DALLAS, Texas — Speaking at the Aug. 18 worship service, Carol Kaminski said that for “you and I to understand how God’s mission is accomplished today, we have to go back to Genesis 11:30, that says, ‘Now Sarah was barren. She had no child.'”
That statement in Genesis, said Kaminski, is anything but accidental or incidental. It is critical to understanding the book and to understanding God’s mission.
Kaminski was speaking at the 2014 National Gathering of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and the Fellowship of Presbyterians, held Aug. 17-20 in Dallas.
The statement “Now Sarah was barren. She had no child,” is remarkable for three reasons, said Kaminski.
The first, she said, was that the key promised in Genesis is that Abraham will have many descendants, as many as the stars in the sky. She then asked, “Have you ever wondered when God makes this promise, why is God calling a barren woman?”
According to Kaminski, the second reason is that genealogies are very important to this book.
Genesis 5 lists the generations from Noah to Adam.
Genesis 7 lists another 10 generations from Shem to Abraham, but then with Abraham, there is no child. She asked, “The blessing of God is coming through the genealogies, so what is going on at this dead end?”
The third reason the statement is so remarkable concerns the Hebrew word “toledot,” which means “begat,” or “to beget.”
“Who doesn’t have a toledot? Abraham. He has a barren wife who is elderly,” she said. “It looks like the purposes of God are coming to a dead end.”
Not only was Sarah barren, Kaminski said, according to Genesis 18:11 she was past the age of child bearing. “It was humanly impossible for her to have kids.”
“If we want to begin mission work, and children are a part of it, I would probably chose a young man and a woman of child bearing age,” she said, “but God chose a elderly couple, the woman past the child-bearing age.”
Turning her focus on current times, Kaminski said that “some of you might feel like you are in some kind of waste land and you are unable to carry out the mission of God in your context. You feel like you are stuck in this, and you can’t carry out God’s work here … But I know that Scripture teaches us that over and over God’s purposes are not thwarted by adverse circumstances or barrenness, because this is the God who brings life out of that which is dead … And He is going to use a barren woman to show it.”
Only the Creator God can bring life out of what’s dead and barren. She continued, “when the children come, Paul says in Romans 9 that they will be the children of God. … God uses barrenness to show that it is His work and that He is doing it. … He likes to use unlikely circumstances to show that it is His work.”
Hebrew grammar lesson
God’s missional work is connected back to Genesis 1. In two places God tells His people to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28 to Adam and Eve; Genesis 9:1 to Noah). “This is the creation mandate,” she said.
Kaminksi said that in these two blessing the verbs that are used are “ordinary Hebrew verbs.” Using the ordinary verbs shows that “the people do this.”
But, when it comes to Abraham’s story, “the Hebrew verbs change, so that the subject changes to God,” explained Kaminksi.
So the message becomes “I will cause you to be fruitful. I will cause you to multiply. How do you know I’m doing it? I am going to choose a barren woman who can’t have kids so they won’t forget this is God’s work, not theirs.”
She added that what happens is when God shows up and does His work, people say that must be God and we sing To God be the Glory.”
This” Genesis barrenness” concept runs throughout Scripture, she said. “God uses circumstances that are less than ideal to accomplish His work. Think of Gideon.”
Gideon tells God that he is the least of his family, of the least tribe, but God says “I will go with you.” Later, Gideon goes to fight the Midianite army and God says that his already outnumbered army is too large. Gideon winds up defeated the Midianites with an army of 300.
“In those unlikely and less than ideal circumstances,” Kaminski said, “God was not just working through them, He plans them.”
“You and I have an unwritten list of ideal circumstances and ideal people for God to work through and with,” she said.
Then she warned that in North America there have been certain circumstances in which God’s people have worked, “but those circumstances are crumbling around us … Can He only work in favorable circumstances or can He work in the unfavorable? Scripture says he loves to work in the unfavorable.”
Barrenness goes with faith
God’s mission, she said, is also accomplished by faith, she said. “The theme of barrenness goes with faith. You have to keep them together.”
To explain what she meant, Kaminski turned to Genesis 15 — the story where Abraham told God that he remained childless, and God showed him the stars in the sky and said “so shall your offspring be.”
Abraham’s response? He believed in the Lord.
“Abraham was asking and believing God to do what he could not do. That is why it is without works in Romans 12. Abraham can’t have kids so he has to believe that God will do what he can’t do himself. He believes that God can bring life out of deadness.”
Kaminski called this resurrection faith. In Genesis 15, Abraham looked at Sarah’s dead womb, but believed God when He said that his offspring would be like the stars in the sky.
See Romans 4, she said. “Resurrection faith is not a one-time faith … It is an ongoing faith because God is the Creator God … We need more resurrection faith that says God can bring life out of the dead.”
Kaminksi said that “We have lost the vision that God works in all kinds of situations, not just the right circumstances, because He is the Creator God. Can God work when the laws of the land are less favorable or does He only work when they are favorable. Can He work in these less than ideal circumstances? I believe He can. I believe the Scripture say Amen and Amen.”
Unfavorable circumstances can be the catalyst
“When you look at the way God works in Scripture, it is sometimes these unfavorable circumstances that are actually a catalyst for a new mission of God,” she said. She then provided a few Biblical examples.
- It was God’s plan for the children of Israel to be Egypt. It is where they multiplied. God had a plan to show Pharaoh His power.
- Think of Naomi and Ruth. There’s a famine in the land of Bethlehem. It’s the famine that sends the family to Moab, and that is how a Moab woman comes into the genealogy of King David.
- Think of Stephen’s death. He preaches a wonderful sermon and is then stoned to death. Read Acts 8. The Christians are persecuted, and they fled “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,” but if you read Acts 1, Jesus commands His followers “you will bemy witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea andSamaria, andto the end of the earth.: Acts 8 starts the Gentile mission because of the persecution. Persecution leads to mission.
- Think of Paul in the Roman prison. He had always wanted to go to Rome, and now he is in pitiful circumstances, but he writes to the Philippians of “greater progress.”
Kaminski asked, “Is it possible in your current context — individual and denominational — that God is working for even greater progress of the Gospel?”
“We need to rethink our context … We need to rethink how we do mission and we need to have a resurrection faith,” she said. “When we pray, we ask God to change the context. We think He works in the ideal circumstances. Scripture teaches that God works in the midst of the mess — in less than ideal circumstances.
She quoted from Isaiah 43:
I am theLord,your Holy One, Israel’s Creator,your King.” This is what theLordsays— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew outthe chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they laythere, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
She then asked, “Do you believe that this evening?”
Thanks for the Hebrew grammar lesson. Here’s an English grammar lesson: It’s “for you and me” (objective case) not “for you and I.”
Thank you Paula for this great summary of a great message from Carol Kaminski. I am so glad I heard Carol speak at the ECO National Gathering! Her encouragement for us to see the biblical pattern of how God is often deeply at work during times that seem discouraging or even impossible is profoundly relevant to many of us and wonderfully inspiring.