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Jeff Rudy ~ What Do You Expect? Promise and Wesleyan Grace

“Is anything too wonderful for God?”  

The question posed by the three heavenly visitors challenged Sarah’s unbelieving laughter (Genesis 18.13-14). Abraham had laughed when God told him (Genesis 17) about Sarah’s impending pregnancy. Had he not told her?

Abraham and Sarah provided a lavish meal for the visitors – each got a steak and each got a cake – hospitality at its finest. And as they place their napkins down at the conclusion of the meal, the strangers make a surprising announcement. Abraham had heard it before, but not Sarah.

“She’s going to have a baby by this time next year.”


“Is anything too wonderful for God?”  

What about God visiting us? What about God actually caring about me, loving you, forgiving us, even taking the mess of a life that I’ve made and transforming it into a thing of beauty? Or what about God doing that for him? Or her? Or them?

“HA! No way! That’s not possible!”

Among the questions asked of pastors who get ordained in The United Methodist Church is: “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” Subdued yet audible chuckles can be heard throughout the conference gathered, laughing at the seeming impossibility of perfection. Or perhaps the disbelief manifests as a quiet smile that holds back a laugh, thinking it’s not really possible.

But the ordinand, in the spirit of Sarah here, says “yes” to the question because that’s what the Discipline requires. What will you expect, if not that? Fading off into a fruitless life and ministry? Relying solely on the change of others who show more promise, like Sarah had expected of Hagar in bearing Ishmael for Abraham? But the question is posed in the passive voice – to be made perfect” – meaning that while we make ourselves available, while we make room for God, it is a gift, the work of God, not a human attainment. 

When Wesley spoke of the possibility of perfection in love, he didn’t mean that we are capable of this on our own power or merit, but rather he meant to challenge anyone daring to say that God can’t do it in us. Who are we, really, to answer the question, “Is anything too wonderful for God?” with a definitive, “Yes, that is too wonderful…you can’t change me/us/him/her/them that much!”?

In the three visitors, God wasn’t telling Abraham and Sarah that they would do this on their own; they simply made a promise. Is it not true of us with Jesus’ command to “be perfect”? C.S. Lewis said that that command isn’t “idealistic gas,” but that God “is going to make us into creatures who can obey that command.” Who are we to limit God’s ability to do just that – to transform us into the sort of people who can love perfectly? Remember, this is not the same as perfect performance, but when a life is fully transformed by God so that you love God and neighbor with no trace of fear, a new sort of laughter arises…one like Sarah offered after Isaac’s birth. Her laughter of disbelief had transformed into the laughter of amazement and hope. Maybe a year from now, God will visit again and will have given us a gift of grace on top of grace – lives transformed. And maybe we’ll be able to laugh with Sarah while saying, “Well by golly, look what God did!”

Well, what do you expect?

“Learn to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all.”