Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Faith, fear and the God who provides

August 13, 2017
Martin Baker

Introduction

Over these last few weeks we’ve been listening to some of the main stories in the Book of Genesis.

Stories of creation, floods, scattering and then this focus down on Abraham and Sarah and the promise that they have a future.  The meaning of Abraham in Hebrew is ‘the father of many.’

Things have been far from easy for Abraham and Sarah. They have been called out of where they were living to travel to unknown places, with a sense that only by leaving the known that God’s promises would be fulfilled in their lives.

The promise by God that has led them so far is that through God’s blessing they would in turn be a blessing to people and nations.

A couple of weeks ago we heard of Ishmael being born to Abraham and Hagar and finally in their very old age Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah.

The Hagar and Ishmael story and God’s blessing on them heads off in one direction which scripture from this point on doesn’t really take account of.

This whole promise of a future that we follow in the Jewish and Christian story sits with the story of what happens next with Isaac.

So keep that in mind as we listen to this difficult story today.

I’ve also puts some note in the bulletin from Danish Theologian, Soren Kierkegaard. He wrote a book called ‘Fear and Trembling’ in which he reflected on theses verses. In the book he contemplates Abraham and Isaac’s faith and thinking. I’ve summarised his 4 scenarios here - you might find them interesting.   

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac22 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2 He 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.’ 3 So 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. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then 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.’ 6 Abraham 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. 7 Isaac 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?’ 8 Abraham 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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill[a] his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He 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.’ 13 And 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. 14 So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’;[b] as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.

This is one of the most challenging stories in our Old Testament. In Hebrews the story has even been given a particular name. The Akedah. The binding.

It is a story that has very strong echoes to our Gospel story : God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  Abraham giving his Son Isaac as a sacrifice.

We hear in the story of Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice. And we hear of Jesus carrying his wooden cross.

And we hear these events happening in the area called Moriah. The same place in centuries to come where Solomon would be directed to build a temple. A place where sacrifices were made to God.

And a final historical note from other sources.

We know that at this time child sacrifice, as awful as that sounds, was not an uncommon practice by the religions in the area.  Some scholars think that this whole story could also be a polemic - an argument - against child sacrifice, that unlike the other religions the Hebrew religion in the end, did not practise child sacrifice.

That view is consistent too with the stories we heard some weeks ago about creation. Most other ancient religions saw creation coming out of war and conflict, a temporary victory by the good gods overt that bad ones. And yet in our faith history creation did not happen out of conflict but as a single act in which God created and saw that it was good. God’s work did not come from conflict war or the sacrifice or death, and Isaac in the end is not sacrificed but spared.

So there are all these historical and future Biblical references to keep in mind and that weave through the story.

 22 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2 He 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.’

Abraham says ‘Here I am’. Repeated three times in the story. Deeply significant words. I am ready to take on this challenge. I am open to where this might take me. Everything that has happened, the fear the joy the longing the hope whatever this calling whatever this moment I am ready. An obedience and openness. A letting go. When did we do that? Can we do that? To release all we have and are to God’s calling?

All the excuses. And maybe you didn’t really want to do it. But something in you says that this is the right thing to do now. And you say here I am. Because you trust.  

A foundation for all faith is trust. Trust in God’s providence.

Take your son, your Son Isaac.

We don’t know what Abraham is thinking here. Horror, disbelief. In the previous passage God has promised him a future through his offspring Isaac. And it’s a test, and he is said here am I - utterly obedient.   And he knows about other Gods of the neighbouring nations and tribes and groups, demanding child sacrifices and he knows that God is different from that.

But nations, in grief and anxiety, do accept, in a different kind of way, situations in which their children’s lives can be given up . My children are of an age to go off to war. ANZAC day we commemorate not the death of older people but young people, sons and daughters and their fathers and mothers coming to a painful acknowledgment that there are some things that young lives can be sacrificed for.    How often do we need to be told that it is often the cheap labour of children in poor countries that enable us to wear the clothes that we wear? Publications like the Economist, hardly the bastion of the left wing, and the insurance industry, remind us that the biggest threat to Global instability is climate change. And it certainly is going to be my children and their children who are going to carry the damage that is causing. We sometimes blame children for what really are the sins of their parents.  

These are difficult things.

It’s a tough story. It captures up these questions of ultimate faithfulness. About what God might be asking us to do, and about costs and sacrifice?

 3 So 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. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then 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.’

God has asked Abraham to do something which may well have been incomprehensible to him. The sacrifice of his son. The ending of history that he and Sarah had been promised. Abraham has to trust God, even though that means holding two totally incompatible views. Faithfulness on one hand, her I am,  but also a certainty that the sacrifice of his son stands in utter contradiction to what God has asked him to do up to this point.

He says to the young men with him. Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship; and then we will come back to you.  He doesn’t say I will come back to you. But we will come back.  Sacrifice your son. We will come back to you.

We all want clarity, but sometimes in this faith journey we have to hold things in tension.

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

Isaac said to his father Abraham. Father. And Abraham said, Here I am my son.

Same as when God addresses Abraham at the start. God speaks Abraham and Abraham says here I am.

Abraham trusts his God. A son who trusts his father.

Those young years, the importance of establishing and building loving and trusting relationships. The foundation that makes for the future. Isn’t that the most obvious starting point as we read the polices for the party’s which will lead our country after this election. Who is going to do the most for the well-being, care, nurture, education and protection of our youngest? Here I am my son. Here I am my daughter. We know family life can be complicated, and far from perfect, we only have to read about Abraham and Sarah and Hagar to know about that. But doesn’t every child need to hear those words coming from someone that’s says here I am?   

A challenge before you vote, how are these policies going to not first of all bless me, but the children and grandchildren of our nation and those who come after them?  

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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill[a] his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He 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.’ 13 And 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. 14 So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’;[b] as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided

There is never going to be a final interpretation of this story.  

The story today. Touches on all these things.  The naming and challenging unforeseen and unfair tragedy. The fact is that we do end up in impossibly tragic situations; perhaps contemplating why innocent children are killed (or almost killed) for no reason. Faith and trust and God’s providence. Not new questions but ancient ones.

One of the privileges of my role is that over time I get to hear some of your stories.  None of us are untouched by grief and loss . As difficult as this story is today it is still a story of life coming into a situation of death; a story of redemption; a story of faith in the midst of worry and trauma.  And we see too a forecast of our resurrection hope. To look up and see God's goodness breaking into situations of despair.

The challenge. Given all we know all we’ve been through. To say as Abraham does, to say as Isaac does. Here I am. To live and build relationships of trust. Affirming our faith that God does provide. AMEN