Forming Faith Blog

Exuberant Joy (Genesis 18, 21)

When three strangers visit Abraham and Sarah, Abraham responds with exuberant—some might say excessive—hospitality and the fulfillment of God’s promise fills Sarah with exuberant joy.

A photo of girl showing joy at a party.
Photo by samaraagenstvo feeria on
Adam & Eve to Abraham & Sarah

Welcome back for the second Sunday of the Narrative Lectionary (Year 2)! As I’ve mentioned before, I reflect each week during the NL year on the upcoming assigned reading, specifically with a view toward faith formation (as one of our focuses is to provide faith formation resources for all ages following the Narrative Lectionary).

Last week, we witnessed the first part of the second creation story in Genesis 2: God forming the first humans. In my post “Inclusion in Eden,” I pointed out a few ways that this story has been misused to mistreat women and LGBTQIA+ people.

Now we skip ahead 16 chapters in Genesis to the stories around Abraham and Sarah, focusing on the promise and birth of their child Isaac. A lot has happened in the story since creation. Through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, brokenness came into the paradise God created. While this is bad—leading to our separation from God and much suffering—it also allows the story to move forward. A story without anything bad happening is not really a story. And, a lot of bad stuff has happened, including Abraham and Sarah’s infertility.

The Story Problem

The story of Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) starts in Genesis 12. After the death of Abram’s father, God calls the couple and their nephew to leave their home and travel—to an unknown place. Thereafter, a lot of traveling took place. But while the traveling is important to their story, that is not the focus of our story today, or Abraham and Sarah’s story.

The main conflict of this couple’s story is stated back when the couple was first introduced. Genesis 11:30 states:

Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

The blame, if it could be called that, is securely on the woman at this time, since the people understood pregnancy using an agricultural metaphor: the man planted his seed in the soil of the woman. Even though the farmers had to know that seeds can be bad, the problem was always assumed to be the infertility of the woman’s “soil.”

The inability to have children when a couple wants them can be horribly painful. It is even more so when such societal importance is placed on the continuation of a man’s genetic line.

A Tale of Impatient Waiting

But God’s call for Abram and Sarai comes with the promise of a resolution for this problem. God promises to provide this chosen couple with a big family and lots of descendants. This was an improbable, if not impossible, promise. Not only does infertility not usually reverse itself, but especially not with post-menopausal women and men “past their prime.” But God being…you know…God, Abram believes this, though I can’t find any mention of whether Sarai believes this promise or not. And it takes 24 years for this to go from a general promise to a specific date, which is what happens in today’s first passage.

Exuberant Welcome

At the beginning of Genesis 18, we hear that God appears to Abraham as three men. It is unclear whether Abraham senses anything special about these men, but he does not suspect that they are (manifestations? of) God. How can I say this with any certainty? Because Abraham responds with hospitality and not worship. But the hospitality he offers these strangers is excessive—exuberant.

First, Abraham undersells his offer as a little wash water and a morsel of bread. Then he exponentially over-delivers. He tells Sarah to make bread with three measures (seahs) of flour, which equates to approximately 6 gallons (96 cups)! In my figuring, this works out to be—in our Western loaf pan size—32 loaves. (I’m not going to do the research on how much bread that would be in their own setting.) That’s over 10 loaves per visitor! Not only that, but he slaughters an entire calf for these strangers.

Exuberant Joy

It is possible that Abraham begins to suspect that these strangers were at least from God when they reiterate God’s promise of a child, this time with a deadline (okay, “due season” is not definite, but it has to be in the same year since the couple are the same ages as Abraham says in chapter 17). Sarah might be doubtful at first—as any rational person would be—but her joy must have started within a couple of months when she found herself pregnant. And that exuberant joy overflowed into laughter when she delivered a healthy baby boy!

Faith Formation Connections

There are many directions you can go with this story as you teach, preach, or lead in your faith formation context. Some of the activities in our lessons relate to the waiting that is so much a part of this story. But, with Abraham’s feast and Sarah’s joy, I think it’s time to throw a party!

Please remember with this story in general and a party in particular that—if you have adults among your faith formation participants—some people might have experienced infertility, the loss of a pregnancy or child, or any other painful events that this topic might dredge up.

In God’s exuberant love,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a creative way to do Confession from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship resource. Note that you can also purchase individual worship guides!

Order Faith Formation Resources

The 2023-2024 program year has begun! Are you still looking for resources? Order easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources now for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)!

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries. The unit Bible 101 is perfect for starting the year in the Narrative Lectionary!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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