Christ in Us: Listening
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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.” 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 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.” 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. 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?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
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. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill[a] his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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.” 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. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?- John Bell
The lyrics above sound a lot like the story of Abraham and Isaac from today's passage. God calls Abraham- and not for the first time- and Abraham answers- in Hebrew "hinene" "Here is am... I am ready, willing, open to whatever you ask of me... hinene." Each time Abraham hears the voice of God he responds this way- each time God self-reveals a little bit more- and Abraham grows and changes and deepens his trust in their relationship. God made a promise, a covenant with Abraham, an unbreakable, unshakable vow- to birth from Abrahams descendants, a people who will be agents of God's peace on earth. When Isaac was born against all odds, Abraham held the reality of God's promise in his arms.
But when God calls to Abraham to take this son, the sign of God's promise and plan for the future, up the side of the mountain and sacrifice him, Abraham doesn't flinch- he says, "hinene”... (Here I am... I am ready, willing, open to whatever you ask of me).
As moderns, we cringe- How could, why would, a loving God ask such a thing of any human being created in God's image and likeness? But in the time of Abraham, it would not have been an uncommon request from the Gods of his world. Parents were frequently asked to sacrifice their children to appease the Gods- and did so. Blood sacrifice was part of the culture. It was part of the worship. It was what the Gods expected of humans and humans expected to have to do to keep the Gods at bay.
Notice I said Gods. Abraham lived in a polytheistic world- people believed in and worshiped multiple Gods. In fact, this passage uses the Hebrew word El, or Elohim, for the Gods who calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Elohim means, 'Gods'. The same word used when God says, "You will have no other "Elohim" before me... This is the God Abraham would have been familiar with- the Gods that expect blood, and demand blood sacrifice.
But there are two different Hebrew words used for God In this passage. One, as I mentioned, Is Elohim. It is the familiar- the Elohim Abraham follows up the hill- And when they get to the place of sacrifice, and Isaac asks the question, "Hey Dad I see the wood and the knife and the fire, but where’s the sacrifice," Abraham responds, 'Elohim will provide.' And Elohim, would not have stopped the sacrifice of Isaac.
But YHWH did. Just as Abraham draws the knife, to sacrifice a bound and altered Isaac, the word used for God changes- the voice, not of Elohim, but of YHWH interrupts. 'Don't do it’-says the messenger of the Lord... this is not YHWH's desire for you or for your people or for the world- YHWH does not demand child sacrifice- YHWH does not expect what the Elohim expect. YHWH requires that you do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly...
And everyone breathes a deep sigh of relief- "whew!" We're so happy Isaac gets to live, but for Abraham- it’s a watershed moment- he turns a corner and understands for the first time that YHWH is not a God like any he has known or any the world has known. Further, in stopping Abraham from killing his son YHWH is actually rescuing Abraham from the Gods of the world, from his own path- and offers Abraham an invitation NOT to fear God anymore.
But It’s Interesting to me that Abraham receives this invitation is through his obedience to the God he already knows. It's amazing that the whole time he was showing faithfulness in his "duty,' he did not close himself off to the possibility of God showing him something new- through each breath he repeated a prayer, called on the name of YHWH- even if his mind didn't acknowledge it, his heart was open, even if just a crack, for the spirit of YHWH to intervene... and when the voice interrupted, he listened, and learned, and responded. 'Hinene- I am here, willing, and open to whatever you ask of me... '
I don't know where all of you hearing this message is in your relationship with God and what new truths God might be trying to reveal to you today. I do know that for the past several months of this pandemic many have felt much like we are in a place of sacrifice, or a place of being stuck, or a place of routine, or monotony- or perhaps a place of pain and anguish and loneliness and even fear and dread. I imagine Abraham experienced all of those emotions and more on his journey up the hill with Elohim- and with all of those emotions swirling inside our impulse might be to close up, to shut down and shut God out... but take a breath.... be still... keep going in obedience and faithfulness to what you know... that's all we are called to do right now- the ordinary- take a breath- whisper a prayer- leave your heart open, just a crack- and out of that faithfulness, YHWH provides- that I can promise you.
When he and Isaac leave that mountain- Abraham names the place YHWH did provide. Someday soon we will also leave this place of sacrifice and pain and pandemic... what will we name this place... what new truths will God have revealed to us? What will we individually and collectively have learned about what it means to be open to the Spirits leading? What can we adapt and adopt as far as new ways to be a people of God, the church?
I know I say this a lot, but in my heart, I believe God has provided- I'm sorry, YHWH provides, this time for us as an opportunity to grow, and deepen, and widen our call- and also to leave behind some of the things we thought were so important to our identity as a people of God. In this place of sacrifice, can allow God to rescue us from those things that incumber- from our own path, and listen to the voice of truth calling us to a new way of being? And can we respond to that voice, ... hienene- we are here, willing, and open to whatever you ask of us...