The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 29, 2014
Let’s be honest with each other. In our Old Testament lesson, God comes across as a jerk. Hear me out. God instructs Abraham to take his son, his only son whom he loves, to the mountain. And on the mountain, God will direct Abraham to burn his son, his only son whom he loves – to do the impossible thing. So Abraham and his beloved son Isaac head off for the mountain. In a cruel twist of irony, Isaac has to carry the wood that will soon be burning his own body. Abraham ties up Isaac like a lamb, and raises his knife to kill him. Sure, the angel of the Lord stops Abraham from doing the deed, but just imagine the trauma. The trauma of Abraham being on the verge of his murdering his son. The trauma of Isaac lying there helpless. How could the God we know possibly condone something like this?
You know, I typically like to start my sermon with some humorous anecdote, but this passage is way too disturbing for that. We have to head straight into the trauma.
So, how could the God we know possibly endorse something like the binding of Isaac? Christians have dealt with this passage in a few ways. First, we might just say that the God of the Old Testament is a total jerk. Jesus then came along, God’s heart softened, and God becomes a lot nicer in the New Testament. Well, that doesn’t really hold up because we are then cutting out the entire backbone of Christianity. Without the Old Testament, Jesus does not make any sense.
Another way Christians have dealt with this is to talk about the sacrifice of Jesus. Whereas Abraham was not required to sacrifice his son, God did sacrifice his son. The image of Isaac carrying the wood for his own funeral pyre is matched with Jesus carrying his own cross. But the issue with that, is that it makes God into some strange type of father. A father who delights in his Son’s death. That’s a kind of father I hope to never become.
Others have talked about Abraham’s obedience, or how the angel intercedes. But I think something else is going on. And this is Jimmy Abbott’s interpretation, so bear with me. First things first – we just have to say that this passage is totally disturbing. Don’t try to whitewash a story of a father almost murdering his son. This passage is really twisted.
Second, we have to look at the time in which this story took place. Remember, there were other cults and other gods being worshiped at this time in the same region where Abraham lived. One of those gods went by the name, Moloch. Now, adherents of Moloch would sacrifice their children to the god by burning them alive. In fact, archaeologists have found mass graves of children in the area, attesting to this gruesome kind of worship.
So when God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son, this wasn’t all that weird for Abraham. Yes, it’s weird for us. But put yourselves in Abraham’s shoes. Everyone else around him was sacrificing their children, it was a normal practice. So I would imagine that Abraham assumed that this God, the LORD, is just like the other gods in the area.
But it’s not so. The Lord God is not like other gods. The Lord God is different. For Abraham to not sacrifice Isaac in fire was radically different. So let me go on the record for saying that I don’t believe God is a jerk. Moloch is a jerk. I believe that God is very, very different. The God of Abraham is the God of grace. A grace which flies in the face of everything Abraham knew.
So what does this passage have for us? I think the crux of the story is that God is faithful. God is faithful. Maybe it’s where I am in life, but I don’t put a whole lot of stock in my faith in God. I just don’t. I’m well aware of my own sinfulness, my inability to do the right thing, my faults, and my frailties. I know perfectly well that faith in God is really, really hard to have sometimes. Yes, even priests struggle with doubt and worry and stress. I’m being honest here, I have found that a life of faith with Christ to be terribly hard. That’s why I rejoice that God is so very different. Whereas I am not faithful to God, God has been faithful to me. I can’t ever seem to hold up my end of the bargain, but God always does his part. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.
I’m sure that Abraham was happy that God was faithful. I know that Isaac was thankful that God is faithful. See, the ram in this story is the sign of God’s faithfulness. God had promised a nation of children to be born through Isaac. And God remains faithful to the promise. Because God, in all faithfulness, provides a ram for the sacrifice instead of the child.
So I ask you to think back on your life. When has God been faithful to you? Even as life was going down the tubes, what did God provide? Was it a person, a thing, a phone call, a dog, a stranger, a friend? What was the one thing in your life that was a sign of God’s faithfulness to you?
This week, I have witnessed a sign of God’s faithfulness. I saw the ram that was given to this church as a sign of God’s steadfast mercy. This week, forty-five children walked through our doors for Vacation Bible School. Those are forty-five souls that were instructed in the love of Jesus. I saw parishioners from all walks of life coming together to teach those children about Jesus. The ram that was given to this church by God, was the voices of dozens of children running around our church, playing on our playground, singing songs about Jesus. Those are signs of God’s faithfulness. I believe that God is showing his everlasting mercy and love to us. I believe that God is transforming this Church.
I believe that this church is becoming something it has never become before. I believe that this congregation will have more parishioners, yes, but that’s not the point. I believe that God is calling us to cultivate more ministries, more recovery, more charitable outreach, more Christian formation, more acceptance, more worship, more love of Jesus. That’s why we are spending this year, 2014, envisioning the physical space that we will need to get us there. Worship spaces, parking, restrooms, classrooms, offices, fellowship areas, playgrounds, youth rooms – the list goes on and on. Because I believe that God is being faithful to us.
So what started out as a gruesome sermon about the binding of Isaac, has become a visionary sermon about our parish. And there is no other church I would rather be serving right now than this one. But most of all – this is a sermon about God’s faithfulness. Because even when it seems the gig is up and Isaac has to die, God shows up in a big way. God sends a ram. I know you have felt that way. I know that you have woken up one day and it seemed that the whole world was crashing in. And when life is going down the tubes, when worry and stress and anxiety are running the day, God will always show up in a big way. Or a small way. If you cannot remember when God has been faithful to you, if you are still looking for a sign of God’s mercy, then you’ve come to the right place. You’ve come to this holy table to be inspired and encouraged. You’ve come to meet Jesus. This holy meal is the ram, the sign that God will never leave you. Because even when you don’t believe in God, God believes in you. Because God is so very different from us. Because God is faithful.