Abraham’s counsel to Sarai by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902 (Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikiart).

The Revised Common Lectionary year A offers the opportunity to sojourn with the family saga that makes up most of the book of Genesis. Sadly, the first entry in the saga is not in use this year (Ordinary 10A), in which Abram and Sarai receive their call from God to get up and go.

By the time we meet the family in this Sunday’s passage (Genesis 18:1-15), much has transpired. The couple, now named Abraham and Sarah, have waited on God’s promise of offspring “as numerous as the stars” for 24 years. During that time they have taken matters into their own hands by using Sarah’s slave Hagar as a surrogate. When she took joy and pride in her pregnancy, Sarah “dealt harshly” with the Egyptian woman (the same phrase used to describe Pharaoh’s treatment of the Hebrew slaves in Exodus). She ran away, returning to Abraham and Sarah’s tents only after receiving a promise from God for the son she carried.

During this time, Sarah has also had trials to endure, having been taken into the harems of two different kings as Abraham fudged the details of his relationship with his wife (who is also his half-sister). In each instance she was released when God made the divine displeasure known, and Abraham was enriched by the kings in question as they sought to get right with his God.

Hagar and her son Ishmael (who is thirteen years old; see 17:25) are absent from the appointed passage for this Sunday. We find Abraham sitting under oaks even more ancient than this story, receiving visitors who are alternatively described in the text as “the LORD,” “three men,” or “two angels” (Gen. 19).

Abraham offers the visitors exemplary hospitality: a place to rest and freshen up, and hurries to enlist Sarah in preparing what sounds to this 21st century reader like a major production of a meal. After they have been refreshed, they ask for Sarah; she is in the tent. (She is also within range to overhear the conversation.) They announce that within a year, Sarah will have given birth to a child.

A parenthetical statement reminds us of Sarah’s age: she is post-menopausal. And in the tent, Sarah laughs at the thought of enjoying sex, as much as at the idea of giving birth at her age (she’s 89). The visitors (“the LORD”) sternly rebuke her for laughing. (Abraham laughs for similar reasons in chapter 17, and is not rebuked.) The birth of Isaac is offered as an extension to the Genesis 18 text (Gen. 21:1-7).

The story of this family is brimming with possibilities, among them:

  • A conversation about hospitality, ancient and modern.
  • A conversation about this vivid account of an elderly couple accepting a challenge to uproot themselves and go into an uncertain future; what does it mean to follow God’s call in all the ages and stages of life?
  • A story of people responding candidly to what feels like a pie-in-the-sky promise– again… how do we cope with the apparent silence of God during times of difficulty or disappointment?
  • A fascinating description of a divine revelation through a presence that is not easily grasped, or understood, or described… Is God still speaking? To us directly? How do we discern the “voice of God”?
  • A conversation about miraculous pregnancies in scripture, and their problematic approach to “barrenness”… how do individuals and families in the midst of fertility issues or living in the aftermath of  child loss hear these stories? How can we be preacher and pastor at the same time when texts cause pain?

Points of contact with the other lectionary passages on offer:

  • Romans 5:1-8: Paul’s words on suffering, endurance, etc.
  • Matthew 9:35-10:23: Jesus’ sending the disciples out to preach and teach and heal, another call to a monumental task.

What are your thoughts and plans, hopes and dreams for this coming Sunday? Please join us in the comments to share your passage, your approach, or even just to say, “Hey!” And, as ever, blessings on your study and preparation, your writing and proclamation this week.

Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is currently observing “Pause NY” at home with her beloved partner and daughter, and praying like mad for her son, hunkered down in a COVID-19 hotspot. Her love for reading, writing, film, and good television is proving useful at this time. A native of the Jersey shore, and in love with the New England coastline, she prays she’ll be able to see the ocean this year.

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8 thoughts on “RCL: Without Ever Knowing the Way

  1. thank you for your thoughts – and your questions. I have no answer – yet!
    But it strikes me that in these days, wherever we look, there are no easy answers.
    we are living through a time of pain, of barrenness, of emptiness, and in the face of such disparate, painful absurdities I feel myself laughing with Sarah – because if I didn’t laugh, I’d probably start to cry and never stop

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear one: you’ve been through the fire. My heart and prayers remain with you. And laughter sounds like a wonderful weapon against horror and outrage. ❤


  2. Yikes friends! I selected a title for this post and never “went there.” My brain in the age of *waves hands around helplessly*.

    Of course, I was referencing this little ditty, which I’ve always associated with the Sarah and Abraham saga:

    They made up their minds
    And they started packing
    They left before the sun came up that day
    An exit to eternal summer slacking
    But where were they going
    Without ever knowing the way? (Fastball; Anthony Scalza)

    A central facet of the Sarah and Abraham story is, God makes promises, but the couple never truly know *where they’re going.* They continue to put their trust in God– except, when they don’t, see their use and misuse of the human being Hagar. God has made promises, but what does that actually look like? This seems to me a central issue for God’s story, and their story, and ours.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had another thought!! Referring back to the start of their journey when their names were Sarai and Abram – and forward to the extended part of the reading at the naming of Isaac.
    How important it is to know our name; to hold it and honour it; and how difficult it can be when we are un-named unknown – overlooked.
    Isaac’s name means laughter – the joy he brought; the laughter that bubbled up within Sarah when she heard the promise articulated: the divine practical joke of waiting a lifetime for her own child…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll be writing my sermon today — yes, the Genesis passage. Title: “Waiting on the Dream.” Abraham and Sarah waited so long…and these strangers come along and tell them it’s going to happen very soon (“This time next year…” suggests Sarah will become pregnant in three months.) What dreams have we held for a long, long time and have never given up hope? There are great possibilities here.

    Next week, Father’s Day, and Father Abraham casts out his firstborn son! About as bad as going up on the mountain prepared to sacrifice Isaac. I am going to LOVE preaching on this “Father of the Year”!

    Liked by 1 person

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