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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

Good morning! 

Today in our church calendar, it is the Second Sunday of Lent, and it is also the day of our Annual Vestry meeting. 

The Vestry Meeting is a yearly lunch date in the life of our community. A time to reflect on the year that has passed, to name its gifts and losses, and to look forward to the coming year. And beneath the words, budget, motions and votes, we are invited to be attuned for the still small voice of the Spirit to hear what She has to tell us as we prepare for the year ahead. 

Biblical scholar, Wil Gafney says: “Genesis is a book about beginning: the beginning of humankind, the beginning of Israel, and the beginning of the relationship between God and a particular people.”1

In today’s reading from Genesis, we hear a central story of our faith, the story when God makes a covenant with Abram and Sarai, a promise that provides the origin story for the three Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

The question of God’s promises from this text in Genesis are a bit of a minefield. One just has to glance at the news to see the horror and tragedy in Palestine as a result of biblically rooted land claims, of which our text today is a part. 

In addition to fraught biblical land ownership, there is the complicated question of divine blessing. 

Kate Bowler is a history professor at Duke Divinity School, whose area of expertise is the prosperity gospel. Prosperity theology, in a nutshell, believes that there is a divine contract between humans and God, whereby if humans demonstrate adequate faith in God, God will deliver security, health and wealth. 2 

When Bowler was 35 years old, mom of a 2-year old boy, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Since her diagnosis, her academic interest became intense spiritual struggle as she herself searches for meaning and hope after a terminal cancer diagnosis. 

Bowler writes: “This is what happens to all of us. We fall ill. We get old. We can’t have that baby or keep that relationship. We missed our chance to go to this school or take that job. Our parents die before we know them, and our kids forget our love. We lose people before we can learn to live without them.” 3

This is the reality of life. 

Yet, in my journey in ordained ministry, I have been surprised at the pervasiveness of prosperity gospel undertones in churchland assessment of successful ministry, and in my own thinking, prayer life and faith. 

There is a persistent and hard to sever connection between seeing material and social gain as divine favor. This also gets misconstrued in reverse, that is, when things go sideways or there is loss, it is taken as a sign of God’s disapproval or abandonment. 

Our story from Genesis today can reinforce this logic. We can read into the story that Abram and Sarai were outstanding models in the faith, and this is why God chose to bless them and their descendants.

However, when I think of their lives as told in the Bible, they don’t seem exemplary, despite claims to the contrary in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. 

Paul writes that Abraham did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body or considered his and Sarah’s inability to conceive, he says “no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God”  (Rom 4:19-21). 

Our excerpt from Genesis leaves out the last verse, which tells us that Abraham “fell on his face and laughed” in response to God’s promises (Gen 17:17). That does not indicate unwavering faith. Rather, Abraham seems to have a very human and relatable doubt in God’s promise. 

Then there’s the time when during a famine, Abram’s extended family fled to Egypt to survive. Fearing for his own life, Abram gives Sarai over to Pharaoh, presumably as a concubine, concealing her identity as his wife. Or there’s the time when Sarai gave Abram her poor slave girl, Hagar, as his wife to have a child (to fulfill God’s earlier promise of an heir). Sarai treats Hagar so terribly that Hagar runs into the wilderness with her son, despite the high risk of death for them both. Neither Abraham nor Sarah have a stellar track record. 

Yet, they are our ancestors in the faith. They are the people with whom God chose to make this everlasting covenant. 

Although tradition credits Moses as the author of Genesis, scholars date the authorship of Genesis to sometime between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, a time of great loss for the people of Israel. 4 Their nation had been destroyed and their leaders were exiled to Babylon; they had lost their home, their land, their sense of identity, their faith that God was with them. And it was in the midst of this great loss, that their need and openness to hear of God’s promises and God’s faithfulness was at its highest. 

