June 20, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Sarah

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the seeming inequities of life. It started with our visit to Leadville. Seeing the abandoned mines along the roads and up the mountain sides spoke to me of the great dreams of so many men (and women) who hoped to strike it rich, but so few did. On the other hand, the ‘lucky’ ones who did find gold or silver became VERY wealthy. In Leadville, Horace Tabor is a key figure. His wealth brought modern luxuries like gas lighting and the Opera House to Leadville, but he died a pauper. His (second) wife “Baby Doe” died destitute and alone in the middle of a Colorado winter in a cabin at the Matchless Mine 30 years later. Legend says she was hanging on to the mine in hopes of a resurgence of wealth, even though it no longer belonged to her. I suspect she felt it very unfair that the repeal of the Silver Act ruined the life ‘to which she had become accustomed’.

Our excursion today takes us back to a woman who was also troubled by the inequities of life. We first meet Sarah as a young bride. (Genesis 12) Her name is Sarai and his is Abram. It is not until many years later that God renames them Sarah and Abraham. Her great desire is to be a mother, but she is barren. This is a deep grief and even shame for her.

When it seems that God is not going to answer her prayers for a child, she tells 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…He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.” (Genesis 16:2-4)

Now isn’t that adding insult to injury. Hagar, the slave sneers at her mistress because she is pregnant! Sometimes life just isn’t far, is it? The writer of the Psalms often felt that way. However, in Psalm 37:5-6, the psalmist says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” I’m sure that Sarah and “Baby Doe” Tabor both wished they could see their vindication. Tabor did not, but Sarah did, although she did not believe it at first. In fact, she laughs at God.

“Then one [of the heavenly messengers] 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.’” (Genesis 18:10-15)

Would you have believed the visitors? Sarah knew she was 90 years old (Genesis 18:17)! The wonderful thing is that God doesn’t hold her arguing against Sarah. In fact, I can hear a chuckle in the response, “Oh yes, you did laugh”. God knows that her dearest dream will come true and delights in the surprise in store.

The men and women who came to Leadville over a century ago, 30-40,000 strong in her heyday, were searching for riches. They established a city. We can look at the discarded mines as evidence of failure or look at the neat homes and abundant history of the city as evidence of the human spirit seeking greater and greater things. Since before Abraham and Sarah, humanity has searched for ‘success’. It comes in as many ways as there are people. For Sarah it was her son Isaac. For Tabor it was wealth, which used to improve the city he loved. For the Psalmist it is vindication.

How do you define success? Is it family, or how much you own, or your relationship with God, or something else entirely? Sometimes the easy answer isn’t necessarily the deepest or truest answer. Sarah’s dream was to have a child, yet it was in the conception of Isaac she learned of God’s love. The Psalmist learned to trust that God will act—even if it’s not always in the way we expect.

Tabor came to Leadville as a grocer and almost by accident became a Silver King. I wonder if he would say his success was the wealth or all the small miners he helped with supplies and groceries? Because of his early generosity, miners and railroaders watched over Baby Doe in her self-imposed seclusion. When they realized that there was no smoke coming from the cabin, they set out to find out why and found her body.

Our paths are not simply a journey from point A to point B. We don't really know where we are going. Things that look unfair at first, may turn out to be blessings. Sarah thought she was helping God or doing God's will when she gave Hagar to Abram so he would have an heir. God had a better plan and her actions did not change that plan. Tabor arrived in Leadville an unknown stone mason turned shopkeeper. He ended up one of the more famous of the Silver Kings of Leadville because he took over a 'failed' mine. The men and women who came looking for gold, founded a city. Sarah and Abraham, despite their very human failings were the founders of a dynasty.

Who knows where your path or mine will end up? When we “Commit your way to the LORD [and] trust in him, " we can, slowly, begin to see that what we think are inequities are maybe just big surprises from God. 

Come back next week to see what God does with Esther's life and courage.

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