June 26, 2011


“An Obedient Offering”

Genesis 22:1-4



Genesis 22:1-14 (RSV)
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori’ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off.
Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
14 So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”



This Sunday I do not have much time.  So, I ask you to jump into this text from Genesis with me square away.  Abraham has been asked by God to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice.


Human sacrifice to appease the god’s is not exclusive to this text.  We know of such practices among the Aztecs and the ancient Phoenicians.  In the bible, it is not only Abraham who binds his child, Jephthah also threatens to sacrifice his daughter[1] although it is not said if he goes through with it.  Even the Koran shares this story of Abraham, although there the name of the child is assumed to be Ishmael.  What you need to know about this story is that this is not about human sacrifice.


God hates child sacrifice. God knew that Isaac would not be sacrificed as a burnt offering. God hated child sacrifice in the Canaanite religion. Child sacrifice was detestable to God, abominable to God, a heinous sin to God. This text does not validate child abuse.  God was testing Father Abraham to see whom he loved more: God or the child.


What this text is about is a question: “Are you willing to surrender your most prized possessions to God?”


This is not the only bible story with this theme.  There was, one day in the temple, a woman who put just two copper coins in the treasury.  Others had been giving greater amounts but she, so it is said, gave everything.


Remember Hanna[2].  Hanna wanted a child so badly that she bargained with God.  She promised that if God would give her a child, she would hand that child over.  I try and picture her at the kitchen sink, tears welling up in her eyes…that little suitcase she packed for Samuel so that he could go up to the Priest Eli in Shiloh.  See, she promised to hand over the child to God.


In this story, God sensed a problem was developing. God became nervous. God sensed that Father Abraham and Mother Sarah were more preoccupied with Isaac than God himself. God sensed that this little bundle of pleasure had become the center of their lives instead of the Lord himself. The aging parents total fascination was the child rather than the Lord and the ways of the Lord.


Our focus may be something different.  It may be that we are so tired after a week of work and running kids, or caring for parents, that all we can think about is sleeping  in on a Sunday morning.  God says sacrifice that for me.


It may be that we are so focused on the material  things  in life that we are unable  to set  aside some portion of our wealth to give to the church.  God  says sacrifice that.


It may be that we are so stuck on seeing the world the way we want to see it that the radical inclusivity of God is just too much for us to adopt for ourselves.  God says sacrifice that.


See this story is about stewardship.  God asks us to bring up here on the altar what is most near and dear to us.  We are asked to give it all to God.


I want that to sink in a bit before I go on.  We are asked to lay upon the altar of discipleship that thing that is most near and dear to us, because it is that very thing that will get in our way to serving God.


The reality is that everything we have is God’s.  There is nothing that is truly ours that was not first God’s.  We are but stewards and caretakers of what we have.  So God has every right to  demand all of it.


Not many of us are called to lay such a costly treasure on the altar of discipleship.  What we do is make a symbolic gesture.  In the symbolism our fixation can be broken.  What we do is give a portion of our treasure back to the Lord.  ‘Is it enough’ is not a question for anyone.  Is it enough is a question between you and God.  This is not a question about making the church budget balance.  It certainly is not about paying dues, as if the church were some kind of club.  The question is, ‘have you given enough to demonstrate your thankfulness and obedience?”


What this is about is discipleship.  It is about prayerfully listening to what God is urging you to do to make an obedient offering.  Everyone needs to think about that.


14 So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”



[1] Judges 11:29-31

[2] 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10