The following is sermon that was preached on September 18, 2017. The Scripture referred to is Genesis 22:1-14.
After all that God had done for Abraham, and after all that Abraham had done to be faithful to God…God decides to test Abraham again.
And this test is not just any test, Abraham is doomed to fail in whatever he chooses. On the one hand, he could follow God’s command and murder his only son, the very son that was a miracle for him and Sarah in the first place. And on the other hand, he could go against the very will of God that had granted him life, a family, the promise of descendants so numerous they would overshadow the stars in the sky.
There is no right answer to this test.
It’s passages like these that cause non Christians and Christians alike to question the efficacy of Christianity. I mean, what kind of God tests God’s children like this?
We all know what happens in the end of this tale, that God provides another sacrifice, but that doesn’t mask the horror of this situation; the hell that Abraham had to go through; the pain that God causes.
This seems so contrary to the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ; the message that says that God doesn’t throw life away, but loves so much that all life matters.
So what are we to do with this disturbing story. Can we just dismiss it and move on; conclude that God provides and overlook the brutality and cruelty of the test?
I turned to the commentaries this week both Jewish and Christian, and do you know what they conclude? That nobody agrees on what to conclude. There is scholarly work that suggests that Abraham does in fact sacrifice his son Isaac, after all the text seems to suggest that Abraham comes down the mountain alone and that Isaac’s role in Scripture is so much less than Abraham or Jacob. On the other hand other scholars suggest that God’s plan was always to provide another sacrifice and these interpreters tend to overlook or at least minimize the messiness and dirtiness of the passage altogether.
So what do we do with this passage?
I think we have to wrestle with it. If we take seriously that God is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit in Scripture, we can’t ignore it. God is there. God is speaking. So let’s wrestle together, dear saints.
I think that texts such as these, particularly texts from the old testament, serve an important function for us as Christians. I think they slap us across the face, shake us to our very core, and cause us to look at the world around us, and at ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus does this too, but I think we too often look at the love of Christ, get so caught up in the power and comfort of grace, that we sometimes forget the God who is God over our lives. Our lives are never just ours. They belong to God, they belong to God’s creation. We too often domesticate Jesus. We work to fit Jesus into some little box of our own making that is love and forgiveness heavy, and “carrying our own cross” light.
Will Willimon, a bishop in the United Methodist Church once taught a lesson on this story. He expected to be teaching other congregation members how to interpret this passage assuming they would struggle with it. And what he learned was that he became the student in his encounter. When asked what the sacrifice meant for people, one gentleman stood up and said,”…when I look at that God, the God of Abraham, I feel I’m near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club god we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abraham’s God could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything from a person and then want more. I want to know that God. A real God.”
I think this gentleman was on to something. In our “me and Jesus” culture we want to make God who we want God to be. We want to tame God, to think that life should be easy, to think that God doesn’t demand anything of our lives. We want God to be the God of American idealism, of capitalism, of materialism. In the words of the country pop band, Florida Georgia line, “We wanna pray on Sundays, and cuss on them Monday.” In other words, we wanna pay homage to God in some little, hollow way, and then live life any way we want; in ways that offer very little in terms of worship to God and love of neighbors, and more about me, myself, and mine. And then we want to still claim to be followers of Christ.
This passage, my dear saints, is the bucket of icy cold water dumped over our heads. It is the icy, frigid, drenching reminder of our baptism in Jesus Christ; our baptism in which we are made a new creation, grafted to the body of Christ…We belong to Christ. We are God’s.
This God we worship and serve is both the loving, merciful God we see in Jesus Christ, but is also the God of Abraham, the demands the impossible from our lives. I know you’ve heard it said, God never give you more than you can handle. Well that’s a load of BS. God gives us more than we can handle all the time. We are called to make sacrifices in our lives all the time in the name of following after Jesus Christ. And the choices we are given are near impossible to make sometimes.
Do we let go of a loved one on life-support? Do we quit our high paying job to because we feel a call to be a teacher? Do we let our grown child make a life-altering decision even if we know it could be devastating for them? Do we interrupt our busy schedule to help another person in need? We are sooooo busy! Could we stop to help another in need? Do we make time, yes, make time to be with God; to worship with the community of faith we are in covenant relationship with?
Look at the impossible decision we have before us as a congregation. Do we use a large monetary gift to invest in expanding our church facilities so that we can better educate our church disciples (both young and old), better serve the needs of the community, better share in fellowship, present new opportunities for ministry?
I think too often we relocate our faith to fit in some small segment of our lives, when God’s call is so much broader, and wider, and bigger, and loving, and encompasses so much more of our lives.
This passage is not a me and my Jesus passage – just a side note, the Christian faith can never, ever, Biblically or any other way, be justified as an individualistic faith alone. What we learn in Scripture is that God calls the Church, collectively, in relationship together, to transform the world. Humanity, created in the image of God, an image that reveals God’s nature as being relational (Trinitarian), is the Body of Christ together – it is a reminder that God demands from us (that’s all of us in the plural) the impossible, and that in the midst of our remaining faithful, God will always…ALWAYS provide for us. The Holy Spirit is always with us, always helping, always encouraging, always challenging, ALWAYS loving. But that doesn’t change the fact that God is real, and our faith lived out, is not a walk in the park, but is a seemingly impossible relationship we engage in together, and ultimately it is how God is transforming the world. Through you and me, the body of Christ.
God is REAL, my dear saints. We do not control God. We do not make God into our image. We cannot mold God to fit into some shallow understanding we want to have giving ourselves the freedom to live any way we choose. God is God, and we are not. And that, my dear saints, is VERY good news. For the God who demands so much, also LOVES so much, and will provide for us over, and over, and over again.