“Invisible Patriarch: Isaac is Born”
Genesis 18:9-15; 21:1-7
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
June 11, 2017
When she woke up that morning she felt…old. She wished there was some other, loftier, feeling she could claim but really “old” was what she felt. She was worn, tired. And her body, well, to be honest, it had seen better days.
Had it always been this way, she wondered? It seemed like maybe it had and yet there had been a time when she had felt something more. Decades before, Sarah had even dared to believe in a promise. It had come like a voice in her head, like one of her own thoughts, but it did not fade as so many thoughts do. This promise kept repeating its outlandish claim, claim of a child one day, a son for her and Abraham. Even then she had been doubtful. She’d been sixty-five and counting…and yet that voice had continued.
That had been years before and that promise was now no more than a faded edge of a memory. She went days and even whole months without thinking of it. Though she had never become the mother she thought she might be, Abraham had had his promise fulfilled; his prayer answered.
Even now she could see that answer, running down the path toward his mother’s tent. Ishmael, he was Abraham’s son, he was the one God must have been promising so long ago but Sarah was not his mother. Her own maid, Hagar, had filled that role in her place. To be honest, it hadn’t been the cleanest way, but now Abraham had his son and at least his line would be passed on.
There were days, though, when the memory surfaced, days when it was harder to be content with her present. She hated those days because they included such bitterness. She hated that she allowed bitterness to rule so much of her life and she hated even more that it always struck harshest on Hagar. That poor slave had never done anything but obey her, even to the point of bearing a son for old man Abraham.
Yet when Sarah looked at her all she could see was the joke of her own life: she was married to a man who was supposed to be a father to millions and yet she was barren and old. She had even changed her name for a promise that she could see now she’d been foolish to believe. Now this slave girl and her son were to receive everything: the security of Abraham’s wealth when he died, the fulfillment of family, their own promise. Yes, that’s what it all felt like: a joke, and it was on her.
Lifting the empty water jug on her head, she left her tent and moved with purpose toward the well. Mornings were the hardest, she reminded herself, that time when her whole day stretched before her, that time when she realized that her dreams from the night before had been just that, the dreams of a silly old woman. By midday she would have forgotten her morning blues and she will not think about what might have been, about whispered promises long silenced.
For now it was best to keep busy. She was not as spry as she’d once been so she will need to remain focused so that her work can be done before the heat of the day takes its toll. Water first, then a fire to build. Yes, that was the answer, she would fill her day with work and her work would keep her from having to face the question mark of her future.
She was right about the heat and about not being as spry. At ninety, the work and weather affected her more than it ever had in her youth. When the afternoon came, she was glad for a rest to sit in the shade of her tent but just as she was beginning to cool down, here was Abraham rushing in to meet her. There were visitors, three of them, and they needed bread and meat and water. Abraham was so excited and he still had a quickness to him, even at ninety-nine.
It was showing now, that energy that had kept them on the move all these years, following dreams he’d heard in the stars. What was it that had him going this afternoon though? Did he know these men? Strangers, he said, but there seemed to be something more. They were strangers who triggered some memory in her. She felt it as she peeked at them through her tent flap.
Whoever they were, it meant any rest was over for now. She kneaded flour and water into cakes for these visitors and listened as they discussed the weather and the condition of her husband’s animal herd. At one point she thought she heard her name mentioned but she wasn’t sure for why would Abraham talk about her with some strangers? She moved closer to the opening of her tent.
Then she heard it, her name, again. She was certain this time. What was going on? “In due season?” Is that what one of them just said? “A child?” How could he even joke? Did he not know how old she was, how long it had been since she could even dream of children?
How dare this stranger come here and mock her barrenness this way! It was hard enough facing her life with these unfulfilled promises all around but to have it thrown in her face like this, it was too much! Didn’t he know how hard it had been? How lost she’d felt? How walled in? If he knew, he wouldn’t mock her in this way.
The sadness of so long was building in her and it bubbled out in a laugh. No, she was not laughing from joy, far from it. This laugh contained all the bitterness she’d tried so hard to keep at bay, all the emptiness of the past years as she’d watched another woman’s child grow up before her. This laugh was not a pretty thing to hear but hopeless in the face of what could have been.
She turned to leave. She wouldn’t listen anymore to these men who brought forth such dark feelings within her but then she heard her name yet again. Did these strangers have no heart? Why were they continuing to hurt her? Yet, this time, one of the men said more: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” she heard him ask Abraham. Then he repeated his promise of a due season, a set time, a child coming.
How could she respond? She had once believed the answer was no, nothing was too wonderful for this Lord who had adopted them, but now, what would her answer be? These men were more than they appeared, she could see that clearly now. They knew things; they knew her in ways others did not.
What if she had just laughed at divine messengers, at even the Lord? She stepped out of the tent, denying as fast as the words could leave her tongue and one of them looked at her. His eyes asked the question again: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” And a memory from long before began to deepen and broaden in her chest. Could this really be? Could those whispered promises from so long ago be true, not just for Abraham but for her as well? The man said to her, “I heard you laughing, but, this, I promise, is no joke.”
And with that a weight within her was gone. She felt free and found. Those walls that had surrounded her for so long, that she could never see over or push through, there had been a door there all along! A door that was now standing wide open and calling her into a future filled with the unknowable but no longer with a question mark.
Could this really be? she asked herself again. Could the Lord actually be this wonderful? And, with that, something began to grow inside of her. It began quietly deep within and finally it bubbled up and joyfully came out. What grew within her was laughter. Amen.