Trusting, obedience and sacrifice

As usual, the message that I spoke this morning was not exactly what I had scripted. I seem to get away from myself more and more. Perhaps one day, I won’t need the script at all. I can only hope. Anyway, here is what I was working from and the message that I essentially relayed to those gathered.

The scriptures used were Matthew 10:40-42 and Genesis 22:1-14. The title for the morning was, “Trusting.” I added the real title for the post. Hope this makes some sense to those who have the time to read it.

Today’s message, might seem like the calendar should read March or April and this should be a Wednesday evening with our gathering being focused on the beginning of Lent. Although the sermon title is “Trusting,” some of what we will discuss today is about sacrifice and how much we are willing to give up for God. Though we are not a church that focuses on personal sacrifice during Lent, the idea of sacrifice is always in front of us when we come to church. Every time we walk through the door, we could be and perhaps should be thinking of what God gave up for us. At the very heart of Christianity is a sacrifice, the sacrifice of a son.

Now the scripture of Matthew is about welcoming and is actually the lectionary focus for today. As Jesus was telling the disciples to go out and proclaim his message, he lets them know how important their work is to God. He also tells them that their task is more than just sharing the story of Jesus, it is also doing. Specifically he mentions water, and the mere act of giving a cup of water to someone in need as doing His work. Last week we talked a bit about how helping people find stable sources of drinking water is one of the missions of some of the ministries we support, so we are about the business of giving that cup of water even if we aren’t filling up the glass and handing it out to them.

But before we look deeper into that business of what Jesus was telling the disciples and what it means for us, let’s go back and look at the scripture lesson from Genesis. This is one of those Old Testament stories that we know oh so well. It is probably something we learned in Sunday School of Bible School, a story we have pondered a time or two, and maybe there was a coloring page or some sort of activity that went with it where we filled in some sort of art work to get the image of that animal caught in the thicket that Abraham was directed to at the last-minute so that he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his son. In reality this is a gruesome story, and maybe it is not so appropriate for youngsters to hear. There is enough cruelty in the world, why do we have to look at stories like this in the Bible?

This story is an important lesson for us to learn. This story is about obedience and trust. And then again, if we didn’t know the ending already, it might have a pretty interesting plots. It seems like one of those tense episodes that sort of pulls you into it. You pass the television while it is one, in middle of some major task or another, and pretty soon you are standing in front of the screen and you can’t leave. What is Abraham doing? He has his son with him and they are going on a walk. You can tell that something is up as he has taken along some wood like they are about to build a fire. Now he straps all of this onto the little boy to carry. The music gets more dramatic as they climb higher and higher, and now he tells the servants to stay behind as the two go on alone. Something seems odd; you just know that this isn’t going to turn out too well. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t move, because you want to know the ending.

The problem for us is that we already know the ending. It is sort of like the joke Jay Leno told about going to watch the movie, The Titanic. I don’t remember it exactly, but it was something to he said before the movie started he wondered out loud to the person with him about how they were going to show the sinking of the ship. He was commenting about what the special effects would be like, and someone near him overheard and complained that now the ending of the movie was ruined.

We know before we read it how this story ends because we have heard it before. Because of that fact, we need to look more closely at the story. We need to be careful not to pooh-pooh away the significance of Abraham’s actions. We know there is going to be a ram in the thicket, but Abraham didn’t know that for sure. He just knew that he was being asked to sacrifice his son, the son that he and his wife had waited for – for so long, this son that was going to be the father of a great nation.

Last week we talked about how Abraham and Sarah kicked out Hagar with Abraham’s other son. That boy was on the verge of death in the desert when God interceded and led Hagar to water. Was this a punishment for Abraham? It was certainly a test. God wanted to see just how obedient Abraham could be. To me this is sort of interesting, God testing Abraham’s obedience. What about when God told him there would be a son. Abraham and Sarah weren’t so obedient or patient at that time. No they had to step in and use the maid to get their son because they didn’t seem to trust that God would provide. Maybe the birth of Isaac made Abraham realize that God meant what he said, and this time he goes off on his own with his son and is determined to obey.

Here we are at the verge of turning off the video, we can’t watch anymore, and God finally says stop, don’t kill the child, there is an animal caught in the underbrush for you to use for the sacrifice. Abraham comes within inches of sacrificing his own son in obedience to God. What an amazing test of obedience. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have passed that one. I dare to bet that it was a good thing Sarah wasn’t along on that trip because I doubt if she could have either.

As much as we want to stop here and move on, this story isn’t over. When you really sit down and think about this story, it is just a hint at what is to come. This is a story as much about God and his son as it is about Abraham and Isaac. See later on in the course of time, a father sends his son out into the world to complete that sacrifice. Just as Abraham strapped the wood onto little Isaac, Jesus carried his own cross part of the way up that hill where he was crucified. We all know the ending of that story too. See, I told you this scripture would fit better in Lent.

The story of how Abraham is tested is just a hint at what is to come. Jesus isn’t being tested. God isn’t being tested. That sacrifice really happened. Jesus really was crucified, and his father in heaven was there, but this time he let it happen. Now we could sit back and say, yea it is like that Titanic joke, he knew the ending, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. The resurrection was a sure thing, and so there was no real drama or suspense. If you believe that, you have missed the point.

If we remember the stories from Lent, we know how Jesus was tormented with the knowledge of what was to come. How could God feel any less of the emotion; how does any parent feel when their child is hurting? As I pondered this issue, it came to me that there are many times in the scriptures where we read that humankind was made in the image of God. Think about all of the emotions that we feel at any given time. Where do you think those come from if not from the one whose image we are formed from? If we can feel the hurt of our children, our siblings, our friends, how much more can God feel the hurt?

We understand the pain losing a loved one. I know what it was like to lose a brother and both of my parents, we have talked about that before, but the loss of a child—that has got to be an unbearable hurt at any age. I can’t imagine the pain of the families in our area, no matter what the circumstance. I cannot fathom what was going through the mind of Abraham as he was walking up that mountain, but doing it in complete obedience, trusting that following God’s will was what he needed to do.

In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples and us that we are to go out and welcome the world in his name. Sometimes we will need to bring more than a handshake as a sign of welcome, but sometimes a smile and a bit of time is all we are asked to bring. The questions these passages leave us today are simply these: “What are we willing to sacrifice in order to welcome others in the name of Jesus? How far up that mountain are we willing to go when God beckons? Remember God doesn’t ask what we are not capable of doing, maybe we just haven’t found our limits. Amen!

I would love to hear from you, so go ahead, comment!

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