer, no matter what it is, we are inviting the Lord to be a table guest of ours. We are inviting him to our meal.
Now, before we get all self-righteous and dislocate our shoulder patting ourselves on the back, just think how the rest of that meal goes. Complaints about the food. Fights between the children over the last piece of pie. Disagreements between members of the family over, well, over everything. And if it’s a Sunday dinner, we can even add juicy gossip about people we saw at church or critique their fashion choices. With our mouths we praise God and eat his gifts and with the same mouths we chew each other out. And Jesus is right there. We’ve invited him in. Sins of ingratitude, slander, thoughtlessness and greed evidently are on the hidden menu reserved for those in the know. Abraham treated the LORD well, even though he didn’t know the LORD was there. We treat the LORD badly even though we know he is there.
Yet Jesus calls us his own. Jesus is happy to pull up a chair at our table. As he graced the wedding at Cana with his presence, turning water into wine, as he enjoyed Martha’s filling supper, even though it was spiced with her fretting and fuming, so he blesses our tables. Jesus, like any thoughtful guest, brings something to the table. He brings forgiveness of sins. What else would you expect from the LORD, the Promised Savior? Instead of a meal ruined, it is a meal that goes off well. Too good to be true, but true! The LORD is our guest.
Too good to be true, but true! The LORD is our friend.
Now Abraham discovers that his guest is more than a guest. “Then the LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son (10).’”
I don’t recall Abraham talking to his guests about a promised son. Even if one of the servants let it slip or Abraham had mentioned it, no traveler would have had the guts to brazenly lie like this. What else would you call a promise you cannot possibly fulfill? Only the LORD can fulfill this promise. It is the LORD. Now here’s the really nice part of the story.
“Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure (10-12)?’”
Oh, if Sarah just once could feel what, to her anyway, every other woman in the world felt! To feel that life growing inside you. To feel the baby kick! To see your belly look like a beach ball being batted back and forth at a rock concert when the kid gets feisty in there. To measure up to your fears and successfully go through childbirth! To hold that new baby, so soft, shivering in your hands, his hair and eyelashes matted and wet, but his fingers so delicate and each fingernail absolutely perfect and sharp as a knife. To see the pride in her husband’s eyes as well as the fear, for what man would volunteer for what his wife has just gone through? O mystery of life. She laughs. It is good news that is too good to be true.
“Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh (13-15).’”
Sarah’s sin is not in eavesdropping. Everyone expects people to listen in when there’s company. Sarah’s sin is not believing the LORD and, in embarrassment, lying about it—to the LORD!
The LORD did not put up with Cain’s lies about his murdered brother, Abel. The LORD silences our lies with his Law, the Ten Commandments, “that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world [be] held accountable to God (Romans 3.19).” But the LORD is acting in a different way here.
There is a custom among people which is as old as the hills. We gather around beverages. Sometimes it is coffee—always in the Midwest, even under a scorching July sun, there’s a cup of hot coffee ready for you. In the heart of Texas it will be sweet tea. Elsewhere it could be lemonade or beer. Friends gather over beverages and shoot the breeze. Maybe they talk over the work day or rehash the shellacking their favorite sports team suffered the night before. Maybe they rehearse the glory days of high school or college. As the saying goes, “the older I get the better I was.” The stories may become a bit inflated. You know you have a friend when they correct you. “No, that wasn’t Kurt Seeger who downed the punt so quickly the ref didn’t see it and that player from Westby walked away with the ball and then ran for the tying touchdown to ruin our unbeaten season. That was you!” “Yeah, I guess it was, but the ref should have been paying attention.” A friend can say that. Old scars tickle when a friend touches them.
That’s what’s happening between the LORD and Sarah. “I did not laugh.” “Yes, you did laugh.” And that’s the end of it. One friend correcting another and moving on. Friends stick up for one another, even when they are honest with each other. And when they have to reel you in from the whoppers, it is only because they care. They are not enablers. They are not going to sit idly by watching you walk over a cliff. They are friends. They love you in spite of your flaws, but somehow, someway, they make you a better person through knowing them.
That’s Jesus with Sarah. He doesn’t turn her into stone. He doesn’t rob her of speech for twelve months. He just corrects her, “Yes, you did laugh.” And it makes her a better person. It focuses her on the Promise. This is much bigger than Sarah having a bouncing baby boy in her old age. This is how the LORD is continuing to carry out his Promise to bring the Promised Savior into the world. Her trust certainty grows. Her faith is strengthened. Her future, both on earth and in heaven forever, just got a lot brighter. She has more than the prospect of a bouncing baby boy to cheer her.
Sometimes I wonder how Jesus can put up with me. He has been my Lord since I was about two weeks old, when I was baptized. I had a lot of religious training--a great Sunday School with Mrs. Diekrager and her daughter, Mrs. Brown, a Lutheran high school, pre-seminary in college and then four years of Seminary. For a lot of years I’ve been getting paid to study and teach the Bible. After all that, I still sin. I have learned to sleep on things, because my first reaction would get me into trouble. My inaction and sluggishness, you can attribute it to age slowing me down, but it’s really me getting better at masking my sin and not letting it get from my head into my mouth or actions. For that we think we are worthy of praise? It’s like a conspirator saying, “Yes, we did plan on breaking the law, but we were so incompetent we never got around to doing it.” That is a model citizen? I don’t think so. A Christian that only sins in their thoughts? A virtuous saint? I don’t think so. Maybe you wonder how Jesus can put up with you, too.
The news that is too good to be true, but true is that the LORD is our friend. “LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me (Psalm 139.1-5).” Jesus knows everything about us, our supposed strengths and our glaring weaknesses, our fears and our joys. He knows what we are proud of. He knows what we are so ashamed of we hope no other human being remembers it. He knows when we call for help and he helps before we call. The LORD is our friend.
He makes us more than we are, better than we dared imagine we could be. He pours so much love into our hearts that we love others. He gives us a courage to stick our necks out for others. He gives us the discipline to look ourselves squarely in the mirror and strive to fix what we can see is wrong. He moves us from point A to point B to point C and point D, so that when the course of our days is over, an amazing journey has been completed.
Too Good to be True, but True!
1. The LORD is our guest.
2. The LORD is our friend.
Sarah and the Lord. A nice story, for a change. The Gospel is front and center. It is as obvious as everybody holding those participation ribbons. It is the game, not the ribbons, that counts. It’s not how big the story, but how big the LORD’s love for you that counts.