Have you ever been at the point in your life when one thing you wanted, just one thing, was more important to you than anything else? When life could have handed you a million dollars, a brand new car, and a whole household full of new appliances, and it wouldn’t have meant a thing? Because it wasn’t the thing you wanted?

Maybe that thing is your health. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s a loved one’s health. Maybe it is children. Whatever it is, it has blinded you to everything else. That’s what Abram sounds like to me in today’s text. Find this Sunday’s text here. The Working Preacher commentary is here.

I feel like the text is supposed to be about God fulfilling promises. But instead, I think it sounds like a whiny fellow who isn’t getting his way.

It makes me wonder… In what way do I sound whiny? I have hopes and dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. Don’t we all? But still, where is Abram’s gratitude? Why isn’t he thanking God that he is safe? Why isn’t he dancing in delight over the love of his life? Why isn’t he praising God for all the material wealth he has? Why can’t he just be grateful?

Hope and expectations are hard. And this text may be particularly difficult for our congregants and friends who are experiencing infertility. For a lot of couples, the promise of children goes unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s a good time to remind our congregations that our shattered hopes and expectations are a natural part of life. That our difficulties and hardships are not punishment, retribution, nor a lack of faith. They are a natural part of life.

Why do we have shattered hopes and expectations? I don’t know. All I know is that suffering happens. And that God walks with us through all the bad times (and through all the good times). And sometimes, it’s enough.

I have to confess that I do not like this choice in this week’s Narrative Lectionary for a couple of reasons. First, it’s too short; most Sundays we have twenty or so verses. Second (and perhaps because of its brevity), it’s not meaty enough about Abram and his personality. And finally, I’m disappointed that there are so few women in this Hebrew Bible cycle. So I’ve adjusted the pericope this Sunday for my congregation. I’ve included Genesis 16:1-6 and Genesis 21:9-20. I’ll be focusing on Hagar instead of Abram.The Desert

But the lesson is the same: God is with us through our suffering. God is the God who sees, and even though we thirst in the desert, God is with us, helping us find water.

Because in the desert time, when I have a hard time finding my gratitude, when that one thing that I want is so far away, I need to know that God is near, seeing, and seeking me. God sought Abram, and God sought Hagar. Where do you see God seeking you?

Here are some other ideas for Sunday’s sermon:

  • God eventually changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s to Sarah. How does our relationship with God change who we are?
  • In many ways, the Hebrew Bible is about movement and migration. What movement is happening in your congregation right now that might mirror the “going” that Abram is doing, or the traveling in circles in the exodus, or the going into foreign lands?
  • Unpack the issues of infertility for your congregation. Ask the question, how can we walk alongside our sisters and brothers who are suffering this way?
  • God tells Abram that he has a “reward” coming. In what way is our following God about receiving a reward? What would we do if there was no reward?

It’s a difficult text, and a difficult task, this finding faith in the desert. You’re not alone. Tell us how you’ll approach this text.


Lia SchollRev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).



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9 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Finding Faith in the Desert

  1. Oh, this is fantastic. My congregation, like many I know, is so desperate for a more money that it hasn’t, I haven’t, been able to see the great things that we are involved with.

    I also love the focus on Hagar, maybe a reminder, in my small Midwestern town, that we are connected.

    Also, I remember Ismael meaning “God listens” or “God, I have heard”.

    On last thing, as the thoughts are running, the spelling of the names of Abram and Sarai, when changed adds the character for God, as I remember it from seminary. Where is the space for God in our whining?

    Great stuff.


  2. THe question that came to my mind as I was starting my prep yesterday was the whole angst about descendants. Do we in the church have the same angst about whether or not there will be a generation to follow us? Who will be our descendants?

    ANd this is, at least in part, a story about trust. DO we trust in GOd that the community will continue? How do we respond to GOd when we act out of trust?


    1. I appreciate the comment about the church’s yearning for ‘descendants as numerous as the stars’ (my words). A poignant connection.

      I don’t appreciate the descriptor of Abram as ‘whiny.’ In my view, Abram had plenty to be upset about! He had left everything familiar behind in following this God and with the passing of years, the the foundational promise he had been given had not been fulfilled. I think he had every right to ask, “has this all be for naught?” Are you a God to be trusted?


  3. I have been reading the whole “but you haven’t given me children” whine as being about legacy…almost like “what’s the point of a reward when there’s no one to pass it on to?” Remember that right before this is the part where Abram rescues Lot and then refuses to take the spoils of war for himself. God offers to be his reward instead, but what’s the point of gathering up rewards when there’s no heir?

    I’m not sure where I’m going yet, but I’ve been also thinking about how direct Abram is. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he says “you promised me this but there’s no movement on that” in a tone that I imagine implies that he’s questioning God’s faithfulness. And God answers very directly, with a sign to look at for a reminder…one that will have to hold him for a decade at least. God’s direct answer to Abram’s pressing question was enough to re-invigorate trust.

    Some of the commentaries note that the whole “reckoned to him as righteousness” bit is actually sort of vague in Hebrew–that rather than the way we normally read that, it could potentially also be read as Abram reckoning God righteous…like the exchange Abram and God had restored their relationship *from Abram’s perspective*…I think that’s a fascinating possibility. I don’t know what that might mean just yet but it’s interesting to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes, like righteousness meaning to “make even”; as in a relationship that is direct and true and without second guessing motivations and intentions on both sides.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What strikes me is the clarity of conversation between Abram and God, and the certainty that the communication is clear and real. How many of us have that kind of ‘communion’ with the sacred? And is it ongoing and regular, or occasional at life’s great turning points? It is interesting that we so glibly read what God said to Abraham, but if someone today tells us that God gave specific instructions and promises, would we think them insane?? I listen regularly to interview shows on the CBC and I frequently hear actors/singers/musicians/authors, etc. talk about a deep ‘knowing’ that this particular direction in their life is the right one.. I wonder if this deep inner ‘knowing’ is the thing we sometimes need to yank ourselves out of a certain ‘rut’ or way of being in the world and move in a whole new direction.


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