I’ll go ahead and warn you right now. This Sunday is going to be full of Bible. The Psalm is just short of eleventy-thousand verses long, and they tried to make it up with short New Testament and Gospel lessons, but I’ve gone and stretched out an already fairly long Old Testament lesson to boot. I’m sorry. I had to.
The Lectionary is known for its liberal use of “selected verses.” If the story is too long or if the details of a portion of an event don’t fit the theme for the day, they cut things out. They did it this Sunday with the lesson from Genesis. The prescribed pericope (how’s that for alliteration?) is Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. A fine lesson, in and of itself, but not the whole lesson, for you see, they skip the fullness of Abram’s nighttime vision. The crux of what God is trying to say to Abram is literally just skipped right over in the RCL this week. So, with the rubric on page 888 of the BCP in hand (“Any Reading my be lengthened at discretion”), we’ll hear Genesis 15:1-18 read at all three services this Sunday.
In case your preacher isn’t so bold as to make you sit for an extra 20 seconds, here’s what you’ll miss (the addition is in blue).
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
In truth, the Lord says a few more things to Abram after the word “Euphrates,” but it is just a list of cities that nobody can pronounce anyway, so I’ll give our congregation a pass on at least that part. All joking aside, I think it is imperative that these extra few verses get read on Sunday; it helps frame the whole story of salvation history. It also helps us understand what it means to have faith and to be righteous.
The promises that God makes to Abram in this vision aren’t short-term victories. This isn’t a promise that he’ll wake up in the morning, but rather a promise that the future of God’s chosen people rests in then faithfulness and righteousness of Abram. Abram doesn’t know it, but it’ll be 25 years before Isaac is born. He’ll fail again and again. He’ll forget the promises of God. He’ll try to take matters into his own hands. He’ll fall faithless a time or two. But God will not give up on Abram. He has plans for him. Plans that include a son at age 100, a great grandson sold into slavery by his brothers, 400 years of oppression in Egypt, a murderous stuttering leader names Moses, 40 years in the wilderness, and hundred of more years under the thumb of one occupying force after another.
The promises of God are not short-term promises, and as a “get rich quick” and “what have you done for me lately” culture, it is important that we hear that every once in a while. So this Sunday, we’ll hear it. Sorry for the extra 20 seconds, I promise, I’ll cut it out of my sermon.