A pastor tells of a little girl who was exposed to the bloodthirsty parts of the Old Testament, the war, the revenge. She replied, “That was before God became a Christian.”
“Good Things Versus Ultimate Things” — Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 6/18/14
We adults tend to get squeamish too, instead preferring a god of soft verbs. One who invites, one who encourages, one who considers, one who requires nothing.
And yet, the God of Father Abraham is the God of Jesus the Christ, is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, is the God of you and the God of me, is the God of today’s text from Genesis.
What does the Lord require?
Genesis 22:1-18. 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.”Red-letter Bibles, denominational loyalties, first born sons, we religious types are especially vulnerable because “the good things of earth are so easily confused with the ultimate things of heaven” (Robert Blackburn).
To ask the hardest questions because God can handle them.
To put nothing above God.
God never requires violence.
Act in faith and trust even without understanding.
Idolatry, worship of that which isn’t holy, is the hysterical pursuit to replace God, to love to “possessive excess,” to make masters out of every shiny object, every glowing image, every golden calf (Kathleen Norris).
The first commandment is, “you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20). Or, in God’s kingdom, there can be no American Idols. Whatever it is, drag it down from the mantel and haul it up to the altar.
Father Abraham, the exemplar of our faith, had “to choose between trusting the Giver that is God or clinging to the gift that is Isaac” (Walter Brueggemann). We too have to chose.
The book “Random Acts of Kindness by Animals” tells the true story of Charlie, a pet raccoon, adopted by the Mertens, a family of five. While all were asleep, Charlie’s nose twitched at the acrid smell of the house on fire. He barged into the bedroom, pulling and tugging and shrilling until dad woke up.
The parents choked through the black smoke to rouse their two daughters as the walls were consumed and the floor buckled beneath. They all escaped out a window and down a second story ladder.
Covering themselves in wet blankets, the neighbors came over to help, rushing into the burning house towards the nursery only to find the staircase collapsed. Then a small gray stripped creature with a black mask came dragging the baby out in its mouth, burned but alive.
Christians are a people required to sacrifice because God first sacrificed through Jesus for us.