Friday, June 27, 2008

A, Pentecost 7 Proper 8 - Genesis 22:1-14 "A Father's Sacrifice"

The account of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, to be sacrificed is one of the most emotionally churning series of events in the Old Testament. God tests Abraham; his command is short and succinct. Abraham, now well and truly over the age of one hundred, faithfully takes his son, Isaac, to the place of sacrifice up Mt Moriah. And Isaac obediently goes with his father, without a word of complaint.

In Genesis 22:1-14 we hear: …God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Three players stand out in this intriguing narrative, which is made all the more absorbing when we place ourselves in their places and observe how we might react to the same situation.

First let’s put ourselves in the place of Isaac. He is Abraham’s only son. In the narrative he says nothing as his father leaves taking him to the place of the sacrifice. Isaac knows what takes place at sacrifices and we know this by the one comment he makes during the course of events. He questions his father where the lamb is for the sacrifice since they already have the wood and the fire.

Isaac faithfully and quietly travels with his father up the mountain. One might see in the account that Isaac’s nature is like that of a lamb quietly being led to the slaughter. Then when he is bound and placed on the wood for the sacrifice there is no complaint or controversy.

This is truly a deeply sad picture when we place ourselves in Isaac’s predicament lying there bound tight, looking up at his dad, with all the trust and faithfulness of a child who loves his father, to see him raise his hands holding the knife just seconds before he would plunge it down into his body. What would their eyes have told each other; the innocence of Isaac peering up at his dad looking into his eyes for perhaps the last time?

And then afterwards, when Abraham was stopped from his action and unties his son, and grabs the ram from the thicket. How would Isaac have viewed his father having been so close to death?

Would you have laid there so quietly witnessing your dad, bind you and prepare to sacrifice you? What would you have said to your dad in the moments after the sacrifice of the ram and as you travelled home?

Now let’s look at it from Abraham’s point of view. You are a parent; you love your only child. This child is pure gift; given when there was no way you could have produced him by your own will or reasonable decision.

Yet you also love God, he is the one who has given you your child. It is by him alone that you hold your son, and have seen him growing to love and trust you. Now your son’s innocence and faithfulness towards you and your faithfulness and love towards him is ordered to be sacrificed. To surrender your son, Isaac, whose name means to laugh, is no laughing matter! It’s enough to wipe the smile off any parent’s face.

Abraham’s faithfulness to God almost seems stoic and steely cold. He seems to be completely unemotional at the surface. As a parent how would you react to God’s command to forsake your one and only child, given as a gift when the giving life seemed to be over?

How could it be that the lamb for the sacrifice is to be your one and only child? Imagine holding the knife and peering into the eyes of your faithful child, trusting every move you make, no matter how confusing the situation might be. It’s enough to rip your own heart to pieces just thinking about it!

Now put yourself in God’s place; commanding Abraham’s faithfulness in the sacrifice of his only son. As you test the father of many, seeing if he would judge the situation by what he humanly saw, or by trusting in you the God of all creation.

And being God who could control everything, now you have put the control into Abraham’s hands; waiting to see what he would do; giving him the freedom to trust your word and follow your directive or to select self interest in the preservation of his son. If you were God, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier, avoiding a situation that would cause so much pain?

How would it be to be God looking down on Abraham and Isaac as the knife was lifted? To be the God responsible for the gut wrenching test, to be the God that gave an eleventh hour reprieve, calling Abraham to stop as he followed his command?

But even more, this situation is a preview to the sacrifice that fulfilled the very promise God made to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations. In this sacrifice the Lamb knew he was to be slaughtered and bound to wood. The Horn of our Salvation was to be head bound with thorns. But this time the Father knew he would not relinquish at the eleventh hour and save his one and only Son from slaughter. Jesus himself said, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)

And in this sacrifice we find our salvation. In this narrative we are the sheep with our heads bound in the thicket. We are the ones caught in the sin of our situation. It is us who should have been sacrificed to atone for our sin against God. But God’s Son bore the punishment and we were unbound there at Mt Moriah in the eleventh hour. Now we are set free to enter the eternal temple of the Lord.

The Father and the Son endured the situation, the pain, and the suffering in the sacrifice so we might live as the children of Abraham, as the children of faith, and faithfully follow our Heavenly Father. He faithfully sent his Son to be sacrificed on the mountain of Calvary, and because he did, we are numbered as one of those descendants God promised to Abraham all those years ago. Amen.