Proper 8: June 28, 2020
PRELUDE: Listen and sing along to "Aunque soy pequeñuelo / Even when I'm a small one." Use these words to sing.
Even when I’m a small one
God Parent looks on me,
God listens to my prayers,
and cares for you and me.
OPENING SENTENCES (Based on Psalm 13)
How long Lord? How long will you hide your face from me? How long should we live in anguish and walk around in sadness all day?
Even in the darkest moments, we trust in your mercy; our hearts rejoice in your salvation. We will sing psalms, Lord because you are always seeking our good.
HYMN: Listen and sing along to "O Sing to the Lord" GtG 637
God of comfort and God of strength, we come into your presence with repentance in our hearts. There are so many trials and tribulations in the world, that we feel overwhelmed. We know that this is natural, but yet we confess…
We confess our numbness…
We confess our fear…
We confess our paralysis…
We confess our inaction.
Forgive us, as you see us on our knees, anxious and lamenting. Teach us to hope. Give us strength. Fill us with a peace that leads to seeking justice. Make us your people. Show us your love. In the name of our Teacher, Our Welcome, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
PARDON AND PEACE (Based on Romans 6: 23)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rejoice in the good news. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. We can live in peace.
PASSING THE PEACE
Take time to think about one thing during the week that has given you peace. It can be the sound of birds chirping, flowers coming out, or hearing from someone dear. Share it in some way... tell someone, post it on social media, etc.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION (MGV)
We read Scripture and know that God is faithful. We read and we receive wisdom. We listen and the Word transforms us. Prepare our minds. Fill our hearts with emotion. Speak to your people, God, so that we can do your will, and build up your kin-dom on this earth. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 22:1-14; (NRSV)
1After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He 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.” 3So 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. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then 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.” 6Abraham 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. 7Isaac 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?” 8Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9When 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. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He 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.” 13And 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. 14So 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.”
40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
REFLECTION: Rev. K.T. Ockels
At first glance, this Genesis passage is a bit of a “Yikes!” passage. God, our loving God, wants Abraham to kill his son? And what is all of this about his only son? We know from last week’s reading that he has another son, Ishmael, who has also been blessed by God. We just saw Abraham send Ishmael out into the desert and now he is going to follow God’s command to offer Isaac up as a blood sacrifice? This is the patriarch of our faith?
You have to feel for Isaac… He trusts his dad and follows him into the mountains to worship God. He even carries the wood. Once he gets there, his dad informs him that he is the sacrifice. Now, that is a dysfunctional family moment.
So, is this story just about our God being a blood-thirsty God who asks for unthinkable sacrifices on our part? Does our God delight in hurting us?
Hear this good news: Our God is not a blood-thirsty deity. God does not desire human sacrifice. We are assured of that in Deuteronomy 12:31: You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
So if God isn’t wanting the blood of Isaac, what is this story all about?
It is about faith. In fact, both of our readings today are about faith and the actions that we take because of faith. And they are about our faith being both tested and rewarded.
God tests us, even though we are told not to test God. In human terms, that seems unfair, but God’s tests are not meant to weed us out in some sort of sorting contest. God’s tests are meant to strengthen us and to strengthen our faith. God’s desire to test us is not meant to destroy us, but rather to help us to know our own strength because of our faith. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will never test us in a way that we can’t endure. I know each one of us has questioned that idea fiercely at some point in our lives, but it is the promise we have received through Christ.
In this story, Abraham seems like he has been given an outrageous task—an unthinkable trial. But this isn’t just some whim of a god messing with Abraham. If we were to read this in Hebrew, we would have known that God was asking him something extraordinary, something staggering and incomprehensible. The grammatical construction here is used several times before this in Genesis:
In Genesis 13:14, Abraham is told that God will give him all of the lands that he can see. The commandment to see and believe that this will happen has this same grammatical form.
In Genesis 15:5: this sentence format is used to tell Abraham that he should believe the promise of countless descendants.
