Photo by Tom Bradley on Unsplash

This week, we are continuing our journey through the highlights of Abraham and Sarah’s life. Last week, we focused on the sad day when Ishmael and Hagar were cast out into the wilderness.  Fortunately, God had a positive plan for their lives and God rescued them from harm. This week, we focus on another sad occasion in the life of Abraham and his son Isaac. Please turn with me to Genesis Chapter 22 as we read verses one through fourteen:

Proclamation of the Scripture            Genesis 22:1-14

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 

He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 

Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 

So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer of Illumination

Pastor: Almighty God,
prepare us to discover your word for us today.
Help us hear your servant,
and in the spoken words, hear your Word.
May these words help us recognize our master
in the many fields of life
through which we travel. Amen.

Message                              Holy Welcome

            Abraham came from the city-state of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia. It was the largest city in the ancient world during Abraham’s lifetime.  Archaeologists love to study ruins and burial sites to learn more about the practices of the ancient people who lived there, people like Abraham and Sarah before they were sent by God on their quest to the future Holy Land.  The religious practices of Abraham’s homeland included worshipping multiple deities, like Marduk the head god and Tiamat the mother goddess.  We know a little about their worship practices because of statues, engravings, and because some of their stories have been passed down through poetry and books we still have, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Archaeologists often study tombs and burial sites to learn about ancient people; therefore, they know many people were sacrificed to Mesopotamian gods. High-status young people between the ages of 5 and 20 were the main victims of this practice. We don’t know exactly what their deaths were supposed to accomplish, but we know they were put to death in great numbers. 

            Abraham and his ancestors, for hundreds of years, were accustomed to children being sacrificed to their gods. For them, this was a normal and appropriate practice – a perfectly reasonable way to honor their gods.

            For us, this is a horrifying and strange practice. For twenty-first century people, it seems unbelievable that Abraham would consider sacrificing his son– Isaac was his only remaining child after Ishmael was sent away. Isaac was born when Sarah was in her 80s – what were the chances of her having another baby? Abraham believed God was going to make him the ancestor of many descendants – how could that become true without Isaac having children?

            This story is held up to us as a story about Abraham’s faithfulness to God. He was willing to listen to God no matter what doubts cropped up in his mind….he followed God’ s directions to have his family move all over the place. He trusted God when God said he would have descendants. He trusted God when God said Sarah would become pregnant. He trusted God when God said Hagar and Ishmael would be cared for.  And, in this instance, Abraham trusted God when he was told to sacrifice Isaac – Abraham was probably unhappy….Abraham was probably sad….Abraham was possibly angry….but he listened to God and he trusted God.

            Many religious scholars believe the events surrounding the near-sacrifice of Isaac were intended to teach Abraham and Sarah and all of the new followers of God that God wanted different things than the ancient Mesopotamian gods. Instead of offering human sacrifices, God wanted animal sacrifices.  This moment, when Isaac was saved, communicated that our God is different than the false gods of the Mesopotamian people. God did not want human sacrifices – in this harsh story, God made this clear to Abraham. As we read through the Bible, we read that other groups in the Middle East continued to sacrifice humans to their Gods, but this was never a part of the Jewish religion – it was never an expectation placed on us by God.

            When we were at Lunch Bunch on Tuesday – shameless plug: bring a lunch at 12 on Tuesdays and we will eat, chat, and probably talk about a scripture or two – Anyway, at lunch bunch on Tuesday, one of our members pointed out the parallels between the near-sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Jesus. Isaac carried the wood for the pyre; Jesus carried his cross to the site of his crucifixion. Abraham led Isaac to the site of the sacrifice; God allowed others to lead Jesus into the hands of his executioners. God saved Isaac from becoming a sacrifice; God saved humanity by resurrecting Jesus from the dead.

            God did not prevent Jesus from being sacrificed, like he prevented Isaac from being sacrificed. In each case, God was starting something new.  In Isaac’s rescue, God communicated that God no longer expects or wants human sacrifices. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God communicates that God loves the people of the world so much that Jesus was allowed to die….but, God’s love overcame death when Jesus was resurrected.

            Our God is different than the false beliefs humans come up with – God doesn’t want us to hurt each other, to hurt anyone on God’s behalf. And, when we mess up and people do hurt each other, God loves and forgives us, just as God loves and forgives us for allowing Jesus to die on the cross.

            When we put our faith in God, we are agreeing to do things differently than the rest of the world. We don’t have to participate in the rituals and the odd practices of the secular world. We are called to be different than other kinds of people – stand up for vulnerable people, like widows and orphans and children; forgive people who hurt us; follow God even when we don’t have advance knowledge of where God is leading us; love God and love other people as much as we love ourselves; put the needs of others before we put our own needs.

            It is not always easy being a Christian; but God appreciates and blesses us when we work to follow God.