The Story We Can’t Avoid Forever: Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-4

This reflection was originally posted on RevGalBlogPals, September 13, 2021.

I was so excited to start a new cycle of the Narrative Lectionary last week! I love that the NL focuses in on one passage (compared to the RCL’s four), so there’s no hemming and hawing and spending half of my week just trying to decide which scripture to preach.

Or rather, I loved that about the NL until this week–when the chosen scripture is the binding of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14), and there’s nowhere else to turn. What I wouldn’t give for a Psalm, Gospel, or Epistle alternative right now! In a dozen years of ministry, I have never before preached on this text and, frankly, I’m a little concerned.

It feels almost cruel to subject traumatized people (which I think we all are, to a greater or lesser extent right now) to this terribly traumatic story. When I read about Isaac carrying the wood, read the conversation between father and son, I want to close my eyes; I want to plug my ears and sing “la la la la la” until next week when Joseph shows up and, while still complicated, things get at least slightly less terrible.

I’m not sure where the Holy Spirit will take the sermon this week. I have just a few possible directions in mind for now. I may follow one, or some, or none of them.

  • I could just acknowledge the terribleness of it all: the dysfunctional family systems, the trauma and grief in the world, the bad theology.
  • I could broaden the story out to consider Hagar and Ishmael and the heartbroken Sarah.
  • I could explore the perspective shared by many Jewish theologians who believe that Abraham failed the test; God never wanted him to sacrifice Isaac.
  • Or I could dig out my nametag from a retreat I went on this summer that says “Practicing Silence” and stand in the pulpit, quiet, for about 15 minutes.

What directions are your thoughts going this week? How will you wrestle good news from this traumatic text? (Sorry to mix my patriarch stories.) Please share your comments below.

Finally, here are a few resources I find helpful in my Narrative Lectionary preaching preparations:

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