“The Faithfulness of Unknowing” — Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 6/28/17

Today’s text is omitted from most Sunday school curriculums and avoided by even more preachers and biblical scholars.  Father Abraham is called to kill his beloved son, and it was God’s idea.  In the history of religion, no story is more barbaric. Yet, Judaism, Islam and Christianity all claim to be descendants of this one patriarch and revere him as the model of obedience. So, despite the adult content and the cruelty of God, what makes Abraham faithful?

Genesis 22:1-18 22 After these things 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.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Congregational Responses:
Abe believed that he and Isaac would return after worshipping.
Abe didn’t turn his son into an idol.
Abe obeyed without comprehension.

There’s a film called, “God on Trial.”  It is a reenactment of Elie Wiesel’s experience as a Jew in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.  For not stopping the genocide of World War II, God is put on trial.  Witnesses testify that God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people; others argue that God has switched to the Nazi’s side.  After all the evidence is presented, the jurors quickly deliberate, agree on a guilty verdict, and sentence God to death.  After the trial at the concentration camp, the rabbi says, “Its time for evening prayer.”

Just as the Jews after him who felt like they were being bound up like Isaac, Abraham must have been entirely confused.  God, you promised that I would be the grandfather of every nation, and now you want me to sacrifice the lineage; you promised me a son, and now your asking me to take his life; you promised to bless the world, and now you’re asking me to curse it with the knife.  When the order of things has become completely disordered, what makes Abraham faithful is that he still believes in God even when God doesn’t make any sense.

For all of us, there will be a moment of bewilderment too, when the phone call comes in the middle of night, when your partner says they don’t love you anymore, when the doctor closes the door to give you the diagnosis, when the gas chamber chokes the innocent, when your child is down to her last breath, and nothing will make sense anymore.  And when that happens, when you find yourself atop Mt. Moriah being tested as you gather logs for the fire, remember that for thousands of years, people in the midst of struggle and suffering have turned to this story in the book of Genesis.

In the worst moments of life, overwhelmed by unimaginable circumstances, and facing even more impossible choices, the most faithful response if often confessing, “I don’t know” and yet still believing. If Christianity has very little to do with easy answers, then let us cling to a story that has everything to do with living the hardest questions.

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