They stopped the show just before the best part!
You know that feeling. You think that a story is just getting interesting, and then there’s a commercial break, or the episode ends and you have to wait a week, or the book switches to another character’s narrative for a few chapters. But wait! Things were just getting good!
This is what happens in today’s story from Genesis. Some strangers show up and Abraham provides them with hospitality. We can appreciate the example of how to welcome strangers, but it’s not a very interesting story. But then, the visitors make an impossibly unbelievable prophecy. And then, in the middle of the verse, the Revised Common Lectionary ends the passage.
What happens next? How will a 75-year-old woman bear a child? Does she even want to? How can Abraham and Sarah manage parenting in their advanced age, in a society without medication to alleviate the pains of arthritis, or the technology to replace a broken hip that might result from one too many horsey rides? The story is just getting good!
Thankfully, we don’t have to stop with the lectionary. If you’re using the Genesis passage for preaching this week, I encourage you to add on a few verses so that the congregation can hear Sarah’s response, which ends up being the namesake for Isaac, the child of the covenant who carries on Abraham’s family line (see Genesis 21:1-7). Even if those additional verses aren’t read along with the passage, they can be referenced in the sermon. No need to leave your worshippers with a cliffhanger!
Likewise, the Gospel passage doesn’t tell the entire story. Mary and Martha have traditionally been pushed into an either-or dichotomy, on the basis of this story. Either spend your time serving your neighbor, or spend your time sitting and learning at the feet of our Lord. Though, really, the message of Christianity seems to be one of both-and: both serving your neighbor and honoring the teachings of God. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for everything! A time for serving and a time for learning. Jesus’ teachings elsewhere in the Gospels seem to want us to do both – learn from God and serve your neighbor.
In John’s Gospel, Martha is the one who seeks out Jesus after her brother Lazarus has died, and speaks words of deep faith in his power. Both sisters offer an example worth following, depending on the day or the circumstances, or what you have the energy for in that particular moment.
Perhaps you’re using the reading from Amos this week. The prophet brings a message of judgment against those who trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor. How are these words relevant in your community today?
Each of the options for this week’s Psalm offer meaningful reflections on faithful living. Are you using a Psalm as the basis for your sermon this week? What direction are you going?
As always, the Epistle reading provides deep food for thought. If you’re reading Colossians in worship this week, it may be helpful to explain what it references, with all those pronouns and no names. The passage begins with a hymn praising Jesus as the Wisdom/Word of God, and goes on to describe how the listener and Paul relate to Jesus. What meaning can you find in this passage for your community?
Please share your questions and reflections below. Happy preaching this week! Many blessings to you.
Katya Ouchakof is a Lutheran minister in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. She spends most days working at a paddlesports shop, in between play dates with her niece and nephew. Katya blogs occasionally at revkatyawrites.com.
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