For the last few weeks we’ve been talking about the world as it existed, long ago, when the early Jews were first beginning to tell their story.
And we’ve talked about how the worldview at the time, was that the nature of life was a circle. As if everything that was had always been and always would be. A worldview that saw no surprises, nothing new coming. Things just kept repeating themselves.
And the stories of the Jewish people – especially those early ones – began to speak something very different about God. They began to bring new insights, new revelations – enormous “a-ha” moments for a people who began to say that God was something different. That God was doing a new thing. That God was taking them somewhere – to – a place that God would show them.
This was the promise to Abraham. Abraham and his family and all of his household went out from Haran – they left the predictable life in Haran and they headed out into the wilderness. To a destination that was unknown. God was there and as they wandered and waited. God promised to be their God.
The first promise that God gives to Abraham is that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
But things don’t go as Abraham might have imagined.
After they leave Haran, there is a lot of wandering. There is a famine that forces them to go to Egypt where Abraham’s wife Sarah is abducted.
When they are finally able to leave Egypt – years have passed – and Sarai has still not become pregnant.
They are getting old.
So Sarah gives her maidservant to Abraham to bear him a son, which she does, but God seems to keep saying – that the promise will still come through Sarah.
And so he waits.
He even gets circumcised at the age of 99.
And then finally after three divine visitors come to see them, Sarah becomes pregnant and bears a son – Isaac.
The scripture means – “God has made me laugh.”
It seems that the promise is finally coming together.
Isaac is born and he is the joy of his father and mother’s lives.
Now, finally we can see where this is headed.
And then we read the words of today’s Scripture – in Genesis 22 -
“Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.”
Is this for real?
After all they have been through together. Since leaving Haran, since wandering in the desert, since experiencing famine, circumcision, and infertility
God is asking Abraham to offer up his son. To trust him with the very thing that he loves most in the world.
It is the first time in the bible that the word “love” is used.
Abraham has a love for his son that is born out of the years of longing and waiting – and the joy of being a father, tasting that God is good.
And God wants Abraham to offer him up – to offer him up in TRUST to God?
What kind of God would ask a father to do this?
Earlier this week, I was working on this message – and I was struggling.
And I walked into the building and I saw Sile and she immediately looked at me and said –
Are you OK?
And I told her about the Scripture.
About my struggle with it.
About – what the heck was I thinking when I picked this Scripture?
Can’t you just preach on something else?
I could, I said. But I know what the story is about. I just don’t know how to explain it.
The truth is – this is a story about TRUST.
But this is a very MESSED UP story about trust.
(That is not the word I used but that is the Sunday appropriate word that I’m using today).
I went to the kitchen and got my lunch and took a breath.
Food is always helpful when you are trying to ponder the tough things in life.
And I named the reality.
To a 21st century Christian, this is a MESSED UP story about what it means to be TRUSTING.
But it wasn’t such a hard story to hear for the Jews 3,000 years ago.
It’s included in the narrative of God’s people – it was told around campfires and it was passed down from generation to generation - because somehow it was helpful to them. They read this story and felt inspired to TRUST God.
So, I thought – if in fact, this is a story about TRUSTING God – then maybe, just maybe – I could trust God that this story had something to teach me.
Now, I need to give credit where credit is due – because what I’m about to share is a conglomeration of information that a lot of brilliant other pastors helped to provide – one of whom is Rob Bell – a person whose writings I have been relying on heavily for this sermon series –
Rob and others I have read have helped me to see that -
Something is there – beneath the surface of the difficult story – there was a dramatic shift in the way people were seeing the world going on - so let’s see if we can begin to find it together.
As we’ve been learning – the Jews were writing stories in the context of a very different worldview at the time.
At the time, the idea of the gods and the people were that there was this huge chasm – this huge separation. The gods lived up in the sky – in the place of the eternal – and the people – lived in this mortal, flawed world. At the mercy of the Gods.
Humans need some basic things to survive. They need food and they need water. In order to have food, you have got to grow some plants. Water is a key ingredient here. Too much of it – and your crops are flooded. Not enough and nothing grows.
And the reality of the way the world works is that some years you have good rains and good yields, and sometimes not so much…
And Humans figured out very quickly that The forces that seemed to govern this were outside of their control.
