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From the Book of Genesis 22:1-18

22After these things God tested Abraham.

He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said,

“Here I am.”  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 that

I shall show 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; he

cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set

out and went to the place in the distance

that God had shown him.  4 On the third day

Abraham looked up and saw the place far

away.  5 Then 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.”  6 Abraham 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.  7 Isaac 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?”  8 Abraham said,

“God himself will provide the lamb for a

burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them

walked on together.  9 When 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.  10 Then

Abraham reached out his hand and took the

knife to kill his son.

11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from

heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.”  12 He 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.” 13 And 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.  14 So 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.”

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a

second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By

myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because

you have done this, and have not withheld

your son, your only son,  17 I will indeed bless

you, and I will make your offspring as

numerous as the stars of heaven and as the

sand that is on the seashore. And your

offspring shall possess the gate of their

enemies,  18 and by your offspring shall all the

nations of the earth gain blessing for

themselves, because you have obeyed my

voice.”

The story of Abraham has many

dimensions. It begins with his ancestors,

before he was born. The One, True God found

a man in Abraham’s lineage who was faithful

and blameless. Abraham is a direct decedent

of Noah and Noah’s son, Shem. Years later,

God looked for another man with the hope of

finding faithfulness. God found Abraham.

Leaving his home territory of Ur and later

his Father’s household in Haran, as well as the

polytheistic worship of his clan, Abraham set

off for an adventure of a lifetime, a journey of

incomprehensible magnitude.

The One and Only God spoke to

Abraham, telling him that if he obeyed, he

would become a Father of as many people as

the stars and possess a land of divine promise.

He accepted this invitation. Abraham left his

Father, Family and familiar gods with only a

promise to guide him. Abraham began a life of

obedience to God, traveling and trusting in the

One inviting him into this promise.

We can’t help but hear the story of

Abraham through our own cultural norms and

taboos. We may be appalled that Abraham

packed up and left his Father, never to return

again to see him. We may be horrified to think

that Abraham gave-in to his wife Sarah’s

insistence to send his first-born son, Ishmael,

away from the safety of his clan to wander in

the dessert because Sarah saw Ismael and his

Mother a threat to her son Isaac’s inheritance.

And, when we hear today the story of Abraham

and Isaac we may be apt to be sickened by

what we interpret by today’s standards as a

seemingly blood-thirsty deity and a callous and

potentially abusive parent. Yet, it does us well

to remember that Abraham’s culture and ours

are very different. It does injustice to the story

to impose today’s values upon Abraham.

When I read about Abraham’s

willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, I hear a

story of obedience. Obedience is not a word

commonly used today. Hearing the word

probably conjures up emotional responses and

strong resistance. Obedience is undeniably tied

to trust. And, in our contemporary setting,

trust is not easily given. Children are

instructed by parents not to trust strangers.

Clergy, teachers, police and other authority

figures have abused power and greatly

contributed in creating a world brimming with

suspicion. Some have transferred their

suspicion on to God. Most of us will admit

that there are few people we can trust.

Through the media we hear of

unconscionable acts committed by spouses and

parents: burning, abusing, drowning, shooting

and killing those they are supposed to cherish

and love. No matter the circumstances or

psychological pathologies, we often respond

with a harden heart. We accept and normalize

the world as unsafe, and even those people

close to us, those we are supposed to trust, we

may think, cannot to be trusted.

So we filter the story of Abraham and

Isaac through our suspicion, and automatically

impose judgment, concluding that God joins

the masses in not being trustworthy.

But hearing the story from outside our

cultural norms and taboos, we can grasp the

intent of the story.

God called Abraham to accept a

commitment to a monumental task. God’s

purpose in doing so was multi-faceted. 1)

Abraham would become the source of a Family

and nation that would serve only the One, True

God. 2) God’s name would be known and

praised among all people of the world. 3)

Abraham’s descendants would claim God’s

Promised Land, the land of Canaan. 4) And,

through Abraham’s descendants God would

bring peace, prosperity and blessings to the

world.

God wanted to see if Abraham was

serious about his commitment, which would

result in countless blessings for Abraham, his

Family and the world. God tested Abraham,

never with the intention of harming Isaac, but

rather, solidifying the bond between God and

his servant Abraham.

Obedience to God necessitates trust.

Throughout sacred scripture, God is

experienced as faithful and trustworthy. Jesus

completely trusted in God’s never-failing love.

It goes against our culture, but we are invited to

place our trust in God and God’s life-giving,

life-transforming love for us and the world.

A question is posed this morning to all

adults. To whom or to what do we give our

obedience? Is it our “self”? Is it our spouse or

children? Is it our employer or vocation, our

country or religion? Is it a discipline or a

habit? Who or what has power over you and

me by our own choice to obey? We may not

like to hear the word, but we all obey

something or someone. So who or what is it?

By giving our obedience to God, like

Abraham, we place God first and trust that God

will bless every other person, relationship or

situation in our life with never-failing, life-

giving, divine love. Through our obedience to

God, we can help God make this world so

much better for so many people.

I hope you see the value in Abraham and

the many aspects of his complicated story. For

God used Abraham, and I believe, continues

using his story to challenge and encourage us

today.

As a last thought, I’d like to share with

you a short story. This is a brief story of

another man, I believe God used for the good

of humanity – but was astonishingly

misunderstood, kind of like Abraham. While

this may sound to some like a story of a

contemporary, I assure you, it is not.

While in office, he was one of the most

unpopular presidents to ever serve the United

States. He was ridiculed in public print,

accused of being power mad, and called a

tyrant by a leading newspaper editor of the day.

Some said he used the office of President just

to gain favor and become rich, and critics

didn’t even like the dinner parties he gave. On

and on it went for this man.

His Secretary of State resigned in

disagreement over foreign policy. Two of his

Cabinet members quit and formed an opposing

political party to fight him. There were riots in

the streets, and congress refused to give him an

army to enforce the law. Everyone felt the

United States was on the brink of a full-scale

civil war. Predictably, scores of newspapers

and many American patriots demanded his

immediate resignation.

He believed in Divine Providence, yet

ultimately declared: “I would rather be in the

grave, than in the Presidency.” But years later,

on this man was conferred the highest honor

possible: the undying title, the Father of his

country. Though some opposed him and others

misunderstood him, George Washington

worked to plant this nation, and God blessed

his work, and we are blessed today.

May God be praised through the life

stories of people like Abraham, George

Washington, and you and me.

 
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