The Time God Had Set
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Pastor Megan Torgerson
Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
Too often we come to God’s dynamic, living, active word like we’ve already got the story figured out, like it doesn’t have anything new to say to us. What if you came to scripture with a sense of expectancy, ready to hear some new and lifegiving thing without any expectations about what exactly it will be?
One way that the pastors and worship leaders here thought we might do this is by switching up what Biblical translation we’ll read on Sunday. You’ve almost always heard us read only out of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the NRSV. It’s what we use most in worship and teaching here at Augustana and throughout our wider church. But there are around 450 different translations of the Bible in the English language alone. We each might have preferences for what versions we might like best, but each has the potential to reveal God to us in a new way.
Therefore, you’ll hear us read different Biblical translations in worship throughout the year. My hope is that it will help you hear God’s promises and challenges with an open heart. I want you to come to these readings without saying, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go,” but instead saying, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.”
That happened to me as I was reading today’s lesson out of The Message, the version we’re using in worship this morning. I got stuck on that one line towards the end of the reading: “Sarah became pregnant and gave Abraham a son in his old age, and at the very time God had set.” As I read that verse written that way, I thought: it may have been God’s time, but it was not what Abraham and Sarah had expected at all.
It’s not that Abraham and Sarah don’t trust God. They’ve been walking around for 25 years and hundreds of miles based on nothing but a promise from God. Way back in Genesis chapter 12, God just shows up in Abraham’s life and says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.”
It sounds pretty good. So Abraham and his wife walk about 400 miles to a land they have never known. They make detours into hostile territory. They get themselves into some big messes. They’re named Abram and Sarai when they start out, and God renames them Abraham and Sarah. God has given them a new home, new names, and entirely new problems to deal with. But they press on, because they trust God.
They just expect something very specific from God. God said that Abraham and Sarah would be a great nation. They would have to have an enormous family, one so large that it is its own country. The problem is that Abraham and Sarah can’t have kids. Decades of being let down have slid into years of resignation. The only possible way they knew to expect God’s promise to come true no longer exists. They still trust God. They’re just disappointed.
When we get disappointed, it’s usually because of an unmet expectation. We’ve all been disappointed at some point in our lives. A friend didn’t come through for you. You didn’t make the team. You didn’t get the job. The school sent you a rejection letter. The test results showed the new medication isn’t very effective. The fertility treatment failed – again. Unmet expectations find us in big and small ways throughout our lives.
But the biggest disappointments come from our expectations of God. We know that God works in all things for good. But we can easily believe that only thing that matters is what we want in this very moment. After all, I believe in God and am a pretty good person, so God will certainly give me what I need. I can expect God’s plan to look exactly like mine.
But that’s not what happens. God does not meet our expectations. We get frustrated because the thing we wanted isn’t what we got. Why would God punish me like this? Why has God abandoned me? God shut the door on me and leaves the windows locked tight – so now what?
I don’t know for sure, because I’m not you, but I bet you can think of a time like that. A time when what you wanted wasn’t what you got and what you got wasn’t what you wanted. I bet it hurts. It shakes your faith.
I bet it did for Sarah and Abraham, too. I bet it got hard for them to continue to trust that God’s work would be done through them when it looked like it just couldn’t happen. It’s no wonder that Sarah laughed when God said she would have a child. She’s heard that line before. She’s heard it for 25 years. She has no reason to believe it’s true. Her expectations have not been met. God has broken her heart.
Now, don’t ever hear me say that you don’t get to be mad at God, or hold God to account, or check and see if God remembered that promise to give you a future with hope. There’s a long and beautiful Biblical witness of lament and prayer that says we get to do exactly that. But I also encourage you to take a step back and consider if what it is you want from God is based in an expectation that God will act in your one preferred way, or if what you want is based in a sense of expectancy in God’s good and loving action.
The difference is in dictating God’s action versus listening for and participating in God’s action. See, we know God will act. We know God cares about us and this world. We know God is present and powerful. So then, what if you lived with a sense of expectancy rather than one of expectation? What if you faced each day confident in God’s presence? What if you took time to listen carefully for what God was doing, no matter how unexpected and unwelcome the circumstances? What if you let yourself be surprised by the ways God works and shows up far beyond what you could have ever imagined?
I’m pretty sure Sarah would not have expected or even wanted to be pregnant at 90 years old. I’m sure that when Abraham heard he would be the father of a great nation, he didn’t expect that it would happen many, many generations after he was long dead. But the arc of hope is long. The work of God does not begin or end with our expectations. The time God had set to achieve the things God promised didn’t just bring a child to Abraham and Sarah – it showed that God can do far more and far greater than we can on our own. We remain expectant, watching and waiting, ready to be surprised, trusting that God is at work making all things good. Thanks be to God. Amen.