Sunday, September 19, 2021

God Provides Blessings: Heart of a Parent

The Lord was attentive to Sarah just as he had said, and the Lord carried out just what he had promised her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham when he was old, at the very time God had told him. Abraham named his son—the one Sarah bore him—Isaac.

After these events, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”

Abraham answered, “I’m here.”

God said, “Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.” Abraham got up early in the morning, harnessed his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with his son Isaac. He split the wood for the entirely burned offering, set out, and went to the place God had described to him.

On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place at a distance. Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will walk up there, worship, and then come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”

Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”

Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”

Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”

Abraham said, “I’m here.”

The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.” --Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 (CEB)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from God’s beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Parenting is so hard, isn’t it? Whether you love children of your own making, or children of your siblings, or grandchildren, parenting - in every form - is hard. My son is well beyond his “difficult” years, but I still remember the challenges of that time. Not so much that he was “difficult,” but that the choices I had to make as a parent were difficult. Whether to work those extra hours, so I could make more money and better support him. Or to choose to spend time with him instead and risk running out of food at the end of the month. Or then, there are the choices we make about our children’s behaviors - whether to respond and, if so, how strongly to respond, always worried about the risk of how an exaggerated response might escalate their response. And, even, possibly drive them away.

And, then, there are the sacrifices, aren’t there? When they're younger, it’s such a sacrifice of time. The constant feeling of exhaustion and a sense that you weren’t really prepared for this. Even as they grow older and older, the sacrifices change, but they are still there. Yet, none of those sacrifices even begin to compare to that being asked of Abraham in our story today.

This is a hard story. Let’s just be honest about this. In the Jewish tradition, this story is called the “Binding of Isaac.” I wonder if it's not better called “The Destruction of Abraham.” Abraham is called by God - this God we heard of last week as a creating God, a God of life. Abraham is called by God to take his one remaining son. (Remember how he sent his other son, Ishmael, born of Hagar, away and into the wilderness?) Abraham is called by God to take Isaac, his one remaining son. His most beloved child. To go to Mount Moriah - the future site of the temple - and to sacrifice him on an altar they will build together. 

One can only wonder what kind of God would do this? Would ask this of a man to whom a nation had been promised from this son? A father who loved his son more than everything? This story seems to completely contradict everything we know and believe about God.

But, there’s one more thing about this story. Something that nags at me each time I’ve read it.  As a parent, I have to ask the questions - maybe you’re asking them, too - Why does Abraham make the choices he does? And, why doesn’t Abraham say anything to challenge God in any way? 

We all have to make choices in our lives. Choices as parents. How to raise our kids. What to teach them. Whether to allow them to do certain things. And I don’t know about you, but there have been many times that I’ve made the wrong choices. Even with good intent. There were times when my choices were just complete failures. But, I think with most of us, our choices come out of our experience. Experiences that are so different from parent to parent. Experiences that drive us to make the decisions we make for our kids. And their lives. And our lives together.

Perhaps that’s why Abraham made the choice he made. Why he didn’t challenge God when God told him to take his son, his only son, his beloved son, and sacrifice him on the mountain that day. Perhaps Abraham made this choice based on his own experience with God. Up to this point, God had asked him to do a lot of things. Ten tests, in fact, according to Jewish tradition. Moving away with Sarah from their homeland to become strangers in this new land of Canaan. Then, on arriving, facing a famine. And then, promised to become a great nation, he and Sarah continued to be childless. The tests had been many for Abraham, from his first meeting with God. Yet, so far, his experience was that this God, to whom he had been covenanted, was a God who kept promises. A God who remained faithful.

So, perhaps, Abraham made the choice he made because he believed that God would be faithful. That God would not let his future and that of Isaac be destroyed.

This text has traditionally been read on Good Friday. If we were to read this story today as if it were that day, perhaps it might - as one theologian puts it - become at least clear why Abraham can afford to trust God with his own beloved son. Because, in every circumstance and beyond all reason, God can be trusted with a child because God’s heart is wholly the heart of a parent. And it’s on Good Friday that we see, with eyes of faith, our own God standing just as Abraham did. An anguished parent yearning over his adorable, true and only Son. Bound on the wood. Behold the Lamb of God.

In our Christian tradition, we know this God as the one whose heart has been torn wide open by the conflict between God’s love for God’s Son. And God’s love for the world. 

We know the choice made by God. Yet, stranger than strange, in making this choice, we also see that God’s heart, once it is ripped wide open, now has the capacity to love even more.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Preached September 19, 2021, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, and Third, Louisville.
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Genesis 21:1-3, 22:1-14; John 1:29

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