Laughing At God

Can it be done?

I drove my brother crazy one particular summer. Not just because that’s what brothers do, but because that summer, I watched the movie Apollo 13 every day. I would make lunch and sit down to watch it. The movie didn’t grow old. 

I was fascinated by the space program as a child. Back before email, I wrote notes to every NASA installation across the country, the famous ones and the lesser known ones. My letters said my name was Ted, I was nine or ten years old, and asked them to send me any and all information they had. A while later, I would receive a manilla envelope containing pamphlets and write-ups and other material that they collected. I was never disappointed. 

So when Apollo 13 came out, it held me riveted. Here were my dreams of watching a Saturn V rocket launch come true, in a virtual way. Here was my dream of seeing a moon mission come true, also in a virtual way. But more than that, I felt enraptured by the can-do spirit and problem solving under pressure skills of the ground crew as they worked to keep the astronauts safe and able to return to earth.

The ground crew asked themselves, per the movie and in real life, can it be done? And they answered with a resounding, yes!

It’s such a heroic story. The triumph at the end is moving. Anytime we witness human triumph over impossible odds, we cheer. Something inside our humanity resonates with the victory we’re witnessing, even if from a distance, or even if through a movie recalling a past triumph. I’m sure there are movies you’ve watched that call to mind such triumph, that stir your humanity, that make you believe the impossible is possible. 

Can it be done? Movies and tales of real life victories over the impossible make us call out, “yes!” 

But life isn’t always that way. We know that. Perhaps some of us are well acquainted with it. Sometimes, our humanity feels defeated. Sometimes, our lives are snowed under by impossible problems that have no possible solution. Sometimes, the answer to the question can it be done is “no.” 

In our scripture this morning, Abram not only believes that it can’t be done, he laughs in the face of God at the very idea that it can be done. 

Let’s hear the story of the covenant with Abraham; the next covenant we’re examining in our Lenten sermon series called Promises. 

Scripture (Genesis 17:1-8, 15-17)

Can it be done? 

Of course not! Abram can’t believe his ears. For decades, Sarai and Abram have tried to have children of their own. Abram is now 100 years old, Sarai is 90, and they cannot have children. Abram finally grows so frustrated that he fathers a child with a servant just so that he can have an heir. He’s not particularly wealthy, but he has enough to want to make sure it’s passed down to a child of his own, even if it’s an illegitimate child. 

So the idea that God will not only give them another child, this time through Sarai, but, through them, will birth kings over many generations, causing his descendants to be as numerous as the stars, making he and Sarai “exceedingly fruitful,” is unbelievable to Abram. Can it be done? No!

Then, when it comes to this promise of land, consider that Abram and his family and servants are nomadic. They go where their animals can graze, where they can find food, wandering around the Levant. In fact, he’s wandered himself into land that’s occupied by others. He’s technically not supposed to be there; today we might call him an illegal alien. So, the idea that God would give him the land he illegally occupies as an inheritance to his future children is ludicrous. Can it be done? No!

Abram laughs in the face of God. The idea that his wife, barren for all these decades, could birth not only a child but become an “exceedingly fruitful” mother, as God says, giving birth to generations upon generations, including kings and other rulers, is crazy talk. Abram falls on his face, laughs, and says to God, “Can it be done? No!”

It’s so ridiculous he laughs in the face of the very idea of it. He laughs in the face of God.

What God is promising is impossible.

Can it be done?

It’s a central question of faith. When we encounter life’s difficulties and challenges, and perhaps especially when we’re overwhelmed by them, in our own ways we ask, can it be done? Certainly that’s been true in moments of my life; moments where I needed God to come through for me, fulfilling a promise made to me and all of God’s children in scripture. Maybe you can relate. 

And when we ask that question, can it be done, perhaps we quickly come to the conclusion that no, it cannot be done. And then, when we hear the promises of God, perhaps in reading scripture, or in conversation with a friend or family member, or from this pulpit, we laugh to ourselves and in the face of God, believing that it’s impossible we would ever know such a promise in our lives. 

