Sermon June 11 Wasn’t Me (Genesis 18:1-15) Rev. Betsy Hogan
What do you suppose an iconic 1970s comic strip and song from the year 2000 by a US rapper have in common with the Bible passage from Genesis that Gayle just read for us this morning?
They’re all about one of our very best things as humans. Whether we’re mischievous kids or fully-grown men or like Sarah in the book of Genesis, we’re “old, advanced in age, and it’s ceased to be with us after the manner of women” –
We all of us have that very human tendancy, when asked whether we might possibly have perhaps done some random wrong thing that seems to have happened… to immediately deny it. With many protestations of absolute innocence.
In the Family Circus, which was sort of a heartwarming Middle America good-old-days comic strip about the ups and downs of family life in heartwarming Middle America in the good-old-days, artist Bil Keane represented this tendancy in the family’s children by drawing a series of little ghosts who’d pop up whenever Mom and Dad asked “who did such and such?”
And the little ghosts had little smirks on their faces, and they were called Nobody and Ida Know and Not Me. And those little ghosts got up to quite a lot of trouble.
As does the main character in rapper Shaggy’s song “Wasn’t Me” – whose best friend advises him to just keep saying “wasn’t me” to his girlfriend, over and over and over again. No matter HOW high that pile of evidence gets, and it gets pretty high.
But if we get tempted to pretend like that’s some kind of modern foible, where Ida Know and Wasn’t Me have apparently pretty much done every wrong thing that’s ever happened anywhere, it clearly isn’t.
Because Sarah in the book of Genesis, who’s meant to have lived roughly 3000 years ago with her husband Abraham in the land of Canaan – when she gets called out for basically laughing in God’s face when God makes her a promise, she does exactly the same thing.
It’s like ‘who laughed?’ Ida Know.
‘Was it you?’ Wasn’t me.
‘Then who laughed?’ Nobody?
‘I’m pretty sure you laughed.’ Wasn’t me.
And of course it was absolutely her. All the deflecting protestations of innocence aside. She knows she laughed, Abraham knows she laughed, and obviously God knows she laughed. Just as surely as the Family Circus Mum and Dad and Shaggy’s poor betrayed girlfriend know TOO exactly what’s what.
So there are times when it’s really hard to understand WHY we default so quickly and so ridiculously to denying things we’ve just plain DONE, whether by mistake or by miscalculation. When we could instead just own up. Be honourable. Be sorry. Make amends.
Part of it of course is fear of consequences. And some consequences ARE fearsome, and that’s real, and I think we do get that. But much of the time, the consequences for just owning up to whatever wrong thing we’ve done – they’re NOT fearsome.
What they are is just uncomfortable. And uncomfortable isn't fun. None of us says "Oh yes please, bring on the discomfort." None of us says, "Oh yes please, I love having to acknowledge the wrong thing I’ve done and how much it’s hurt someone.”
Uncomfortable isn't fun. If we’ve done a wrong thing then we have to feel bad. And we don’t like feeling bad. We’d rather deny, deflect, pretend. It’s not attractive but it’s very human.
Which is why I think it’s kind of amazing… that WHEN the baby God has promised to Sarah is born –
This baby who appears when Sarah is old and advanced in age – she’s meant to be 90 or thereabouts -- and it’s long ceased being with Sarah “after the manner of women” – she’s well and truly past her childbearing years –
This baby who when God promised he’d be born, Sarah literally laughed in God’s face and then denied it when God called her out on it –
That WHEN this baby is born, Sarah names him Isaac. Which means “laughter”.
It’s kind of a fascinating choice. One of the things I love about the stories in the older testament is that the people IN them, from first to last and everyone in between, are so completely and recognizably human. They behave well, and they behave really badly. They make good and faithful choices, and they make appalling choices. They’re honourable and moral and steadfast, except sometimes they’re not. Because they’re human.
The stories in the older testament are filled with people who are imperfect in every way and do all kinds of wrong things and sometimes deny and deflect and take no responsibility – and God is with them and fills them and makes the goodness happen through them… anyway. Every single time.
No matter how messy they are. And some of them really are. I mean, Sarah herself is no great champion of the sisterhood. It’s not very much further into this story that she’ll quite literally cast her slave Hagar – whom she’s already forced to bear a child with her husband Abraham – out into the wilderness with her little one to perish.
These are manifestly imperfect people, in the older testament stories. They’re all very very human. They’re a mess.
But what God can do with a mess? God’s with them, fills them, makes the goodness happen through them… anyway. That’s what the older testament stories are all about.
And this one’s no exception. When God promised Sarah a baby, she laughed in God’s face. When God had sort of hurt feelings about that, she denied she’d ever done it. Ridiculously. When everyone involved knew that she had.
It’s not a shining moment.
But what’s lovely in this story, I think, is that sometimes we DON’T have shining moments. But we sort of get there eventually.
And that’s what happens with Sarah. Is she ever mature enough, honest enough, honourable enough, to own up to what she’d denied? We don’t actually know. And maybe she DID sit quietly one evening and speak to God in prayer and admit it and say she was sorry to set things right… but maybe she didn’t.
But she got there eventually. She named that baby Isaac, which means laughter. It’s a tacit admission. It’s rueful, it IS self-deprecating, there IS humility in it. The baby’s name is laughter. She’s owned it. She’s owned up to it.
Is it a shining moment? It’s not. What it is, though, is a sometimes growth and grace take time moment. It’s a God knows we’re human and might have to work at it moment. It’s a God knows we’ll get there eventually and God’ll be there on the way moment.
If my children are anything to go by, those Family Circus ghosts called Ida Know and Nobody and Not Me probably hung around the place for quite a little while. But in the Shaggy song? After approximately one million claims “wasn’t me”?
It actually finally lands like this: Gonna tell her that I'm sorry for the pain that I've caused. Need to tell her that I'm sorry for the pain that I've caused.
And yes he does. And sometimes so do we. But we never do it alone. Amen.