God’s Ridiculous Ways

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I had it all together — and friends, I have been trying

There’s a pile of stuff in my office that I meant to get to last summer.  I still don’t have regular prayer habits. I recently re-started leaving piles of clothes on the bed like I did when I was sixteen, and I really wish I’d quit that. Oh, and then there’s whatever destabilizing things are going on internally at the moment: from anxiety to distraction to just forgetting things.

It’s easy for me to start thinking: I could do so much more for God if I could just conquer all these things!

Tonight at the Celebrate! worship service, we’ll be reading part of the story of Abraham and Sarah — a story that is foundational for three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). It’s the story of God promising to make Abraham and Sarah the parents of nations and nations of people.

God has made this promise to Abraham before (in Gen. 15:1-6), when Abraham was already in his eighties and Sarah in her seventies, and they had no children. They must have assumed, given the conditions, that God’s promised child would need to come to them through unusual means — or maybe they just got impatient. Sarah asks that Abraham father a child with her slave, Hagar. He does, and Ishmael is born. But this was not the child God had been talking about.

And so we come to tonight’s reading (Genesis 18:1-14, 21:1-7). Three heavenly messengers again promise “your wife Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah laughs.

The promise is something to laugh at. By now Abraham was in his nineties, Sarah in her eighties. If we were to make a movie of a couple like that having a child, it’d probably be a comedy — or at least something with the strange vibes of Benjamin Button. No wonder Sarah laughed.

But working through things we find ridiculous to make miracles happen is one of God’s favorite bits. An opposing army sends out a giant of man to be their champion warrior, and to fight him God sends a pre-teen who doesn’t even know how to wear armor (1 Sam. 17).  God needs someone to stand strong against the pharaoh, and God sends a man who makes every excuse that he can’t possibly do it (Exodus 3)

Even the great story of Jesus fits the mold: a savior who gets executed before he really “does anything”? People mock him while he hangs on the cross. St. Paul hits it on the nose when he says: “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…” (1 Cor. 1:23).

For some reason, this is how God does things. By ways that look foolish. Through people who are fearful, incompetent, even unfaithful. Through fools and sinners, God works wonders.

Why does God work this way? It’s one of the great and beautiful mysteries of who God is. But perhaps one reason is that it is for our own benefit. When God works through the ridiculous, we can only acknowledge that it is divine power at work.

Think of the story of Abraham and Sarah. If God had promised a child to a young, fertile couple, and then they’d conceived and delivered in nine months — how different would the impact of the story be? Instead, God chose to work through a couple who could not have had a baby without a miracle.

It shows how in-charge and powerful God is. It shows that God is faithful to God’s promises. It shows that it’s not all up to us and our trying — God is here.

As St. Paul wrote: 

“[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

The witness of the scriptures is clear on this: God doesn’t expect us to have it all together. God isn’t telling us to be more so we can do more for God. No — instead, God makes us a promise: that God loves us and calls us just as we are. That God works in us and through us just as we are. It’s God’s power and perfection that matters, not ours. God only asks us to trust and to follow.

So take a deep breath, and find your rest in God’s power within your weakness. And know that if you don’t have it all together — you’re exactly the kind of person God is looking for. 

– Pastor Kate

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

September 13, 2023