A homily on Genesis 16:1-16
Sarai’s getting old. She’s getting worried. God has just made a promise to Abram, but there’s got to be some kind of work-around. In chapter 15 of Genesis, God makes a covenant, promising that Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. As chapter 16 opens, Sarai seems to realize that there’s no way that she herself is going to be able to produce an heir, and she’s trying to help God save face. She wants to save God the embarrassment if it turns out he can’t make good on his promise due to obvious biological restrictions.
I often try to hedge my bets with God. I pray safe, small, could-just-be-coincidence prayers. I dutifully go about my day at “medium”–not stepping out too far in faith, lest I get embarrassed because I wasn’t listening to God, or lest God get embarrassed because I’m trusting him too much.
The Bible is full of examples of people–the history of the church is full of examples!–who want to help God along, to provide needed assistance in his great plan, or to let him out of his promises altogether.
Indeed, God does call us to action, to trust, and faith, and personal relationship. But we aren’t to make God out to be a child–he isn’t in need of our help to figure out how to make his plans real or help clean up messes. We are the children. We are the ones who can never quite understand the whole picture. God does not need us to excuse him from his promises, he desires our trust that his promises are the only thing upon which we can depend.
God desires our obedience. We don’t have to worry about how to get somewhere or how to make God’s dream come true. God is big enough to keep the promises he makes, and we only need to learn how to listen quietly, and to believe that God keeps his promises to us. There is no easy way to learn to listen and to be quiet–no short cut of prayers to engage or practices to enact. As God offers his promises to us, we are invited to respond with the hard, disciplined work of faithfulness.
Let us seek after God–not interested in sinning boldly, but in living faithfully–knowing, as we’re shown in Scripture, that when we fail, the almighty God will weave our missteps and doubts back toward his purposes.