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.
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.
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