Alternatives from Remembering the Women: Genesis 11:27-32; 12:10-20 or Numbers 11:10-15 The Matthew text is for when the Transfiguration is celebrated and the text from Numbers could replace or be read with that text.
If you only read the lectionary passages (Genesis and Romans) you would think Abraham is a hero, our father through righteousness of faith. But if you read what happens before and after the Genesis passage, you may have mixed feelings about Abraham. No one is completely righteous; we all have our flaws. This is one of my favorite passages to point out when someone tries to tell me there is a “biblical marriage”. So, in Genesis we learn that Abraham (Abram) marries his half-sister, then gives her to Pharaoh so that Abraham is safe in Egypt. That doesn’t sound like a marriage I would want to be part of. Pharaoh does give Sarah (Sarai) back to Abraham after he realizes that Abraham’s God is punishing him (we presume for having sex with Sarah). We don’t have Sarah’s words or even thoughts recorded in this story, she is an object and subjected to the decisions of the men around her. In her book, “Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers: Questioning Teachings about Biblical Women”, Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti imagines what Sarah would have experienced and thought about this and other episodes of her life. She imagines that this might be the first time Sarah felt like the promises God made to Abraham were also for her; that she and Abraham together would have children promised by God. And yet, a few chapters later, Sarah gives Abraham her slave, Hagar so that she might become pregnant (fulfilling the promise of children to Abraham). She does, and that becomes problematic. Sarah gets pregnant and the family dynamics change again. Then Abraham almost kills his son…
Really, God is “the hero” for managing to get things done in spite of humans getting in the way. There is some comfort in the idea that God, who made heaven and earth, made each of us too. And is willing to work with us. Psalm 121 reminds us that our help comes from the Lord and that God will keep our lives, our going and our coming, now and forever. God is with Abraham, and Sarah, and Hagar, and, and, and… God’s promise is not for easy, comfortable lives, but the promise is that no matter what happens God is with us.
The John passage is about Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night to ask how to get into the kingdom of God. I remember a spiritual I learned in high school choir (but not the title or the composer) that summed this story up as “Christ told Nicodemus as a friend, Man you must be born again. He said, marvel not man, if you want to be wise, repent, believe and be baptized.” Sometimes that sounds overly simple and at other times overly complicated. The passage ends with the verse many churches require children to memorize, although I wonder if any of us is able to completely understand the depth of God’s love for us. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God loves us, even when we screw up. God is with us no matter what happens to us. God loves us enough to work for our salvation. And God will even let us participate in the creation of the kingdom of God, even when we screw up, no matter what, because we are beloved.