So, we know that this is a major commandment and one that the faithful Abraham has to obey. But Abraham also knows that God has told him that he will have lots of descendants because of Isaac. So, although he is going faithfully to sacrifice him, he also seems to believe that Isaac will survive or will come back to life somehow. He tells the men who accompany him that “we will be back”. This interpretation is reiterated to us in the 11th chapter of Hebrews:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Read this story carefully, because it is not only Abraham who had his faith tested. There is also his son, Isaac. Isaac is no longer a child in this story. Remember that the wood was strapped onto his back and he was the one to carry it up the hill. He is old enough to question his father about what the heck they are doing going up this hill, with wood but nothing to sacrifice. Isaac was probably also old enough to take on his father if he didn’t want to be bound as a sacrifice (remember that Abraham is over 100 years old), and he was surely fast enough to get away if he wanted. But he allowed himself to be bound and laid out as the sacrifice.
So what is God up to? When you hear the stories of gods in Greek myths, the gods are always messing with humans and their lives just because they can. They see some poor sailor crossing the sea and then send a big monster into the water to freak him out. Is this the kind of God we worship?
Thankfully, we can assuredly say no. Our God is not like that. God tests us not for God’s pleasure, nor even to just prove God’s power. God sends tests into our lives to strengthen us—to help us to continue to put down our roots in faith. And God never leaves us to do anything alone. That is a promise. Through the most difficult tests in our lives, through trials and painful moments, God is with us.
God was there for Isaac and Abraham. God didn’t just say, “Abraham, go do this horrible thing, “ and then turn away to other matters. God accompanied them up the mountain and was there to stop Abraham at the key moment. God was there to provide the alternate sacrifice.
Let’s return to 1 Corinthians 10:13. We are promised: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
God will provide a way out. God will accompany you. There will be times of trial for each of us, but we will never face those trials alone. God will be sure that we have the resources we need to make it through. God will provide a way out—whether that means that a good friend will come your way, or a new opportunity, or even a sunny day after days of being stuck inside our homes during a pandemic. God will be there with you to help you make it through.
Abraham and Isaac were willing to do the absolute ultimate sacrifice for God in order to be faithful. Does that mean that we have to go to extremes to show that we love God?
Faith thankfully is not just about extreme measures. Our Gospel passage today reminds us that even the small steps we take faithfully are looked upon with favor by God. Matthew says, “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Abraham was an extraordinary man. He was tested in ways that you and I will hopefully never have to face. Yet, the Gospel lesson today tells us that although we may not be tested as constantly nor as extremely as was Abraham, we can show our faithfulness in the numerous small things that we do.
How appropriate is that in this time of two viruses: the pandemic and systemic racism. Sometimes we feel like we have to do mighty acts to work to heal this broken world in Christ’s name, and so we end up doing nothing because we are too overwhelmed by the task. But Christ assures us that the small things matter too. Speaking up in a conversation when someone says something racist or hurtful. Wearing a mask when you are in public places. Giving up a treat in order to donate the money to help others. Standing in solidarity with others so that change will come. Every time you do something for others, not because you feel obliged or guilty, but because you want to act as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, those are sacrifices that are pleasing to God.
I challenge you this week to think about your actions. Think about the decisions you make in your everyday life. Make those decisions actions for Christ. Think about how the things you choose to do affect the environment, your neighbor, your community and the world. Don’t do what is easy or even routine, do what Christ is leading you to do. Feel Christ with you in your actions. And always act in Christ’s name, so that the love that God showed Abraham in saving Isaac can become real for you and those around you.
HYMN: Listen and sing to "Faith is Patience in the Night STF #2211 (Authors: Mary Nelson Keithahn, John D. Horman. Video made by Eastminster Presbyterian, Simpsonville, SC.)
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION: Take time to think about prayer requests, and pray for them. Pray for the situations in your home, your community, your city, your country of origin, other countries in the world that face difficult situations, and the country where you live.
A STORY Watch the story "Hermann" and think about all the ways, big and small that you can give faith and strength to others.
May the road God has laid
Rise up to meet you.
May God keep you and bless you,
Shine God’s light upon you,
and give you peace.