And Sarah was barren
Genesis 11:30 and 12:1-5a
Now the Lord said to Abram, “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, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Barren. That’s a harsh word. Devoid of life.
One can picture a desert wasteland where nothing grows and the wind sweeps the sand across the desert and there are no plants or animals.
Barren. It’s a harsh word.
And then to use that to refer to a person. To call someone “Barren.”
To call someone devoid of life. That’s harsh too. Maybe even harsher.
And yet that’s what they have used to refer to women who are unable to have babies.
It seems totally unfair. I haven’t seen any men carry a baby in a womb for nine months and deliver a baby.
But it is women who are called Barren.
And there are a number of women in the bible who are referred to in that way.
Rebekah who later birthed Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt and became Prime Minister
Hannah, who later birthed the prophet Samuel.
Manoah’s wife, who is not named but later birthed the Judge with great strength and long hair, Samson.
Elizabeth, who later birthed Jesus’ cousin, the prophet John the Baptist.
And Sarah the wife of Abraham.
“And Sarah was barren” the scripture says, just before the call of Abraham in chapter 12 of Genesis.
And that is the key to understanding this call. “Barrenness”
Barren almost sums up the first 11 chapters of Genesis and the history of people.
The story of Adam and Eve who are given everything they need to have life and a wonderful life and make a selfish choice that brings death.
The story of Cain and Abel which is about jealousy and competition and murder.
The story of Flood where the people on earth are so sinful that the earth is literally flooded with sin.
And the tower of Babel which is a story about pride which brings about division.
So while “Barren” refers to infertility is has a deeper meaning in scripture.
People can be “barren” spiritually
Selfishness, ego, jealousy, rage, disobedience, competition, violence, pride, divisiveness…
…are all signs of a person who is barren spiritually…
the opposite of would be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, humility.
There is life that does not generate new life.
AND …There is life that generates new life.
And it all revolves around love. Love comes from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God for God is love.
Have you ever felt barren spiritually? Have you ever felt that were all dried up and lifeless?
Maybe even felt that you didn’t want to live, because there was nothing to live for, or that you felt dead inside.
All of us have had dry times and the numbers say that as many as fifty percent of people at one point in their life contemplated suicide, if only briefly.
Let me briefly mention three things that I know knock the stuffing out of people, so much so that sometimes they feel dead inside.
The loss of a loved one.
It is a long, long time ago for me, but in the days before marriage when I dated, and a girl would reject me, or give me the Dear John letter.
Or the line, “I don’t want to go out with you. I just want to be friends…”
At least for me that moment of rejection and loss, the feeling inside was pretty dead.
Those whose partners leave them, it can be devastating.
Then there is death. People who have been married a long time and their spouse dies. One of the number one causes of depression.
The spouse that is left often feels lonely, isolated, alienated and empty.
Especially when they have been the primary caregiver for a number of years and for everything they did for the
Few years revolved around their spouse.
And losing a child is as devastating a loss and there can be. It seems so pointless, so cruel, so devoid of God. It is like a dagger being stuck in the heart.
I have sat in my office and been to homes of those who have lost loved ones and dealt with overwhelming grief.
Losing a love one can make one feel barren.
Another thing that is devastating is that feeling that you are not safe.
Children who live in homes where there is physical or verbal abuse.
Spouses who don’t feel safe in their own homes.
Or just homes where there is lots of conflict, name calling, putting each other down
People who go to work and there is constant tension and constant bickering and who are threatened with job loss.
People who have lost their jobs or have no jobs and they are living hand to mouth, going deeper in debt unable to pay bills, threatened with loss of house, or car or everything.
People who live on the street and are in constant danger from theft, assault, physical injury, poor health..
People who live in places where there is constant war or violence. It isn’t safe to walk the streets, or every night there is gunfire, or every day you know someone who has been injured or killed…
Feeling unsafe make one feel barren.
Finally the third thing is when someone has been victimized.
…Physically attacked at school by a gang of kids. Bullied by a peer group. A girl or woman who has been sexually assaulted.