New beginnings in the Bible are often marked by naming. In our Genesis story today, Abram becomes Abraham - meaning ancestor of a multitude of nations. Sarai is renamed Sarah, meaning princess. 5

And there is another renaming that takes place in this story.

In our passage today, we hear for the first time El Shaddai as a name for God, commonly translated as God Almighty. A closer translation of the Hebrew might be ‘God of the mountains’. 6

Mountains give us a taste of the transcendent. They give us perspective, they have endured and witnessed far more than can be known in a human lifetime. At a time when the people of God needed to hear of God’s promises and faithfulness, they were assured of the immense power, the steadfast nature and beauty of the divine in God’s new name. 

Interestingly, an alternative and perhaps even closer translation of El Shaddai is ‘the one with breasts.’ 7 I love the pairing of the nurturing mother and the mighty mountain as images for God, associations contained in the same name.

When the people of God found themselves in a strange land, when all that was familiar was stripped away during the exile, they found hope in this covenant with this loving God, a God who sought out this particular people, and promised to be their God forever. 

One scholar writes: “The covenant is the primary metaphor for understanding Israel’s life with God. It is the covenant which offers to Israel the gift of hope, the reality of identity, the possibility of belonging, the certitude of vocation.” 8

A number of years ago, Robin Wall Kimmerer, professor of botany and citizen of the Potawatomi nation, wrote a book called Braiding Sweetgrass, weaving together her work as a biologist with her Indigenous culture, identity and spirituality. Towards the end of the book, she writes about land restoration. 

She describes the efforts to restore Onondaga Lake, a lake in what is now upstate New York, of great spiritual significance to the Onondaga nation, which was tragically used as a dumping ground for industrial waste, leading to its severe degradation, with mercury pollution remaining a problem. 

Here’s what she writes as she reflects on the work of land restoration:

 “When I visited with the students with the shovels in their hands, their pride in planting was evident. I asked what motivated them in their work, and I heard about “getting adequate data” and “devising a solution” and a “feasible dissertation.” 

No one mentioned love. 

Maybe they were too afraid. 

I’ve sat on too many dissertation committees where students were ridiculed for describing the plants they’ve worked with for 5 years with so unscientific a term as beautiful

The word love is unlikely to make an appearance, but I know that it’s there…

We may not be able to restore the Onondaga watershed to its pre-industrial condition. The land, plants, animals and their allies among the human people are making small steps, but ultimately it is the earth that will restore the structure and function… 

We’re not in control. 

What we are in control of is our relationship to the earth. Nature herself is a moving target, but relationship endures. It is the most authentic facet of the restoration. 

Here is where our most challenging and rewarding work lies, in restoring a relationship of respect, responsibility and reciprocity. And love.” 9

In Kimmerer’s description of land restoration, as a project of healing the relationship between the earth, plants, animals, people and the other parts of the ecosystem, she beautifully describes the essence of covenant. 

Covenant is about enduring relationship, the highs, the lows and everything in between. Covenant is about love. This is the essence of the promise between God and Abraham, Sarah, their descendants by lineage and by faith. It’s not about getting everything right, or about never doubting or avoiding suffering. 

The commitment that God makes to this messy family, and to their messy descendants is that God will be present, God will be active, God will be engaged, God will care, God will never abandon them no matter what they do, no matter what life holds. This is a trustworthy relationship, that God has fully committed to, and keeps showing up for, ultimately for us, in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Our part is to do our best to show up, to show up for God, for each other, for the good of the world we inhabit, brought together as one body in relationship with one God. 

May God bless us, that we may grow in faith and in love. Amen.





3. Bowler, Kate. (2021). No Cure for Being Human: (and Other Truths I Need to Hear). Random House Publishing Group, p. xv.

4. Eds. David Lyon Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor. (2010). Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Vol 2. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 51.

5. Eds. David Lyon Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor. (2010). Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Vol 2. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 51.



8. Brueggemann, W. (1982). Genesis. Westminster John Knox Press, p. 154.

9. Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed editions, p. 335-6.