August 6, 2006
9th Sunday after Pentecost
"Never Too Old For God: Abraham And Sarah"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A husband and wife were on long trip when they got into a large-sized argument over a small-sized issue. We've all done that haven't we? Well, the air was so icy between them, they probably could have turned off the air conditioner. And for a number of miles they refused to even speak to each other.
The strained silence continued until they drove past a couple of mules grazing in a pasture. The husband finally broke the silence: "Are those some of your relatives?"
And his wife answered, "Yes, they're relatives of mine, from my husband's side of the family." (1)
Family. The dictionary defines the term Family as:
1.a. A fundamental social group in society typically consisting of a man and woman and their offspring. b. Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place. 2. All the members of a household under one roof. 3. A group of persons sharing common ancestry. (2)
This morning I'm beginning a series titled: The Ins And Outs Of Families. I'm going to be exploring four families from Scripture, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament and see what they can teach us about family relationships and our relationship with God.
One of the things I want to make clear is that the term Family and the make up of families has changed considerably over the years. Today we see all kinds and sizes of families.
I'm not going to try and name every configuration of family, we'd be here all day, but through TV we've had lots of different styles of families portrayed.
Who can forget the Waltons. This was the typical multi-generational family all living and working together under one roof. They weren't the first TV family to be like that. The family on Lassie, first with Gramps and then with Uncle Petrie, falls into this category.
But then there are the families of single parents. The best known is probably Andy Griffith. Here was a widowed father, trying to raise his son, Opie. But he needs reinforcements so he asks his Aunt Bee, who helped raise him, to come help raise Opie. Another family that was a widowed father raising sons, was Ben Cartwright from Bonanza. And most recently, 2 ½ men. There were several shows which featured single mothers, such as Grace Under Fire, One Day At A Time and Alice.
But most often, family is has been shown as couple and their children. Like Dick Van Dyke Show, Married With Children, The Simpsons, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver and the like.
But families come in other shapes and sizes, too. A family can be two brothers like Earl and Randy in My Name Is Earl. But a family can be one person as well, choosing to remain single. Or a blended family with everything from kids from one or both former marriages like the Brady Bunch, to families with adopted children. So, you see, in today's society, family can be almost anything.
The important thing is that a family is a place of nurture, love and understanding. Does that mean there won't be conflict? No. Does it mean that every day will be sunshine and roses? I highly doubt it.
Even though the Bible primarily illustrates the multi-generational family, it also lifts up other kinds of families as well. Look at Ruth and Naomi. All these shows and the Bible have one thing in common, They remind us that family is where we learn to make it.
One of the really good TV shows was the Andy Griffith Show. In the very first episode, we find out that Andy's a widower with a son Opie, whose housekeeper got married and had to move. Andy invites his Aunt Bee to come live with him and Opie, thinking she'll add the missing feminine touch.
Surprisingly, Opie is not very pleased that Aunt Bee's moved in, even though she helped raise Andy when he was a boy. Nobody will ever be able to replace Rose, the housekeeper. Andy tries to help the situation by trying to teach Aunt Bee about baseball. And then invites her to go fishing with them so that Opie can become attached to her. Instead, she fails miserably at fishing. Finally, early one morning, Opie, still in his pajamas, hears Aunt Bee talking to Andy about leaving. Just as she gets in the pickup to leave, Opie runs outside yelling, "Don't let her go. She can't go." Then he explains. "Well, if she goes, what'll happen to her. She doesn't know how to do anything, play ball, catch fish or hunt frogs. She'll be helpless. So, that's why she's gotta stay, so I can teach them to her." Opie turns and hugs Aunt Bee and says: "You need me." (3)
The truth is, we need family. Family, no matter what size or shape, is where we learn how to make it in the world. And today I want us to look at the family of Abraham and Sarah and see how God used them and taught them how to make it in the world.
Genesis 18:1-15 (NRSV)
 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.
 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.
 He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.
 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."
 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes."
 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.
 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
 They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent."
 Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.
 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"
 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?'
 Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son."
 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."
A. I think if any of us had been in Abraham and Sarah's position at the time of this announcement, we would've reacted the same way. We would have laughed, too. Abraham was 75 when God called him and Sarah to pack up and take his nephew Lot and go to the promised land. 75. Most folks that age have already retired and are enjoying their grandkids. But that was the problem. Abraham and Sarah didn't have any children. And yet, God had promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation who in turn would bless the whole earth.
Abraham wasn't sure how that was going to come to fruition, he's 75, his wife Sarah is 65. But Abraham trusted God. Abraham trusted the promise and followed where God lead.
Twenty-five years go by and still no children for Sarah. Then come these three strangers one day. Being the good host and practicing the whole idea of hospitality, Abraham invites them to rest, offers them something cool to drink and a light snack. And then in good Middle-Eastern hospitality custom, lays out a spread for them.
That Middle-Eastern hospitality custom comes from the idea of never knowing when you might be visited by an angel or angels in disguise. And sure enough, that's what we see. And they're the bearers of good news. News, Abraham who is 100 and Sarah who is 90 have been waiting a long time to hear. The strangers tell Abraham that Sarah is going to have a baby. And that's when the laughter begins.
We laugh, too because it seems so far fetched. But it's not really that far fetched, at least not today. Recently the news reported a 66 year old Romanian woman, Adriana Iliescu, who gave birth. They also reported a 62 year old English woman, a child psychiatrist, Patricia Rashbrook Farrant gave birth. And then there is the 59-year-old American woman, Lauren Cohen, from New Jersey, the oldest woman in the world to give birth to twins. (Husband 39) Modern science has made the birth years longer. That could be a blessing and a curse.
