Sermon June 18: Tell Me Again!

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Faith United Methodist Church

June 18, 2017

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Prayer for Illumination:

Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed. Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace.  Amen.

Sermon:  Tell Me Again!

For $99, and a little DNA, you can now find out your precise ancestral roots.  My aunt mailed in her 23andMe test and, two weeks later, learned that she is 73% Western European, 12% Irish, 5% Scandinavian and 1% West Asian.   Some of the results were expected and some were rather surprising.  It makes the world seem smaller, somehow.   My aunt, a native and life-long resident of rural Maine, has relatives all over the world.

For the next several weeks we are going to be talking about families.  Families come in all shapes and sizes.  Families can consist of people to whom we are blood related, legally committed, or simply drawn to out of mutual interests or shared worldviews.  Some people have very strong ties to their families of origin while others, due to distance or estrangement, find family among friends.  Sometimes we are proud of our families, while other times our families can be a source of pain or embarrassment.  One of my cousins (older than me) had a difficult time finding his way.  When my grandmother read about his arrest in the newspaper the shock and pain of that rippled out across our family’s generations.

Family stories, when we tell them, can be a source of healing, hope, and perspective.  When we share painful family experiences we may learn that others have had similar experiences and we are not alone.  When we consider our family history we may see how we benefited from the experiences of our ancestors.  When we face struggle or loss we may be able to remember how our mother, or grandfather or great-aunt endured in a difficult time.    And families can also be a source of humor.  We may be able to laugh with (and at) our families in ways we can’t with others.  As one joke goes, “I shook my family tree and a bunch of nuts fell out.”

I suspect that Abraham and Sarah, from today’s reading of Genesis, were a bit nuts – or at least their families probably thought so.   Prior to today’s reading the Scripture tells us that God instructed Abraham to take his wife and his livestock and leave his father’s house, his native land.  This was not something frequently done in those days…. To set off by oneself opened one’s household up to thieves and other tribes who might rob or even kill, not to mention the dangers of wild animals, drought and flood.  Together villages could often face these threats but alone, well, who knows?

So Abraham should have known better than to drag his elderly wife out into the wilderness….and Sarah should have known better than to follow.  But there was something irresistible about God’s message to Abraham.  God told Abraham that, if he followed, he and Sarah would have a child and their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Now, Abraham was 75 and Sarah was in her 60’s and they were childless.  Biologically speaking, it seemed that the promise of sons and daughters had long since slipped out of reach.   But God was giving them one more chance and they couldn’t pass it up.  So they packed their tents, camels, donkeys, sheep and cattle and set out into the wilderness.

A while back I visited my friend Stephanie.  Her daughter Katie was born a year before I moved to Vermont, so I spent a lot of time with Katie the first year of her life, but not a lot since then.  Katie was intrigued by the idea that I knew her so well when she was just a baby.  She kept asking, “Auntie Krista, tell me a story about when I was little.”  I told her about how I took her to swim lessons, how her mom and I would go to the grocery store together and I would carry her in my arms, how she would take naps in her mom’s office, across the hall from mine, how she loved my dog, Bady, and how Bady would lick her toes and make her giggle.  (She still has a stuffed dog I gave her that she named Bady.)

Hearing stories about our family history, our early years, and where we come from helps us develop a sense of self and claim our place in the world.   Years after the God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was fulfilled I can imagine young Isaac asking, “Tell me again about when I was born.  Tell me again about how God told you to leave grandpa’s place.  Tell me again how the angels visited.  Tell me again how you laughed at them when they said you would have a baby.”   I can imagine Abraham and Sarah telling the story over and over again – because it’s an amazing story, and because they wanted Isaac to know about the God who promised, and gave, them a son.  And I bet, no matter how many times it was told, Isaac never got tired of hearing it and Abraham and Sarah never got tired of telling it.

Abraham and Sarah took a chance on God and set out on a journey that set the course for many generations to come.  From Abraham and Sarah grew a nation that would become Israel, a faith that would point to the God of love, a series of writings that would become our Scripture and the man, Jesus, sent to us by God to show us the way to life.  That’s one heck of a family story.

So what’s your family story?  What are the stories that you want to hear over and over again?  What are the stories that you tell your children?   What are the stories that come up at every Thanksgiving or Christian or 4th of July BBQ that never grow old?  And what stories might you want to share with us…. of how your family shaped your faith, helped you learn important life lessons, or gave you perspective – good or bad – that shaped you into the person you are today?  In the weeks to come you will have the chance to share your family stories and, in doing so, celebrate our unique and common experiences.

The Scripture tells us that Sarah laughed when she overheard the angels tell Abraham that she would have a baby.  She laughed because it was a ridiculous promise – a baby when she was nearly 90 years old!  Unbelievable!  But maybe she also laughed because it was such good news.  Maybe God gave her a glimpse of what her life was going to be like as a new mother with a beautiful baby boy.  Maybe that is why she named her boy Isaac, which means laughter.   And maybe she thought of that laugh every time Isaac asked, “Tell me again, Mommy, about when the angels came to visit.”

The Biblical families we will hear about over the next few weeks are not perfect families.  We will hear stories about jealousy, revenge, trickery, and deception.  Yet God promised that through them the world would be blessed.  And neither are ours’ perfect families.  Perhaps together we will discover how God’s uses our great variety of families, in all their imperfections, to continue to bless the world today.  Let it be so, God.  Amen.