June 19, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Proper 6 Year A
And Sarah laughed.
Yeah, she laughed, because - we imagine - for most of her long life up to that point, all she could do was cry.
You see, she and Abraham were now quite old – Abraham around 100 years old and Sarah just a tad younger – and yet they were still childless.
And in spite of Abraham’s wealth, power, and prestige, by not having a child, specifically a son, it all meant nothing.
Making it even more painful was the fact that it was God,
God who had chosen Abraham, himself, to covenant with,
who had promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than the stars,
that he would “fill the earth,”
. . . and yet, for more than a decade, nothing.
Or, should I say, No one, no son.
So Sarah laughed when she listened in and heard Abraham and God talking, when she heard God promise that she would, indeed, bear a son.
But it was far from one of those light-hearted, tickle-your-funny-bone kind of belly laugh. Sarah’s laugh was bitter . . . skeptical.
Yet, sure enough, “is anything too wonderful for the Lord?,” God asks Abraham, and Sarah does indeed bear a son, and names him Isaac.
Isaac’s name actually means “laughter,” and laughter in this sense is not the laughter of bitterness, but of joy.
Laughter is a sign of our humanity. No other animal on earth laughs – unless you believe that the noise the hyena makes is actually laughter!?
And since one of the fathers of our faith’s name, Isaac, means “laughter” I think it makes sense that we take a closer look at it, and pay it some attention.
Because ultimately I believe this short passage from Genesis teaches us that laughter can be a sacred sound. Laughter is an act of faith. After years of waiting for the child that would not come, I imagine Abraham and Sarah living under a cloud of joyless despair. And in spite of taking matters into their own hands, having Abraham bear a son by their slave, Hagar, heartache was clearly still present, and their lives just seemed to take on a deadly serious tone.
I think that we can be like Abraham and Sarah in that regard as well. And, especially, our lives of faith can seem so serious that they become joyless. But truth be told, so many of our Biblical stories include playful, human antics, and honest belly laughs. Faith is not humorless. Faith is not dour.
So make no mistake. God is present in the laughter.
I realized this a few weeks ago, when my son Ryan was in the hospital after being hit by a car. It was a deadly serious time.
Around the clock I was there, crying off and on, tending to his needs, and worrying minute to minute.
On one of those early days, when things were especially bad, a good friend and colleague came to visit. And as we stood there staring, desperately, at an unresponsive Ryan, she cracked a joke. It was a horrible joke. A joke in very bad taste.
A joke about it being a rainy day.
You see, after his accident, Ryan was taken to University Hospital in Newark. He was taken there because it is one of the best trauma centers in the state.
But the day after he was admitted, it was a gloriously sunny and beautiful day, and the trauma doctors were curiously absent. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t even been by to check on Ryan. And I was mad about that.
Well, little did I know – until the doctors themselves told me – there are usually more shootings in Newark, more gun violence, on sunny days than on rainy ones. And the day before had been sunny – and there had been shootings. So the doctors were sadly, and tragically, very busy in the ER that day.
But this particular day was rainy. And the doctors came by to update me on Ryan’s condition, assuring me that it would be a ‘quiet’ day on the streets of Newark, and therefore quiet in the trauma center.
. . . which, in the moment my friend was there was so incredibly sad, absurd, and tragic, and for reasons I can’t quite describe . . . was also hilariously funny.
Our belly laughs about the rainy day filled the hospital room. A room which up until then had only been filled with shouts of pain and crying, and the piercing noise of the monitors’ alarms going off.
And in our laughter, I realized that God was present. Just like God was present with Abraham and Sarah. Just like God was present in Isaac.
So, Laugh. Laugh because something is funny. Laugh because something is impossible. Laugh because it’s absurd. Laugh – and cry – because it hurts. Laugh because you’re too tired to fight. Laugh because you’re uncomfortable.
Your laughter encompasses, and boldly communicates, the messiness of life.
Now, as a member of the clergy, I have to say, I spend a lot of my time talking with people, defending God (not that God needs or even wants my defense) – but there are so many times when people want to know where God is when life can’t be tied up into a neat, tidy package with an impeccable bow.
And Sarah knew that life all too well. But even with Sarah’s laughter as a backdrop – and for the generations which followed, of which we are a part - God’s extraordinary promise rings through. It’s far from a promise of utopia. But it does, however, confirm again and again that in the midst of our frailty, in the midst of our doubt, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of the most seemingly-God-forsaken times in life, God remains faithful. Laughter is our proof, and a true gift from God. Amen.