Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — August 7, 2022

A Looking into the Lectionary reflection from Rev. Teri McDowell Ott.

Teri McDowell Ott's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.

Pentecost 9C
Genesis 15:1-6

As a college chaplain, I recruited various faculty, staff and students to give weekly chapel messages. Reading Genesis 15:1-6, I recalled the chapel service for which I’d recruited my staff colleague John Salazar. I followed the lectionary calendar for our chapel services and John’s service fell on the day Genesis 15:1-6 was assigned. In this passage, God promises elderly Abram countless descendants, even though he and his wife Sarah had yet to conceive. The text couldn’t have been a more painful selection for John. He and his wife Sarah were still recovering from the devastating news that they would not be able to have children.

I told John he didn’t have to use the assigned text. “Feel free to skip it, choose a different text,” I said. But John decided to stick with his assignment, to see where the text and the Spirit would lead.

Abram is lauded for his faithfulness and trust in God. Hebrews 11:8-16 describes Abraham as the one who followed God into unknown territory, guided only by God’s promises. He rarely questions or complains — except when it came to his and Sarah’s ability to conceive. Abram was old; Sarah had been barren a long time. So when God says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, your reward shall be very great,” Abram questions that God can give him the reward he truly desires — a child. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?”

This passage is the first recorded dialogue between God and Abram, and it speaks well of their relationship. Abram, at this point, feels free to question. God responds with a prophetic word, calling on Abram’s trust. “Look toward heaven and count the stars … So shall your descendants be.” The Hebrew word translated in verse 6 as “believed” may also be translated as “trusted.” Abram doesn’t know how this promise of God will be fulfilled at this point in the dialogue, but he trusts, nevertheless. This response of Abram’s is reckoned as “righteous,” or placing him in “right” relationship with God.

As John explored this text he resonated with Abram’s questioning. Unsure of God’s promises, John also wanted to know what reward awaited him.

In his Feasting on the Word commentary on this text, Daniel M. Debevoise writes that we are oftentimes “tempted to think of faith only as unquestioning acceptance or silent submission.” Here, Abram questions, but then presses on. He does not disengage from God. He moves forward even in his uncertainty, following where the Spirit leads. Debevoise continues, “Like Abram, we also have questions that will not be silenced as we try to walk in faithfulness to God.”

In his message, John found his way of articulating how challenging moments arise often in life, moments when doubt and questions assail us. But allowing these challenges to stop us short, or disengage from relationship, keeps us from growth and future rewards. John wasn’t sure what would come from his challenging time. But he knew he needed to push through, to press forward in his faith that God’s promises of reward were true.

I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for John to stick with his assigned text, to stay engaged with Abram’s story. Standing before our college’s community, gripping the sides of the chapel’s small wooden pulpit for support, John’s pain surfaced time and time again, choking him as he spoke about the loss he and his wife Sarah experienced and their questions that remained. I also can’t imagine a greater model of faithfulness.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What thoughts, feelings, or questions arose as you read this text?
  2. When have you questioned God’s promises? Where did that dialogue with God lead you?
  3. Who have you looked to as a model of faithfulness during difficult times?