BEING TRANSFORMED – Genesis 18:1-2,9-15

“Is Anything Too Wonderful for the Lord?”

August 30, 2020

Genesis 18:1-2,9-15

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…

(Abraham then proceeded to offer his guests gracious Middle Eastern hospitality.

Abraham served the visitors a bountiful meal, then stood by 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.’

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


There is a key question in the midst of this ancient biblical narrative,

a question that echoes throughout the Old and the New Testaments:

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Is anything too difficult for God to accomplish?


What seems too wonderful to happen this August 30 of the year 2020?

How about an end to all of the political divisiveness and bickering in our nation?

Does that seem “too wonderful” to ask of God?

How about some serious reconciliation and mutual understanding

related to our nation’s stark racial divides?

Does that seem “too wonderful” to imagine?

How about a real sense of safety and security from Covid-19,

or from the next year’s corona virus for that matter?

Does that seem “too wonderful” to set our hopes upon?


Is there anything that might seem “too wonderful” for you or your family this year?

Has your heart and soul been longing for anything this summer that seems out of reach?

Is there anything for which you or your family yearns that seems impossible?


Alongside our Being Transformed theme for this school year,

we are initiating a new effort in prayer, thanks to Vernon Gramling.

 As I mentioned in our recent church newsletter, prayer and transformation are close allies.

Prayer changes things; prayer at least changes us.

And so we begin this year engaging in a new practice called “Praying Together”.

We have initiated this practice in the Faith in Real Life Bible study

and in the Friendship Sunday School class.  

We engaged in this practice with our session of elders this past Tuesday night. 


How Praying Together works is as follows, and I encourage you to do this at home or with a friend:

Pair off, listen intently to one another, offering no advice or judgments,

and then present the other person and their needs before God,

offering before God what may be weighing heavy on their hearts,

or perhaps giving thanks to God for what is bringing them joy.

The important aspect is that one person shares at a time while the other person simply listens,

without comment or judgment, and then the prayer concerns are handed over to God,

trusting that God is more able than we to shoulder any burdens,

trusting that God is the One able to bring about any transformation that may be needed or desired.


Though some of our folks entered the process with a bit of trepidation over praying out loud for another,

or over sharing something personal with another member of the church,

afterwards, everyone, to a person, seemed to genuinely appreciate the experience.

Many of the participants spoke of how helpful it had been,

how intimate was the experience in nurturing a relationship,

how it wasn’t as hard to pray for others as they thought it might be,

and how, though it was difficult at first for some to share, they were truly glad that they had done so.


Prayer and transformation are close allies.

Prayer changes things. Prayer at least changes us.


Last week, we explored Abraham’s willingness to listen to God, to be open to God’s leading.

We held up Abraham as an example of one who followed the pathway

that he felt God was leading him to travel.  

This week, we encounter the challenge of both Abraham and Sarah truly believing

that God cared about their human condition and that God would and could do something about it.

From time to time, God just might do something quite extraordinary in our lives,

often in a way that more wonderful than we could have asked or imagined.


Sarah and Abraham, it seems, had given up on the dream of having a child.

In chapter 16 of Genesis,

Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children;

go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’

 And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

So, after Abram had lived for ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife,

took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

Abram went in to Hagar, and she conceived…  


When Sarai saw that Hagar had conceived, she became jealous of her maidservant and cruel to her.

 Sarah struggled mightily with the idea that Hagar would have a child and she would not.

When the child was born to Hagar, the boy was named Ishmael,

and Abraham had accepted that Ishmael would become his sole heir. 

In chapter 17 of Genesis, we hear Abraham’s response to God:

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her.

I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself,

‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?

Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’

And Abraham said to God, ‘O that Ishmael might live in your sight!’

God said, ‘No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac.

I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous;

he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.’

(Genesis 17:15-22)


God communicated to Abraham that he and Sarah would indeed have a child,

and Abraham fell on his face and laughed.

When the messengers told Abraham that Sarah would indeed have a child,

Sarah overheard the conversation and laughed.

It seemed too wonderful even for the Lord. This promise of a child seemed too difficult to come to pass.


Yes, Abram and Sarah had been promised that their descendants would be many as the stars in the sky,

but it just did not seem as though that was ever going to happen.

Life happened to Abraham and Sarah.

25 years passed by for Abraham and Sarah with no child being born.

The “plan B” of Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant,

bearing a son for Abraham seemed to be how their chips would fall.