B. So, why did God wait so long? Commentators have said that it was all part of God's plan to show both Abraham and the world, that with God nothing is impossible. And that, in God's time, God is faithful. God keeps all God's promises.
What we can learn from this family is just that. God is faithful. And when we trust God, God's promises will bear fruit. But in God's time.
But we also learn that God doesn't define us by age or sex or economic circumstance. God never looks at our worldly limitations. God always looks at our heart and our spirit. You see when we trust in God, it doesn't make any difference how old we are or how young we are or what worldly limitations we might have.
God doesn't define family by those limitations either. Family can be one or a hundred and one. You can be single and be a family. You can be married and 76 years old and be a family. Family is what we make it. God doesn't limit family to anyone size or style.
And because God doesn't see age or sex or any other factor in our lives as limiting, God can use anyone as an instrument of Grace. In other words, "You're Never To Old For God."
A. James Michener was over 80 years of age when his epic novel, Alaska, was released. He'd been thinking about writing it for over forty years. Why did he wait so long? The explanation seems ridiculous, but at age 40, he was afraid he might be too old to withstand the rigors of an Alaskan winter, which hovers at about 50 degrees below zero along the Yukon River. His rule had always been never to write about a place in which he hadn't lived. So, he shied away from the challenge.
Those 40 years passed. He often thought of trying his luck in Alaska but always drew back thinking, "I'm too old." Then irrationally, after a major heart attack and a quintuple bypass and just before his 80th birthday, he thought... "If I'm ever going to do that Alaska book, let's do it now while I have the energy." And without any further speculation or hesitance, in 1984 he moved to Alaska, set up his typewriter in a log cabin on the campus of a junior college and proceeded to dig into every aspect of Alaskan life.
He spent one Christmas at Fort Yukon just over the Arctic Circle and a week in Eagle, Alaska with the thermometer at minus 52. He visited Prudhoe Bay, on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, twice, and Barrow, where the Eskimos go for whales, three times. And he took a cruise through all the islands of the Aleutian archipelago, landing on 8 of those islands, where he had to wade the last 50 yards to shore in hip boots.
He studied the salmon industry and explored the great glaciers. He made friends at an Eskimo school far above the Arctic Circle, where in January and much of February the nights are 24 hours long, and in June and July the days never end. He enjoyed the experience so much, that he wondered, "Why didn't I do this 40 years ago?" (2)
The point is, In other words, "You're Never To Old For God."
B. I've talked to a lot of older people in my years of ministry. And there are some who reach a certain age and think, "OK, I've done my time. I've served on all the committees I need to serve on. It's somebody else's turn. I'm too old." They make service to God through the church seem like a prison sentence instead of an opportunity to glorify God.
There are others who understand the excitement, joy and faith of Abraham and Sarah in the face of seemingly impossible dreams and promises. And they offer themselves to God. Some through activity and service in the various ministries of the church. Others simply through their prayer. And sometimes, most of the time, these prayer warriors go unnoticed by us mere mortals.
Years ago remember hearing a story about a very successful preacher who died and went to heaven. St. Peter was escorting the preacher to his mansion in heaven when they passed by the huge, beautiful mansion. The Preacher had never seen anything like it. And he asked St. Peter, "Is this my place?"
St. Peter said, "No. But do you remember old miss Jones, one of the homebound widows in your church?" The preacher said, "Sure, she's one of the sweetest most faithful women I've ever met." Peter said, "Well, that's her place."
You can imagine what was going through the preacher's head. If that's Miss Jones' place, man, I wonder what mine is going to be like. I've been in the ministry for 45 years and look at all the things we've done." And just about the time he started to list all of his accomplishment Peter said, "Well, here we are."
The preacher looked and was more than a little disappointed. It was pretty grand but it sure wasn't anything like Miss Jones' and it wasn't what he expected. St. Peter saw the disappointment on the preacher's face and said, "You preacher's are all alike. You just don't understand do you? You do good work but while the enemy is focused on you, folks like Miss Jones and other prayer warriors are doing the real work of God. You're just a distraction. You're the diversion, while they do the real work."
The whole point is: the size of your family doesn't matter, the age of your family doesn't matter. "You're Never To Old For God." All God wants is faith and trust in God like Abraham and Sarah. And that's why Jesus came, to lead us back into that faithful trusting relationship with God.
"You're Never To Old For God."
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990) June 1996 Adapted from What about Tomorrow? by J. Wallace Hamilton.
2. The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edtion Version 3.6a, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992.
3. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990) Oct 1986 Creative Sermon Resources, Volume VII, Summer, 1986, page 294.+
4. James Hewett, HOW TO LIVE CONFIDENTLY IN A HOSTILE WORLD, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1989).
Barclay, William: Daily Study Bible of the New Testament (WordSearch Bible Software Version)
Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)
Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)
Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)
The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)
Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)
Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)
The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
Lights, Camera...Faith by Peter Malone with Rose Pacatte (Daughters of St. Paul, 2002)
Praying the Movies by Edward McNulty, (Geneva Press, Lousville, KY, 2001)
Movie Clips for Kids (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2002)
Bore No More, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 1995 & 1999)
Group's Blockbuster Movie Illustrations, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2001 & 2003)
Movie Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, by Craig Brain Larson and Andrew Zahn(Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)
Videos That Teach: Vols 1-3 by Doug Fields & Eddie James (Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, 2002, 2004)
SermonWriter by Dick Donovan (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000
The Sermon Mall
Deacon Sil's Homiletic Resources
Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources
Ministry and Media
Internet Movie Database
Preaching.com's Movie Ministry
The Text This Week Movie Theme Index
The Source For Youth Ministry Movie Clips