Perhaps when family dysfunction severs relationship, we think it’s impossible our family could come back together. Can there be healing?

Perhaps family dysfunction created division so many years ago that it seems absolutely impossible to think there could ever be reunification. Can there be reconciliation? 

Perhaps there are things that happened in your life, things you did that you regret now, things that create guilt that hangs over you. Whether those things happened recently or years ago, we think it’s impossible that we could ever be fully forgiven. Can there be redemption? 

Perhaps we feel we ruined our lives and it’s impossible that we’d ever find the life, and life abundant, Jesus promises in the gospel of John. Can there be restoration?

Perhaps there’s a legacy of embarrassment in your life, or a legacy of harsh words given to others. Perhaps there’s a history of broken relationships with friends. Perhaps there’s a hopelessness about life that’s just taken root because life has been hard and there’s been no bouncing back. Can there be hope? 

The list of scripture’s promises could go on for a while. And with each one, there’s reason to doubt, or even to laugh in the face of God, that such a promise could come true. Our lives offer too much evidence to the contrary. It seems absolutely impossible. 

Could God’s promises in scripture really come true in our lives? Could we know the blessing of God in our lives? Could the impossible actually become possible? 

Can it be done? 

Scripture, for us today, is our primary way of hearing God speak to us, similar to how God speaks to Abram. We are promised things by God, just as Abram is. And many of those promises seem ludicrous. Our lives speak evidence against seeing those promises come true. It all seems impossible. 

Can it be done?

If we consider the promises made to Abram, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Yes, it can be done. 

Consider the three promises God makes to Abram. First, that he will have children through Sarai. Second, that his offspring will be numerous and build generation upon generation, including kings and other rulers. Third, that he will inherit the land of Canaan as an inheritance to all future generations. 

The first comes true in Abram’s lifetime; he has a son named Isaac and then six more children.

The second comes true, but in many respects long after Abram was already gone. Consider that, today, 59% of the world considers Abram their father. All Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider their faith to originate in this promise to Abram. Indeed, there have been generations upon generations of members of the Abrahamic faiths, and when we consider all the rulers of the world who claimed one of those three faiths, there have indeed been many kings and rulers who have come from Abram’s lineage. 

The third comes true, too, but not so much in Abram’s life, either. The land of Canaan, land roughly equivalent to the modern day state of Israel, is indeed in the hands of descendants of Abram. Of course, there’s been much wrangling over the land. It has rarely been at peace. But since the time of Joshua, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, as they’re called, has occupied the land.

God brings all these promises to fruition. God is faithful, even if Abram doesn’t get to see the fullness of those promises being realized. God is working, God is moving, even through the most impossible circumstances to create new possibilities. With God, as we say, nothing is impossible. 

And therein lies the lesson for us today: faith is the art of believing the impossible is possible. 

Faith is the art of believing the promises of God when the world gives us so much reason to doubt those promises.

Faith is the art of answering the question, can it be done, with a yes when all evidence says no. 

Faith is the art of believing the impossible is possible. 

How? How can we believe that? How can we claim that in our lives? 

Notice that throughout this sermon, I have referred to Abraham as Abram. 

Before God makes any promises to Abram, God claims Abram by renaming him. Abram, which means “exalted ancestor” is renamed Abraham, which means “ancestor of a multitude.” God has claimed Abraham as his own. 

And God has claimed us. 

At baptisms in this church, we mark that special moment by singing a lullaby called, “God claims you.” Remember the chorus? The last time we sang it was right before the pandemic. I baptized Hudson Butler the last Sunday before we closed. After the baptism, we sang this: “Hudson, Hudson, God claims you. God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.” It’s a reminder that in the waters of baptism and in the imposition of oil, God claims the life of that child. 

And God claims us in other ways, too. We believe that on the cross, God through Jesus claimed all of humanity for all time. God has laid claim to us, God has chosen us, just as God laid claim to and chose Abraham. We may not get renamed like Abraham, but God has placed a claim on our lives, just like Abraham. 

