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Lombard CRC

Either Abraham's Faith Or Nothing

We are shocked by this story.

If there are historical objections

to the account of Cain and Abel

we looked at a few weeks ago,

and if there are scientific objections

to last week’s account of Noah’s ark and the flood,

all sorts of moral objections confront us

when the Lord God says to Abraham:

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and . . . Sacrifice him there

as a burnt offering . . .”

And, “Abraham . . .

bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar . . .

Then he reached out his hand

and took the knife to slay his son . . .”

 

Is this the sort of story we should be telling our kids?

How many atrocities have been committed

by those finding permission from these verses?

Atheist Richard Dawkins thinks that

the Lord God revealed in the Bible

is truly a moral monster.

Dawkins deems God's commanding Abraham

to sacrifice Isaac

to be "disgraceful"

and tantamount to "child abuse and bullying."

 

Yet even those of us

who find a truer and deeper meaning in this story don’t count it as one of our favorites,

or base our comfort in it.

How many hymns do we have

about Abraham Sacrificing Isaac? I can’t think of one. And none of the many classic paintings of this story are hanging in church hallways or libraries;

they depict too much terror and violence.

We refer to Abraham as the Father of Faith,

but flinch at this sort of faith.

Jacques Ellul reacted long ago this way:

Faith leaves nothing intact . . .

If my faith isn’t the very same kind

that Abraham had, it’s nothing.

It’s as simple as that.

Faith inevitably leads me to this measuring up,

this fateful encounter –

either Abraham’s sort of faith or nothing.

Those are challenging words.

 

No wonder we are shocked by this story.

But if we are shocked, Abraham wasn’t.

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—

and go to the region of Moriah.

Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering

on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up

and loaded his donkey.

He took with him two of his servants

and his son Isaac.

When he had cut enough wood

for the burnt offering,

he set out for the place God had told him about.

 

It sounds like there was no hesitation.

There’s no arguing with the Lord

like he did for Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham doesn’t flinch in fear or disgust.

We don’t read any objection.

Just that he got up the next morning,

prepared for the journey,

and for the sacrifice,

and “he set out for the place

God had told him about.”

 

Abraham receiving THIS word of the Lord

and just acting on it

should make us stop and listen

to the revelation a little more closely.

There’s something more going on here

that the likes of Richard Dawkins

arrogantly glosses over.

We have to confess

that when we hear about making a sacrifice to God we are not surprised.

The history of ancient religions and pagan practices are filled with accounts of offerings and sacrifices

to the gods.

Reading Genesis 22 sounds like God is acting here

the way human beings have come to expect God

to act.

Before you say in pride we’re more advanced today and don’t act like that,

look a little more closely at your life.

Here’s the scary thing:

all of us fathers sacrifice our sons to some god.

All of us as parents or people

live in a way that yield to something or someone,

and as a result either give blessing to

or take selfishly from the community around us,

be that family or friends

or community or work or nature.

 

There is the most wicked and most literal sacrifice

of children by abortion today.

We rightly call it evil and support efforts against it.

But there are other temptations for you and me

that also sacrifice our children

without our realizing it.

Some sacrifice to money,

or pleasure, or career,

or worse to alcohol or drugs or pornography

or some other addiction,

or worse still , to our own sense of self

and what we selfishly call happiness.

We may do this in ways

that don’t look so extreme as sacrifice,

in fact, we may be praised

for exercising our own freedom,

doing things our way,

being so devoted to success

or so authentic to our heart.

But the things we do,

the priorities we choose,

the desires we have and nurture and act on,

all these in turn do something to us,

form us and shape us.

We are what we love.

And that has consequences not only for ourselves

but also for those we love.

The shock of Genesis 22 is to warn us

that our sacrifices must be

to the one and only true Lord and God

who promises to provide and to save,

rather than the lesser, false gods

that in the end only take more from us and others,

and whose way is death.

 

We are given the story of Abraham

and his absolute devotion and fear and submission  to see his faith and hope and identity

in the promises of the Lord.

So that we examine our own faith and trust

in our Heavenly Father.

Did you notice,

this story begins as a story of love, too:

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac . . .

 

The Lord is asking us about our loves.

Because they define our identity,

and express our belonging.

Notice, this is a request by the Lord God,

not a command.

It’s a little hard to see in today’s English,

but the original Hebrew makes this

a request by God to Abraham.

This is worth noticing.

This is worth applying

to our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.

For this takes us beyond the false assumption

that faith is about religious practice and posture,

and God is about intellectual concepts or ideas

in our minds.

Here is The Father in Heaven

requesting of One of his chosen children,

a request to a father about his child.

Here is Abraham in intimate relationship

with the one Lord God who speaks with him.

Do you get what that’s saying about faith?

Yes, faith knows some things like doctrinal beliefs,

and yes, faith does some things like

corporate worship services, praying, and  tithing,

but all these things and more aren’t the end

but the means to mature towards a life of grace,

living in relationship with God who is Father,

who is Savior and Lord,

who is Comfort and Counselor, our first love.

