Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sermon: 7th Sunday of Pentecost(Year A), July 31, 2011- Genesis 22:1-14, "Abraham", The Rev. Nancy Kenney

God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 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." 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 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." 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. 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?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
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. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 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." 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. 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."
One day, a Pastor was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the boy would leave. But he didn't. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, "Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?"

"No," he replied. "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."
That boy was testing the Pastor….checking to see what he would do.
In today’s OT reading, Abraham is facing a TEST, too.
When I was in college, I went to the University of Tennessee. The first day of one of my classes, the Professor told the class that 1 in three of us would be back the next year. He said to look to your left at the person next to you and then look to the right to see that person. Only 1 of you will be back for your sophomore year. I was shocked! So when I had a TEST, I had the impression that they were trying to flunk me out of school and were looking for me to FAIL.
Later I went to Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. It is a Christian school and the atmosphere was different. I was very anxious about my tests there, because this was Graduate School and I had been out of school for a number of years. When I came into the classroom for my first TEST in more than 20 years, I was surprised when the Professor opened with prayer and prayed for our success. He wanted us to pass the test and do well!
God has a TEST for Abraham in today’s OT reading. Do you think God wanted him to FAIL  or SUCCEED?
Ok, let’s look at today’s reading again and put things into context.
First of all, it is important to remember some background about Abraham.
By faith, Abraham obeyed God and left his own family and country to go where God would show him. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising descendants, land and blessings. He and his wife had been promised a child even though they were in their old age, beyond childbearing years. They did not see the fulfillment of the promise soon enough, so they took things into their own hands and Abraham fathered a child by Sarah’s servant. After that, Sarah conceived a child…..their only child….Isaac….the child of God’s promise.
NOW we look at TODAY’S reading when Isaac is older.
God tested Abraham. 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."
God said to take his son…..his ONLY son…..the one God knew he LOVED…….
And do WHAT? Offer him as a BURNT OFFERING!!
BURNT offering? You know what is left of a BURNT offering? NOTHING! ASHES! So give him up completely?? 
This seems ABSURD! UNREASONABLE at best!
God had promised Abraham that he would have many descendants and become a great nation! HOW can that happen when he will have NO children? In fact, God changed his name  from Abram to Abraham which means “Father of a multitude”. How can that happen when Isaac is a pile of ashes?
Gordon Wenham, a biblical commentator, says that what God is calling Abraham to do is to relinquish the FUTURE by offering Isaac as a sacrifice. (Wenham pg 283 (World Biblical Commentary) That must have been confusing to Abraham,……. how God could have made these promises about the future and still be asking for Isaac’s life.   BUT
BIGGER than that was that Abraham LOVED Isaac; nothing was more precious to him than the son of his old age, whom God had promised to him.
God was requiring Abraham to give to God the most precious offering he could give.
SOOO the TEST was to see if Abraham, who loves Isaac, loves God even more.
The question for each of us is…….what would we have done if we were Abraham?
WHAT is most precious to us? Not that God is going to ask us for our children. This was the test for Abraham for a particular purpose….but WHAT do WE  hold most precious?
And….WHAT would our response be if God asked us to give it up?
1)      Would it be….Ok, but let me do it my own way and when I am ready?
a.       After all, don’t I know what would be best?  OR
2)      Would it be…..Will there be any PAIN involved?
a.       Because if there is I am OUT! No way am I going through any PAIN! OR
3)      Would it be……I don’t UNDERSTAND this!
a.       And until I do, I am NOT doing this! Explain it to me and then I’ll let You know! OR
4)      Would it be…..Is this going to COST me any MONEY?
a.       It seems people are always asking me for money, especially the church….You know how that is! I am OUT if it costs me money!
But if we were a people who had FAITH in God, would we remember that He created the universe, can heal our pain, has thoughts that are higher than ours, and that all that we have belongs to Him?
One response, we put our trust in OURSELVES and the other we put our trust in GOD!
I had a friend who was going to be ordained as a minister. The week before her ordination, she told God that if there was anything in her life that she loved more than Him, for Him to remove it. She wanted to love Him above all else.
She had a very close friend at that time that she knew was not good for her. She knew that God did not want her to continue that relationship, but she really liked this person.  Soon after this prayer to God, she noticed that that friend had found another friend that she was close to and no longer seemed interested in her friendship anymore. God removed that relationship and honored my friend’s prayer. My friend truly loved God above all else and put her trust in Him. It was painful to lose such a friend, but it has been for good in her life and she thanks Him now.
Are there things in YOUR LIFE that God wants you to give up to Him? Things that keep you from loving Him above all else?
The point in Abraham’s story is not what might have happened to Isaac, for he was never in danger, but what was Abraham’s response to God?
The rest of our passage today tells us that Abraham responded by getting up early the next morning and taking Isaac and his servants to head for the mountain that God would show them. It was a THREE day journey….plenty of time for Abraham to think about what he was going to do….to reflect on his memories of life with Isaac…and to change his mind. But he did not. He had Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice and he had the knife and fire, as they climbed the mountain, just the 2 of them. He prepared the altar and wood for the sacrifice; placed Isaac on the wood; lifted his knife to kill Isaac…………………”But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!"  "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."

He did NOT ask if PAIN was involved or if it COSTS MONEY or for an EXPLANATION! He TRUSTED God….had FAITH in God….and GOD PROVIDED ALL THAT HE NEEDED!
As Abraham lifted his eyes, he saw a ram caught in the thicket and Abraham sacrificed him, after he released Isaac, at the angels’ command. And Abraham called that place “Yahweh will provide”.
Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
AND…. Abraham PASSED THE TEST!!  He had failed his first test from God, but passed the second one!
Now he showed God that He loved him more than the most precious thing in his life!
HE loved God over ALLLLLL  else!! And he had FAITH in Him and His word!
The question for each of us is:
Do WE trust God… we have FAITH in Him when we don’t understand what is happening in our lives; when our lives take an unexpected turn; when someone we love turns against us; when pain enters our life; when God asks us to do things that don’t make sense?
The REAL question is this:
Do we trust in OURSELVES?......OR……in GOD?
Do we trust in what SCRIPTURE says or in what WE think?
A test will surely come in our lives where we have the chance to choose.
God wants us to pass the test, like my Professor at Regent University. Jesus is even interceding for us so that we will pass!
The question is……WHO will we choose to rely on…….OURSELVES or GOD?

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