My Father’s Day sermon will be “The Prayers of Father Abraham.” The texts will be Genesis 15:1-6, 17:18-21, 18:20-32 and 20:17. The theme will be “Abraham was a father. His prayers, found in the book of Genesis, give us insight into the high calling that is fatherhood.”
The first prayer is part of what appears to be an ongoing conversation that Abraham (in the text his name is still Abram) is having with God. His concern is that while God has promised him that he would be the father of a great nation, a nation that would bless all the earth, some time had passed since the promise was first made and he and Sarah (in the text her name is still Sarai) were still childless. Abraham seems to be wondering if maybe God had forgotten his promise. This prayer stands as a reminder that fatherhood is often marked by prayers of uncertainty, prayers that bubble up in words like, “God I honor you and I trust your leading but in all honesty, sometimes that leading leaves me a little baffled.”
The second prayer is a continuation of Abraham’s conversation with God. He is again concerned that he and Sarah do not have a son. He wonders if Ishmael, his son by Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar, might be a sort of substitute heir to the promise. God again listens carefully and asks Abraham to be patient a little while longer, promising him that he and Sarah will have a son named Isaac. This prayer teaches us that a frequent temptation of fatherhood is to, in the midst of the unrelenting pressures, over-packed schedules and an admitted inability to see the future, let the acceptable stand in the way of the excellent. Fathers are given to prayers akin to that of Abraham. “God, I prefer the known to the unknown. The unknown may be full of promise but the known is OK as well. I am so tired that right now I am willing to settle for less than the best.”
Abraham offers the third prayer on behalf of his nephew Lot and family upon learning that God intends to destroy Sodom, the city in which Lot lives, for its great evil. (In other parts of the Bible, such as Ezekiel 16:49, we learn that the sin of Sodom had to do with the mistreatment of the poor and vulnerable.) Abraham bargains earnestly with God. He wins God’s promise that if ten righteous people can be found in Sodom, God will not destroy the city. This prayer represents the truth that fathers often pray earnestly for the well-being of those they love and that we are not above bargaining, entreating, imploring and informing God that “You are better than that,” especially when the fate of their loved ones is at stake. Fathers are known to offer prayers of challenge such as, “God, if you are really good, you help my son do better than he is doing.”
The fourth prayer that Genesis ascribes to Abraham is a prayer for King Abimelech of Gerar. Abraham did not know Abimelech and reasoned that since he was unknown he must also be untrustworthy and immoral. Working from this database of fearful unknowing, Abraham decided that as he sojourned in Gerar it would be safer to identify Sarah as his sister rather than his wife. This decision leads to a host of crises which needlessly endanger Abimelech and his people. In the end, Abraham apologizes to the foreign king for his duplicity and prays that God will restore his health as well as the health of his family. Sometimes fathers need to offer prayers for the well-being of those we have mistakenly judged. There are times when our prayer must be “Loving God, I have judged without reason, condemned without justification. I pray for those I have hurt in the process. Lead them to happiness. Lead them to peace. Keep them free from suffering.”
Abraham’s prayers were full of hope and trust as well as uncertainty and fear. His prayers were not divine, they were human. As such, they were prayers that reflect our lives as well as prayers that shape our living. Let us be grateful for the searching, seeking, bargaining and repentant prayers of Father Abraham.