A sermon on Genesis 21.1-7, 18.1-15, and Psalm 105.1-11
Seemingly impossible things happen every day.
They happen so often, in fact, that I'm surprised we still use the word.
I'm going to explain to you the gravity of God overcoming the impossible, as was the done in the story of Sarah and Abraham,
by telling you the story of Chris.
Chris was born, raised, and lives in my hometown, in Iowa.
We went to the same high school, about four or five years apart.
I met Chris for the first time my first day of college.
The class was Survey of World Religions, and on the first day we were to bring to class something we would save in a fire.
You know, one of those icebreaker activities.
Cliche and stereotypical answers filled the room.
A piece of family jewelry here,
a picture of a relative there,
one girl brought in the collar and tags from a pet she had lost.
These were all simple objects,
but they represented something bigger;
they all represented relationships.
We got all the way around the room, until there was just one thin
young man left in the front corner.
I wish I could say that I didn't judge this guy.
I wish I could say that.
But I absolutely did.
And so did everyone else in that classroom.
We had seen his "kind" before.
He walked in ten minutes late,
slipping his cigarettes into his old and dirty backpack.
He was wearing thread-bare baggy jeans
and a heavy metal t-shirt.
He was a mess.
His was the kind that didn't speak up,
didn't show up,
or just made appearances for the exams.
His kind didn't contribute.
All of these judgements flowed while he was introducing himself.
"Hi, I'm... uh... Chris.
And my thing I would save in a fire is..."
He trailed off as his face started to turn a little red,
his eyes darted down,
and he reached into the dirty backpack.
What happened next created a type of silence that I had never heard before,
and I haven't heard since.
When he pivoted to reach into his bag,
the entire class could clearly see that there was nothing below his elbow on his left side.
He was missing half of his arm.
But that only accounted for a small fraction of the shock.
Out of his bag he produced a brown,
This is Chris' Story
When Chris was young he would come home from school every day
to a picture of his future being painted by addiction.
At the age of twelve he entered the foster system.
Being handed off from foster home to foster home,
the only consistent family Chris knew was the gang from his old neighborhood.
They got him young.
Vandalism and theft were his high school honors,
and after turning 18,
after leaving the system,
it only got worse.
Chris told me that after he turned 18, for about two years,
he couldn't have told you what month is was.
His life was about his next buzz, his next fix, and the gang that promised to take care of him.
One night while street racing, Chris lost control of his car.
His car hit the other car and flipped over the guardrail.
That night Chris' arm was amputated,
but he lived.
He was arrested and did his time.
Part of the stipulations of his probation was court-mandated treatment.
He attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
The meetings he attended were in a church building much like this one.
One day he got there early and was sitting in the hallway, obviously upset.
A guy was walking down the hall and could see that Chris was upset,
and stopped to ask him if he was ok.
He offered Chris a cup of coffee and a quiet place to talk,
and the man introduced himself to Chris as the pastor of that church.
Chris told him of his past,
his ongoing problem with his addictions,
but it was more than that.
His pain came from the abandonment from that family,
the gang he had belonged to,
the ones who promised to take care of him.
Without alcohol and drugs, they seemed to have no use for him.
His sobriety left him alone, and in isolation from the only community he had known.
The pastor did what any of us would expect.
He invited Chris to worship.
He wasn't really a church person.
The pastor told him that they serve a really great lunch after service,
and that he was welcome to stick around for that.
Chris agreed to one service.
More than a year later,
Chris is telling this story in front of a class full of students
on their first day of Survey of World Religions.
After his Bible, he shows the class his chip that he received for his one year of sobriety a couple of weeks before.
He had told himself that if he could get that chip, he would go back to school.
It's easy to hear the story of Chris' childhood,
and the adulthood it fed into and write him off as a victim of a broken system,
and a vicious cycle where addiction and illness is a way to talk about life expectancy.
I'm actually friends with Chris on Facebook and he now works as an advocate for kids in the juvenile detention system.
He works to speak on behalf of these kids because he knows that a better life isn't impossible.
I asked him the other day what he thought of our text from Genesis. What he took away from it.
And with his permission, this is what he said;
"Hey Em! It's been awhile since I read this passage, but thanks for sharing it! I see Sarah in this story as all of the kids I work with. Sarah thought that having a baby was impossible. These kids I work with, their whole lives they've been told that so many things are impossible; that they'll never be anything better than drugs and alcohol and violence. I think what God is doing here is proving that there's no such thing as impossible! That we made that up! I'm so happy about this because, without this kind of God, right here, I wouldn't be where I am, right here. Talk to you soon! God Bless. Chris."
I think that the top priority when writing a sermon, when actually preaching,
is interpreting where the Word meets the world.
Today, that intersection is in the story of Chris.
After that day in Survey of World Religions, Chris' story because a very strong part of my story.
I've told Chris' story at least a couple of dozen times over the past three years
because Chris' story is a major component of my call story.
Sitting in that classroom, a lifelong Lutheran with no conversion experience to speak of,
I had never heard a testimony like Chris' to what the love of God can do to a person.
Right that moment I knew that I needed to spend my life making that introduction and being a part of that conversation.
I told my family that night that I wanted to start looking at seminaries.
If you listen,
and I mean really listen
to people's stories
you'll hear time and time again of the impossible being turned on its head.
That's the very business God is in.
And isn't that the greatest story of all?