Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14
21 The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.
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.” 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 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”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Last week we began our new lectionary with the opening verses of the opening chapter of the Bible. We heard how God brought everything into creation out of nothing. We heard how the earth was nothing more than “a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” God speaks into that darkness, “Let there be light,” and the great story of creation is set in motion. What an appropriate start to something new whether it’s a new school year, a new marriage, a new job, a new family, or simply a new lectionary! They all start with light…with awareness…with hope! There is a stepping out of the dark and into the light and that involves change and transformation. It involves letting go of the past and embracing the present and the future. The darkness of the past has no place with the lightness of the present and the future. God has created a new reality with the light…a new reality with new possibilities and new opportunities! The story of God’s creation embodies all of this and lays the foundation for God’s relationship with us to unfold throughout the rest of scripture.
Most importantly, the story of God’s creation in itself is the start of something that is essential for a relationship with God—faith. To believe that the world and all that is in it was created in six days demands faith. To believe that God simply spoke into the nothingness to begin the process demands faith. To believe that God was able to do it all with nothing demands faith. The story doesn’t seem likely! The story seems impossible! The story seems, well, foolish. And yet, it is precisely because it is foolish and impossible and unlikely that gives it weight! God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God is able to do the impossible, the unlikely, the foolish. If the story of God’s creation isn’t convincing enough, then I don’t know what is. God creates anew all the time! God is always at work creating something new whether we’re aware of it or not…whether we see the light or not. We must simply place our faith and trust in his unending creation.
But placing our complete faith and trust in God and his creation can be hard to do at times. Our faith and trust only goes so far at times. And God knows this about us. God knows our faiths can be fickle so God tests our faiths. God tests us like he tested Abraham. God asks us to do things that reveals our faith and trust in him. And whether we’re weak or strong in faith, the tests only serve to strengthen our faiths. God doesn’t want us to fail his tests. God wants us to love him as he loves us. God wants us to learn from his tests how to better love him. Contrary to some students’ beliefs, tests are not meant to tear us down and destroy us. No, tests are meant to reveal weak areas so that they might be strengthened. If there are no weak areas, then the tests reveal this as well. Strengths are strengthened and weaknesses are revealed for strengthening.
In Abraham, God had chosen a man worthy of his tests. Abraham was a man of strong faith. Recall how God had told him to leave his family and familiar land and venture into a foreign land with little more than his wife. Why? Because God promised to make him the father of many nations. In order to be a father of anything, Abraham had to have a child, something that was unlikely for a man his age with a wife her age. Abraham set out into the foreign land and sure enough Sarah bore him a son, Isaac. God fulfilled his promise and Abraham’s faith seemed to have been rewarded. For whatever reason, God decided to test Abraham’s faith a little further, this time by telling him to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. Without even so much as a flinch, Abraham swept up his son and carried him off to the mountain along with some wood. Abraham’s faith was sure and steady. He bound his son and went to burn him when the angel from heaven told him to stop and use a ram nearby instead. Again, his faith was rewarded by not having to kill his son, his only son. Abraham was committed in his faith. He had faith in God’s creating plans. He didn’t know why he needed to kill his son but he had faith that God would somehow use his son’s death to create something new. He had faith that God would use his son’s death for good. And in sparing Isaac, God does create something new and good—a deeper, more committed relationship with Abraham. The testing strengthens the strength.
I imagine few of us will ever be asked to sacrifice a child as a way of revealing our faith in God. Likewise, few of us will ever be asked to defend God’s six days of creation. But make no doubt about it, God will test our faiths in other ways. Just as God is hard at work creating anew all the time, God is continually testing our faiths. God never tempts us but he surely tests us. God wants to know and wants us to know where we stand in our relationship with him, how committed we are to him. God takes the 1st commandment very seriously: we shall not have any other gods besides him! We are to love him with all our hearts and minds and spirits and his tests are ultimately meant to reveal just how much we love and trust him. Our God is a jealous God. He wants our undivided love and attention. Anything that keeps us from giving him just that makes him jealous. So be assured of God’s testing. Be assured that God will test each and every one us. He’ll ask us to do and say things we’d rather not. He’ll ask us to go places we’d rather not. But remember, his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. Abraham’s story showed that it is okay to live according to faith. In fact, it is more often than not rewarded to live by faith in God. Our relationships with God are only strengthened by committed faith. Let us learn from Abraham’s witness and seek to nurture a similarly strong faith.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.