June 18, 2023 – Third Sunday after Pentecost
There is no livestream this week. You can find previous livestreams on our YouTube channel.
Call to Worship
One: Holy and generous is God, the Creator of all things.
All: Loving and gracious is Christ, the bearer of healing and hope.
One: Gentle and wise is the Holy Spirit, the breath of new life.
All: Trinity of grace, we call on you today.
One: Come and worship the God who made us and loves us all!
All: We come with joyful praise and hopeful hearts!
Lighting of the Christ Candle
This is the Christ Candle. We light the candle to help us remember that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, is with us in every place and every time.
“We praise you, O God” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 425). Original words Dutch, anonymous. English translation (1902) by American hymnwriter Julia Buckley Cady Cory (1882–1963). Music Netherlands folk song (1626). This arrangement (1877; tune: “Kremser) by Austrian composer Eduard Kremser (1838–1914). Words, translation, music, arrangement all public domain.
Prayers of Approach, Confession, & Lord’s Prayer
Creating God, every day is a new day. Every day you show us the world that you’ve made, every day you show us the people who love us, every day you show us how you care for us and how you call us to live for you. Teach us to see you in everything and everyone, and by your Spirit, to be the best for the world, for each other, and for you. You are a great God, whose love for us never ends, and we praise your holy name.
Lord, as we think of your greatness, our own sins become clear, and we ask you to pardon us, and draw us back into your way. For the times we have been too quick to speak without hearing what another is saying, forgive us and help us to be quick to listen. For the times we have been unaware of your presence and blind to the blessings all around us, forgive us, and help us to notice and appreciate your love. For the times when our minds are stuck on lesser things, and we have lived without hope, forgive us, lift our spirits, renew our faith, and enable us to live in your fullness, and to sing your praises. We ask for these things in the name of Jesus, and we join together now in the prayer that he taught us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace.
One: The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
All: And also with you.
Exchanging The Peace Of Christ
“To Abraham and Sarah” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 478). Words (1984) by Canadian Judith Fetter (1937–). Music (tune: “Thornbury”) completed 1898 by English organist and composer Basil Harwood (1859–1949). Words copyright © 1984 Judith Fetter; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. Music public domain.
Genesis 18:1–15 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
The scripture reading is followed by:
One: The Word of God.
People: Thanks be to God.
Years ago, when our kids were little, one Sunday on our vacation we went to church. It was the church that Helen’s brother, Jim, and his wife attended, and I blame Jim for what happened. He is a bit of a clown and a jokester, and I really don’t know what started it, probably some goofy look from him or a smart-alecky comment. But as we all sat together, in church of all times and places, the kids started giggling.
The more they tried to suppress it, the worse it got, and eventually, I had to take them out. We got outside — it was a nice summer day — and the second the church door closed behind us, what they had been trying to hold in, all came out, and we all roared with laughter for ten minutes. Dwight, our youngest, who might have been 4 or 5 at the time, was actually rolling on the ground in his good clothes, he was laughing so hard.
There was no way we were going back into church, so we went for a nice walk and timed it to get back there, just about the time everyone was leaving. Uncle Jim, the real culprit, came out with a big grin on his face. We still laugh about that day.
The Bible, and the church, might not usually be the first places we turn to for a source of jokes. But they are there. For instance, many Biblical scholars believe that the story of Jonah and the whale was really an ancient parable, probably meant as a joke. The circumstances in a few of Jesus’ parables could well have been meant to get their point across through pretty comical stories. The picture of a camel going through eye of a needle can hardly help but bring a smile to your face.
Another of my favourites is the story in the book of Numbers, where Ballam, a leader in Israel, is so reluctant to follow the directions God is giving him, that God has to speak audibly through his donkey, finally to straighten him out, and get him to listen.
And today we read the story of Sarah in a story that is positively filled with laughter. Sarah of course is the wife of Abraham, so the story goes back to the beginning of the stories of Israel. God’s covenant — God’s promise — with Abraham was that God would give him many descendants, make them a nation, and give them a homeland — and this a driving narrative that stretches through the entire Bible.
And in this story, that promise is still as fresh as a new-born baby — and that, of course is the first problem. There are no babies, and it looks like the promise of offspring is not going to happen, because, as we will learn in a minute, this couple is getting a little old for that.
