In our Advent series at Harbor Community Church, I’m focusing on four different Old Testament “God encounters,” with hopes Harbor will encounter Jesus in a fresh way this December. Our first encounter in Genesis 18 involves God delivering Sara some great news, but she sends it right back like an old man with soup at a deli. At least George Costanza might have pictured it going down like that.
Well past child bearing years, and long after getting mail from AARP, and potentially considering “snowbirding” in sunny Florida, she’s presented with the promise of a child. And within a year.
Instead of nesting, high-fiving an imaginary friend, fist pumping, or whatever women in that day would do to express excitement, we see her sarcastically laughing off this biological impossibility.
I don’t blame her. I’d have done the same thing. I hate being disappointed. Planting a church in this day and age — though probably never easy — has left me always managing my expectations, protecting myself from disappointment.
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Sure, hope does float, almost literally. You can ask shipwreck survivors.
But hope costs something, doesn’t it? Sometimes it feels easier to laugh off hope. I would imagine that Sara had made peace with living the life of a loveable loser. I mean she at least had a husband, right? She would never have a child. It wasn’t what she dreamed, but as some stoic once claimed, “It is what it is.” To hope would mean risking the possibility that maybe “it is what it is” doesn’t have to end with “it will be what it will be.” Maybe things could change for the better? Then again … maybe not?
Skeptical laughter must have filled her thoughts and clouded the part of the heart most prone to dreaming.
Sometimes the hardest place to hope is in the middle. The Cleveland Browns, the cellar dwellers of the NFL, seem to produce much more hopeful fans than the lower-to-middle-of-the-pack Buccaneers. And it makes sense. When at rock bottom, there is only up. Hope sticks out like Cousin Eddy’s RV in a deed restricted suburbia.
When in the middle, you simply laugh at hope. You’ve learned better. Hope blends in with realism, eventually fermenting skepticism.
I wonder how much is the case with us today. I’m reading a book by John Perkins, “Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win.” Many like him, including his young children, simply refused to settle. Instead, a divinely given hope inspired this journey of desegregation, racial reconciliation and community development.
I’m thankful for John Perkins sharing his dreams, and his invitation to me, a realist, a true non-romantic, to dream of a more just society.
God invited Sara to dream. But his invitation didn’t stop there. The prophet Joel spoke of a day when God’s people would encounter Him in such a fresh way that skepticism would be replaced with dreams and visions. The young and old. We’re never too young, and nor is it too late to dream.
When I look at politicians speaking of change, I tend to laugh with great skepticism. But when I look at Jesus, I’m finding myself laughing at God less and dreaming much more.
Would you risk disappointment and consider what your neighborhood, community, school, could look like if you prayed and set your heart, time, energy, and schedule around it? Maybe, just maybe, the tone of your laughter will change, and Bradenton will be a better place because of it. Maybe we’ll start laughing with God.
Pastor Geoff Henderson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald written by local clergy members.