Revisiting the Past: Children’s Stories Today (Part V)

Sermon Title: Revisiting the Past: Children’s Stories Today—Who Laughed?

Good News Statement: God Hears Our Laughter

Preached: Sunday, June 30, 2024 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.


Scripture (NRSV): Hebrews 11:11 Today’s scripture reading focuses on the faith of Sarah, who is said to have laughed at God’s news that she would give birth at her old age. Sarah reminds us that through our laughter, God hears us and God still finds ways to fulfill His promises. Let’s read Hebrews Chapter Eleven, Verse Eleven. May the hearing and reading of this scripture add understanding and meaning to your life.

By faith, with Sarah’s involvement, he received power of procreation, even though he was too old, because he considered him faithful who had promised.


The Birth of Isaac

21 The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”


The Word of God, for the People of God; And all God’s People said, “Thanks Be To God.”




Do you remember the first Bible story you were taught as a child? Were you taught about Adam and Eve? Did you read the accounts of Noah, the Ark, and the Great Flood? Were you in fascination of Daniel in the Lion’s Den? Were you caught up in the love story of Samson and Delilah? Did you ever find yourself wanting a technicolor coat like Joseph? Did you want to march around Jericho or use a sling-shot to take down giants? Did you want to build a basket and float down a river like Moses? Maybe you were curious about a tower that went by the name “Tower of Babel”? Perhaps, it was the story of Jonah and a whale that inspired you to dive into the Word of God? Or was it the story of Jesus feeding five-thousand people on the shores of Galilee with only two little fish and five loaves of bread? If you can’t remember the first Bible story you were taught as a child, maybe you have a favorite Bible Story that has helped you deepen your faith and strengthen your trust in God.

If you are trying to remember some of those famous Bible Stories you may have learned or heard about as a child, let me jog your memory of a few. According to Dr. Oliver Tearle of Loughborough University, here are the top twelve stories of the Bible that many people have been raised on: “Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark and the Flood, The Tower of Babel, Moses in a basket, Moses parting the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Jonah and the Whale, The Nativity Scene, The Raising of Lazarus, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.” There are many, many, more stories that probably come to mind, but these are the twelve most popular Bible stories that most of us can remember learning as a child. But, what do the stories of back then teach us today? When was the last time you revisited the first stories of your faith?

Over the span of the next few months—June, July, and August—we are going to explore some of these early childhood Bible Stories. As we explore these stories, each of you will be encouraged to think about the first time you heard that story and what that story means to you today. Dr. Tearle notes, in his article titled 12 of the Best Stories from the Bible Everyone Should Know, “The Bible contains many well-known stories, but how much do we know about them? And what are the best Bible stories everyone should know? Many people, even those raised in countries where Sunday school and religious assemblies are a mainstay of many children’s education, may find they’ve misremembered, or got the wrong impression about, some of the iconic tales from the Bible.”

So, what do you remember about some of those “iconic tales” from the Bible; and what about them today can help deepen your faith and strengthen your trust in God as you strive to be the disciple and church Jesus needs you and us to be? We continue the journey by examining the faith of Sarah…



Linda Taylor, editor of The Classic Children’s Bible Storybook, retells the beginning of Abraham and Sarah’s journey through the lens of a child. Taylor wrote, “The Lord’s promise of a miracle to Abraham and Sarah came true. Of course, they were already old when their son was born. Would you believe that Abraham was a hundred years old? They had long since given up on the dream of having a child of their own. Ah, what an amazing day it was for this couple!

Their son’s name was Isaac. In their language, the name meant ‘laughter.’ Only twelve months earlier, Sarah had laughed in disbelief at the thought of them having a child in their old age. Now it was a different story: Abraham and Sarah laughed in delight because the Lord had done such a marvelous thing for them. And everyone who heard of their joy could not help but join in their laughter.”[1]

More often than not, when we read the beginning accounts of Abraham and Sarah (or Abram and Sarai), we think about how Sarah became pregnant at her old age, just like how Taylor noted in her book. As we consider the reversal of Sarah’s barrenness, we sometimes take note of Rebekah, the barren wife of Isaac, who was blessed with children from Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21); and Rachel, Jacob’s wife, who God remembered and opened her womb to bear a son (Genesis 30:22-23); and how an angel came to Manoah’s wife and promised her that she would bear a son after her womb was closed and the child would be named Samson (Judges 13:24); and Hannah, who in due time, conceived and bore a son (1 Samuel 1:19-20); and lastly, we consider the story of Elizabeth who was barren in her old age but conceived a son and named him John (Luke 1). In all of these cases, the women were barren, their womb was closed, but then it was opened by God because God heard their desperate prayers and saw their faith. It was the faith of these women that God saw and was pleased about. It was the faith of Sarah that turned her laughter of disbelief into laughter of belief. Sarah is the only one of these women that we are told who laughed at God’s news. Have you ever laughed at God? Have you ever laughed at how God answered your prayers and kept His promises?

