4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
You know the story. Abram and Sarai have longed for a child, an offspring, a descendent. But it had never happened. And now, with more years behind them than ahead, they have resolved that the longing will never come to be. The first ones to hear this story were more than likely in the midst of exile, living in the wilderness of darkness and looking at the bare remains of a city and temple that once was. The story comes as a reminder of who they are as the people of God. It is a reminder that God does not always act within the limits that we have established and the plans that we have formulated in our small minds; rather, God continually jaunts out into the wilderness, into what cannot be, and creates. It’s ludicrous; it’s incredulous; it’s enough to make you fall down laughing. But God’s promise remains true.
First, God appears to Abram and announces God’s presence. Abram falls on his face, downright shocked at who is actually speaking to him. And with the covenant, Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. The covenant signifies a shift in who they are. God promises that Abram will have descendents. And they laughed. Well, of course they laughed. It was ridiculous. Abram and Sarai were old–really, really, really old. All logic told them that their childbearing years were not just running out but were way behind them. It just didn’t make sense. But surprisingly, God often doesn’t make sense in this world that we have figured out. God continually tends to sort of blow the boundaries and the limits that we have drawn out of the water.
Our lectionary (even the full passage that I didn’t put up at the front of this) doesn’t really include the part where Abram fell down laughing. Perhaps those who put the lectionary together thought that a bit too irreverent of the mighty God. After all, would you dare laugh at God? Well, good grief, don’t you think God is laughing at us sometimes? Perhaps laughter is what brings perspective.
Abraham laughed. Sarah laughed. And I’m betting God laughed. (You can just imagine the inside joke between the three: “This is going to be good. No one will ever believe this could happen. We’ll just shake them up a bit.”) Maybe laughter is our grace-filled way of getting out of our self and realizing that, as ludicrous and unbelievable as it may be, God’s promise holds. Maybe it’s our way of admitting once and for all that we don’t have it all figured out, that, in all honesty, we don’t even have ourselves figured out, that there’s a whole new identity just waiting for us to claim. In this Season of Lent, we are called to get out of our self, to open ourselves to possibilities and ways of being that we cannot even fathom. Go ahead and laugh. It is only the beginning. The promise holds.
You know, I don’t think God really expects us to stay buttoned-up and well-behaved. God doesn’t want anything that we are not. God doesn’t want us on our best behavior; God wants us real; God wants us to just flat fall down laughing sometimes at the ludicrousness of it all. If sometimes tells you not to cry, if someone tells you not to laugh, they are telling you not to be you. God gave you those expressions of emotion as a wonderful, wonderful gift to get you through it all. Don’t you think God enjoys a good joke once in a awhile? After all, this is the God that promised offspring to someone not just past their prime, but downright looking at the tail end of life! And THEN came through with the promise. Pretty funny…pretty sneaky…pretty amazing.
I hope that at my funeral, there will be both tears and laughter because then I will know that I have lived the fullness of life. And then I hope that everyone will leave the church and go dancing because then I will know that they have joy. The wilderness is known for tears but sometimes you just have to laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. I don’t know if we laugh our way through the wilderness or out of it, but Abram embraced it and became someone else. Abraham and Sarah never got to the Promised Land. It was enough to live with God’s Promise of what it held; it was enough for it to make one fall down laughing in praise to the God who chooses not to live within our rules, who chooses instead to love our laughter and feel our tears and offer grace through it all.
Humor is the beginning of faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer. (Reinhold Niebuhr)
FOR TODAY: Laugh…laugh…laugh…laugh enough that you fall down in prayer.
Grace and Peace,