Sunday, June 18, 2017

“Here I Am” (Genesis 22:1-14)

I think the most difficult part of any relationship is trust.

Our story is a simple story . . . God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son.  God tells Abraham, “Take your son, you only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering . . .” In hearing those words, we are shocked.  How could God demand such action from Abraham . . . to kill and sacrifice his only son--an innocent child . . . to wipe out the hope and promise Abraham had for himself and this child . . . to destroy the promise of God to build a great nation from this child.  What sort of God could demand such action from any person?

Well, apparently . . . our God.

As shocking as the demand is, Abraham answers the Holy with his presence . . . “Here I am.”  Not understanding God’s desire for him to sacrifice his son . . . the son of which he had waited a long, long time to receive into his life . . . the son upon whom God had made great promises . . . deeply in shock, Abraham offers himself to God and God’s desires.  He packs up his son, the necessary items needed for the sacrifice, and he heads off to where God tells him to go.  Dutifully, father and son head off to complete the task God has asked.  The trip would take several days.

Until they reach their destination, the writer tells us nothing of what took place between the father and son; but, on the third day, as they neared their destination . . . the son began to wonder.  The son can see that there is wood for the fire . . . can see the knife needed to kill the sacrifice; but, he cannot see an animal to offer in sacrifice.  In his wonderment, the boy asks of his father where the lamb is for the burnt offering.

I feel for Abraham at this point.  He does not want to tell his son that he--the son--is the sacrifice.  He is caught between a rock and a hard place . . . stuck between a truth and what he hopes is the truth.  He tells his son, “God himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  That is the best that Abraham can do to answer his son’s question, all the while knowing that in a short span of time . . . he would kill his son as God had instructed him to do.

It all comes down to trust.  We know that God is testing Abraham as cruel as it might seem . . . God is testing him.  God needs to know that Abraham can be trusted . . . and, Abraham is quick to respond, “Here I am.”  Even before the demand is made, he presents himself to God . . . he is willing to do as God asks of him.  But, that is not proof enough . . . it is easy to give one’s self up in talk, it is a whole other thing sacrifice one’s only son.  And, yet, Abraham does as he is told to do.  He desires to be trustworthy in the eyes and heart of God.

At the same time, Abraham displays his trust in God.  He tells his son that God will provide . . . God will provide the animal necessary for a sacrifice.  Throughout the story of Abraham . . . countless times in the messes Abraham gets himself into . . . God always seem to come through.  Deep in his heart he believed that this is what will happen.  God will provide.  Though none of the previous demands or “tests” of God upon Abraham were as shocking or cruel, God always came through in the end.  Deep in his heart, as he utters the assurance to his son that God would provide, there had to be some doubt and fear that God would not come through . . . and, ultimately, Isaac would be sacrificed.  Despite it all, he still offers himself.

And, God does provide.  Following God’s instructions, Abraham does as he is told.  He builds the fire, places Isaac upon the wood, begins to pray as he holds high the sacrificial knife . . . he is just seconds from plunging the knife through the heart of his beloved son.  The suspense had to be nearly overwhelming.  Just inches from striking his son, he is again greeted with the Holy . . . the angels confront him . . . they tell him to stop. And, again, Abraham responds by giving himself . . . “Here I am!”

Abraham’s trust pays off.  He is provided an animal to sacrifice . . . freeing his son, together they perform the sacrifice.  God now knows that Abraham can be trusted.  For both the meaning of “Here I am” becomes clear.  Despite the fact that we know that everything is going to turn out for the best, none of us can help ourselves waiting for the suspense of that moment to happen.

God had to trust that Abraham would do what was asked of him . . . even when the stakes of the demand were to kill his only son . . . a son he deeply loved . . . a son he had waited a long, long to come into his life . . . a son upon which God had promised to build a great people.  And, up to that moment before Abraham was about to kill his son, God had received the affirmation of trust sought from Abraham.  God saw that Abraham was willing to give God whatever God wanted . . . even his only son.  Abraham gave himself completely to God.

In turn, Abraham had to trust the God that he thought he knew . . . the God who always showed up when needed . . . the God who had placed the promise of the future upon this child . . . the God he loved.  Abraham had to trust that God would do the right thing.  Only with such trust was Abraham willing to give up everything . . . to sacrifice it all.  For such trustworthiness, Abraham is rewarded . . . God comes through just as he told Isaac that God would.

Relationships are built on trust.  And trust takes sacrifice.  Sacrifice to give one’s self completely . . . to do whatever it takes to have that relationship.  

Think about it.  There are no deep friendships without the giving of one’s self to another.  There are no thriving children without the labor of enduring dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and endurance of crying screaming babies.  There are no marriages if couples are not willing to set aside themselves for those they love.  There are no communities without countless acts of generosity . . . food banks, shelters for the homeless, programs for kids, libraries, just to name a few.

Life is tough.  When we are thrown up against the hard mystery of risking and sacrifice and suffering . . . all elements of Abraham and God’s story this morning . . . it can feel as if we are being tested.  Then the question becomes: Can we trust?  Can we trust God?  And, if we trust God can we let go and allow God to take care of us . . . to never abandon us . . . to provide for us?

Abraham placed himself before God . . . “Here I am!”  Abraham was willing to lay it all on the line . . . even sacrificing his own son . . . to show his trust in God.

Despite knowing the outcome of the story, there is still a feeling of shock and disbelief in thinking that God would demand from any parent the sacrifice of a child.  And, yet, we are quick to forget . . . God went the distance to show God’s love for us.  In Jesus we see the willingness of God to step before all of humanity . . . die upon a cross . . . to show love to us . . . and, to prove that we can trust God in all things.  In Jesus, his words and actions, God stands before us and offers God’s self . . . proclaiming, “Here I am!”

God gives us everything, asks everything of us, is with us in everything, and will heal everything . . . if only we can trust.  If only we can offer ourselves.

Here we are . . . Amen!

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