Today’s story starts off with such an ordinary encounter. Abraham is sitting outside his tent, enjoying a cold drink and reading the paper, and three strangers approach. Immediately drama builds for us, because we are told what Abraham does not know — that the visitors are from God, and they remain incognito until the end of the passage. Just an aside — maybe that is meant to make us wonder how many times God has shown up at our tent, in our life, and we didn’t realize it.
Regardless, Abraham shows them wonderful hospitality — he rushes out to meet them, offers water, shade and then food. But as a gracious host he respects their privacy, and doesn’t ask the obvious questions of who they are, or what they are doing in the neighbourhood.
Abraham and Sarah bustle around putting together a big meal of fine food.
As the afternoon drags on, and food is prepared and enjoyed — we keep wondering when the shoe is going to drop, because when angels are present, we know something remarkable is going to happen.
Eventually the strange visitors ask, “So, where’s your wife, Sarah?” They haven’t been introduced, and as is her place, in the custom of the day, she stays in the background, out of sight, away from the men. I wonder if Abraham wonders how they know her name, but we’re not surprised — they’re angels after all. They don’t wait for an answer, but go right to the message that is the purpose of their visit — the completely unexpected news that Sarah is going to have a son.
Sarah, in the background, has been listening in on this conversation, and at this news, she laughs. That’s when the text reminds us that she and Abraham are beyond their childbearing years.
She laughs — “Does this man (angel) have any idea where babies come from? Can’t he see how old we are?” Maybe she laughs at how ridiculous the whole idea is. Maybe it’s the thought of being a mother while old enough to be a grand- — or even a great-grandmother. Maybe it’s imagining what others will think when her pregnancy starts to show. Or, maybe it’s the delight of finally having a child, and the renewed prospect that God’s promise is intact.
A chapter before this visit from the angels, God had appeared to Abraham to assure him that the promise of kids was still in place, despite their age. And at that point, he had fallen on his face laughing. That’s exactly how the text describes it — just like my kids outside the church that day. When he was able to catch his breath between laughs, Abraham asked, “Can a 100-year-old man father a child? Can his 90-year-old wife bear a little one? Nonsense!”
Back in our text, the stranger/angel asks, “Why did Sarah laugh?” There’s no real answer given, but it is followed by a rhetorical question, “Is anything too wonderful for God?”
Does that line ring a bell? Many, many years later, another angel would announce this time to a woman, this time too young and too unattached, for such news, that she too would have a baby. Mary, the mother in question, would say to that angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel would talk about the Holy Spirit, and the presence of God, and her elderly cousin being pregnant, and then would point out, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Back outside Abraham’s tent, the angel repeats the promise that a child will be born despite Sarah’s doubts. Sarah denies laughing but God, always the jokester, always surprising us, always creating possibilities out of nothing, God insists, “Oh yes you did. I saw the two of you, rolling on the ground outside your tent, laughing so hard you cried.”
And three chapters later a bouncing baby boy arrives. Just to show they have not forgotten the joke, they celebrate God’s relentless sense of humour and name their little guy Isaac, which means, “Laugher.” What else could they possibly call him? Many join in laughter over the gift that God has given to this old couple, all of which, of course, is just part of God’s promise, to make of them a nation.
As the years go by, and the people of Israel look back to the early days in their history, because these stories are all recorded by men, it would often be Abraham they think of first. They speak lots about Father Abraham but not so much of Mother Sarah. In the New Testament, Sarah is never mentioned apart from Abraham. In fact in the “who’s who” summary of the history of the Israelites in Hebrews 11, it is Abraham’s faithfulness that is celebrated, with Sarah mentioned only as an also-ran, an afterthought.
Yes, the covenant was first made with him, but there would be no nation without her. God asked of her all that he asked of Abraham, and more, that she would bear their child, in the craziest of circumstances, and trust that God knows what God is doing.
Twice the news is given to Abraham that they will have a child in their old age, but it will have a tremendous impact on Sarah as well. She laughs at the news, but is called, like her husband, to faithfulness and to trust that by God’s grace this plan is for good.
The visitors appear to Abraham, but the focus gradually shifts to Sarah, pulls her out from the shadows, and lifts up the centre-stage roll she will play in keeping the promise alive.
Isn’t that how God does it, pulling people in from the margins, out from eavesdropping behind the tent, to do great things, bringing new life where we thought it was impossible, making a way where we thought they was no way, accomplishing what we thought could not be done, and laughing herself silly, at the joke of the improbability of it all.
