. . . . Sacrifice to God?
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 29 June 2014, Proper 8
Year A RCL: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13, 16-17; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
God tests Abraham. Why?
Why would God test Abraham as shockingly as God does in today's lesson?
Let’s ponder this together. . . .
He has left home & kindred to go to an unknown land God promises to give him.
He experiences much along the way. . . . .
He trusts God's promise of a son & waits long years for that promise. . . . .
You recall from last week's lesson that during those long years, Sarah & Abraham improvise a solution. She gives her slave-girl Hagar to Abraham to be a surrogate mother.
This reminds me of what actors experience in theater: We rehearse & rehearse. Eventually somebody forgets a line. So either that person improvises the line or another cast member does. . . .
Sometimes it works smoothly. . . . Sometimes it doesn't go so well.
It worked well for a classmate, who had no idea he’d win an acting award for his very minor role. He had only 3 lines – until the night none of the other actors came on stage. . . . He improvised the missing lines & the audience didn’t realize it.
Abraham & Sarah's improvisation is
less than smooth.
You recall that it ends with Sarah’s throwing Hagar & her son Ishmael out of the family, sending them to the wilderness. Sarah wants her son Isaac to have no rival son in the family. So Abraham has already sacrificed his first-born son when we come to today’s dramatic scene on the mountain.
How many of you have driven or ridden in a car on a narrow, winding mountain road with no shoulder guard? How did that feel? Dangerous? Tedious? Scary?
What do you do on that road when you see a car stopped up ahead with the driver's door open? Who is the driver?
Is it law enforcement protecting you from a giant tree that has fallen across the road just past that blind curve? What if it's an armed stand-off with bad guys? What if it IS
How will you respond to this test?
Drive in reverse back down that twisting narrow road with cars coming behind you?
I wonder how Abraham feels as he walks with his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loves, up that mountain, carrying the fire & the knife; Isaac's carries the wood on his own back.
What does Abraham think? Is he thinking? What perplexity is in his mind (to use the words of today's Psalm)?
Notice how quiet Abraham & Isaac are.
There is very little dialogue.1
What is there to say?
Abraham has trusted God a long time.
Perhaps he has inner peace.
Think about when you were in school being tested. Remember the quiet that testing requires. Silence gives us space to think, space to focus, to trust that you – that we – have learned.
Rehearsing gives actors confidence that they can do what they are supposed to do on stage.
Testing lets the student & the teacher know if it is time to move on to more topics or if there is more work to do on a particular skill.
Military boot camp builds the individual’s knowledge & skills.
It teaches the person “fortitude”.
It teaches what that person can do.
It teaches the group what it can do.
Like a test in school, there is very little dialogue during the physical stamina testing of boot camp.
Testing builds our courage.
It helps us know we are strong &
who’s got our back.
Abraham knows God listens &
You recall from last week how God listens to Abraham's son Ishmael as he & his mother Hagar are dying of thirst. God hears Abraham tell his men: “Stay here…; the boy & I will go over there; we will worship & then WE will come back…” God hears Abraham tell Isaac:
“God...will provide the lamb for a burnt
offering, my son.”
God provides Abraham that lamb.
God provides us the Lamb Jesus to
die so that we can live in God's love.
As Jesus’ disciples, our love overflows to draw others into God’s love. We live under grace, our lesson in Romans reminds us. We – you – have become (or are becoming) obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which we are entrusted. . . .
We are slaves of righteousness.
What does this mean?
To be righteous is to act in accord with God’s law2 of love.
As slaves of righteousness we are loyal disciples of Jesus. This calls for sacrifices in our lives. Jesus the Lamb of God tells us today about the rewards for our sacrifices as his disciples3:
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me...(and by doing so) welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever…gives...even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones...will receive their reward.”
We are the welcomer & the one being welcomed,
the giver & the recipient of that cup of water.4
We are Jesus’ disciples, Christian prophets, the righteous when we proclaim5 in word & deed the Good News of God’s love that Jesus offers by dying for us.
How can we do this work?
Rehearse! Study our lines – the Holy Scriptures.
Build our faith bodies in the boot camp of
prayer, worship & ministry in Jesus’ Name.
Prayer is central to this work – this testing. God says: “Be still & know that I am God.”6
As one of my seminary professors, Martin Smith, says in one of his books: “We are conditioned to maintain control, to take charge of situations, to do the talking. Prayer means surrender & a readiness to return to a simpler state of openness & attentiveness to a God whose 'still, small voice' we tend to drown with our restless noisiness.”7
We see in Abraham a man who lets go of
control. Surrendered to God,
free of restless noisiness,
he IS attentive to God & can trust God will provide.
How can we – how can you – have
that grace to let go &
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. New York: American Bible Society. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart. 20th Anniversary Ed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. 2006.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 6 June 2014.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2012. Accessed: 27 June 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Smith, Martin L. The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture. Cowley Publications. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Inc. 1989.
1 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Pp. 147-48.
2 Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Accessed: 26 June 2014.
3 Note: Paraphrase of footnote in The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1024.
6 Psalm 46:11. Book of Common Prayer. P. 650.
7 Smith, Martin L. The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture. P. 157.