How much darkness can we bear…

 

            1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, 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.’ 3So 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. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.

           

            5Then 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.’ 6Abraham took the wood for 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. 7Isaac 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?’ 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

           

            9 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. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

           

            11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12He 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.’ 13And 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. 14So 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.’

           

            15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I 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, 18and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ 19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. 

 

In the middle of the night the Voice calls: “Abraham!”  He knows this voice; has heard it, conversed with it many times over many decades; he has learned to trust whatever message it conveys in whatever dark night it is heard. 

 

It is the voice of God who, at the beginning, said to him, “Go from your father’s house to a land I will show you”.

 

This time the command is eerily similar: “Go to the land of Moriah, to a mountain I will show you”.  His life has come full circle.  He is being called again.  But this night’s message is unimaginably severe.  “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and offer him there as a burnt offering.”

 

Shed his blood. 

 

Sacrifice his life.

 

Those first words from God to Abraham were an invitation to journey into a promise.  Abraham trusted this God.  He took a chance; he took the first step.

 

These last words of God to Abraham—because this is the last time in the Scripture text that God speaks to him, are an invitation into darkness.  These words undo the decades of Abraham’s walk with God.

 

All those years he waited for the promise to be fulfilled.  When Isaac was finally born to his barren wife, Abraham saw his own salvation.  In Isaac his name would continue; the family would begin that would one day grow to outnumber the stars.   Abraham’s faith—his great leap into the unknown had paid off.

 

Then this night comes, and the voice returns: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and offer him…”

 

In the morning Abraham wakes, gathers the son he loves, the wood and the fire and sets his face toward Moriah. 

 

He makes it look easy—“God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

 

It isn’t easy.

 

He doesn’t go to Moriah because it’s easy.

 

He doesn’t go because he thinks sacrificing his son is a good idea.

 

He doesn’t go because he has something to prove or he thinks Isaac has something to learn.

 

He doesn’t go because he’s afraid of what God will do to him if he stays home.

 

He doesn’t go because any of this makes the least bit of sense.

 

He goes because the years have taught him to trust the God who so long ago called him to this very journey; to this “long obedience in the same direction”.[1]

 

He goes because he knows, somehow he knows, that in the darkness, God is trustworthy.  Even when the darkness seems to be of God’s own making or is caused by God’s absence; even when there is nothing about the darkness that is right or good; when there can be no light at the end of the tunnel because all light has been sucked out of the universe; when the darkness is evil, eternal and infinite and marks the very end of the  world—

 

Even then, he knows, God remains trust-worthy; worthy of his trust.

 

I don’t know how Abraham knows this.  I don’t know how his trust can run this deep.

But it does.

 

Abraham would not have used this word to describe what he believed, because I doubt the word had been invented yet, but I think he believed in resurrection.  He believed that just as death follows life in the world God created, life follows death in the world God promised.

 

He had seen resurrection, after all.  He had seen life erupt from his dead loins and Sarah’s barren womb.  He had held the son who, in the normal course of things, would never have been born.  He had seen God’s promises kept when there was no ground or reason for them to be kept.

 

 Resurrection was God’s way in the world.  Abraham had seen that.  Abraham trusted that.

 

The question this story asks—of Abraham, of course but also of us if we will let it, is this:  How far will this trust carry him?  How much darkness can he bear?  How much darkness can we bear?

 

The old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says “resurrection concerns the keeping of a promise when there is no ground for it.  Faith is nothing other than trust in the power of the resurrection against every deathly circumstance.  Abraham knows, beyond understanding, that God will find a way to bring life even in this scenario of death.  That is the faith of Abraham”.[2]

 

Abraham trusted God—trusted the power of resurrection against every deathly circumstance.

 

Even the death of Isaac.

 

Even the death of Isaac at his hand.

 

Even the death of the son that was the death of the future that was the end of the world.

 

Abraham trusted God against this circumstance; against this darkness.

 

This tells us two things:

First, that this trust is somehow possible.

And second, that contrary to how it feels, this trust makes sense.

 

Against every deathly circumstance.

