This morning we are going to talk about hope and my tagline is: “If you hope to make a baby, you’ve gotta make love.” By the time we get to this story about Abraham and Sarah, they have been married for around seventy years. He in his nineties, and she is post-menopausal. When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God broke into his life and explicitly promised that he would have many offspring. For years and years, before and after God made this promise, Abraham and Sarah made love, again and again, month after month, hoping to have a child, only to have their hopes disappointed, again and again. Now here they are, in their old age, still childless.
Knowing heterosexual couples who have struggled with infertility, I know that making love can begin to feel like a burden. Love-making comes with tears. It feels risky. There is so much emotional vulnerability in this cycle of having hopes rise and fall, month after month, year after year. This has been true for Abraham and Sarah. They have suffered and grieved and now their power to make babies has run out. It has become humanly, impossible. And into this impossibility enters again God’s promise that Sarah will become pregnant.
Through the thin walls of her tent, Sarah overhears the promise, and she laughs. And I wonder, what kind of laugh does she laugh? After all these years, and given the impossible reality, is Sarah’s laugh cynical? “Ha, ha, yah, right, after all these years, that’s gonna happen…” Or is her laugh one of quiet wonder? “Ha, ha, is it really possible? Do I dare to hope again? Can I give myself to this promise? Do I want to give birth in my nineties? Or is her laugh confident and joyful? “Ha, ha, Alleluia, I’m gonna have a baby!” We will never know how Sarah’s laughed or how her heart felt in that moment, but we do know, that “if you hope to make a baby, you gotta make love,” even though it feels like madness. You’ve gotta trust the divine promise. You’ve gotta take the risk. You’ve gotta make the leap. You’ve gotta open yourself to hope, even though it is scary and may end in disappointment.
This past week as the rallies and protests over the murder of George Floyd continued, as people gathered for his spirit-filled homegoing services, as corporations declared that “black lives do matter,” and statues of confederate military heroes came down, I asked African American colleagues and friends, “Do you feel hopeful about what is happening?” Their responses came with a mix of both gentle cynicism and tentative hope. One friend said, “I’ve seen it all and heard it all before. Same soup, just re-heated.” Nobody jumped up and down and laughed a hearty belly laugh and declared, “Alleluia, finally the day has come and things will change completely.” Friday night, another unarmed black man was shot and killed by white police in Atlanta. Another investigation is underway
Still, there is a feeling that what is going on now is different. This moment builds on past successes, advances made in the Civil Rights movement, and ongoing efforts since that time. The energy to undo racism is being poured out by people, young and old, from all races. Of course there is resistance. There always is resistance. But hope is rising. There is clear intention to move forward, to end the suffering, to work together toward a different reality. There is a readiness to take the risks. To make the leaps. To stay engaged.
“If you hope to make a baby, you’ve gotta make love.” If you hope to live into the promise that God is birthing a new creation in which every life is cherished and broken relationships are healed, you gotta make love. You gotta do love. The whole biblical understanding of hope excludes the possibility of just sitting around, waiting for the future that God has promised, and is now bringing into this world.
Biblical hope does not rest on an optimistic assessment of either our world or of ourselves. Rather, this hope rests in, this hope springs from trust that ultimately God’s creative and recreative purposes for ourselves and our world will be brought to fruition. This is where the apostle Paul begins his discussion of hope—the whole creation and all of its peoples are wrapped in the promise that all will fully share in the glory, the beauty, the light, the full being of God, without any impediments. This is the promise. This is where God is taking us. But it is not now all sweetness and light. There is suffering and pain. Hopes are frustrated, for people of color who for hundreds of years lived with and been killed by racism, for lgbtq persons who still struggle for full welcome in sectors of society and church, for immigrants desperately seeking refuge. Hopes are disappointed for Abraham and Sarah, and for us in our personal lives. There is longing and ache.
And it is easy to misunderstand what Paul says about suffering and hope. He writes: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” We know that suffering doesn’t always produce endurance. Sometimes it produces despair and depression, paralyzing disappointment, and the desire to simply give up, to stop trying, to stop living. And suffering doesn’t necessarily build character, instead it can diminish and destroy the human spirit. It can snuff out hope like a tiny candle in the wind. Paul knows this. Suffering by itself does not produce hope.
What produces hope in us is faith in God, trust in God’s promised future. Already, hope springs up in us, hope endures in us because God’s love has been poured into us human beings by the Holy Spirit. Divine love has been poured into us like unquenchable streams of living water. This is what makes it possible for us to be hopeful despite our present suffering. Suffering that is surrounded by, saturated in God’s love and promises does produce endurance, and character, and it does propel us into active hope. If you hope to make a baby, you’ve gotta make love. If you hope to live into the reality and the promise that God is birthing a new creation in which every life is cherished and broken relationships are healed, you’ve gotta make love. You’ve gotta do love. You’ve gotta risk your safety. Your comfort. You’ve gotta risk being disappointed in God, in yourself, in your neighbor.
The call to trust in and act toward new possibilities in the face of impossible realities seems like madness. The call to hope again when things feel hopeless seems like madness. The call to love the enemy, the call to love again when your heart has been broken seems like madness. But it is God’s madness that calls us into beloved community. It is divine, gracious madness that brings life out of death, and plants hope in the soil of our suffering, and shows us that making love, doing love is only sane way for us to live together.
When the guests who delivered God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah take their leave, this old man goes into the tent and pulls his wife of seventy years into his arms to make love again. And I hear God laugh a great cosmic belly laugh, that ripples through the universe full of promise, pregnant with love and hope that will not disappoint because God is keeping all of God’s promises. Alleluia. Amen. “And now unto the One who is able by the divine power at work in us to do far more abundantly that we could ever think or imagine, to the Triune God, Father & Mother, Son, and Spirit be all glory and honor, praise and dominion, now and forever. Amen.