Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Download AudioGo, Sacrifice.
(Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14)
Last week we listened to and pondered about the evocative and life generating way of God in the first creation story at the very beginning of Genesis. Sun, moon, sky, water, earth, plants and seeds, humankind created in the image of the Holy who is a creator of wonder and love. With God we experienced that is was good. Evening and morning, day after day, it is good. It is God’s creation and we are placed in it with God to co-create things of life. So our sacred story begins. God present. Humans infused with the spirit and life of God. So it begins and continues to unfold as humans confront the challenges and wonders of being alive in deep connection with the Holy Love that is God who is present and will not go away, ever.
Its a curious combination isn’t it? Finite humans and infinite God; imperfect humans and perfect love. There is so much we can absorb and be blessed by when we let this love infuse and support us. There is so much that can challenge us as the compassion and peace of God bumps up against the fears and anxieties that are hurricane damage, nuclear stand offs, Charlottesville, challenges for kids in school, addiction, physical pain, grief, strained relationships. Which is life today isn’t it? The love and presence of God loose in the reality of our lives and this world as they are. Grace, light, hope, transformation, acceptance, possibility all around. Insecurity, self doubt, anxiety, financial pressures, social challenges, injustice, violence all around. With you I am ready for all the painful parts to be gone. With you I am prepared to do what I can to help that happen. In the meanwhile, and in what is and despite what is or because of what is, we are called and enabled to be the church, a people of hope in the here and now. A people that listens for and recognizes the presence and life that God provides and lets that shape us, support us, guide us, change us, flow through us. We have not been created and cast out on our own. We have been created and journey through life with the creator in our midst and present at all times.
Our sacred story gives us so many examples of how people have paid attention to God’s love and how they have ignored it. It tells us of God’s faithfulness and endurance regardless of humans faithfulness of unfaithfulness. It tells us of our God’s continual creation of life in and through circumstances that shout “no way life can come from this”. This morning we hear a story that screams “no way life can come from that” if we hear it literally. It’s a painful story to hear. Its one that I wish wasn’t the appointed reading for the second sunday of the church school year. It’s one that if it is lifted out from the rest of the story would make someone run from the church and this God in whose name so much violence has been perpetrated. One commentator wrote about it this way - Despicable. Despicable is an understatement. How could a father? How could a God of Love!!? How could God? How could Abraham? Did God? Would God? Not the God I know. Definitely not the God of love, justice, & kindness. Love God with all your heart, mind, being, & strength. But what about love of neighbor?! Or love for your own child?!? No. This is not right. This story makes no sense. It is horrible and… In this time may God’s spirit of love, enlighten us about this repulsive tale. May we learn and grow in your presence despite and through this uncomfortable story of a father and son.”
This is the story. We jump past many chapters in Genesis and come to the time when God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah has finally been fulfilled. They had been promised a child. They had left their home land and took the journey God has set out for them. They had been incredibly trusting and faithful. They have reached 80/90 years of age and still no child until we catch up with them today in the 21st chapter verses 1-3 of Genesis where our sacred story says - The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.
It has happened. God’s promise and way of life has come to pass for them. A baby. A boy. Isaac. They are beyond ecstatic. God had said it would happen but so much had happened in the years before it did. They had wanted to trust God’s promise and yet their hadn’t been a child of their own. But here it is now. Here is Isaac. Here is the proof for them of God and God’s way of life. Sound the trumpet. Rejoice. But wait…the story continues in the 22nd chapter.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
1But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The trumpets turn to a minor key. The wind is sucked out of our sails. Yes, the story ends with Isaac alive but Abraham, putting firewood on the back of his son, binding him and placing him on the pyre? Raising a knife? God directs Abraham to do that? I can’t open my heart and give my life to that God. That God would be a tyrant. No, this can’t be, isn’t a literal story, there is something else in it. There is a story of life and invitation to a way of being in it but it is told with these horrific details of a father being ready to kill his son. I can’t accept that as God’s way. That is not the point of the story. This is not God demanding Abraham to kill his son to prove his faithfulness. How I wish there was other imagery used to make the point but this is the story we have and the one with which we grapple. How do we find God, where is our God of love in the midst of such a horrific story? Ah, but that is the question and challenge and search of the church isn’t it? To be looking for and seeing God and the hope/life of God in the midst of what is. To be co-creating life with God to bring life through and in the desolate, scary, threatening, inhospitable realities. To trust that God will provide what is needed to be a people of love.
The details of Isaac on the pyre and Abraham raising a knife are not condoning child sacrifice (child sacrifice is condemned in Jewish practice throughout the Hebrew scripture), these details are offered as a horrific metaphor of the very worst kind of experience that could be encountered and the opportunity to trust God in that dire situation. Abraham declares that trust early on in the story. We hear it when he and Issac take leave of the two servant boys and head off on their own. Abraham says that he and Issac are going off to worship and they will both return. This is the declaration of trust and faith. This is Abrahams’ recognizing that God is creating a future in and through the reality of hard times. Abraham says that God will provide and in the story a ram is provided for the sacrifice. This story shows us Abraham’s willingness to trust in what God will provide and with that trust dare to walk into scary, uncertain, threatening situations depending on God and God’s providing.
This is the call of the church. We are not to be denying the hurricanes, violence, racism, threats that are real - we are called to walk into the thick of it, with God, for God, trusting God, acting for God to bring healing, life, hope. Setting out into the storm, not as martyrs, but as people of hope bringing life into what has been experienced and written off as without hope. Setting out with wobbly knees and with so much unknown but certain of the presence of God, who is good, who is love, who will not let us go, who is creating a future that is good. We have been hearing some stories of those who have been doing that in these past weeks - the Cajun Navy in Texas, the furniture store owner opening his stores for displaced persons. People entering into the unknown to care and love. Louise McRae and Pat Smith at a DACA rally. They don’t know how it will end, they know only that they need to enter into the unknown with care and love and then trust that God will provide and life will be made.
Sacrifice is enacted prayer. Sacrifice is trusting in God and using our lives to connect more deeply to the holy. Sacrifice is going into the unknown trusting that God will provide and make a way. Go, sacrifice. Amen.
Main Street Congregational UCC
September 17, 2017
Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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21:1 The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. (ESV)
22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (ESV)