Hebrews 11:11 gets to the core of this story. It reminds us of Sarah’s faith. Hebrews 11:11 shares, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (NIV). God commended Sarah for her faith! God commended a woman, someone seen as insignificant during that time period. She was important to God, and He wanted women everywhere to admire her… just like He did. In fact, Sarah is the most mentioned woman in the Bible (her name shows up 57 times, more than Mary, more than Elizabeth). But, the problem for most people is that Sarah’s faith doesn’t seem impressive. And most folks don’t think about Sarah’s faith. They might remember that she was 90 years old when she gave birth. They might remember that she laughed when God said she’d have a child. They might even remember that she was a beautiful woman and Abraham had her tell men that she was his sister so they wouldn’t kill him to get her. But that’s about it…nothing about her faith.

However, here God tells us “By faith Sarah…” did something very impressive. So what exactly did she do? Well it says “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” Really? That’s not the way I remember the story! I remember Sarah hearing she’s about to have a child… and she laughs, and God seems to rebuke her for laughing! That doesn’t sound like a woman who considered God faithful. That doesn’t sound like a woman who believed God’s going to give her a child. That doesn’t sound like a woman who respects the works of God and deserves power. Sarah laughed at God. She didn’t laugh with God, but at God for this absurd news. But from her laughter, God saw her faith. Have you ever laughed at God before?


Movement One: Before the Laughter…

Let’s backtrack a little bit. About 25 years before Sarah gave birth to Isaac, God sat down with Abram (later Abraham) and said to him “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…” (Genesis 12:1-2, NIV). God’s going to make of Abram a great nation! That’s a GREAT promise… but there was only one problem. Abram and Sarai didn’t have any kids. You can’t become a great nation, if you don’t have any kids. But here God was saying you GO where I tell you to go and I’ll take care of making you into a great nation. God promises that He will make Abram a great nation. Implied in that statement was this idea: I’ll make sure you have a child! Now, at that time Abram was 75 and Sarai was 65…so they may have dismissed this implied promise from God, since they considered themselves too old to have children.

Now, fast-forward a few years. Abram is about 85 and Sarai is about 75. And Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?… you have given me no offspring…”

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man (Eliezer) shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And God brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…. So shall your offspring be.” And (Abram) believed the LORD, and (God) counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:2-6, NIV). Now, I don’t know about you, but I feel like the author of Genesis should have inserted after “so shall your offspring be” with the words, “And Abraham laughed.” I most certainly would have laughed and said, “That’s a lot of children! More than I can handle! You’ve got to be kidding me!” But instead, the text says, “Abraham believed the LORD.” It’s no wonder we talk about the faith of Abraham today as a living example of the faith we should be living in our life because his faith was a sign of his trust in God.

But then a couple MORE years drag by, and there’s still no child. So Sarai gets impatient, and she comes up with a brilliant idea and tells Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai (Genesis 16:2, NIV). I’m not going to go into the particulars of that story but, suffice it to say, it was a terrible idea! And it was SARAH’S idea. She was tired of waiting on God, so she came up with her own solution. Why would a woman of great faith even suggest something like that? I don’t know. Why would we strive to come up with our own solution when we have prayed to God and have faith that God will answer our prayers? Why would the disciples, during Jesus’ resurrection, decide to return to their fishing trade when Jesus told them to pray and wait? Because society is not prone to practice the discipline of waiting.

Studies have suggested that we have become a culture and society that thrives and operates on what is called “instant gratification.” Instant gratification, refers to the tendency to seek immediate rewards over delayed gratification. Simply put: we want things when we want things; we don’t want to wait longer than we have to; we want things now. Sarah sought instant gratification for her current issue and went against God’s command to wait. In life, there will be moments when we have to take things into our own hands; but then there are moments when we need to give everything to God and wait for His response. Because of Sarah’s actions, she had to wait even longer…

And then, about 15 years later God shows up and says that Sarah will have a child… and she laughs! She doesn’t say “Thank you,” she doesn’t bow down in an act of worship, and she certainly doesn’t recommit her life to God: instead, she laughs at God. Now, I hate to say it, but that doesn’t sound like a woman who should be considered faithful. So, what’s going on here? Well, where do we learn about Sarah’s decisions on this issue? In the Bible. Who gave us the Bible? God did. So here we have God telling us all about Sarah’s short-comings. We get to see all her warts and blemishes on public display, and yet God still praised her for her FAITH! It’s obvious God’s trying to tell us something here… but what?