Sarah is marginalized by her gender and her age, and even more by her barrenness, but she is drawn to the centre, laughing all the way, to do her part. God has strange ways, works in God’s own time, and uses hilariously unlikely players to move the story forward.
So what about their age? Were they really 90 and 100? Who knows? Maybe that’s just an exaggeration, for a couple who for all their normal child-bearing years were unable to conceive, and suddenly, just when they are about to give up, it works, and a baby is on the way. Whatever the explanation it’s enough to make an old woman laugh.
Why does Sarah laugh? Maybe the same reason that the psalms say, (126:1,2) “When the Lord rescued Zion, then our mouth was filled with laughter.”
Or they get so excited, they trip over themselves with their enthusiasm, (98:8) “Let the floods clap their hands and the hills sing for joy together.”
Maybe it’s like the day that the Prodigal returns and his old father is so overcome with joy that he runs like a school boy to meet him and they make merry till the cows came home, and the rafters ring with their joy
Or maybe it’s like Jesus, in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, looking out over a crowd of misfits and rejects, and says to them (Lk 6:21), “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Is anything too wonderful for God?
Sarah laughs because suddenly there is hope again. She laughs because the story which they thought was dead before it got past the first chapter, is alive, and still being written. She laughs because when she and her husband think the family game is up, God steps in to call her out of the shadows… and new life is on the way.
God steps in. It’s something we will come to expect in this biblical story, and maybe in the course of the life of each one of us. God steps in to keep the promise, just at that point when it seems most at risk, and God’s people rejoice and laugh, for a God who pulls through yet again, and there is life and hope.
May we present our gifts to God in response to what we have received from God?
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of being present at Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Dedication of our Gifts
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 306). Based on the tune “Old 100th” with words (1989) by English hymnwriter Brian A. Wren (1936–). Words copyright © 1989 Hope Publishing Co.; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. Music public domain.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
praise God all creatures high and low;
praise God in Jesus fully known,
Creator Word and Spirit One.
Prayer of Dedication
God whose goodness lies at the heart of every gift we give, receive these offerings, our gifts of money for the work of your church, and food for the food bank. Bless those who have given them. Through these gifts may those who are hungry be fed, may the broken hearted be lifted up, may hope be shared, may good news be declared, and may your name be given glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayers of the People
Gracious, giving God, we thank you for all that you give us for the journeys of our lives — home, families, schools — jobs, opportunities, friendships — We thank you for how you are with us to encourage, to guide, to show us the way, to call us to new experiences. We thank you that you acted to save and lift up your people so long ago, and that are still doing that in the lives of each of us. Give us the courage to follow you out into the unknown wilderness and in the changes that lie ahead, in the confidence that whatever our future holds, you will be with us in it.
God who hears the cries of your people, we pray for a world in need, for people who do without, for people who are on the move, for people who have nowhere to go. Bring peace where there is conflict, safety where there is danger, and provision where there is need. Be active in our world, we pray, to save and release those who suffer, and use us to help bring your saving, renewing love into the world.
Healing God, we pray for those who are sick and hospitalized, that you would bring your healing and your peace. And for those whose changes involve losses. Those who grieve the loss of a loved one, the loss of their own health, those who know they must soon lose life itself. Remind them that you are with them through every experience, and that nothing can separate us from the love your love, shown to us in your son, Jesus.
O God, you go before us, calling us to new ministry and new ways to be your people, individually and as a congregation. Give us grace to trust in you, cheerfully to give ourselves to all that you ask of us, and help us to look to you and depend on you to be our guide and provider. Grant that though all that we offer back to you, your church would be strengthened and you will be given glory. In the name of Jesus we ask all these things. Amen.
“O God of Bethel, by whose hand” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 654). Words (1736) by English minister Philip Doddridge (1702–1751) and English minister John Logan (1748–1788). Music (tune: “Salzburg [Haydn]”) by Austrian composer Johann Michael Haydn (1737–1806; younger brother of Joseph Haydn). Words and music public domain.
Changing the Light
Now, it is time to change the light. The light that was in one place can now be in every place and every time going with you wherever you go.
Commissioning and Benediction
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
“Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
Copyright © 2023 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated 2023-06-18 00:11 – First version.