Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of our faith – trust.
We listen to a Genesis 22:1-14 read by Earl Waters, a scripture lesson that speaks of trust.
After these events, God tested Abraham.
“Abraham!” God called.
“Here I am,” Abraham replied.
“Take your son,” God said, “your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, ‘Seeing.’ Offer him there as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.”
Rising early the next morning, Abraham saddled a donkey and took along two workers and his son Isaac. Abraham chopped wood for the burnt offering, and started on the journey to the place God showed them. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to the workers, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.”
Abraham took wood for the burnt offering and gave it to Isaac to carry. In his own hands he carried the fire and the knife. Then the two of them went on alone.
Isaac said, “Father!”
“Here I am, my child,” Abraham replied.
“Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “My child, God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”
Then the two of them went on together. When they arrived at the place God had pointed out, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill the child.
But the angel of God called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
“Do not raise your hand against the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how deeply you revere God, since you did not refuse me your son, your only child.”
Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his child. Abraham called the place “God Provides,” and so it is said to this day: “On this mountain YHWH provides.”
Reflection from Kim
This story, known as the sacrifice of Isaac, is important in 3 major world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
The Dome of the Rock, the beautiful mosque in Jerusalem, which iconic in the skyline of the city, is said to built over the rock where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. So, it is considered holy ground for all three religions that revere this story.
In the Christian tradition, the story is mainly thought of as a testimony to the obedience of Abraham. Abraham had unfailing trust in God after being given that promised child, Isaac, late in life, well past the child-bearing years of Sarah, his spouse. So, Abraham trusted God because God had made good on promises in the past. Take Isaac and make a sacrifice. Well, if God said it, then, Abraham would do it.
Yes, the story is told as one person’s experience, and this person, Abraham, is to be a model for others – to be obedient, no matter what. To trust. No matter what. To be willing to sacrifice even that which is most precious in your life. And this teaching has been used to elicit culture cooperation and obedience from people. Just trust God. No matter what.
Of course there is the whole issue of how you know it’s God – and not your own devious internal workings. Or worse, the twisted self-interested manipulation of the religious leaders defining obedience to God. Neither of which should be trusted.
But there is also a social dimension to this story. Human sacrifice has long been part of religious practice. We may know about it associated with pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, but it was actually much more widespread. We know it was part of religious observance in the Ancient Near East, in the communities and cultures around the Hebrews, and even among the Hebrews. So this practice was commonplace at the time the story of the sacrifice of Isaac originated. Human sacrifice usually involved the most prominent, valued, best people of the tribe. It was the strongest, or most beautiful, who were given to the Gods. The tribe gave its best. The well-being of the tribe was thought to depend on this ritual. This gift to the gods. And it was an honor to be chosen for such an important role.
It would not have been thought out of hand for someone prominent, like Abraham, to have his son selected for this honor. But in the end, a ram is sacrificed, not Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. Scholars think this story may have been part of the transition of the Hebrew people away from human sacrifice. The story may have been told to help the Hebrews move away from this practice. It may have been used to explain why the Hebrews no longer offered human sacrifice.
At first this seems antiquated and remote. Of course we do not give any legitimacy to human sacrifice today. And telling a story that sends the message that human sacrifice is not required by God is hardly very pertinent today is it?
I remember visiting some ancient ruins in Mexico. The guide told us about practice of human sacrifice. What it meant to the culture of the ancient people. How the person was selected. About how people worked their whole lives to be good enough, to be honored by being sacrificed. It was competitive and a great honor to the family. Parents wanted their child chosen for this important ritual.
And why was this sacrifice important? It was believed that this sacrifice, of the best of the best, to the gods, was necessary for the well-being of the community. This was seen as the most important way of securing the favor and blessing of the gods. It was believed that the survival, the continued existence of the community, depended on offering this sacrifice. So ultimately, being chosen was altruistic. You were giving your life for your loved ones. For your people. This was noble. This is how it was seen in the context of the whole culture.
And here we have the story from Genesis, about this new religious group, the first tribe to be monotheistic, and now this God is calling for the end of human sacrifice. This was potentially a risky, dangerous step. What if it was misguided? It could mean the end of the community, the experiment in monotheism. This could be a death knell for the entire enterprise. What if something was misunderstood? What if God really did want human sacrifice? And they didn’t do it. And God not only neglected them but punished them? What then?
But we have this story. And we do not have human sacrifice. The people made this drastic change. And they told this story to account for this transformation in their culture.
So what we also see in this story is that when we trust God, love, life, it can mean making a huge, risky, society-wide change. We see movement away for assumed practices and conventions. We see the movement toward flourishing, lavish, abundant life. With trust, a new future opens up.
I don’t know about you, but I would like to see some of that today! Can we leave behind for-profit healthcare and embrace healthcare as a human right? Can we leave behind our temples to greed and profit, like Trump Tower, and instead construct communities of well-being for all? Can we abandon systemic racism and replace it with systems of justice and equity in which everyone can flourish? Can we leave behind carbon emissions and embrace healthy, renewable energy and life styles? Sometimes to move into the a beautiful future, to make our way to a land of milk and honey, we have to take risks and trust the new future that is calling out to be born.
This COVID pandemic is showing us the ineffectiveness of many of our established ways of doing things. We are seeing the flaws in our institutions and attitudes. We are also seeing that there can be something better. We are being called to let go of what we have known so that something new and wonderful can emerge.
Christianity has always been a call to new life. The commonwealth of God. Heaven on Earth. People chose to trust Jesus and they found themselves in a new realty – and it was beautiful. It is a call to trust and believe in that new reality – for ourselves as individuals, for our communities, and for our society.
With trust, may we seize the beautiful new future that is being offered to us. Amen.
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