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Parenting Faithfully - May 14, 2017

Genesis 22: 1-14a

I've heard this story for a long time. It's a Sunday school staple. And, for a long time, I've thought Abraham was crazy. Even before I was a parent, even before I was grown, I thought....who does that?! Who takes their kid up a hill, ready to offer him as a sacrifice? That man is nuts.
And then, when I got to seminary, I was taught to question the biblical stories....not to simply take them at face value, but to dig deeper and look harder for what may have happened. And it was then that I concluded Abraham just misheard God. God didn't really ask Abraham to go up on a hill carrying rope, wood, fire, and a knife expecting to sacrifice his

son. Abraham only THOUGHT he heard God ask him to do all that.
And then, as I studied this text again for this series, God showed me something different. Something new to my own understanding of Abraham and his sanity and his faithfulness. To see it, we have to go a little further back in Abraham and Sarah's story.
When God called Abraham and Sarah, they were old. They got started on their journey with God really late in life. Nevertheless, when God said, "hey, I want to do something amazing in your life," God also said, "and that will include Sarah having a son...making you father to the nations." At her age, it was such an unlikely prediction that Sarah laughed. Surely that wasn't what God would do with them.

Then, believing and doubting and laughing, they said yes to God and began doing as God had asked. Even though having a child was unreasonable, it began to become something they hoped for. They wanted God to bless them with a child and they became more and more anxious when that didn't happen. So, they started doing as many of us are prone to do....they took things into their own hands. They doubted what God had said. They thought, maybe God meant to make Abraham the father, but not make Sarah a mother. So, Sarah, not wanting to be a stumbling block to God's plan in her husband's life offered that he might have a child with her servant Hagar. And so he did. Abraham and Hagar bore Ishmael. Lots of us know how that turned out....it was a debacle.
After failed attempts, hurt feelings, more waiting, and plenty of doubt, Sarah got pregnant. God fulfilled God's promise to them...together. Abraham and Sarah would be the parents of the nations...and when the time came she bore their son. To remind them of the irony, the waiting, and the laughter, he was named Isaac, which means "he laughs".
So, Abraham and Sarah raised their son and it's in his story, their story, that we get to today's story. In today's story, Isaac was old enough to carry a load of wood up a hill...that's a decently grown and strong boy. Abraham has this "Word" from God that he should take his son, and this wood, and some rope, and a knife to sacrifice his long-awaited son on the fire. I really wish I knew what on earth ran through Abraham's mind that day. We don't really know if he doubted or argued or protested, though we can imagine, as a father, he might have, but we do know he acted as faithfully as he was able. He followed the leading he felt from God and led his son up that hill.
This is the part where I always thought, "What was wrong with Abraham?!" But this time, I saw this story framed by their larger story with God....one where God asked them to do something and they said they would....only to doubt and question and take back control, faith, and trust. Abraham knew what it was to trust God. And he knew what it was to be disobedient to God. And he knew about God's continued faithfulness despite his own failures.
So maybe this time Abraham did doubt or question or worry what might happen. Maybe he did fear the worst and wonder why God would ask him to do such a thing. But he also knew....God is faithful and God provides. "God promised me Isaac and God came through. So, I need to trust God has a purpose and a plan. God has been faithful to me. So I will be faithful to God." And so he took his son on this journey.
And I've gotta say, I think it would have been amazing. Here is a dad and a pre-teen son heading out into the woods going camping and going camping. They've got three days together to explore, tell stories, and sit around the campfire. And, for those of you who hate all the lugging and setting up and tearing down...here's the extra bright note...they had servants with them to do the work! It sounds like an awesome father-son excursion. One that will give them memories to last a lifetime.
No one could have predicted the memories day 3 would give them! In the morning, Abraham sees the place God told him about. So he tells his servants to hang out and that he and Isaac are going to go worship God. The servants say "good" and off they go. And they hike and hike up this hill, carrying all the necessary pieces for a special offering to God.
As they go, probably amidst a lot of chattering, question asking, and storytelling, Isaac starts thinking...wondering...if they were off to worship God at this amazing place, and they were carrying the wood and fire to offer a sacrifice...where exactly was the lamb...because you need a lamb to offer a sacrifice...

Uh, Dad, didn't you say we were going to go worship God?

Yep.

And, didn't you tell me we needed all this stuff for a sacrifice.

Yep.

So....where's the lamb? Don't we need something to sacrifice?

We do son, God will provide for us.

Can you hear the prayer Abraham might have prayed?

(quietly, as if in his mind only)

Dear God,
You provide. You provided this precious boy to my wife Sarah and I,
We waited. We doubted, and we saw we should have trusted you the whole time.
I'm sorry I doubted you then, Lord.
Please help me not doubt you now.
You provide.
You provided in the past.
I trust you to provide today.
Help me to believe in your continued goodness.
amen.

I imagine Abraham prayed that prayer over and over again as they climbed that mountain. I can imagine Isaac talking and talking, trusting his dad, trusting his God, and being none the wiser. Until they got to the top of the hill and there was no lamb. Maybe they waited an hour, or even 2, still no lamb. So Abraham bound Isaac as if he were the offering. I can't imagine he had any words to speak. How would he even begin to explain what he was doing or why or how it would happen?

And then, just as Abraham reached for the knife, finally, an angel of the Lord spoke. "Abraham, don't. do. anything." I imagine he wept in that moment and grabbed the knife and instead of cutting his son, he cut the rope that bound him. Held him. Apologized. Cried and held him more.

And then there was a rustling and a ram...the perfect offering to worship God. What an incredible moment of relief. So Abraham and Isaac did as they had set out to do. They sacrificed a lamb as a burnt offering to God. They worshiped the One who provides.

I don't know about you, but I'm glad I'm not Abraham. I'm not sure I could have faced a moment like that. And yet, when I look through the long lens, I see God had provided and Abraham had every reason to trust God would provide. We aren't all called to be Abraham, parent to the nations, invited to offer our first born as a sacrifice. But, we are called to be faithful as parents. We are called to look for how God has been at work in our lives, to listen when God invites us to greater faithfulness, and to be faithful, even when it seems scary.

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