Being Present

Scripture: Genesis 18:1-15

Title: Being Present


  • Introduction
  • Abraham is present
  • Sarah is afraid
  • God is free
  • Conclusion


Last year we began a series on the life of Abraham, pausing for a few weeks during Advent

–         This morning we pick up Abraham’s journey of faith from Genesis 18, where we left off

Abraham’s journey of faith is characterised as two steps forward, one step back

–         Abraham & Sarah didn’t start with perfectly formed faith – it took time and testing for their faith to grow and develop

–         From Genesis 18, verse 1, we continue Abraham & Sarah’s story…

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favour in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.”Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.  He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

Then the Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading

There are three main characters in this episode: Abraham, Sarah & God

  • – Abraham is present – fully present to serve his guests
  • – Sarah is afraid – she is hiding in the tent
  • – And God is free – nothing is too hard for the Lord
  • – First let’s consider how Abraham is present

 Abraham is present:

A couple of weeks ago Robyn and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to Kapiti Island

  • – Kapiti Island is a special conservation reserve – it’s a place set apart for native bird life
  • – You can’t just travel over any old time and land your boat on the island, you need a permit
  • – So Robyn made the arrangements, we had our bags checked to make sure we weren’t bringing anything to the island that we shouldn’t and then took a boat ride over – we spent most of the day there


There’s really only one thing to do on Kapiti: walk around and look at the bird life

  • – Some people might find that boring but Robyn & I really enjoyed it
  • – You see, when you have only one thing to do you are able to be fully present to that one thing
  • – I’ve walked through native bush many times but usually it was to get from point A to point B – I was on a mission
  • – Kapiti was different. There was no mission, no goal to achieve – all I had to do was be present and enjoy
  • – The forest and birds filled up my senses so I could be fully present to just one thing – it was freeing


There’s a line in John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”, which says…

  • You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest, like a sleepy blue ocean, like a storm in the desert, like a walk in the rain …
  • – ‘You fill up my senses’ means I am fully present to you, you are so beautiful, so captivating that I’m not distracted by anything else, you have my full and undivided attention


In Genesis 18 Abraham is fully present to God

  • – The Lord appears to Abraham in the form of a man
  • – The Bible shows us that manifestations of God’s presence are rare – they don’t happen often and when they do happen it’s usually different each time (unexpected)
  • – For example, the Lord appeared to Job as a storm in the desert and he appeared to Moses in the burning bush and to the people of Israel in a pillar of cloud & fire
  • – But on this occasion the Lord appears to Abraham as a human being
  • – Imagine that, God physically turning up and knocking on your door


Now obviously in appearing to Abraham as a man, God is holding back his full glory – it was like God was making himself smaller so He could meet Abraham where he is at

  • – Abraham does not go to God – God comes to Abraham in a form that Abraham can relate to
  • – The Lord is incredibly considerate of us human beings


God is accompanied by two heavenly associates, most likely angels also in the form of men

  • – They come during the heat of the day – which in Abraham’s culture wasn’t altogether convenient, it was siesta time (time for rest)
  • – But Abraham does not let that bother him – as soon as he notices them Abraham hurries out to greet them, inviting the men to stay and enjoy his hospitality for a little while – the Lord accepts


Abraham is fully present to their every comfort

  • – He offers water to wash their feet, rest under a shady tree and a full meal with the best food he has to offer


Abraham moves quickly to prepare the meal – he respects his guests’ time

  • – And he provides generously for them – more than they can eat
  • – He tells Sarah to bake some bread using three seahs of fine flour
  • – Three seahs is about 22 litres of flour – that makes a lot of bread [1]
  • – He also has one of his servants prepare a tender calf – a whole beast between three men, plus curds and milk (curds is probably a bit like yogurt) – only the best for his guests


Once the meal is served Abraham stands near them waiting and listening

  • – This is a sign of respect – he won’t eat until they have finished
  • – Abraham is taking the role of a servant, making himself fully present, fully available for whatever his guests may want
  • – Apparently the Lord and his heavenly companions have filled up Abraham’s senses


We live busy lives don’t we – we are pulled in so many different directions, distracted by so many competing voices, juggling to keep all the balls in the air

  • – Being on Kapiti Island, letting the forest fill up my senses, put me touch with the creator of that forest, with the Lord God – it was prayerful


At its best prayer is about opening ourselves up to God so that he fills our senses and we are able to be fully present to him, ready to do whatever he asks


What is the one thing that fills up your senses?