And now Abraham and Sarah had become too old.

It was preposterous that they would have a child in their advanced years.  

It was so preposterous that when the boy’s birth was predicted they laughed in the face of God.


Rev. Dr. Sam Wells writes that this story “is one in which one kind of laughter changes into another.”

 (Sarah’s laugh) is a bitter laugh – a laugh of endurance, of self-protection,

a laugh that isn’t about something being funny, a chuckle that says, with painful irony,

‘Don’t make me laugh’…

 But some while later, she’s transformed from the bitter, ironic laughter of endurance

to the effervescent, gregarious laughter of joy.

(When Isaac was finally born) ‘Sarah said,

 “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears (about my child) will laugh with me.”’


Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Is anything too difficult for God?

Many of the Bible’s grand stories include a situation in which things seem utterly hopeless,

then right at the very utmost point of despair, God gives birth to joy.

Time and time again, God turns the bitter laughter of self-defense and endurance

into the overflowing laughter of joy.


See what the Bible is, says Sam Wells: it’s not a concatenation of judgments

designed to make us all failures and catch us out as miserable sinners;

It’s a whisper, a rumor, a meme, a subversive word of resistance that gathers into a crescendo saying,

There’s a story bigger than the story you think you’re in.

(This story) will embrace you and lift you up when you are at your moment of despondent despair.

(This story) will surprise you even if you’ve immersed yourself in its patterns and mysteries.

However much you weep and mourn, one day you will laugh.

Nothing’s too wonderful for the Lord.


The cynical, self-protective laughter in the face of impossible circumstances

is just the foretaste of a laughter that (will) transcends it,

a laughter that will create (a new and more faithful) community,

This new laughter seems most often to come at the end of a long period of barrenness,

of exile, or isolation, or misery, or failure or abandonment.

And in the end, it’s always a laughter of never-ending joy.

(14 June 2020, the First Sunday after Trinity, by the Revd Dr Sam Wells,


Like Sarah, perhaps your life has brought some crushing disappointment.

Like Abraham, perhaps you have waited for a blessing that always seemed just beyond your reach.

Like this elderly couple, perhaps you too have be prone to cynicism and even despair.

Sarah and Abraham’s laughter of disbelief had the cynical edge of those

who had been hurt before and who were not willing to risk being hurt again.

They had tried to believe, but their hopes had been dashed so painfully

 against the reality of disappointment and barrenness.


The biblical narrative of Abraham and Sarah reminds us that God is still with us.

The God of Abraham and Sarah will not fail us or forsake us.

The God of Abraham and Sarah can and does bring blessings when they are least expected.

God may do so in God’s own ways and in God’s own time.

Though we may want answers to our prayers now, we may have to wait for years, even decades.

Though we may try to subvert God’s will by engaging in some “Plan B”,

God’s inscrutable will shall be done, eventually.



Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Is anything too difficult for God to do?

This is the God of Creation, who scattered the stars across the sky

and breathed life into God’s good creation…

This is the God of the Exodus, who delivered oppressed slaves from Egypt

and brought down the powerful Pharaoh…

This is the God of Covenant, who provided sustenance of food and new commandments in the wilderness.

This is the God of Promise, who finally gave land to Joshua and the 12 tribes.

This is the God of Deliverance, who brought the people back from their exile in Babylon.

This is the God of Resurrection, who raised Jesus from death to life, bringing hope to all the world.

This is the God of Pentecost, who sent disciples across the known world,

planting communities of faith and worship in countless villages and towns.

This is the God of the Present, who is at work in our midst even today,

though we may not see it right now, though we may have even given up on God’s providence.


In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes that, by the power at work within us,

 God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

 I confess to having a pretty lively imagination.

I can imagine some wonderful things happening within the next year.

I confess to being bold enough to make some serious asks of God.

Is God able to accomplish abundantly far more than what I can ask or imagine?!

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Is anything too difficult for God?


In that letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, Paul offers this prayer:

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints,

what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,

so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish

abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 

(Ephesians 3:18-20)


Friends, do not be conformed to the standards of this world,

do not be limited to the expectations of this world,

do not be bound by the cynicism or despair of this world,

do not be afraid by the scarcity mentality of this world,

but let God transform you inwardly by the renewing of your minds. (Romans 12:2)

Because then, we will be able to discern what is the will of God –

what is good and acceptable and pleasing to God.          

And then, to God will be the glory – in your life, in this church, in this nation.




Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia