Grace in the face of laughter – a Lent 2B homily

Last week was brutal, but I did write a few things.  Here is my homily from Wednesday using the Propers from Lent 2B.

Depending on traffic and left turn arrows, there are three or four different ways that I can go home from here.  One of the paths that I end up on most often takes me past a little church that always has something theologically provocative posted on the marquee.  Recently, they’ve been advertising some sort of revival event, but not long ago there was a phrase that caught my attention.  “Hope says, ‘God can.’ Faith says, ‘He will.’” I found this to be an interesting distinction.  It is certainly one I wouldn’t have made, and it always made me wonder, if faith, hope, and love remain, and if the greatest of these is love, then why aren’t they talking about that.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about faith this week, especially how hard it can be to have faith sometimes.  It seems to me that sometimes faith simply says, “I hope.”  I chose not to have the Romans 4 lesson read for us this afternoon.  It is one of Paul’s masterful run on paragraphs that would have left us more confused that when we started, but there is a kernel of truth in there that is worth our hearing.  He refers to the faith of Abraham, which we heard about in the Genesis lesson, and he writes, that Abraham “Hoping against hope… believed that he would become “the father of many nations.’”  Hoping against hope; that’s the kind of definition of faith I can get behind.  Even when it makes no sense, even when all seems lost, even in the pit of despair, faith says, “I hope.”

We often romanticize the story of Abraham.  God comes and tells Abraham that at 100 years old, he will be the father of many nations, Abraham believed him, and God’s chosen people were born.  That’s how the Lectionary tells the story, but if we were to read just one more verse, we’d hear this, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  That doesn’t sound much like faith to me, and yet notice that in the midst of his laughter, laughing at the promise of God, Abraham called his wife Sarah, not Sarai.  He called her by the new name God had given her, Sarah, the Princess and Mother of Israel.

Sometimes faith is a small as a mustard seed, so small as to be almost imperceptible, but even the tiniest bit of faith is enough for God to move mountains.  I find the story of Abraham and Sarah to be a source of comfort in those moments when all hope seems lost, when the odds are stacked so high that a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman having a child together seems plausible by comparison.  I think this story, romanticized as it has become, is one worth repeating, worth remembering, as a reminder that God lives up to his promises, even, and perhaps especially, when we find ourselves laughing in his face.  God is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness.  He brings back those who have gone astray, those who have lost their faith, and even those whose faith is laughable.  That’s what grace through faith is all about.  Even when our faith is lacking, God’s grace is there, holding fast to the promise of things hoped for.  Amen.

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