Movement Two: People of faith doubt and laugh…

I believe God is trying to tell us that great faith does NOT mean you won’t have doubts that you won’t laugh at times when God tells you something. Great faith does NOT mean you won’t have doubts. Abraham had doubts; we read here that Sarah had doubts; Jacob (who God renamed Israel) had doubts; Moses had doubts; Joshua had doubts; David had doubts; Esther had doubts; and Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, had doubts. I even have doubts at times. In fact, practically every individual in the 11th chapter of Hebrews (the chapter of the heroes of faith) all had doubts.

In Psalms 13:1 David wrote “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” And Jeremiah wrote: “Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?” (Lamentations 5:20, NIV). People of faith DO DOUBT. But they don’t stay there. They don’t remain in doubt. Eventually, they make a choice to believe in spite of what they see and experience. Someone once said “Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye, and deny it” (Garrison Keillor). Or, as someone else noted that Faith puts God between us and “reality.”

My point is—it’s not unusual for people of faith to experience doubt. But somewhere along the line, if you’re going to be a person of faith, you have got to decide to trust God. It doesn’t matter how much you may have doubted up to that point, when you make that decision to TRUST God, and lay aside the doubts, THAT’S when your walk of faith truly begins! But how do I get to that point of faith? How do I get to the point where I TRUST God? (IT IS HARD!)

D.L. Moody once said, “I prayed for faith and thought that someday it would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith didn’t seem to come. Then, one day I read in Romans that ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ I had up to this time, closed my Bible and prayed for faith. Now I opened my Bible and began to study—and faith has been growing ever since.” I think that is how Sarah became a woman of faith—she HEARD God! And once she heard HIM… her doubts began to fade.

Genesis 18 tells us “Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:12-15, NIV). Sarah’s laugh was a sign of doubt, of curiosity, of perplexness, and also a response to hearing what God told her. Now, I don’t think God was offended by her laughter.[2] She wasn’t mocking God. It’s just that—after all those years—she struggled with her feelings of doubt. But now, Sarah heard God speak! Her laughter suggests three things:

First, she heard that God had heard her laugh. She’d been in the tent. She didn’t think He could hear her. But she forgot that He was God. She could have been three miles away and He would have still heard her because God knew her inward thoughts. She thought she could hide her feelings from Him… but she couldn’t. Second, for the first time she had personally heard God’s promise. Up until this time God had only spoken that promise to Abraham, but now she heard the promise. She had heard God say: “I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah WILL have a son.” She heard God’s promise.

And third, God said something she’d probably never thought about before. God said “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Is anything too hard for God? You know, people who struggle in their faith struggle with that. They’re faced with problems and obstacles they can’t handle, and they wonder (and worry) that God doesn’t care, or that He just isn’t up to the challenge, and it never crosses their minds that God might really care, and that He just might be BIG ENOUGH to do what they need in their life. But sooner or later, you’ve got to make that decision. You’ve got to PERSONALLY come to the point where you’ve decided that you’re going to trust God. God asks this question (“Is anything too hard for me?”) several times in Scripture. One of those times is in Isaiah 50:2 where God asks Israel, “Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?” That’s what faith is all about. It’s about coming to the point where we recognize that we can’t do it but GOD CAN! God’s arm is NOT TOO SHORT to help you! Ephesians 3:20 says it this way: “(God) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (NIV).

I believe, that’s what changed in Sarah: she HEARD God and she believed Him and ultimately she said: “God has brought ME laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6, NIV). She gave birth to the child that God HAD promised and named him Isaac which means “laughter.” Her laughter may have been interpreted as doubt, but it was heard as a sign of confirmation that she heard God’s promise for her.

Now, you’d think that would be the end of the story. You’d think the birth of Isaac – according to the promise – would be the last laugh … but it wasn’t. As Paul Harvey used to say – THIS is the rest of the story. Believe it or not, the Apostle Paul tells us that when Sarah gave birth to Isaac, Isaac’s birth was a reflection of our salvation. Galatians 4 tells us “Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman (Hagar) and one by a free woman (Sarah). But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born THROUGH PROMISE… Now you… like Isaac, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:22-23 & 28, NIV). The only way Sarah got pregnant was because God had made a PROMISE. She was way too old get pregnant any other way. And the only way you and I have a hope of salvation is because God has made a PROMISE. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us it’s “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the GIFT of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In other words you can’t do anything that will earn salvation. It’s a GIFT OF GOD. It’s something God that has promised to each of you. But do you believe in that promise?

Even in times of doubt, or laughter, or disbelief, God still promises you salvation: He still promises to hear your prayers and to answer them according to His will. All God asks us to do is: 1) Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, 2) That Jesus is the only way to salvation, 3) Acknowledge that you’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and need to repent of that sin, 4) Confess that Jesus will now be your Lord and Savior, and 5) Allow yourself to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism, and rise up a new creation in Christ. God has promised you salvation and God doesn’t break promises. By faith Sarah, even though she laughed and doubted and didn’t believe, received a promise from God that changed her life. We, too, may laugh at some of the things that God tells us, but keep in mind that God will find a way to make what He tells you a reality; and you may laugh but through that laugh you have just proven that you heard what God said; therefore letting God know that you heard what He said.


