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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Sticking with Plan A


According to historian Paul Johnson, the first time laughter is mentioned in human literature comes from the book of Genesis.  

It rolls out of the mouths of a couple of senior citizens: a 100-year-old man named Abraham, and his 90-year-old wife Sarah.  

In the Bible's opening book, Abraham and Sarah are the recipients of an incredible promise. God offers the unconditional guarantee that they will receive the two greatest assets in the ancient Near East: property and family.  

God bequeaths to them the piece of real estate that has become known as Palestine (the Promised Land) and assures them that one day it will be filled with their descendants.

There's only one problem. They've got no kids. And the biological clock is definitely winding down.

God never wavers from Plan A. "Trust me, Abraham, you're going to father a child through Sarah, your wife." Abraham first hears this news when he is 75 years old. After that, nothing happens for a very long time.  

Therefore he decides to hedge his bets by investing in Plan B. He will hand over his estate to a young man named Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in his household. In the ancient world this was an honorable custom. If a man could not father a son of his own, he could designate a male heir.

But God makes it clear that he will not settle for Plan B.

In Genesis 16, Sarah gets into the act. She says to Abraham, "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her."

The next verse of Scripture is wonderfully succinct: "Abraham agreed to what Sarah said." Honey, you know I'm always willing to do whatever you want me to do.  

This is Plan C, a strategy fashioned entirely by Abraham and Sarah. They will help God out, since he is obviously struggling to make the Fertility Thing happen that is essential to Plan A. Not only that, but Plan C works. All right! The maidservant named Hagar gives birth to a little boy named Ishmael. Maybe this will turn out to be a great idea.

But it's never a good idea to do an end run around God's intentions.  

There's nothing in Scripture that remotely suggests, "Follow God's will for your life, except when it gets tough or confusing, at which point you can come up with a plan of your own." Abraham is one of the Bible's great models of faith. But he clearly flunks this test of waiting for God.

That being said, we need to go easy on this couple. Think about it: They have no holy book, no Ten Commandments (those will come much later), no spiritual teachers who have blazed a path before them, and no fellow believers. They don't even have Kum Ba Yah. God is beginning from scratch. Sarah and Abraham are spiritual pioneers in the purest sense of the word.

In the end, they will learn to trust God. No wonder the three great monotheistic religions of the West - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are known collectively as the Abrahamic faiths.   

By the time we reach Genesis 17 and 18, years have gone by.  

God shows up again. He reaffirms Plan A. "I will greatly increase your numbers," he assures Abraham. Greatly increase his numbers? Abraham will settle for Plus One. He falls facedown and laughs. "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?"

But God will not replace Plan A with Plan B or C or some newly invented Plan D. He says, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son" (Genesis 18:10).  

Sarah happens to be eavesdropping in a nearby tent. How does she respond? She laughs out loud. "After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure?" Then God says to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord?'"

Sarah is afraid, so she lies. "I did not laugh!" But God replies, "Yes, you did laugh."

By the way, it's never wise to get into a He Said / She Said spat with God. God always wins.  

And how does this story end? Against all odds, Sarah becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a little boy, whom Abraham names Yitzak, or Isaac. That's Hebrew for "he laughs." Sarah says, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6).

Everybody laughs because one year later, both Abraham and Isaac are pursuing the same life goal – walking unassisted. Everybody laughs because when Sarah goes shopping, she buys strained vegetables and diapers for every member of the family. 

We may think that we're in a situation in which there's no hope or resolution in sight. And time is running out.

But one day, against all odds, we will look back and laugh.

Because nothing is too hard for the Lord.  

 

And he always gets the last laugh. 

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