So the belief arose that it was the gods who controlled the rains.
If the gods were happy – a year of good rain.
Not so happy – drought, floods, etc.
So, the thing you want to do – is to find a way to get the gods on your side.
And the belief came about that the best way to do this was to offer a sacrifice. A gift. An offering.
Now – if you gave such an offering and then the rains didn’t come, the yield and crops weren’t good, then you could conclude that you hadn’t offered
If on the other hand, things worked out well, then you needed to show the gods that you were grateful, you needed to offer another sacrifice.
You could never really know if you had offered enough.
You could never really know where you stood.
And so there was this anxiety that plagued peoples’ lives.
And you can see where this can go – how it’s a slippery slope – and how eventually, people felt compelled to show the gods how serious they were – by offering even their firstborn.
Child sacrifice at the time was not uncommon.
The gods were powerful and eternal and revered.
But - They did not have the best interest of humans in mind.
And so people had fear of the gods – but they did not TRUST them.
So, let’s try to look at this story again through the eyes of a primitive person brought up in the Sumerian culture of Abraham’s time.
The story begins with God asking Abraham to offer up his son as a sacrifice.
His firstborn son. Whom he loved.
Barbaric to us, but not uncommon to the hearers at the time.
They’ve heard this story before – they know where this is going.
So Abraham, also steeped in this culture, responds –
but as the story progresses – there seems to be something there below the surface of the story
Because when Abraham arrives to the place – he tells the servant to stay there – and “we will be back”
We will be back. Was he hopeful? Was it a trick? Or did Abraham know and trust that something else was going on?
Isaac is starting to notice – that they are missing a key ingredient – the animal for the sacrifice.
And Abraham’s answer and non-answer – is that God will provide. Again, did he know?
And then the most barbaric and dramatic moment - on the altar, he binds his son and he prepares to do it – and God intervenes – and says NO!!!
Do not do this.
And offers the ram instead.
And then the story ends with Abraham receiving an extra blessing for his faithfulness.
Now, if we can get past the inherent emotional and physical child abuse that was happening to Isaac, we can try and see the story that the early Jews were telling.
A story of a god – who, in the end, is actually not interested in our sacrifices – but seems to be more interested in our trust and our relationship.
What God wanted from Abraham in this story was not his son. But God did want his trust. God wanted Abraham to fully experience and understand the depth to which God could be trusted.
This was a God who actually had his best interests at heart.
Up to this point, the stories have been one-sided – they have been about God – offering US a blessing.
God deciding to stick with us – even though we have screwed it all up.
God promising to bless Abraham.
But in Abraham’s journey and walk with God – there is something that God asks of him – before he is ready to be the father of this new tribe of people.
God needs Abraham’s full TRUST.
And so this story was told – in memorable dramatic fashion over the campfires – over time – telling the story of a God who was indeed TRUSTWORTHY.
That unlike the gods at the time – where you could never offer enough sacrifice – you could never know where you stood.
This was a God who did not ask for unending sacrifice – but a God who asks the people – to do the unthinkable in such a day – but to TRUST that God would have their best interests in mind.
To have FAITH – to follow where this God would go.
And so we find ourselves in the 21st century – in a world where we put our faith in a lot of things.
Asking ourselves whether we also – can be a people of TRUST.
Do we really TRUST God?
I can say that I do – but at the end of the day – I’m not so sure.
It’s much easier to trust in God when I can see it. When I can find assurance that things are going to be OK. That they are going to work out the way I hoped.
But it actually requires something of me – to place my confidence, my faith, my trust outside of myself - to walk with a nonanxious presence =
when the way before me is uncertain and unclear.
When I have to wait.
And Let Go of my own plan, my own agenda, my own control over what is to come.
The epiphany for the Jews – was that they had found a God that they could really trust –
That they didn’t need to walk in the way of anxiety and fear anymore – wondering where they stood.
that they could trust this God so deeply – that they could offer up the thing that was most dear to them.
And know that God could be trusted with it.
And for them - THIS was the beginning of life. life – abundant. A life of shalom – peace. The kind of internal peace that comes from knowing that your life is in the hands of the one you can trust.
And so my friends – from the reaches of this bizarre and ancient story – God asks us as well – Will you trust me?
Will you trust me?