Movement Three: A Promise of Laughter sets the stage for Independence…

Now, with the celebration of our Country’s Independence just a few days away, I invite us to think about what may have been heard throughout the streets of the original 13 colonies back in April of 1775.

It has been reported that “The Revolutionary War (1775-83), also known as the American Revolution, arose from growing tensions between residents of Great Britain’s 13 North American colonies and the colonial government, which represented the British crown. Skirmishes between British troops and colonial militiamen in Lexington and Concord in April 1775 kicked off the armed conflict, and by the following summer, the rebels were waging a full-scale war for their independence. France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonists in 1778, two years after the Declaration of Independence was signed (1176), turning what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict. After French assistance helped the Continental Army force the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, the Americans had effectively won their independence, though fighting did not formally end until 1783.”[3]

I invite you to place yourself in the streets of either Lexington or Concord; and somebody approaches you and says “Let freedom ring. It’s time to be set free.” You are shocked. You are perplexed. You are confused. You may even have doubt. Although you know and understand the importance of “freedom”, you are still unsure about this news. So you decided to laugh. But then, you recall what Scripture says about “freedom.”

Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). To be set free means to stand firm in the ways of Christ and to trust in his ways. Peter wrote, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Freedom means to devote oneself to the cause of God, to be a servant for and of God’s love, and not to misuse freedom to fulfill our own desires. John, the beloved disciple, reminds us, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “What is this truth?” in John 18:38. This truth is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the commands to love the Lord, to love the neighbor, and to do unto others the way you want done to you. Freedom is truth, and this truth—the way of Jesus Christ—will set you free. And King David penned in Psalm 118:5, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.”

At first, you may have laughed because you thought “How can a ‘young and scrappy’ nation become free from a power house?” Your laughter was a sign of doubt, of uncertainty, of disbelief. Your laughter was similar to the laugh of Sarah: not believing in a hidden promise of God. But then, you begin to think, “My laugh was a sign of me hearing the news of freedom: of me hearing something that I have longed to hear but have failed for many years to believe. Many people didn’t believe in the freedom of Christ—in fact many people laughed at this idea—but yet, it came true.”

On the streets of Lexington, Concord, and later Yorktown, laughter, doubt, and disbelief were probably heard, but so was the cry of a much needed freedom. Sarah, like so many back in 1775, laughed at something they couldn’t see or believe in: she laughed at God’s promise of being set free to experience a life fully devoted to Him. What she thought couldn’t happen, happened because God kept His promise. What many thought couldn’t happen in 1775, happened because people turned their laughter into belief and trust and faith in a brighter future.



Laughter is a characteristic of life! We laugh because we want to laugh. We laugh because we want to make someone happy. We laugh because we are joyful people. Sarah laughed because she didn’t believe, but then realized God heard her laughter and helped her to believe. At the birth of our nation, thousands of people laughed because they didn’t believe in the promise and significance of freedom, but today they laugh at their own doubt and realize how important it is to say that we live in the home of the free and the land of the brave.

Laughter is a characteristic of our life and a reminder of our faith. Our laughter is heard by God. Our laughter says a lot about who we are as disciples. Our laughter suggests the strength and trust we have in God. The next time God tells you to do something or that something is going to happen, remember that your response says a lot to God. No matter how hard you may laugh at what God is telling you, and no matter how much you may not believe in what He is telling you, your laughter and doubt is heard by God. And God will not leave you along, and God will do what God needs to do in your life because He doesn’t break promises. And believe me, what God promises is what He knows you need in order to be set free. Are you laughing at God or with God? Let it be so…


Closing Prayer:

Dear God, we may not always believe in what you tell us; we may not always want to hear what you tell us; and we may not understand what you tell us, but help us to not laugh at your promises but find ways to trust and have faith in your promises as your promises set us free and today and every day. In your name we pray, Amen.



It’s okay to laugh! I hope your laughter blesses the ears of God, brings joy to Jesus Christ, and is cheerful medicine to your heart. I hope you are able to share some laughter this Fourth of July as you remember the freedom that has been gifted to you. And I pray that you are blessed with God’s fulfilling promises upon your life. May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; and May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26). In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, remember to laugh and remember that God is listening. And all God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.



[1] Linda Taylor, The Classic Children’s Bible Storybook (2011), Christian Art Publishers: Bloomingdale, IL. 46-47.

[2]According to one expert who studies laughter: “One of the remarkable things about laughter is that IT OCCURS UNCONSCIOUSLY. You don’t decide to do it. We don’t consciously produce laughter. That’s why it’s very hard to laugh on command or to fake laughter.” (


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