Because God has claimed us, we can believe that God will bring promises to fruition. God will provide, God will do for us as God did for Abraham. God’s claim on our lives means that God has purpose for us, God has blessings for us, out of God’s abundant love for us. God’s claiming of our lives is everything we need to believe that the impossible is possible. 

As we’ve said in previous sermons, God will because God has. 

Our own lives bear that out. It’s easy to be consumed by the negative things of life: the lost relationships, the downturns, the resentments and regrets. But if we look back at our lives, even back to those situations, we can see how God restored, redeemed, and gave us hope. We might have to peer harder, but our past bears out that God will fulfill his promises because God has done so before. God will because God has. 

We can trust in the promises of God. 

So can it be done? Yes!

Faith is the art of believing the impossible is possible.

But there’s a caveat here. A significant caveat. God made three promises to Abraham but Abraham never saw complete and total fulfillment of God’s promises through him. 

By the time of Abraham’s death, he had eight children. He lived in the land of Canaan and passed down his inheritance to his children. No one was a king, no one was a ruler, and certainly eight children is hardly the creation of generation upon generation. Abraham’s vision of the fulfillment of these promises was limited. 

And that was by design. God claimed Abraham, chose Abraham, not just to offer blessing out of God’s love for Abraham, although that was certainly true. God also chose Abraham to be a vessel for God’s work that would be realized over many generations. God takes the long view; a view farther reaching than we could imagine. 

God does the same when God claims us: we are claimed out of God’s abundant love and to be a vessel for God’s work on earth. And through us, if we will submit and believe in God’s promises, God will accomplish things that are farther reaching than we could imagine.

And so the caveat is this: God fulfills promises in our lives not just to bless us but also to further the work of the Kingdom. 

When God claims us, we are not only claimed for loving relationship with our Heavenly Father, we are also claimed to be part of the mission. We are a people on a mission. It’s through us that the world will know the fulfillment of God’s promises of peace, safety, and justice. It’s through us that our community will know the same. 

Faith is the art of believing the impossible is possible. Not just for ourselves, but also for the world around us. 

Because we are on a mission to let the world know that, with God, the tragic downturns, the war and strife, the fear and pain, the resentment and bitterness, the corruption and greed, that mark our world; in other words, the impossible situations of life, can be resolved. God has made promises to resolve just those things and we, us, even us, are the answer: we are a people on a mission to bring the good news that the Kingdom of God is here.

So what do we, a people on a mission, who are the inheritors of the promises of God, what do we do?

After laughing at God, Abraham chose to move forward with his life, believing that the impossible was possible. He probably still had some doubt in the back of his mind, probably still laughed to himself at moments that such promises could actually come true, but he chose to live his life as if they would come true. 

So it must be for us. That is the example Abraham sets. Have faith that, with God, the impossible is possible. Live your life as if the promises of God will come true. It might be tempting to laugh at God. We might actually laugh at God, thinking that it’s just too impossible. But, like Abraham, faith calls upon us to move forward as if God will come through, for faith is the art of believing the impossible is possible.

So what do we do? We, like Abraham, should live our lives based on having faith that the impossible is possible. When we do so, we serve as an example to the world, to this community, to our friends and family, and to ourselves, that God’s promises are true, God’s promises will be fulfilled in our lives, such that we will know that the impossible is, indeed, possible. 

God has claimed us, chosen us, as vessels to make the world a better place. When we, through prayer, submit to God, saying we will follow, even if the promises and call sound ludicrous, even if the promises God makes and the call on our lives makes us laugh at God, we have the assurance that God will do remarkable things through our lives. 

God will come through. God will make a way. The story of Abraham proves it and, if we look back at our lives through a prayerful lens, we can see how our lives prove it, too. God is faithful. 

So the question is not whether it can be done or not. The question is whether or not we have faith; a faith that says that with God, the impossible is indeed possible.

In your faith, in your relationship with God, do you believe the impossible is possible?

What is your answer?

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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