We’ve been plopped down into the middle of a pretty important story in Genesis this morning. Most of us have probably heard the story of Abraham, or at least know the general sketch of the story, but let’s take a minute to catch up to where we are now. See, when Abraham still lived in Haran, he was given a promise by God that he would be blessed, that he would receive a land, and that he would be the father of nations.
So Abraham and Sarah followed where God led and had lots of adventures along the way, but when the scene opens in this reading from Genesis, it’s been some thirty years since God made the first promise to Abraham—and he still hasn’t had a son by Sarah yet. Along the way they’d gotten impatient with God’s timing and had a son through Hagar, Sarah’s slave and a whole sermon of its own, but what we hear today is God making a promise that Sarah was going to be just as much part of this promise as Abraham was—and she would have a son.
If we know this story then we’ve already worn this path pretty smooth, but I want us to think about just how ridiculous that promise Sarah overheard by the tent that evening was. Remember, she is ninety years old. Abraham is ninety-nine years old. God is promising two nonagenarians a brand new bouncing baby boy of their own. It’s genuinely ridiculous and while we hear that Sarah laughed at it in today’s reading, Abraham laughed just as hard just a chapter or two back. It’s a laughable idea, one that really highlight’s God’s unnerving penchant for doing what the world expects to be impossible.
After all, God’s love of backing the underdog peppers the whole of the scriptures. Gideon, a judge in Israel, was told to whittle down his army to just a handful of men to fight the thousands of Midianites. We all know about how David, the smallest of Jesse’s boys, felled the hulking Goliath with just a sling and a stone. The vulnerable and powerless Esther outmaneuvered Haman and saved her people from destruction. And my favorite deuterocanonical heroine, Judith the widow, single-handedly decapitated the Assyrian army and freed her besieged town. God seems to side again and again with the people who have the odds stacked against them. God seems to always make possible what should be impossible.
And that reality of who God is has been an inspiration for people throughout history. It’s the fact that God makes the impossible happen that kept the fires of hope burning in the hearts of slaves in the South, waiting for the God who liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt to liberate them from slavery in Dixie. It’s the fact that God took a nonagenarian couple and made a nation out of them that Latin American liberationists believed that God could bring liberty and justice to countries saturated in oppression. It’s God’s love for making the impossible possible that brings hope to the people who need it the most.
Because sometimes it can feel like we live in a world that has stacked the deck against hope. All you need to do is turn on the news, scroll through your Facebook feed, or read a newspaper enough to get the feeling that hope is a dimly burning wick in the eye of a hurricane.
I’m speaking to you through a screen because the world has been brought to its knees by an invisible virus that spreads without its carriers even realizing it. Hope for a world where we can once again hug each other, where we can travel without fear, where we can go to work and not wonder if it’ll land us in the hospital; that hope can feel pretty dim some days. But even in the midst of the weight of that worry, we can look at the God who promised a child to a couple too old to conceive. God does the impossible, and even now a vaccine is being developed for a disease humanity didn’t even know existed a year ago! By some spectacular miracle, God is making the impossible happen right before our eyes.
And we’ve no doubt been filled with images and stories of the unrest, frustration, and even violence brought on by George Floyd’s murder. The idea that we’ve somehow moved past racial structures is being proven wrong right in front of us, and it is scary. We don’t know how to fix the superstructure of systemic racism because Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was lynched in the year 2020, and the problem we thought we’d solved decades ago is still here. But even as the discomfort of seeing that racism never died, it just adapted, dawns on us, so does hope. God is opening our eyes and ears to acknowledge the very real pain our Black and Brown sisters and brothers have been experiencing, and how we can address it. God does the impossible, and even now is turning hearts to truly love our neighbor in all their spectacular variety.
God’s work to make the impossible happen shows up in our daily lives too, and not just in the big newsworthy events. We live in disrupted times, when even before the pandemic hit so many of us were working harder just to stand still. Technology, wonderful as it is, has also made our lives more complicated, more fast-paced, blurring the lines between work and play. It feels as though powerful forces whether in government or big business are holding more and more control over what we can do. But God makes the impossible happen. God is moving in the midst of the people to make change. God is at work breaking the structures that bind us.
And God isn’t doing it alone. As much as we’d like God to simply snap God’s fingers and do the impossible, it’s just not how God works. See, even in the story from Genesis we hear that it’s not just God who acted to make Isaac happen. Sarah gives it away with the word she uses—“shall I have pleasure?” She’s not talking about the joy of having a child. See, God gave Abraham and Sarah agency in the impossible thing that God was doing. God made the impossible happen through them. God included them in that miracle, and God includes us in the miraculous works God is doing today.
Which brings us at last to today’s gospel reading. Jesus sent the disciples into the world to share the good news, and we are included in that mission. Rather than go himself, Jesus commissioned others to begin the impossible task of saving the world by telling the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Think of how hard that mission is—Jesus even admits that he is sending them like sheep among wolves! We know what sheep do to wolves! They don’t listen to them! But somehow, God works through us to make even wolves listen to sheep. God makes the impossible happen.
And God is at work in you. God is working through you to make the impossible possible. God is at work in you to make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God is working in you to heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, and cast out demons. God is working through you to bring wholeness, hope, and peace to your neighbors by hearing the truth of the kingdom of heaven. Even when the task seems impossible, we can always look back to all the times the impossible met God in the Bible, and trust that the kingdom of heaven is supposed to be impossible, too.
Thanks be to God. Amen.