A Son Promised to Abraham and SarahGenesis 18:1-15 (NRSVUE)
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them, and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I be fruitful?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
My goodness! Like Sarah, I think I, too, would be more than a little surprised to find out that I was going to have a child at ninety years old! Sarah had waited so long to have a child. She and Abraham had prayed for a child for years, and now, at ninety years old, she finds out that it is finally going to happen! Scripture says that she was surprised, but I think that was an understatement! Because I imagine that in that surprise, she was feeling lots of feelings: excitement, fear, confusion, amazement, terror.
Friends, the truth is, feelings can be confusing sometimes. We tend to put lots of feelings under one big umbrella and call them “happy,” “surprised,” “scared,” or “angry.” But the root of those emotions or feelings can come from very different places. It is sometimes said that emotions are multi-faceted because, like a diamond, they have many different sides.
Now we are going to use the words “emotions” and “feelings” interchangeably today because this isn’t a psychology class, and we are not digging into the roots of our psyche. But to be clear, there is a difference between the two because feelings tend to come from a conscious place, while emotions come from more of an unconscious place. There is a tool that many educators and mental health professionals use, called a “feelings wheel.” And the feelings wheel helps people to understand their emotions better and put them into words.
I wonder, have you ever felt sad, but you couldn’t understand why? Or angry, but you weren’t sure what was causing it? Well, sometimes, a feelings wheel can help. The truth is, as human beings, we are constantly feeling emotions. Those emotions come from what is happening in and around us and the stories and experiences we carry within us. Being able to identify and name the feelings we have can often help us understand ourselves better. And sometimes, more importantly, it can help us communicate with others.
As children, we learn what it means to feel happy or sad, scared, surprised, or angry. We know that we tend to look a certain way when we are happy. Okay, if you were happy, how would you look? Yes! You smile, and you get a lightness in your eyes. What about if you feel sad? Yes, your smile turns to a frown, and your shoulders and eyes droop.
Many people try to hide their feelings. They don’t think they are important, so they try to sweep them under the rug. But feelings are important because they give us the ability to experience the joys and sorrows that all the ups and downs of life bring to us. They also help us to develop and navigate our way through relationships, make important life choices, and identify our own responses to events that happen around us.
And friends, please know that all feelings matter. It is about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel and what we want, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people, especially when we may not feel or want the same things they do.
Let’s think about how Sarah responded when she overheard the visitors saying that she would be having a child. She laughed, right? Well, maybe she laughed because she was excited. Maybe she laughed because the thought of her having a baby at her age sounded crazy. Maybe she laughed because it was a nervous reaction, or maybe she laughed because it simply surprised her and caught her off guard. But do you remember what happened when she was asked why she laughed? She worried about what other people might think of her, so she said, “I didn’t laugh” because she was embarrassed.
Friends, it’s important to know that your emotions are your emotions. No one can make you feel a certain way, or tell you not to feel a certain way; only you can decide that. If you look at the insert in your bulletin, you’ll see I included a feelings wheel for you to look at. In the center, it gives the basic feelings that we all experience at one time or another: happy, sad, disgusted, surprised, bad, angry, and fearful.
Let’s go back to Sarah for a moment. She was surprised to hear that she was going to have a baby. Now, if we look at “surprise” on the feelings wheel, we see that sometimes surprise comes from being startled, confused, amazed, or excited. If we feel startled, that could come from being shocked or dismayed. If we feel confused, it could come from being disillusioned or perplexed. If we feel amazed, it could come from being astonished or in awe. Or if we feel excited, it could come from being eager or energetic.
Now I know that some of you may think just sounds like a whole bunch of words, but sometimes, different words can help us identify and put meaning to a feeling, an emotion, or even an emptiness that we can’t fully understand.
We don’t often think about feelings and emotions, especially when reading scripture, but if we reread today’s story, we find that it is filled with emotions. If you look on the back of the insert with the feelings wheel, you’ll find today’s scripture reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, which is a more contemporary version of the Bible. Let’s walk through it and see if we can identify some of the emotions being felt.
God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. How did Abraham feel? Surprised, amazed, in awe? Or maybe startled? Shocked?
It was the hottest part of the day. How did Abraham feel? Overheated? Tired? Frustrated?
He looked up and saw three men standing near him. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. How did Abraham feel? Surprised, excited, eager?
He said, “Master if it pleases you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” How did Abraham feel? Excited, energetic, eager? How did the three men feel? Happy, accepted, respected?
Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. He said, “Hurry. Get three cups of our best flour; knead it and make bread.” Then Abraham ran to the cattle pen and picked out a nice plump calf and gave it to the servant who lost no time getting it ready. Then he got curds and milk, brought them with the calf that had been roasted, set the meal before the men, and stood there under the tree while they ate. How did Abraham feel? Happy, proud, confident? How did Sarah feel? The same? Or possibly aggravated, anxious, and overwhelmed? How did the three men feel? Happy, accepted, respected?
The men said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He said, “In the tent.” How did Abraham feel? Perhaps this made Abraham feel fearful, threatened, or nervous? How did the three men feel? Interested or curious?
One of them said, “I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man. Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Pregnant? With this old man of a husband?” How did Sarah feel? Surprised, startled, shocked?
God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.” How did God feel? Let down, disappointed, disrespected?
Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid. How did Sarah feel? Fearful, Anxious overwhelmed?
But he said, “Yes you did; you laughed.” How did God feel? Humiliated, disrespected, angry?
As you can see, because scripture tells stories of real people and relationships, there will, of course, be feelings and emotions involved. Now many of you may think that this feelings wheel is a little over the top and not very practical. But a feelings wheel is simply a tool to help recognize and communicate feelings.
As members and friends of Oldtown and people of faith, relationships are very important to us. And to have healthy relationships, we need to have clear conversations. Have you ever heard someone say they are frustrated with things happening here at the church? Well, being “frustrated” could mean that they were hurt by something someone said. It could mean that they are anxious about a responsibility they have, or they are feeling insecure. It could mean they are disappointed in something someone did or didn’t do. Or could mean that they feel powerless or their ideas are not heard. The word “frustrated” means you are experiencing negativity, but it doesn’t let people know why.
Friends, as your pastor, I am not a mind reader, nor do I have a magic wand to fix everyone’s problems. And as far as I know, none of you do either. It takes all of us working together, sharing clear and honest communication. If you feel hurt, disrespected, unheard, anxious, or disappointed, don’t just gossip about the person who you think hurt you, disrespected you, didn’t listen to you, or made you feel anxious or disappointed you. Talk to them and let them know. I guarantee you that 90% of the time, that other person has no idea they have done anything.
First, figure out what is making you feel the way you are feeling. And then talk to the person that made you feel that way. Be clear and honest in your conversation. and don’t blame or point fingers but instead look for ways to move forward. And if someone comes to you to talk about their feelings, please, listen to them. And then work with them to find new ways to work together. Remember that we don’t all think and understand the world around us exactly the same, and we don’t always have to agree, but we are called to walk and work together as a community of faith. I think it has something to do with that “love your neighbor” stuff.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, take time each day to figure out how you are feeling. And know that “fine” or “frustrated” are not clear answers. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of your feelings because they are there to help you, as long as you are gentle with yourself and listen to them. Then stop gossiping about the things that frustrate you, and start having actual conversations to find positive ways to move forward. Remember that everyone has feelings and emotions. And really, they’re a gift. We just need to learn to use them in healthy and healing ways.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, amen!