  • – What is the one thing that sets you free to be fully present?


Sarah is afraid:

During the meal the three men ask Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”

  • – This question tells us two things:
  • – Firstly, even though Abraham has never seen these men before, they seem to know Sarah’s name – how do they know this


The second thing it tells us is that Sarah is not present – she is hiding

  • – This seems a bit strange to me – we would expect Sarah to be coming in and out of the tent helping Abraham serve, but the guests haven’t seen her
  • – Why is Sarah hiding?


Abraham answers honestly, “She’s there in the tent”

  • – By being honest and not holding anything back Abraham is trusting God


Then the Lord said…

  • “I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah your wife will have a son”


Sarah, who is still in the tent, overhears this and laughs to herself

  • – But it’s not a happy laugh – it’s more a laugh of disbelief, she can’t (or won’t) believe this word because she is past the age of child bearing
  • – The original Hebrew basically says she has finished having her monthly cycle – so she is on the wrong side of menopause for having children
  • – For Sarah to get pregnant would be a miracle on par with raising someone from the dead – resurrection, it’s the biggest miracle you can think of


Sarah’s faithless response is understandable

  • – For years she has hoped for a child and every month of waiting and hoping she has had to deal with the disappointment
  • – Now, from a natural (human) point of view, she is beyond hope


Hope is a dangerous thing

  • – If we put our hope in the wrong things, the disappointment can destroy us
  • – I wonder if Sarah has suffered so much disappointment in her life that she is not able to risk hoping anymore
  • – She is (understandably) afraid to believe the Lord’s promise of resurrection


When we were on Kapiti Island we met a couple from the UK, from Yorkshire in fact, who were having a holiday here in NZ

  • – They had hopes of seeing a kiwi in the wild
  • – Kapiti Island has kiwis but they don’t come out during the day – you can only see them at night


This couple, who looked about the same age as Robyn & I, were on the track ahead of us

  • – When we caught up with them they motioned for us to be quiet
  • – As we drew closer they whispered that they had seen a kiwi come out of the bush and walk across the track in front of them
  • – I thought that was unlikely but I didn’t say anything
  • – Then, out of the undergrowth, a brown bird looking much like a kiwi emerged onto the track


I could tell straight away that it was a Weka, not a Kiwi (Weka are far more common than Kiwi)

  • – Seeing the excitement on their faces I didn’t have the heart to correct them, so I smiled and said nothing
  • – I figured, what harm would it do if they went back to the UK thinking they had seen a Kiwi in the wild


Later on we met up with them again at the homestead for lunch

  • – By that stage I was thinking to myself, ‘I wish I had the courage to be honest with them on the track. Now it’s going to be more awkward if I have to burst their bubble’
  • – Fortunately on the way back they saw another Weka and realised their mistake and, because they were good sorts who didn’t take themselves too seriously, they admitted to us they had it wrong and that cleared the air for everyone – the truth sets you free


Returning to Genesis 18, when Sarah laughed in disbelief at the Lord’s promise of a son, the Lord responded by saying…

  • – Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child now that I am old?’
  • – Sarah was afraid so she lied and said “I did not laugh”
  • – But the Lord has the last word saying, “Yes, you did laugh”


The Spirit of God is a Spirit of grace & truth

  • – Grace & truth go together with God – you can’t separate them
  • – God can forgive us (that’s grace) but God’s forgiveness comes with truth
  • – We must be honest with ourselves and confess what is true because it’s the truth that sets us free and clears the air
  • – It is when we name things for what they are that they lose their power over us


I respect the couple from the UK

  • – Obviously they hadn’t done anything morally wrong in confusing the Weka for a Kiwi (that’s a harmless mistake), but they had the courage to be honest with themselves and with us, while I fumbled with the socially awkward truth, albeit to save them embarrassment


