​Texts:  Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7                         David Endriss
            Mark 10-17-27 ​                            Preached on 6/18/17

When I was living in Minnesota and someone invited me over for a little lunch, I quickly learned that “little” was a Swedish aphorism which meant hot dish, rolls, desert, coffee, and seconds on everything!  There was very little, “little” in it!  Then I came across this passage from Genesis and decided that Abraham must have been from Minnesota because he served a little lunch to his guests.  He offered them a little water and a little bread and then promptly served them a calf, curds and milk and then stood over them while they ate, ready to refill their plates and cups.
When they had finished eating they told Abraham that at this time next year, he and his wife Sarah would have a son.  Oops!  Forgot to tell you – Sarah and Abraham are in their 90s!  Sarah, who happened to be eaves-dropping in at the tent flap actually laughed out loud at the very thought!  At my age – not likely!
Her laughter carried to the messengers who then questioned why she laughed.  Embarrassed she denied laughing, but they persisted, yes you did!
But before we get down on Sarah for her lack of faith, let’s turn the story back one page.  There we find Abraham was also told that he would have a son and he too laughed.  The text actually says that he was rolling in the aisles:  “he fell on his face laughing”! (17:17) Did Abraham not tell his wife about this promise or had he told her but she was still not convinced?
Just the other day I saw the movie again.  The Princess Bride was made in 1987.  One of the characters is Vizzini, a plotting scheming, double crosser.  Repeatedly and with amazement he keeps saying “inconceivable!”  And we laugh.  Because each time he says something is “absolutely, totally, and in every other way completely inconceivable” it actually does happen.  And so we laugh.  But, if you will pardon the terrible pun, when Sarah says “inconceivable” we don’t laugh because we think she is right.
It has been suggested that in all humor there are two things almost always present:  incongruity and surprise.  There is obvious incongruity that a man nearly 100 years old and his 90 year old wife should have a child.  The laugh is a bitter one.  They have stopped waiting and expecting such a blessing years ago.  It is a laugh of disbelief.  It is a laugh that had shared tears and anger and disappointment.
Tough Question!
To both Abraham and to Sarah the messenger asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  Medieval scholastic scholars loved to argue and debate over what we might think are obscure questions:  “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”  or “Can God create a rock too big for God to pick up?”  Although these questions can provide some interesting mental and theological calisthenics, the question posed by the messenger has more immediate relevance.  “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
It is a question asked frequently in Scripture.  Jeremiah asks it as part of at soliloquy he makes while marveling at God’s creation. (32)  The prophet Zechariah asks the question when the remnant of Israel doubted God’s ability to restore them. (8)  When Jesus said that it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples wondered, who then can be saved and Jesus responded with:  “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  And it was said to a young woman who was confronted by an angel and was told, that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Messiah.
Scripture is full of the stories of women and men who accomplished the impossible because they believed. Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Ruth, Deborah and Esther, to name just a few.
The first house I remember living in when I was growing up was on Lorie Lane.  However, Lorie Lane was in fact was not a lane at all but a cul-de-sac.  Our house was at the end of the court which allowed all the kids to play in relative safety.  But the word cul-de-sac is actually French for “bottom of the bag”.  So we were playing at the bottom of the bag!  Thanks a lot Mom and Dad!
A Dead End Street.  No outlet, No Through Road.  How often our lives can sometimes feel the same way.  It’s like living on a one way street that is also a dead end.  How can we get out?  We look this way and that for a way out and there is none.  In a car, we can usually just turn around, but life does not always allow us that luxury.  How nice it would be if we were able to stick our lives in reverse and to simply back out of a situation.
And so we, like Abraham and Sarah begin to doubt that there is a way out.  Perhaps we might even laugh, scoffingly, at such a possibility.  There is no way that relationship with a family member can ever be made right!  A turn in our health gets us questioning as to whether we might ever have a life that has the same kind of meaning that it used to.  Unplanned expenses have uprooted future plans of retirement.  We are stuck at the bottom of a sack and we can’t find a way out.
God Provides a Way
And then God intervenes, sometimes in surprising ways.  D.L. Moody said, When God is going to do something wonderful, God starts with a difficulty. When God is going to do something very wonderful and miraculous, God starts with an impossibility.
We need to learn to ask for that way out and to recognize it when it does come.  Unfortunately, we often don’t ask, or when we do, the way out that God does provides is not the one that we expected so we don’t recognize it.  Our minds have already pictured the door, the exit and can see no other alternative.  So when God does present us with an exit we don’t see it or we refuse to accept it. 
The way out of a financial crisis is not winning the lottery but perhaps is found in a new lifestyle that is surprisingly fulfilling.  The way out of the cul-de-sac of a broken relationship may not be in waiting for that family member to see the light, but for you to initiate reconciliation.   A change in our health might be the opportunity to discover new ways of serving.  Coming to evening meetings for choir may no longer be possible, but being on the prayer chain has given you new ways to serve.
Enter Isaac
Jump ahead one year in our story and sure enough, Sarah does give birth to a son.  In a wonderful display of humor they choose to name him Isaac.  What so funny about that name?  It is because Isaac means “laughter” in Hebrew.  The laugh of doubt and cynicism from the year before has become the laugh of faith; full of confidence and joy.
Remember the two aspects of humor?  Incongruity and surprise.  And I think God has had the laugh here.  God has provided the surprise.  The playwright William Inge once wrote:  “I have never understood why it should be considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that He has a sense of humor.”[i]
That is the transforming power of God.  A dead end street is no longer a trap.  A hopeless situation is given hope.  Despair and frustration is turned into laughter and joy.  God hears our initial laugh and though we may deny it, God gently rebuts us, yes, you did laugh.  But that’s okay.  I know it seems upside down and backward.  It seems totally contrary to the expected and normal ways of the world.  It appears to be inconceivable.  But you are not the first, nor will you be the last to doubt what seems to be impossible.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.[ii]

[i] Inge, William, Outspoken Essays  “Confessio Fidei”
[ii] McElroy, Geoff, Desert Scribblings post June 15, 2008