Old Testament: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (Lent 2: Series B)

Reading Time: 6 mins

The promise between God and Abraham reflects God’s relationship with all of His people, which includes the Church, and through the Church to each one of us.

Has time ever seemed like it went by so fast that it was a blur to you? For instance, how about the final weeks of summer vacation or the six weeks before Christmas? Other times seem to drag on forever though, like the weeks after a loved one’s death or the six weeks before school gets out. Lent is a season which sometimes seems to drag on forever. Christmas and New Year are a blur in the holiday rush, but Lent lasts and lasts.

That is why Abram and Sarai are perfect for Lent. They are in their nineties, reflecting on the long journey of their lives. They can look back and contemplate the consequences of decisions and feel the weight of those decisions. It is appropriate in Lent that we join Abram and Sarai on their journey of faith. In the slow drag of Lent, we can listen to God’s Word, pray, confess our sin, and turn in trust toward our Lord who gives us identity, security, and meaning with the promises He has made and kept for us in Christ. In our short reading, God does two significant things for His people. These notable events deal with naming and promise.

The first significant detail to develop in the sermon is how everyone in our text is given a new name. God is named “God Almighty” (El Shaddai) for the first time. This is noteworthy because God in Genesis 1, is the God who created the heavens and the earth, whose power extends over all things in creation, which includes the lives of His people. This is a helpful reminder for the Church in the Lenten season. Abram and Sarai are also given new names: Abraham and Sarah (verses 5 and 15). The changes are small, yet their theological implications are profound. It is interesting that in our modern times, names are often nothing more than labels, chosen based on popularity or nostalgia. In the Bible, names reflect the character of the person. In this case, the names Abraham and Sarah are given by God say something about them as His people. The two of them have been blessed by God, which is what their names indicate about them as people. In the wintery years of their lives, God will do in them the impossible, and they will be blessed and a blessing. Many nations, more numerous than the stars in the sky, will learn from their faith and be blessed by the salvation God had prepared in advance through them.

These names are also important because they are inextricably linked to God’s promises. The story of promise in chapter 17 echoes the promise God makes to Abram in Genesis 15:18. The difference here between chapters 17 and 15 is that, here in our text for today, God’s promise with Abraham will be the frame through which God’s people will interpret their life and discern how to trust in God, wherever they are, and whoever they are with. The promise offers the people of God the gift of hope, their source of identity, and their place in His world. This is a wonderful way to homiletically develop the Gospel hope we have in the promise of Christ who has come and will come on the Last Day.

The promise offers the people of God the gift of hope, their source of identity, and their place in His world.

At the heart of the story is a promise made by God to Abraham, the promise of “an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (verse 7). The promise between God and Abraham reflects God’s relationship with all of His people, which includes the Church, and through the Church to each one of us. The promise is linked to creation. The God who created all there is, visible and invisible, has chosen Abraham and his ancestors out of all nations as the seed-bearer of creation for the fruit of salvation. He did this so the chosen beloved and only begotten son of God, the savior of the world, might come to all of us. The promise of our hope is fulfilled in Him through His life, death, and resurrection. This promise is a royal promise, connecting Abraham to David, Israel’s great king, and through the house of David to Jesus, the greatest king. The promise God makes is eternal: You and I and Abraham will no longer be alone. Sinful and unfaithful as Abraham and his descendants would be, God’s promises were never dependent on our faithfulness, but on His great faithfulness which we see clearest in Christ. No matter what happens, this promise will not be broken. All of the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

In the second week of Lent, our journey to the cross has just begun. The events of Holy Week are a long way off, slow in coming... to say the least. The glory of Easter morning is not even visible on the horizon. During Lent, we consider the wisdom of God which calls us to reflect on our sin and brokenness, on all the ways we have fallen short of the high calling of following Jesus. Repentance is a painful process.

The gift of our text is its reminder that, at the center of our being, we rest in the blessing and promise of Christ, the name we are connected to in the waters of Baptism. God has established a never-ending connection with Abraham and brought that promise to its fullest in Jesus Christ. In our baptism, we have been given a new name, “Christian,” that tells us everything we need to know about ourselves and everything we need to know about God’s love for us in Christ. Perhaps the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” (which is #594 in the Lutheran Service Book from Concordia Publishing House) would be a great song to sing after the sermon to touch back on the themes you developed in the telling of Abraham and Sarah’s story. Focusing the sermon on the grace of God, the life of the believing community, and the waters of baptism through their establishment in the promises given to Abraham and Sarah as they are newly named in His love would be a wonderful text to preach in the darkness of Lent. Under the shadow of the cross, the promise God made to Abraham and us remains by faith, and that faith is credited to us as righteousness on account of Christ shed blood and third day resurrection (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6). God is our God, and we are God’s people. This is a promise which cannot be broken, even as we follow the one named Jesus, whose life is our life by faith in His work on the cross, the empty grave, and the promised gift of Heaven forever.

Since this is such a beloved story that your hearers will connect with, perhaps a structure based off of a “Storied Discourse Structure” would be effective for this sermon.

“These structures[1] arise from the telling of a biblical story to communicate a central teaching or experience for the hearers. In this case, the biblical story itself (and it could be only one among a sequence of stories) forms the structure of the sermon. In integrating the biblical story into the sermon, the preacher will have basically two types of material: The biblical story and excursions from that story.


The biblical story is a creative retelling of the biblical narrative. Rather than approach the biblical narrative as an object of study (in other words, to be analyzed and used as a proof text in supporting teachings of the faith), the preacher proclaims the narrative in such a way that the hearers are witnesses to a real, historical event. This retelling of the biblical story can be done in the third person or the first person. Unfortunately, preachers often gravitate toward a first-person account when a third person account can be just as effective if not more so. Also, the biblical story can be retold in the time period of the text or in the present day with the use of dynamic equivalents. The more familiar the hearers are with the biblical story, the easier it is for them to follow that story when told in the present-day setting.


The excursions from the biblical story can involve the use of any type of material. The preacher might offer other stories from contemporary life or explanation and careful consideration of what has just happened. The preacher could incorporate an image or a quotation of a passage of Scripture. What makes an excursion is not the nature of the material offered but the fact that this material is not a direct retelling of the biblical story but something else the preacher is doing as he incorporates the biblical story into the fuller sermon.


Storied discourse structures include: Biblical Story Interrupted, Story Whole Structures, Biblical Story Told, Framing the Biblical Story, and Multiple Story Structure (you can use the links above to see more on these structures).”[2]


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] For more information regarding these and other storied discourse designs see Jensen, Richard. Thinking in Story: Preaching in a Post-literate Age. Lima, OH: CSS Publishing, 1995. Also, Lowry, Eugene. How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989.

[2] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/textual/genre/narrative/