 

When we pray our hearts out, pleading, and our cries are “answered” with silence—

 

When the results come back and the cancer has spread or the heart is beyond repair—

 

When a drunk driver takes a child—

 

When a teenager is lost to drugs or gangs, to war on the streets or war in a distant land—

 

When anger festers and young men carry torches through the street, spewing hatred—

 

When innocent lives are extinguished in those places where black lives and brown lives  and gay lives and native lives don’t matter—

 

When buildings fall in New York—

 

When hurricanes howl and coast lines drown and forests burn—

 

When the climate fever our planet home suffers ratchets up yet another degree and the powerful deny there is even a problem—

 

When we come to the end of the world—

 

In every deathly circumstance, including those we have not yet seen—

 

Trust is possible. 

Hope makes sense.

 

Because resurrection is real.  Because in God’s Creation, life and love will win.  We will, no doubt, be surprised by what this looks like, but life and love will find a way.

 

This was the faith of Abraham.

 

This is our faith, on good days.  It’s what we want to believe the rest of the time.

 

This is the word of God.  It is true.  We can trust it.

 

Because God is trust-worthy.

 

 

And perhaps this is where the story is really leading us.

 

We marvel at the faith of Abraham; that he could and would walk into this darkness, face the end of all things and still trust God.

 

But the story doesn’t end with Abraham, does it.  The story ends with God.  The story ends with God finding a way.  The story ends with resurrection. 

 

At the end of all things, life and love find a way.

 

So perhaps, as Brueggemann says, this story is not, after all, “about Abraham being found faithful (to God).  It is about God being found faithful (to us)”.[3]

 

Amen.

 

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche quoted by Eugene Peterson in                                                                                                                                                              A long Obedience in the Same Direction

[2] Brueggemann, Genesis pg 193

[3] Brueggemann pg 194

Sermon - Brad Brookins

Sermon September 17, 2017 - Brad Brookins
00:00 / 00:00

Bible Study

The story for today, Genesis 22.1-19, can be found below.  But first, a few things to think about in preparation for our conversation on Sunday.

 

There are many ways one might read this story.  Scripture has 70 faces, remember.  For now, consider these:

 

  1. Genesis 22.1-19 is an accurate account of a historical event.  That is to say, the God revealed to us in our Old Testament and made known to us more clearly in our New Testament came to Abraham one night and commanded him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on a mountain.   God did this to test Abraham’s willingness to obey.  God stops the test just in time to save Isaac and declares that he now knows Abraham fears God.

  2. Genesis 22.1-19 is a story, not a historical account.  In ancient times there was a story told around campfires about a man who, being tested by his god, was commanded to sacrifice his only son to prove his loyalty.  This was during a time when child sacrifice, even in Israel, was not uncommon.  The man being tested takes his son up the mountain and kills him there.  The author of Genesis knew this story and re-told it with Abraham as the main character and with a new, surprise ending.  The God of Israel, the story now says, does not sanction and would not call for human sacrifice.

  3. Genesis 22.1-19 is a story, not a historical account.  And like any piece of true fiction, it takes us to a place where we could not go, or certainly wouldn’t want to go, in real life and asks us to consider what we would do in a similar situation.  What would we do in the face of unimaginable loss?  When the world goes dark and God goes silent, do we—can we still trust God?  Abraham walked with God all over Palestine.  Abraham was walking with God up Mt Moriah to the place of sacrifice.  How does one come to that level of trust?  Seen this way, Genesis 22 is a deeply personal, psychological and theological story.

  4. Genesis 22.1-19 is an accurate account of a historical event.  But, interpreted through New Testament eyes, the story is a kind of pre-telling of the death of Jesus—of God’s willingness to give the “only begotten son” for the salvation of the world.  Genesis 22 can also be seen as a metaphor for Jesus’ death rather than Old Testament history with New Testament meaning.

  5. Genesis 22.1-19??  You probably have your own idea on how to read this.

 

  1. Which, if any, of these summaries makes sense to you?  

  2. What about this story is most meaningful to you?

  3. What about this story is most troubling to you?

  4. Where do you find yourself in this story?

  5. What is this story telling, or calling, you to do or to be?

  6. When has your trust in God exceeded your expectations of yourself?

 

 

 

Genesis 22. 1-19

 

1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He 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.’ 3So 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. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 

5Then 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.’ 6Abraham 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. 7Isaac 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?’ 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

9 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. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 

11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12He 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.’ 13And 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. 14So 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.’

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I 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, 18and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ 19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.