15th Sunday after Pentecost- September 17, 2017
Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 and John 1:29
How do we understand the stories of the Bible? There are stories of our ancestors in the faith, that are family stories for Israel, and they told the stories as if God were also a character in each story. They most probably would have told the story slightly differently each time. We do the same thing when we tell our stories. Each time we tell it, we put a slightly different spin on it, depending on the persons to whom, or the context in which we tell it.
How can we interpret stories of the Old Testament in a past context, understanding scripture that fits with the context in which the story was written in the Old Testament thousands of years ago? What would this story mean to the Israelite people? Abraham believed that God asked him to sacrifice his son. This passage is often used to declare that Abraham was tested by God in this situation and he was found obedient. Abraham actually thought he was supposed to kill Isaac to satisfy God. It was not an uncommon practice in the tribes of people surrounding Abraham’s family. These early peoples believed that their gods demanded the sacrifice of children. The god Moloch demanded that the first-born of every family be sacrificed. So it wasn’t so far fetched an idea for Abraham to think that his God might demand the same.
I wasn’t there but I wonder if there is more to this story than Abraham passing a test. We see in the end of the story that God stopped this violent act. Abraham was not to kill his child. We believe that children are not meant to be sacrificed, not even in the name of religion. This appears to be a story that the early peoples understood, fitting within their culture, that Abraham was willing to put God first and be obedient to God. Abraham believed this sacrifice to be an action required by his God. Wondrously, God provides an animal sacrifice, so that Isaac does not become a human sacrifice. Clearly this story foreshadows a different human sacrifice as Jesus (God’s son) becomes atonement for our salvation. John 1:29 that we read just now refers to this sacrifice as Jesus is God’s Lamb.
But let’s consider today’s Old Testament story in another light.
Have you ever felt a call from God to be contrary to what you wanted or to what seems natural? God asks us to do different things than what we would normally expect, such as loving our enemies. I mean really love and care for your enemies! Turning the other cheek.
Do we honour this call (as did Abraham) and live it out in our lives?
What about the call of people in Canada to reconcile with Aboriginal peoples due to the residential school issues. The Presbyterian Church in Canada takes this seriously and much is being done to heal the brokenness that has come from the past. But this is hard work! Words are easy, but being a part of reconciliation takes real effort and commitment!
Can we respond to God’s call to forgive those who wrong us and our community? What about even assisting Child Soldiers guilty of horrendous deeds?
Let me share with you one story of a person exemplifying this difficult journey to forgiveness. If you wish to hear the full details of the story you can find it in a TED Talk on YouTube under the inspirational message by Katy Hutchinson. As a young mother with two small children, Katy suddenly found herself dealing with the loss of her husband who was killed when he went to investigate a rowdy party occurring in his neighbour’s home. While the parents were on vacation the son had hosted a party that got out of hand. When Katy’s husband arrived at the home, one of the young men beat Katy’s husband to death. Katy began a series of events that led her to meeting her husband’s convicted killer and attempting to understand the circumstances of this young man’s life that would lead him to take the life of another human being. In this process, in spite of her profound grief, Katy came to a place of forgiveness. Over time, she began to care for the young man and was able to help him be restored to a healthy place in his own life. This meant taking responsibility for his actions and fulfilling the consequences of his actions. But then, with Katy’s help he was able to move on to healthy relationships, restored back into community. This story seems incredulous; totally unbelievable. Could you or I do that? And yet, we are called by God to forgive. I believe we are called to get involved in the messes we see around us. And, there are lots of messes. We don’t need to look far to see where relationships are broken. It is our responsibility to do as Jesus did. It is our responsibility to get involved and help clean up the brokenness; to love your neighbour.
In our efforts to follow God’s call, we are embraced by the God who made us. God promises to love us and provide for us in the midst of all of life’s circumstances.
But what does this provision look like? Not likely is it a ram caught in the bushes, like it was for Abraham.
Does it mean that we will not suffer, because we are Christians? Does it mean that we will have all that we need and that our life and the life of our loved ones will never be harmed?
No, that is not it!
We will suffer. We most likely will endure physical, social, emotional hardships. We may lose our jobs, our homes, our families. We will experience the death of our loved ones sometimes even tragically taken from us. Jesus heard the call of God and participated in that call even to death. God did not abandon Jesus; death did not claim the Victory. God is greater than all we can imagine, greater than death! God does not abandon us even in our own death or the death of our loved ones.
God walks this life journey with us, loving us. God does not abandon us! God’s promises are forever!
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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