Genesis 18:1-15 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 have pleasure?” 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, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Reflection A long time ago sitting on the back pew I shook my head and laughed anxiously when I caught the first glimpse of myself as an Episcopal priest.This was not the last time I would emulate my ancestor Sarah with the nervous laugh of incredulity fluttering through my shoulders. The fact that a disproportionate number of my friends were Episcopal priests with whom I found a great deal in common made me jittery. When folks put me and the word priest in the same sentence I snorted, looked anxiously away and lied, ”Oh, it’s nothing.”
My defenses began to unravel during an intensive retreat while being trained to be a spiritual director (one of my ploys to avoid the priesthood thing). I was sitting alone in a beautiful chapel, sent there with the assignment to allow my senses to take in the present moment. “See and hear, smell and touch whatever is around you.” From where I sat I could see two words carved on the stone wall behind the altar, “with God.” After staring at them for awhile I stood up and walked behind the altar to see what words proceeded “with God.” and read, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
My human mentality leapt to attention, “Well, there are some things even God could not do with yours truly.” The nervous laugh returned. I protested, “The words are completely out of context. Who said them? To whom? What was their point?” Wracking my brain for where I had heard them I noticed the citation, Luke 1.37. Since I was standing near the altar Bible I turned the pages to Lukes’ gospel and found, “The Birth of Jesus Foretold.” I knew the story. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a woman named Mary….. and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’” With you.
“But Mary was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be… The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 126-29, 35-37)
My nervous laughter morphed into deep intestinal distress. Hoping to lay to rest the words screaming in my heart I closed the Bible, left the chapel and walked to the adjacent cemetery. Reading names of the dead did not shut out the echo of the word tethered to my heart, “impossible.” I do not know how many months passed with me shackled to, “impossible,” until l I realized, “This is not about what is or is not possible for me. This is about what is possible with God. With God. This is an entirely different story.
The first book of Debra read something like, “Look at Debra. Nothing will be impossible for her. See all the ways she has proven herself? See all the things she has accomplished? What you do not see is how utterly and completely terrified she has been, terrified to fail, terrified to be found out that she really is not up snuff. Anyway, she is too old to start a new vocation. Woe to Debra. Book one is done.”
So began book two. It was as if the Spirit came and spoke into my heart, “Remember the first two words you saw carved in stone behind the altar, ‘with God?’ God is with you. You do not have to be afraid. You see, when you choose with God life, nothing is impossible because nothing is impossible with God.” Remember Abraham? Sarah? Elizabeth? Mary? Jesus? the disciples?
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