Seniors or other who have been duped out of their saving, or taken in and lost money to some financial charlatan.
Your home as been invaded.
At work co-workers have ganged up on you and told lies and it has impacted your job, your career, you failed to get a promotion, you were demoted, or you lost your job.
A boyfriend, girfriend, partner, spouse took you for a ride, led you, pretended to like you love you, but really was after money, or sex, or security or assets and then dumped you, when a better opportunity had come along, or they had finished milking you for all your worth.
Or someone with injuries and/or sickness and the insurance company won’t pay, or you are denied workmen’s compensation.
When you are the victim you can feel pretty barren.
Sometimes life happens and things beyond our control happen and we can feel hopeless and devoid of life.
Sometimes when we are hurt, or empty, or feeling grief or pain, we can vent our pain on others with anger, lashing out, bullying, or other forms of negative energy.
Those who hurt others have probably been hurt themselves and have unresolved pain.
And looking out at the world we can see a lot of barrenness…
Lots of situations that seemed hopeless and devoid of a good life.
Starvation, inequity violence, greed…
And Sarah was barren…
Is not just a metaphor for the beginning of human history…
It is at times a metaphor for many situations throughout history and even today, where people are put in situations where love has been thrown out the window and there is the taking away of life…the taking away of what it needed to sustain a healthy life, physically, spiritually or emotionally.
And Sarah was barren.
That is the context in which we hear the call of Abraham, maybe even our own calls.
Without God, without love, without mercy, without compassion, without understanding, without forgiveness, without reconciliation….
Us humans are doomed to barrenness, emptiness…
And God reaches a hand down to bless Abraham, to touch Abraham, to lead Abraham, to give Abraham direction and purpose.
A voice call Abraham’s name and Abraham knows that he is loved and special.
God enters into a relationship with Abraham.
And God makes promises to Abraham.
He promises a land.
He promises he will make of him a great nation.
And he promises that Abraham will not only be blessed but be a blessing.
Some years ago I heard a Presbyterian minister named Eileen Lindner give a presentation at a church conference.
One of the stories she told was about when her son was in preschool.
The preschool was being run by the Methodists, run out of the education wing of their church facilities.
It was on a fairly busy street, or should I say avenue.
2nd Avenue. Was very busy. Four lanes, lots of traffic, so the families who brought their children to the day care dropped them off on the side street. George Street.
George Street in contrast to Second Avenue was just a small side street and not to busy,
So it was kind of mantra that the teachers would tell the children.
If you get lost, go to the George Street Exit. If there is a fire, we will be going to the George street Doors. If your parents are picking you up it will be on George Street. If you need help, George Street…
Well one day, Eileen got a call from the Methodist Preschool. Her first reaction was that of panic. “Is there something wrong with my son,” she said
“Well, not really,” she said, “but… but I think you should come.
Eileen came and there he was.
“David,” she said: “What’s wrong?”
Because here was little David, crying with those great big heaves. You know taking those big breathes and sobbing away.
“Mom, Mom” sobbing and breathing.
“Mom, we had a fire drill.”
“And I went to the hamster cage and I let Willie out of the cage. I told Willie. ‘Go to George street,’ but when I got there, Willie wasn’t there. And nobody can find him.
Well that night Eileen organized a search party and a dozen volunteers ended up at the Methodist church outside yelling: HereWillie, Willie, but Willie didn’t show up.
A couple of days later after supper the phone rang. It was the organist down at the Methodist Church.
It seems that as she was practicing for Sunday she pulled a stop and pressed a key and lo and behold Willie showed up. He had been hiding in an organ pipe.
But Eileen said: You know George St. was the safe place. The place to go to. We all need a George Street, but there are so many in this world who don’t have a George Street.
George Street is another word for Promised Land.
The Promised Land is a place where people are safe.
…where people are safe because they have enough food.
…where people are safe because there is peace and security.
…where people are safe because there is justice and equality.
God called Abraham to a Promised Land…
And calls us to a Promised Lan,
…because God is our Promised Land and because our calling is to make wherever we dwell a Promised Land of safety, whether that be our family, our group, our church our community, our world.
