Forming Faith Blog

God Gives a Promised Child (Sept. 15, 2019)

A picture of a newborn baby. God made Sarah a promise of a new child and kept that promise.
A Family Affair

We now move to the second Sunday of the Narrative Lectionary year. Last week, we saw God creating the first family, the first human relationship between Adam and Eve. This week, we see God creating the first family of God’s chosen people, who will (in coming weeks) become the people of Israel. In all of this, we can see that God has created humans to be in relationship with, not only God but with each other. And, these relationships are not only for the sake of procreation but also partnership and community.

In between these two readings, a lot has happened in the story. Sin entered the world, God flooded the earth, people built a tower, and God called Abram and made a promise. God promised to make from Abram a great nation, through whom the entire world will be blessed. God visited Abram a few more times, reiterating the promise, even changing Abram and Sarai’s names to the more familiar Abraham and Sarah. Even in between the two passages that make up today’s reading we have the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the story of Abraham passing Sarah off as his sister.

Laughter of Disbelief

When God called Abram to be the father of a great nation, the man was 75 years old! And, Abram and Sarai had to wait 25 years for even the first step of this great promise to be fulfilled. At 100 and 90 years respectively, this couple should be great-grandparents or more, not first-time parents. Even at 65 years old, Sarai would have been too old to bear a child by natural means. This is all to say that God’s promise of a child to this couple is patently ridiculous.

It’s no wonder that Sarah laughed when she overheard what the visitors said. Not only was God’s promise impossible (from a human perspective), but this promise is coming from a random stranger. And, don’t forget, Abraham laughed when God directly made this promise in the previous chapter (Genesis 17:15-17).

Laughter from Joy

The promise of a child for Sarah and Abraham was impossible. But we should not forget that our God is the God of the impossible (Genesis 18:14; Mark 10:27). And, while this is the first time God gave an elderly family a miraculous birth, it will not be the last (see Hannah and Elkanah and Elizabeth and Zechariah). In all cases, the fulfillment of a promise like these should be a time of joy and laughter. What started out as laughing at the ridiculous became laughter born from joy.

Preposterous Promises: Yes

What does all of this have to do with us? Where are we in this story? Does God still make preposterous promises to us? My answer is yes, maybe. While it might seem commonplace to us, the fact that the creator of this infinite universe would know each of us by name (well enough to know how many hairs we have on our heads) and love us unconditionally is a bit ridiculous when you think about it. But it’s true.

Preposterous Promises: Maybe

My “maybe” comes from a caution. We sometimes ask people in relation to texts like this “what has God promised to you?” God’s promise of a child was not a promise for everyone, but a specific promise to specific people at a specific time for a specific reason. So, beyond the generic promise of God’s transformative and never-ending love, does God still give promises to specific people?

I think this is totally possible, after all, if God can do the impossible, the possible should be a snap. However, how would we know? At least in mainline churches, the vast majority of churchgoers have not experienced a direct revelation from God. So, either your hearers have no answer for you, or what they think might be promises from God come from their inner thoughts and so, therefore, might arise from their own thoughts and wishes. I have no answer for this, but I urge you to think about this reality.

Inclusion of All Ages

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you might have noticed my passion for cross+generational (intergenerational) ministry. So, you will probably not be surprised that I bring it up here. Abraham and Sarah are senior citizens times two and could easily have been shuffled to the side in their community, people to celebrate when it comes to birthdays and anniversaries, but otherwise to relegate to obscurity. However, here, this aged couple are the key to the future of the world. They certainly have something valuable to offer. It’s the same with the oldest among us as well. Even the home-bound and sick have something to offer our faith communities, and those of the younger and middle generations can benefit from listening to them and caring for them (both in the sense of loving them and tending to their needs).

The Importance of Being Silly

On the other end of the age spectrum, children also have a lot to offer the community. One thing that kids can teach the rest of us is the skill of being silly. Church is often very serious (and often thereby unfriendly to kids), and there are plenty of areas where serious is appropriate. However, we adults often take seriousness to the extreme and forget how to play. When we encourage (appropriate) play and silliness in our sanctuaries and classrooms, we can give children a leadership role and communicate that they are valued members of the community. The benefits don’t just come for the young. There is evidence that play and silliness are important for adults, too. Just do a web search for “adult learning silliness (or play).” We learn better and build relationships more easily with properly timed and focused silliness.

Free Resource

This week’s free activity adds a bit of silliness, and interactivity, to your class or sanctuary. “The Promise of a Son” suggests that you split people up into small groups and dramatize the reading in an unusual way. While originally written for a cross+generational classroom setting, you can adapt this for a single-age classroom, or ask a multi-age group to demonstrate this in worship!

This activity comes from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education product, which provides lesson guides for the Sunday Narrative Lectionary assigned readings. These guides provide a lesson plan designed to get all ages learning, talking, and building relationships together. This product is available to purchase for the full year, by quarters (fall, winter, and spring), as well as by individual lessons.

May God bless you and give you joy!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence.