March 4, 2012
Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

“God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah'” (Genesis 17:15, NIV).

“You are always talking about our forefathers,” complained a little fellow to the pastor. “What about our foremothers?” Good question.
When Isaiah calls us to “Look to the rock from which (we) were cut,” he names Abraham and “Sarah, who gave you birth” (Isaiah 51:1-2) In the New Testament, Peter also named Sarah as an example of right living (1 Peter 3:5-6), and he used her as an example of unfading beauty. “Be beautiful inside, in your hearts, with the lasting charm of a gentle and quiet spirit which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3:4, Living Bible).

The Bible, however, is not timid about painting Sarah warts and all. We might learn to avoid her mistakes and emulate her virtues. Among those flaws are deception, jealousy, impatience and fear. Yet the New Testament tells us: “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Peter 3:6).

In spite of these personal flaws, the Bible praises her for two great character qualities we all should celebrate and emulate.

I. Submissiveness is a Christian character quality.
She was, after all, famous for submissiveness. Sometimes in the record, Sarah comes off as the thoroughly liberated lassie. She may cook the big meal for their guests then listen behind the tent flap to the men talking. In other chapters, she does not hesitate to give her husband a piece of her mind. “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering…Get rid of that slave woman (Hagar) and her son (Ishmael), for that slave woman’s son never will share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).

Submissiveness in a marriage does not mean a wife is always the doormat and her husband is always the muddy boot. Marriage is a give-and-take proposition with husband and wife doing some giving and taking.

There was a story in the newspapers some time ago about a divorce hearing in England. The husband was suing to end the marriage. His petition specified that his wife had slapped him in the presence of his mother-in-law. She left him in the middle of the dance floor. She smacked him on the head with a potted plant, and she hid the family supply of tea. I suppose that last was particularly distressing to a proper Englishman.

However, the judge refused to grant the divorce. He said such incidents amounted to a case of “ordinary wear and tear of married life.”
Peter selected Sarah as an example of wifely submission among many “holy women of the past who put their hope in God” (1 Peter 3:5).

Interestingly, the one incident he cited as proof of Sarah’s submissiveness is the verse in Genesis 18 in which she spoke to herself silently and the angel guest revealed her thoughts: “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure (of being a mother)? (Genesis 18:12, NIV). The title of deference for her husband in her secret thoughts (“my master”) was something only God could read. Attitude matters.

II. Faith is the quintessential trait of Christians.
Sarah was also famous for faith. She is honored along with Abraham in the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. “It was by faith that Sarah gained the physical vitality to conceive despite her great age, and she gave birth to a child far beyond the normal years of child-bearing. She did this because she believed the One who had given the promise was utterly trustworthy (Hebrews 11:11, Phillips).

Charles Wesley once said, “If God should give me wings I would fly.” His brother John replied, “If God should bid me fly, I would attempt it, expecting Him to furnish the wings.”

When you read the Old Testament record of Sarah’s wavering faith, you might wonder about this place of honor for her in the roll call of the faithful. What counts most in faith is not how strong our faith is when we lay hold of the promises of God, but how strong we reckon God to be who made the promise.

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