Genesis 18:1-15 & 21:1-7
The Ridiculousness of Faith
There is nothing quite so wonderful as a good laugh; laughter is infectious, it bubbles up within until it can be contained no more. There is a phrase “laughter the best medicine” which was I seem to remember a regular column in the Readers’ Digest (it may well still be so…) the column features stories from real life which were funny and often utterly absurd – but gave one a sense of yes – that’s just what life is like…
It is clear that this week’s bible reading features laughter – laughter in discomfort and laughter in joy. It also features patience and faith – great faith in an impossible situation. Abraham has been promised many times that he will be blessed with thousands of descendants, yet his wife has never been able to conceive. In the face of reality, he still believes in the promise given to him by God. Believes when there is no earthly reason why he should. But, faith can be ridiculous like that can’t it?
But what about the absurdity of laughing when things are not funny or joyful? I’m sure we have all done it; an uncomfortable situation, making us feel unsure, and so we laugh at our discomfort, because we are embarrassed, because we are relieved it isn’t us… because it’s better than crying, because we need to do something… sometimes no matter how inappropriate it may be we laugh anyway, because ridiculously it’s the only appropriate thing to do.
Laughter is a gift – it is an instinctive response, and it is biblical. This story of Abraham and Sarah is the first time we hear of laughter occurring in the bible; first in the passage before this one, Abraham laughs when God tells him he will have a son to be his heir and that Sarah will be the mother; then Sarah laughs. Twice.
First at the absurdity of the conversation she is overhearing; and also at the ridiculousness of what she hears. The suggestion is absurd – she is 90 – she is well past child bearing – it is total nonsense.
And let’s not beat about the bush, this is no miraculous conception they are talking about – she and Abraham have to be proactive in the conception – the church bible translation is explicit – this is about the sexual act!
Other translations are less forthright!
Sarah’s second laugh comes nine months later – as she cradles her new born son, and her laughter is utterly awestruck; joyful – God has blessed her and now she laughs for sheer joy, inviting her friends to laugh with her, and naming her son – Isaac.
As I mentioned with the children, the name she chose is symbolic of all that has gone before: in Hebrew the name of the child born of God’s humour and Abraham and Sarah’s humanity is Isaac – Yitzhak – which means: the one who laughs! What began as a laugh of doubt and even fearful sarcasm, became a holy prayer bringing new life and hope to humans through their laughter. That phrase “became a holy prayer” I have borrowed from Lynn, another RevGal – she coined it, and it spoke volumes to me. I love the idea it purveys – that something tangible that we do is a much of a prayer as words uttered in hope, or joy, or supplication.
Laughter is God’s gift – Isaac – Yitzhak.
Rabbi Micah Goldstein, of Temple Emmanuel in Memphis, makes this observation about the text: “What is clear in the bible … is that with Isaac, the age of laughter begins. And as we are in seasons of our lives or our culture that are solemn or overwhelming, God forbid we close the age of laughter which began with Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. We need laughter in our lives. It is God’s gift to us.”
In this season; in this place; in this world today – we need laughter; humanity needs laughter – to renew, to release, to share a common thread; humanity needs love for sure – but we also need that precious gift of Yitzhak – laughter, to bubble up within and cascade out – reminding us, that even at the worst of times, there is still a smile.
Those of you who have attended funerals I have conducted may well be familiar with the words I use at the conclusion of every service
“The time has come to say our final farewell; if you laugh or smile as you remember, if you shed a tear, be happy for all these things are what…” make us love and be loved.
Laughter shows us love, shows us God; laughter is God’s precious, life giving, love incarnating gift to us – let’s laugh and live and love together.