The text for this week is here

The Working Preacher commentary is here.

The Text This Week is here.

Ah, Abram. One of the difficulties of the Narrative Lectionary is feeling the pressure of the sweep of Scripture. How do you convey the scope of God’s story between Noah and Abram/Abraham and then on to Joseph? The stories of those generations matter. In particular, this week, the generations prior to Abram have inherited a promise from God not to destroy the world again by flood. 

The generations that will come from Abram, specifically those who are children of this promise, inherit far more. They become children of God’s promise, inheritors of the rights of the name and the responsibilities thereunto as well. Their future relationship with God becomes settled in this moment when God gives Abram his walking papers. 

What is very curious here is how many people are affected by what can easily seem like a moment between God and one man. However, the move involves Abram, Sarai, Abram’s nephew Lot, Lot’s family, their various servants, herders, and handmaidens. It is likely that some of those latter groups brought members of their own families. The instruction to move affected a great many people. 

This is a good question for a contemporary audience to contemplate. How does a decision to follow God affect the people around us? No matter how it might play on the big screen or in popular media, said decision is rarely “Jesus & me” alone. Just as God’s promises are going to move forward through Abram to the generations to follow him (and, through them, bless the world), so God’s promises even now have ripple effects on through congregations, communities, and generations. 

Abram goes on to many actions which we judge from afar. Passing of his wife as his sister, negotiating for inhospitable towns, offering his son to the Lord at knifepoint- we are so familiar with these details. Yet, surely, there was a greater temptation for Abram- to believe that the promise was nothing, to walk away from this conversation and chalk it up to bad wine, to tell Sarai that they are going to choose another main god for their household. 

Surely that would have been easier. It would have certainly affected fewer people. What would the world we know be if Abram had walked away, shaking his head, and swearing off aged goat? We frequently play with the notion of Mary telling Gabriel, “Oh, I think not.” How was history changed when the man from Haran started packing, at age 75, and kept having sex with his wife- believing that their union would bear out a promise? 


What direction are you pondering with these promises? 

4 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Promises, Promises Edition

  1. Julia, I love how you help us move from a bird’s eye view of Abram and his Big Actions to the human dimension of encounter with God. That last paragraph is particularly arresting…wow.

    Thanks for your reflections!


  2. given this summer’s events in Gaza (and the ongoing conflict over whose land is whose there) and the subsurface but always present question of our relationship with First Nations folk in Canada, which also includes some talk about land I was struck by the whole question of land. Even this passage names that the land to which Abram is being led already has inhabitants…and yet it is promised to him and his many descendants…later we will have a rather brutal conquest by Abram’s descendents, who will then be brutally conquered more than once. All to possess this relatively small piece of real estate.

    And yet for most of human history land has meant wealth and power. SO land is important. But was the promise of land a good thing in the end?

    My posted early thoughts are here:


  3. I love it when we’re all struck by different stuff!! I got sucked in by v. 9 which ordinarily might be a throw away verse for me, but I heard it in a different way today. “Journeyed on by stages” I’m thinking about the forward progress of the covenant, how it’s not a promise exclusively for the present, but a promise for the future, toward which Abram (and all the people affected by that conversation he has, as you point out, Julia) must journey in stages. The promise of being blessed to be a blessing isn’t for that one moment when it is pronounced, but is a promise, a covenant, that is carried forward and lived out over a really long time. Verses 4-9 detail a travelogue of stages – from Haran to Shechem, from Shechem to Bethel, from Bethel eventually to the Negeb in stages. Our lives are a series of stages (highlighted for my congregation this week by the confirmation of one of our youth who couldn’t make it on the regular confirmation day), and the covenant with God, the call and the promise that we are blessed to be a blessing is present in each of these stages. We are called to be partners with God in blessing others in each of our places and stages.

    Some bits of cheesiness in this, I admit, but I think it will work. We have this confirmation this Sunday. We have the new Sunday School year starting. We have the first day our new choir director is in worship. We have the first day of a new members class that is in part populated by people who are moving to our community as (very active) retirees. Lots of people at lots of stages. I think this is my little way forward.


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