SERMON SCRIPTURE – A reading from Genesis 22:
What if you look around and realize that the life you are living is not the one of your dreams? How do you understand where God is in all of that?
Just because something happens in your life, does it automatically follow that “this is all part of God’s plan somehow.” I hear people say that, and I wonder. Was it God’s plan that Abraham and Sarah would suffer the grief of barrenness for 80 decades just so God could bless them with Isaac? Was it God’s plan that Moses would kill the Egyptian and have to flee to Midian for 40 years? Was it God’s plan that the Hebrews would refuse to enter the promised land with Joshua and Caleb, necessitating that generation to die in the wilderness?
Well, you get the idea.
We need to acknowledge the story of Joseph, who does finally say in Genesis 50:20 –
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.What we know from that is Israel’s understanding of how God used what happened to Joseph. It does not follow automatically that everything which happens has been orchestrated by God to accomplish some greater plan, regardless of how much pain and sorrow it may bring to one or to many. We must leave such a theology behind.
That said, sometimes scripture presents a faith understanding in which, like for Joseph, God does seem to ask a lot. Let’s start with other Hebrew Old Testament stories. In Genesis 12 we hear God ask Abraham and Sarah to leave their home, and family, and country, all that they know and love, to head out for an unrevealed period of time, over an unrevealed distance, to end up in an unrevealed place. We look in Exodus 3 and find God sending Moses back to Egypt in his old age to rescue the Hebrew slaves and spend the next 40 years leading them through the wilderness.
There are clearly circumstances, our faith suggests, when God does ask a great deal. Do we dare say that God asks too much? It certainly feels that way to us some times.
Look again at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac. First we must recognize that this story comes from a very different place and time. The things about it that trouble us would not have troubled the people of Abraham’s day. We react violently and with revulsion to the idea killing one of our children, or even any child. Just think about the Casey Anthony trial, a young mother on trial, accused of killing her child. We are so offended by that on principle, “How could anyone do such a thing,” which is at least part of what makes the story so compelling to us. And there have even been times when, for some reason it seems to be mothers, have believed that God was calling them to kill their children as a way of protecting or saving them from some worse fate.
That’s not what is so troubling about this story – if we focus on a father a
lmost killing his child, we completely miss the point. Sacrificing children to the gods was common practice in Abraham’s day in the land of Canaan. That’s why generations later God must give to Moses laws prohibiting such practices, and why during the days of the prophets the people were judged for returning to the practices of their neighbors, which included ‘sending their sons through fire.’ (Deuteronomy 18:10-13; Ezekiel 20:31) No doubt, it would be painful to offer one’s offspring in such a way, but not morally reprehensible. That is not part of the story, even though it is central to our response to it. The morality of the bible stories, even that seemingly promoted by God and practiced by God’s people, can not always be ours.
This is a story about faith in the God who makes covenant with us. God had by this time thrice stated and reaffirmed divine commitment to the covenant with Abraham. And it has been made clear that Isaac is the means through which the covenant will be fulfilled. What God has asked Abraham to do is to release the means though which Abraham will receive fulfillment of God’s promise.
What promises do you think God has made to you? What promise of blessing, of grace, of forgiveness, of hope and healing and prosperity? What promise of salvation has God made to you, and how do you accept, receive and live it? What if God said, “I want you to sacrifice everything about how you practice and live out your faith. Give up all the things that make your spiritual life meaningful – the ways you experience my grace.”
Where else in scripture do we hear God asking much of us?
· “Sell all that you have, give to the poor, take up the cross and follow me.” (Mk 10:21)
· “Whoever loves family or friends or home or career more than me is not fit to follow me, is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 10:36)
· “Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:16)
· Follow me. (Mt 4:19)
· Get up and walk (Mt 9:6)
· Be healed of your disease (Mk 5:34)
· Love your enemies (Mt 5:43)
· Go the second mile. (Mt 5:41)
· Turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39)
· Consider others as better than yourselves. (Phil 2:3)
· Love God with everything – all your heart, mind, soul and strength. (Mt 22:37)
· Leave your family and your home and your country and go to the place I will show you. (Gn 12:1)
· Sacrifice your son on this mountain. (Gn 22:2)
· Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rm 12:2)
· Submit yourselves to one another as unto Christ. (Ep 5:21)
· 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. — Exodus 3
What do you do when God asks too much?
What do you do when the direction you thought God was sending you brings you to a dead end?
What do you do when the means of blessing and source of hope is threatened, or even taken away?
Praise – Remember that even Psalm 22 which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” continues, “you are the source of my praise before all believers and before them I will fulfill my promises to you.” (vs25)
Trust – Remember the counsel of Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Hope – Remember the promise from Paul in Romas 8:28 – God works for good in the midst of every circumstance for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes.
Wait – Remember the prayer of Psalm 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his words I put my hope.
Thank – Remember Paul’s counsel in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.