After all we have been through together,

the Lord is asking Abraham,

do you trust me with all that you love?

Will you trust that my love for you is greater?

 

Abraham is free to say no.

To refuse what God has asked.

To do so would put their covenant relationship

in jeopardy.

Abraham’s refusal would imply

he doesn’t trust the Lord after all,

or think the words of God

are wise, loving, and full of promise.

And the long holy plan of God to redeem the world through Abraham’s family would be broken.

So is grace enough?

Is the Lord really God of all?

Is the Lord’s love powerful enough that

the promise, even fulfilled,

doesn’t save,

but only the Lord saves?

So God’s request of Abraham

asks everything of God,

because the Lord is not like false gods

who demand sacrifice and just continue to take.

The Father loves his only son, too,

perfectly, more than Abraham loved Isaac,

just as our Heavenly Father loves you perfectly,

more than anyone else can.

In coming to Abraham,

the Lord is revealing the sacrifice God will make

to provide salvation for even you and me.

The Heavenly Father

will not stay the hand of the executioner.

God providing for Abraham and all who believe

costs the life of his son, Jesus.

 

When Abraham professes his faith saying to Isaac,

‘God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice,’

he is saying more than he knows.

And generations later,

not too far from where Abraham and Isaac are,

Jesus will die as the Lamb of God

who takes away the sin of the world.

 

Everything God asks of us

the Lord has already suffered

in the life and crucifixion of Jesus.

All that the Father brings to us to suffer

comes not by chance,

but through his providing hands

that embrace us drawing us in close

to the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son.

 

This gives us a clue

to the power of this chapter for us.

Contrary to Rachel Held Evans,

God doesn’t command

a randomly violent and cruel act.

Abraham doesn’t unthinkingly

or wildly respond to the mystery of divine presence.

These two know each other, if I can say it that way.

The Lord is more to Abraham

than just his promised son, Isaac.

Abraham isn’t in it with God

just for the perceived benefits.

Here I am, Lord, Abraham said when God called.

He’s all in because

the Lord has been all in with Abraham:

thru promise and failing,

thru sin and restoration,

thru struggle for justice and safety.

Abraham knows the Lord’s purposes

are bigger than either Abraham or Isaac,

while the Lord also loves them

and is faithful to his Word.

 

Peter Williams concludes:

God has shown himself able to do remarkable things,

by the time we get to Genesis 22

we find that God has revealed to Abraham

that through Isaac in particular

he is going to have future offspring.

Now at this point Isaac has not had any children

and so Abraham has to know

that Isaac is going to have some future existence beyond him sacrificing him

and that has to be a future existence

involving offspring.

It is rather striking that he says to the servants

at the bottom of the mountain

"I and the boy will come back to you."

So I don't need to read ahead to Hebrews

to find the end of the story

to find out that Abraham knew

that God was able to raise him from the dead.

I can get to where Hebrews got

just on the basis of the Old Testament.

In other words,

in a miraculous universe

where such things can happen

there may be certain things which,

in an atheist universe, can't really work....

The thing is,

we all face questions like Abraham and Isaac faced,

and we wonder how it’s gonna work

while confessing that we can’t make it work

on our own:

Why did this happen?

How am I gonna live with this?

What can be done about it?

What’s the purpose of this?

And all those questions and more are God questions.

Exposing the foundational issue

on which all of life rests or remains restless:

can God be trusted to save me?

There’s no atheistic answer for that.

There is only a gospel answer for that.

It is Jesus, the Son of God,

that completes the sacrifice of Isaac,

and in him sacrifice is made complete.

 

Abraham knew that Isaac would not remain dead.

He knew that "we will return" (Gen 22:5).

This was not a leap taken in despair

but a rational faith-filled act.

Because God promised that he would bless the world through the offspring of childless Isaac.

When God commanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, the burden of responsibility rested on God

to make good on all his promises.

That’s what motivated Abraham.

That’s what he counted on.

That’s what faith calls us to count on.

And that’s where God’s Spirit guides us to

in all that happens and happens not to happen

in our lives,

until we too confess,

“God himself will provide the lamb . . .”

 

So this story that starts off shocking us,

now provides instead purposeful ways

for us to be thankful with our lives,

and assured in our promised gospel roles.

 

Abraham never forgets that Isaac is a son of promise,

of God’s promise,

of God’s intention for the world.

So he also never forgets that

ultimately, Isaac is not his, but the Lord’s,

and his love for his son must be toward that goal –

giving gratitude and glory to the Lord with his life.

Can you hear this?

What was said at our baptisms?

We belong to the Heavenly Father.

We live by the Lord’s promise.

Your kids are not yours alone,

each belongs to the Lord.

Your marriage is not just yours,

it is to be a testimony of Christ’s love for his church.

Your life is not your own,

you belong body and soul, in life and in death,

to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

How do your priorities,

how does your speech,

how do your loves, reflect this?

