Laughing with God at the Impossible

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-17

Second in the series “Laughing with God”

Last week we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on April Fools’ Day.  We proclaimed a living and victorious Savior – even after death on the cross and burial in a tomb.  We lifted up a joy that enables us to laugh at death, because we have the assurance of eternal life.  Resurrection is impossible to human minds, but people of faith believe in God who is capable of doing more than we can ask or imagine.  As we come to know God more, we learn that God laughs at the impossible.

In our scripture reading from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we heard about God changing some peoples’ names.  Abram had heard God’s call years before and told him that God was going to make a nation of him and use him to bless the world.  He was to go to a land that God promised to give to him and his family.  So he and his wife, Sarai, with all their family and possessions, left their homeland and headed off to the land known as Canaan.

Another time, Abram heard God’s promise, but asked how God would make a nation of him when he and his wife were childless.  In response, God told Abram to go outside and look at the night sky.  God promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Then came our passage.  As a sign of God’s promise to establish a covenant with Abram, Sarai and their family, God changed their names.  Abram, which means exalted ancestor, became Abraham, which means ancestor of a multitude.  Sarai’s name became Sarah.

But God had more to tell them.  God told Abraham and Sarah that, within a year, they would have a son and would make them parents of a great family and through that family, God would bless the whole world.

What was their reaction to God’s promise?  Abraham and Sarah both thought God’s promise was impossible.  Abraham immediately fell on his face before God and laughed.  He raised the reality of their situation:  “Can a child be born to a 100-year old man with a 90-year old wife?”  On a later occasion, Sarah overheard God reaffirming the promise to them, and she also laughed at God.  Both of them believed God’s promises were too impossible to happen.  Often that’s the case with us as well.

But centuries later, the Apostle Paul, part of that great nation God established through Abraham and Sarah, wrote a letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus.  In the third chapter of his New Testament letter called Ephesians, Paul wrote his prayer for them to know the love of Jesus Christ and be filled with the fullness of God.  He closes his prayer with these words:  “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, emphasis added)

Do we really believe God can do the impossible?  Or are we more likely to laugh at God when we think about what God wants to do?

Would you laugh if I told you that everyone here, listening to this message or reading it online, has a gift that should be used?  Yet that’s what we learn in the New Testament letter of 1 Peter:  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Would you laugh if I told you that the God’s Kingdom is greater than any and all nations, every political party or philosophy, every disease or disruption and even death itself?  Yet scripture testifies to this.

Would you laugh when someone says God has an intention, a plan, for your life?

The world may scoff at God – and even believers in God and disciples of Jesus Christ may laugh – but God is greater than the limitations we put on God.

That’s what the Resurrection demonstrated last week.  God even overcame Death to raise Jesus Christ from the tomb on the third day after he suffered and died on a cross.  It is with faith that we can choose to believe what God reveals to us through scripture and the Spirit, and then we can laugh with – not at – God.

God laughs at our doubting and cynicism.  Abraham and Sarah did not believe that God could make the promise come true.  They laughed.  They were too old – and no medical professional would argue with them.

But God got the last laugh, because they did have a child – a son, and they named him Isaac.  Later, Isaac had a son named Jacob.  If we go to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament, we find the names Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the family tree of Jesus.  In Matthew’s genealogy in Matthew 1, in fact, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the first three names.  The birth of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the promise that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham and Sarah’s family.

Think about that.  What Abraham and Sarah laughed at, we celebrate every year at Christmas.  On the night of Jesus’ birth, the joyful song of angels filled the sky.  What Abraham and Sarah laughed at was fulfilled by God with the joy of heaven. We celebrate the miracle of that Baby, which was an impossible birth from the very start of his lineage.

God looks past our cynical, doubting nature to reveal the true joy for which we are created.  But our culture laughs at humor based on sarcasm and cynicism.  Our comedians go for put-downs, crude jokes and shock value – none of which is the laughter of God.  As we grow in our faith, we find ourselves pulled between our old selves that enjoyed laughing at another’s expense and a new way of living with strength that comes from joy and laughter.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, our lives should show the results of the Spirit working in us.  In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul listed what he called the fruit of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  The joy and laughter believers experience is the result of God’s Spirit working in and through us.

I think that Jesus was a man of joy and humor.  Some of his parables and sayings would be quite funny to us if we lived in the same culture he did, but language and 2,000 years of history obscure the humor.  I imagine he was very satisfied and joyful whenever someone was healed or raised from the dead.  Can you imagine how Jesus laughed when the disciples came to him with five loaves and two fish, convinced they needed to send the crowd home – and after serving the crowds, they gathered in the leftovers?  I don’t think that 12 baskets of leftovers was an accident, but reveals a bit of God’s sense of humor.  Some of his teachings and actions would have greater impact if we saw them as humorous.  For instance, when he pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth, or talked about swallowing a camel while straining out a gnat, or told us to take the log out of our eye so we could see to get the speck out of another’s eye.

Is a joy that outlasts the world’s cynicism possible?  Remember, God can do more than we can even ask or imagine.

God also laughs at our plans without God.  It was sin’s first act of deception in Eden that led humanity to fall into pride and thinking we can be in control.  Instead of laughing at the idea of life without God, far too many people fall into embracing that attitude.  Believing that we can be in control of anything is a joke.  That attitude causes us to be bitter, anxious or workaholics.  The first step of every 12-step recovery program is to admit that we are not in control and that our lives are unmanageable.  The next step is admitting our need to turn our lives over to God.  These are foundational steps to recovering from addictions, whether alcohol, drugs, food, or yes, control.  Too many people, including in the church, are addicted to control.

God invites us to a radical step of faith today – to put control of our lives into Christ’s hands.  That starts with prayer – prayer not telling God to give us what we want, but humbling ourselves to what God calls us to do.  When we do, we find a faith that is open to hearing from God and trusting God when the task seems impossible.

What does the impossible look like?  It’s different for different people.  Maybe it’s a mission trip or an act of forgiveness.  Perhaps a small act of kindness or taking on a daily spiritual discipline.  It might mean believing that you can invite someone to church or talk about your faith in God. It could be choosing to work out issues in your marriage rather than giving up or walking with someone who is dying or grieving.

Are you laughing at any of those things?  Only in discovering a trusting relationship with God can we truly laugh in the days to come.  In that moment of surrender, people often find themselves moved to tears or laughter or silence.  The Holy Spirit is not limited.

Our faith is not about what we can do on our own – it is about what we can do with the power of God working in and among us.

Abraham and Sarah discovered that God can do the impossible.  They had a baby boy and named him Isaac, which is ironic, because, in Hebrew, the name Isaac means “laughter.”  God fulfilled the promise to Abraham and Sarah through a covenant that led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, through whom the whole world is blessed.

What does the impossible in your life look like?  Are you ready to ask God to do the impossible?  God is already laughing, because God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine – even the impossible!


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