Trust in God
Genesis 22:1-14, Matthew 10:40-42
Today’s scripture lessons are just packed with stuff! Intrigue, faith, service, belief that God will provide – it’s all in there. The story in Genesis in particular makes us sit up and take notice. It has a happy ending, but the story itself may make us a bit uncomfortable. Would God really ask any of us to give up our child for our faith? Would God really be so cruel as to promise a child to an old couple only to take that child away?
We need to go back a little and see the story from a more holistic perspective. Sarah and Abraham were without children. Sarah was unable to conceive a child and was well beyond child-bearing age when she was given the promise of a child. We know from studying God’s word that when a woman was barren and then conceived a child, that child was often very special. This was the case for Hannah when she finally gave birth to Samuel who became a great priest of Israel. It was true of Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist, who fulfilled his mission as the one called to prepare the way for the Messiah.
For these women, the darkest times of their lives were met with unspeakable joy as they were finally able to bare children. At this time in history, a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to bare male children. To be barren was shameful – women were often shunned from society because of this. It seems so odd in our context but in their context, these women suffered on many levels, only to be blessed with exceeding joy at the birth of their children.
So it was for Sarah and Abraham. God led Abraham into a strange land to be the father of many nations yet he and Sarah remained without children. Abraham was most likely encouraged to put Sarah aside and take another wife in order to produce heirs. He did in fact have a child with Sarah’s handmaiden, and the history of the church notes this
very well may have been the beginning of the Islamic nation through Ishmael. They made mistakes, tried to bargain with God, but in the end held true to their faith and trust in God to provide them with a son. And God, in God’s time, did just that, when Abraham and Sarah were well up in years.
So here we come to the scene when Isaac was a teenager. He had not yet achieved the age to marry and bare children. He was still learning how to trust in God through his parents’ teaching and example. All the hopes of God’s promise to Abraham rested in this child, at which point God asks the insurmountable – give your child to me.
Any parent in the room is cringing at this demand from God. How can we believe in a God who would so willfully take a child from its parents? Do we not wrestle with this today? My guess is that someone here may have experienced or know of someone who has lost a child. Is this really God’s will to take a child – does God really need another angel in heaven?
I don’t want to get ahead of myself because these are the kinds of questions we are going to be exploring during our sermon series that begins in a couple of weeks. But as we look at this story of Abraham and Isaac, can we not see that God’s love for Abraham far exceeded God’s demand for Isaac as a sacrifice?
If we carefully read the scriptures, we can see two things. First, Abraham indicated to the men in his company that he and Isaac would go off together on their own to worship, and would return to join them. Look at Genesis 22 verse 5. “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 had faith in God that both he and Isaac would return with the caravan. This is a strong faith – Abraham truly believed that God would provide.
Second, Isaac noted they had everything for worship except the sacrificial lamb. Isaac even carried the very wood that Abraham would lay him on to become the sacrifice. Was the ram stuck in the thicket all along? Was it a mere coincidence that the sacrifice was provided? I wonder. We are encouraged to follow Abraham’s example of his faith in God, but this seems almost too much. Our children are special gifts from God. As a mother I would not be able to see a loving God in this requirement.
So we are truly caught in a dilemma. How do we reconcile our faith in God with stories like this? This is one of those ‘Why’ questions – Why do the innocent suffer? As I said, we will explore this one further but suffice it to say the best lens I have found to view these stories through is the lens of Jesus Christ. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus provides us a view of scripture through his words and actions. Jesus cherished children. He encouraged children to come to him. Children were drawn to Jesus. They were not afraid of him. They saw him as the ultimate giver of life and love.
The author of the Genesis text notes that God tested Abraham. Do we not feel tested at times? Do we not feel that at times a black cloud is hanging over us? We are not able to see things from God’s perspective, but I truly believe God brings good out of evil. I believe that even in the tragedies and trials that we face daily, God somehow weaves those things into a positive. For Abraham, he was most definitely feeling tested by God, but it is clear his faith was in tack and God did provide what was needed.
How do you think this event may have changed both Abraham and Isaac? From this point on, there is no other record of the two of them ever speaking again. This is a hard price to pay for our faith. Have any of you felt shunned by your loved ones because of you faith and trust in God? I have. I think it’s quite amusing when I am meeting a group of people for the first time and they finally get word that I am a pastor. You can see them replaying their last comments to see if they said anything offensive. The sheepish looks and holy hush falls over the crowd for a moment! Clearly God is already at work in their lives, yet to be confronted with a pastor may seem a bit too much!
I believe God to be a loving, caring God who only wants to see good things come to all of God’s children. We may choose to turn away from God time and again, but that does not diminish God’s love for all of us. We may fight amongst ourselves, but the message of God’s love through God’s only son Jesus prevails every time. The author of this passage in Genesis may not have viewed God as all-loving but that does not change the fact that God sent Jesus in the form of a child to literally change the world. There can be no greater love.
So what do we do with a story like this? As children I’m sure we heard this story countless times. We are told to model Abraham’s faith in God and see the good that came out of this test. I believe that is true. I believe we are to model Abraham’s strong faith even when it seems the world is crashing in on us. I remember when I lost my job through a massive layoff that I was attending a church service 2 days later. I was singing in the choir and our final hymn for the service was “It is well with my Soul.” The problem was at that time, it was not well with my soul. I was devastated. I could not see any good that would come out of this. My family was in jeopardy. All I could see was the black cloud of despair.
But God did not leave us there. God provided comfort for my husband and I as we progressed through this major challenge to our family. Interestingly enough, I can point to that layoff as the starting point for my path to ordained ministry. I don’t believe it was predestined, but I do believe God brings good out of bad situations. For the first time in my adult life, I truly feel I am doing the work God called me to do.
God is calling each of us. Sometimes that calling may seem like quite a challenge. Sometimes we may have to face trials that seem unfair. But one thing I know for sure – answering God’s call is a blessing in every way. Knowing that you are a change agent for God offers its own rewards. In the scripture from Matthew, Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Can you go and visit some of our shut-ins this week? Can you spend some time with our children by signing up to be in charge of ‘Godly Play’ for one week? Can you help us serve a meal to our AA group? Can you share the love of God in a way that makes a difference in someone else’s life? Perhaps you can respond as Abraham did – here I am. Amen.