 

When Abraham’s hand is stopped,

the reason the angel gives him is:

“Now I know that you fear God,

because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The two key words in that verse are: know and fear.

Know is a relational word in the Bible.

It doesn’t mean knowing facts,

but knowing the person,

knowing the heart.

The point of all this is the point of all

of life’s hardships, struggles, sacrifices and offerings,

to live in a saving relationship with God.

“I am with you always,” promised Jesus.

Present with us to draw us close.

But is that good?

Is that enough?

Faith says so because we hear echoes

of God’s own sacrificial resolve

in that message to Abraham:

“Now I know that you fear God,

because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The Heavenly Father did not withhold his only Son,

but suffered Christ’s unjust crucifixion.

So now do we know that this one God is to be feared,

because our Father has not withheld his Son?

What more do you need?

 

For Abraham, the promise was enough.

Three times in this event Abraham answers:

Here I am!

Once to God, once to Isaac, once to the angel.

The one time to Isaac

is translated differently in English,

but it’s the same word.

Faith in God is lived out

in our covenant roles, relationships and responsibilities.

And it is lived out in times of suffering and sacrifice.

When Abraham answers the third time it is after the angel calls out his name twice: Abraham! Abraham!

Why two times?

We hear both his name and his calling, his identity, his role and place in faith and the kingdom of God.

Abraham, Father of Nations! calls the angel.

Abraham! I know this testing

forced you to offer all you are

in trust to the Lord!

He lives out his faith both personally

but also in community,

in relation to his family,

and his people.

True faith in the Lord

is more than a private, personal understanding.

Our love for God is lived out

as we love our neighbors,

our family,

and true faith acts out of trust in God’s provision

even when we can’t see it at the time.

 

Abraham so responded; then Isaac.

The text implies

Abraham comes down the mount alone,

Isaac later, alone,

there is not the togetherness of the story up to now.  Not estrangement, that’s not the goal.

But the yielding of parental authority

to the authority of the Lord.

Each one of us finally stands before the Lord

and his mercy and grace.

We may have been blessed

by the faith of our fathers or parents,

or we may not have had that.

But love for Jesus must be our own, not another’s. And so now must Isaac.

 

Wes Howard-Brook applies the story this way:

God’s people, the church, are to raise their children, natural and spiritual,

with a deep and abiding trust In God’s Word.

No other voice can be authoritative:

not that of one’s own mind,

one’s spouse,

one’s surrounding culture,

or one’s ancestors.

One’s own hopes and expectations for one’s children

can never allow one’s self

to refuse to listen for God’s guidance

as the ultimate arbiter of what is best.

 

We look to Abraham as a believer in the Lord,

as a parent, and as the father of God’s people,

even in his willingness to sacrifice his son,

because he worships God as the source of life, blessing and righteousness,

above all things,

even his deepest loves.

We aren’t to imitate Abraham,

and in Christ we would never have to,

for the cross of Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices of God,

but we come away from this story

seeing that the love of even our own family

is put in the service of what is right,

good and holy,

living for Jesus.

 

But know it is sacrifice, it may include suffering.

This helps us when we are weary of sacrifice:

doing without,

putting others ahead of yourself

letting go of what looks fun

and instead preferring what is good and right,

looking the fool,

wondering if it’s worth the cost.

 

There are times in life when

we each feel the burden

of faith making us different,

making us live differently,

and we’re tempted to live like everybody else.

You moms and dads will hear that

in your own hearts

as much as you’ll hear it from your kids.

Dad, how come we can’t have what they have?

Mom, how come we can’t do what they do?

How come we can’t be like them?

What can we say?

We CAN say,

Who knows how the exercise of faith

has molded and shaped us for good

beyond what we can sense

or could have accomplished,

for it is Christ’s righteousness in us.

For we can’t imagine where we’d be

without God’s provision,

without Christ’s presence,

without God’s promises.

 

Kids, young people, this is why we go to church.

This is why we have to be church together.

This is why we have a sermon in worship,

to take the mental and spiritual time

to have this word take authority over our

desires, emotions, thoughts and actions.

This is why we challenge each other

to be a supporting partner of Christian education.

This is why it is so important to learn to pray,

to practice being a generous giver,

to volunteer to serve together,

this is why we insist on a biblical sexual ethic.

This is why we don’t give allegiance

to either a republican or democratic answer,

but weigh all issues of justice

under the authority of the Kingdom of God

which values each person and each life.

This is why you were baptized.

 

Abraham lives out his faith

not only fully present to God,

but also fully present to his son.

Can he be both faithful to God’s covenant callings and faithful to his own covenant calling

to his wife and family?

How do we live out our faith within our roles, relationships and responsibilities?

How do we encounter the Lord here?

All along Abraham says, God will provide.

He says it with hope as much as he says it with fear. In our own hopes and fears

we fall back on the same promises:

the Lord will provide.

This type of fear of the Lord

is the beginning of wisdom,

the bedrock of faith

in all our roles, relationships and responsibilities.

 

 

 

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