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Wherein Abraham explains his hard choice

Genesis 22:1-14

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

July 02, 2017

Introduction

Have you ever been forced to make a choice between two unacceptable options where either option will force you to choose a course of action that will cause you to violate one of your core values? I think, for example, of Martin Luther, who had sworn absolute obedience to his beloved church and who had been raised to believe that to obey the directives of the church was to obey God. But when such blind obedience brought him into sharp conflict with his understanding of holy scripture and as a result his conscience he was forced to make a choice. His choice: “Here I stand, I can do no other,” were the words he uttered when he chose to follow his understanding of God’s will over that of the church.

Such a choice could not have come easily. Who can say: “I’m right,” and the church is wrong? Here in the United States in the year 2017, I can think of a lot of people. But in Europe in 1521? He also knew that by making this public declaration he would probably be killed. It took courage. It took conviction. It took trust in God.

Today’s Old Testament reading forces Abraham to make an even more impossible choice: “Abraham, 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 that I will show you.”

What was going on in Abraham’s mind when he received this this command? The Bible does not tell us, it simply states that he got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two servants and Isaac with him and headed out to Moriah. Unlike other stories about Abraham, nothing of the inner dialog is mentioned.

So, I have decided to do something about that. Making use of our sanctified imagination and sticking within the framework of our biblical text, I have decided to invite Father Abraham to join us today and I will interview him.

I.

“Welcome to St. Paul’s, Father Abraham! We are delighted you could join us today. There are several questions I want to ask you this morning regarding this passage we just heard read about the time you were called upon by God to sacrifice your only son and promised heir. The first thing I want to know is: what went through your mind when God first asked you to sacrifice your son?

“Thank you for inviting me to be here today, Fr. Bill. I have been looking forward to coming, and finally have an opportunity to express my feelings in public about this incident. I’m not sure why the author of the Book of Genesis did not record any of my feelings and instead wrote of the whole affair as if I were a robot simply responding to a command without feeling. The truth of the matter is that I was absolutely stunned! I couldn’t believe that God was asking this of me. Of course, I had thoughts like yours. Was I going crazy? Was I mistaken? But the voice was so clear in my inner ear. It was the same voice that had told me to leave my father and mother and the gods they served and travel to a land that Jehovah would show me. It was the same voice that promised I would have a son, and descendants would number the sands on the sea shore or the stars in the sky. My whole life had been a journey of faith, and God had never let me down. The only time I got in trouble was when I didn’t follow that inner voice. So as your Bible says, the next morning I got up and headed to Moriah.”

“Normally, I discussed major decisions with my wife Sarah. But not this time. I know this one would be too big a test for her to handle, and besides, I knew this was going to be a confrontation between God and me. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to her when I got back, but I would worry about that later. So, I arose early, quietly awakened Isaac and three of my servants, two of whom I took with me on the journey, the third I left with a message to tell Sarah that Isaac and I had gone to make a sacrifice to God and that I planned to be back in a week’s time.”

“I was glad that Moriah was three days away. I figured that would give me enough time to clarify my thoughts. I hoped, of course that during the journey, God would clarify his message, that he would provide a substitution that Isaac and I could offer a sacrifice together. But the closer we got to Moriah, the more I became convinced that God was going to make me go through with it. And you know, I didn’t really know until I raised the knife to plunge into my son’s heart if I could go through with it.”

II.

“This raises another question in my mind Fr. Abraham. You were 110 years old when this happened and Isaac was only 10. Wasn’t he strong enough to beat you up to save his life, or at least fast enough to run away? How were you able to bind him up and put him on the altar? Did you give him a drug to put him to sleep?”

“Fr. Bill, I have to confess, this was the hardest part of the whole episode for me. When my boy asked me, ‘Father where is the sacrifice?’ It was like a knife went through my heart. I replied, ‘God will provide the sacrifice.’ Thinking all the time, that it would be my son. He was so trusting. He did not resist, when after we built the altar and gathered the wood for the fire. I held him in my arms and told him that he was the sacrifice, but he should not be afraid. I would be quick and he would not feel a thing. He simply let me tie him up and looked at me with such loving trust in his eyes.

“You cannot begin to imagine the relief that went through me when God stayed my hand when I was about to plunge the knife into the flesh of my son. I could have been angry at God for putting me to this horrible test, but my tears were tears of gratitude as I unbound and hugged my son. I may have proven my faithfulness to God, but he had also demonstrated to me that he was the kind of God I had come to know him to be, a God of love. Then we looked up. Isaac saw it first, a ram caught in the thicket, our substitute sacrifice. We quickly made our sacrifice and went home. Sarah was there waiting for us. Excitedly, Isaac told her how God had miraculously provided the sacrifice for us. We had agreed beforehand, that we would not tell her the rest of the story.”

III.

“Fr. Abraham, you have been in heaven a long time now. What have you learned from this experience?

“Well, Fr. Bill, I have learned a lot. God fulfilled his promise to me. My descendants did become as numerous as the sand of sea. Moriah became the site of their capital city, Jerusalem. The hill where Isaac and I built the altar became the place where Solomon built his temple to the Lord God. It was on that hill where the veil of the temple was torn in two, when God did not spare his own son, and Jesus, like my son Isaac, in loving obedience offered himself a sacrifice, but in this instance, not just for my sins, but the sins of the whole world. I of course, did not fully understand my role in God’s plan of redemption back then, but I am grateful that through my descendants, God grace has been poured out on all nations.”

IV.

“Finally, Fr. Abraham, what advice do you have for this people of St. Paul’s from the experience you have told us about?”

“Well, Fr. Bill, it is highly unlikely that God will call upon any of you to sacrifice your child. If you ever receive such a call, I would advise you to see your psychiatrist. But undoubtedly you will face circumstances in your life where you find yourself between a rock and a hard place and there seems no good solution. When those times come, face the situation honestly and the right choice will become clear to you; even then it is hard. Walk with confidence and trust God. When you get through the situation and look back, you will understand. How does that third verse of the hymn you just sang go? “But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay, for the favor he shows and the joy he bestows are for them who will trust and obey.”

“Thank you so much, Fr. Abraham, for coming and sharing with us today.”