I don’t think God was trying to humiliate or embarrass Sarah by calling her out for laughing in disbelief – God is not like that

  • – I believe the Lord understood Sarah better than she understood herself
  • – He was simply inviting Sarah into a conversation so that Sarah could speak her truth (because it’s the truth that sets us free)


Had Sarah found the courage to be honest with herself and with God the conversation may have continued with Sarah saying something like

“Yes Lord, I did laugh in disbelief. All these years I’ve waited for you to fulfil your promise of a child and you have disappointed me time and time again. You’ve let me down and now it’s too late. Now I can’t have children anymore. I have become cynical and untrusting because it’s safer than getting my hopes up and risking more disappointment.”

I don’t really know what Sarah might have said if she was being honest with God – I’m just guessing

  • – Whatever was on her heart God knew it already and I believe He was giving Sarah the chance to clear the air and find release


Abraham is present and Sarah is afraid, but God is free

God is free:

In responding to Sarah’s fear & doubt God says of Himself…

  • – “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
  • – That’s a key question which keeps coming up in the Bible
  • – It’s a question all believers must face at some time or other
  • – Israel faced this question in the wilderness when they wondered how God would provide for them
  • – They faced it again centuries later during their exile in Babylonia


Jesus’ disciples faced it too, asking our Lord, “How then can anyone be saved?”

  • – To which Jesus responded, “…all things are possible with God.” [2]
  • – Jesus himself faced the question in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed: “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” [3]
  • – As we know, God did not remove the cup (of suffering) from Jesus


The point is, while all things are possible with God, it doesn’t automatically follow that we will always get what we want

  • – All things are possible with God but not all things are promised
  • – God is free to do the impossible
  • – But he is also free to say ‘no’ to us
  • – Whether God is promising us the impossible or saying ‘no’ to what we want, our best option is to trust Him, as difficult as that might be


God promised Abraham & Sarah a son but up until Genesis 18 he didn’t put a timeframe on it

  • – God made Sarah & Abraham wait until their situation seemed hopeless from a human perspective
  • – I expect this wasn’t what Sarah or Abraham wanted but there is no glory without suffering
  • – Just as truth & grace go together, so too suffering & glory go together
  • – It was possible for God to remove the cup of suffering from Jesus, but not without diminishing Christ’s glory
  • – It was possible for God to give Abraham a son through Sarah while they were still young but not without diminishing their faith


The fact that Sarah lied showed that she didn’t trust the Lord, but God in his grace did not hold it against Sarah

  • – While I believe God would have preferred Sarah to trust Him, the fulfilment of His promise of a son did not depend on her trust
  • – God was still able to do what he said even though Sarah did not believe
  • – If God’s purpose could be thwarted by Sarah’s doubt & denial then he wouldn’t really be God


Genesis 18 presents Abraham & Sarah as polar opposites

  • – Abraham is fully present to the Lord, ready & willing to serve
  • – While Sarah is hiding, too afraid to admit her disbelief
  • – But God is free – nothing is too hard for the Lord
  • – The Lord is able to work out his purpose through Abraham’s faith & service as well as Sarah’s fear & doubt.


Questions for reflection or discussion

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    In Genesis 18 God manifests His presence in human form. Can you think of other ways in the Bible (or your own experience) that God makes His presence real?

3.)    What does it mean to be fully present?

–         How was Abraham fully present to God in Genesis 18?

–         What helps you to be fully present?

–         What gets in the way of you being fully present?

4.)    Why do you think Sarah was hiding in Genesis 18?

–         Why do you think Sarah laughs in disbelief at the Lord’s promise that she will have a son within a year?

5.)    In what sense is hope a dangerous thing?

–         Have you ever felt disappointed by God?

–         How can we handle our disappointment?

6.)    How did the Lord respond to Sarah’s laugh of disbelief?

7.)    What does it mean that ‘God is free’?

8.)    Make some time this week to be present to the Lord

[1] Refer the NIV Study Bible, page 32 – in the footnotes

[2] Mark 10:17-27

[3] Mark 14:36