God promised Abraham and us a Land…a safe place.
In 2003, police in Warwickshire , England , opened a garden shed and found a whimpering, cowering dog. It had been locked in the shed and abandoned. It was dirty and malnourished, and had clearly been abused.
In an act of kindness, the police took the dog, which was a greyhound female, to the nearby Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary known as a willing haven for animals abandoned, orphaned or otherwise in need.
T the other sanctuary staff went to work with two aims: to restore the dog to full health, and to win her trust. It took several weeks, but eventually both goals were achieved.
They named her Jasmine, and they started to think about finding her an adoptive home.
The dog had other ideas. No-one remembers now how it began, but Jasmine started welcoming all animal arrivals at the sanctuary. It wouldn’t matter if it was a puppy, a fox cub, a rabbit or, probably, a rhinoceros, Jasmine would peer into the box or cage and, where possible, deliver a welcoming lick.
One of the staff related one of the early incidents. “We had two puppies that had been abandoned by a nearby railway line. One was a Lakeland Terrier cross and another was a Jack Russell Doberman cross. They were tiny when they arrived at the centre and Jasmine approached them and grabbed one by the scruff of the neck in her mouth and put him on the settee. Then she fetched the other one and sat down with them, cuddling them.”
“But she is like that with all of our animals, even the rabbits. She takes all the stress out of them and it helps them to not only feel close to her but to settle into their new surroundings.
“She has done the same with the fox and badger cubs, she licks the rabbits and guinea pigs and even lets the birds perch on the bridge of her nose.”
Jasmine, the timid, abused, deserted waif, became the animal sanctuary’s resident surrogate mother, a role for which she might have been born. The list of orphaned and abandoned youngsters she has cared for comprises five fox cubs, four badger cubs, 15 chicks, eight guinea pigs, two stray puppies and 15 rabbits and one baby deer,
God called to Abraham and promised that he would make of him a great nation. That is all about family. It is all about loving relationships.
God calls to us and promises a relationship of love. That we who feel orphaned and abandoned by the world would be mothered and fathered and nurtured and loved.
And God calls us to be that loving family and to reach out to the hurting, the lonely, the abandoned and all who want or need love to include them into God’s big family of love.
Listen to one of my all-time favourite stories. I have told this on more than one occasion in the sermon, but I never get tired of telling it.
It was told by a woman named Mary Ann Bird:
I grew up knowing that I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I must look to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbled speech. When my schoolmates would ask, “What happened to your lip?” I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
There was, however, a teacher in the second grade who we all adored‑Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy‑a sparkling lady. Annually, we would have a hearing test. I was virtually deaf in one of my ears; but when I had taken the test in the past years, I discovered that if I did not press my hand as tightly upon my ears as I was instructed to do, I could pass the test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in class, and finally it was my turn.
I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something and we would have to repeat it back. . . things like “the sky is blue” or “do you have new shoes?” I waited there for those words which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said in her whisper, “I wish you were my little girl.”
That was the supreme blessing that changed her life.
God called Abraham not only to bless him, but that he would become a blessing to others.
The purpose of God choosing someone is not because they are better, but because God chooses people to minister and bless others.
God calls us who at times feel like we have been victimized, to do the opposite. And that is to bless others.
God has blessed us in Jesus Christ and whispers into our ears. “You are my child.”
Today God calls to those who feel barren.
To those who don’t feel safe God promises a land, a safe place, a safe relationship with the divine. A relationship of acceptance and understanding
To those who have experienced loss and loneliness, he promises a loving family and a loving, nurturing relationship
To those who have experienced victimization, God promises not only to bless them with love and acceptance, but to make them a blessing to others.
And Sarah was barren. All those so-called barren women I mentioned earlier went on to have children.
For God did not send his son to condemn the world but to call us out of barrenness, to be born again into a relationship of love with the divine, so that whoever trusts in Jesus’ way of love will not be barren but will have everlasting love. Amen