Caravaggio Sacrifice of Isaac

Here I Am

Pentecost 2, Year 2 (Sunday, June 26, 2011): Genesis 22: 1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6: 12-23, Matthew 10: 40-42

Here we are.  The latest Advent to Easter cycles of the Christian seasons have now been rounded out by the great gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, the formation of the church and time to reflect on the Trinitarian God we worship.  The church, now equipped with everything it needs to proclaim to the world Christ, crucified and risen, begins the long season after Pentecost of ever deepening discipleship.  And what a story we have to start off with – Genesis 22!

To be honest, this is a story I have skirted somewhat with my almost 8 year old son.  Maybe because it hits a little too close to home, he being a long awaited (13 years) child.  How do I tell him of a God who demands of Abraham the sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, as a way to test him?  Ah, perhaps there is the rub – the sovereignty of this God we worship who can and will demand, command and test.  Now, to be really honest, this is a story I skirt with myself too (I did not read the texts ahead of volunteering to write the reflection for this coming Sunday).  A sovereign God of this magnitude is more than a little scary.  I am with this story suddenly aware of my creatureliness and of the beloved relationships I hold dear and of the demands of discipleship.

The text is clearly framed by three addresses to Abraham and by his thrice repeated response of, “Here I am.”  Now, if we are careful readers of the biblical text we should be girding ourselves for what is to come after Abraham’s first response of “Here I am.” to the calling of his name by the Almighty.  Being called by God usually entails the assigning of a difficult, if not seemingly impossible, task.  Read the stories, all the way through, of the calling of Moses, of Samuel, of Jeremiah, of Isaiah, of Jonah, of Jesus.  Rather than boldly singing Here I Am, Lord (also known as I, the Lord of Sea and Sky written by Daniel Schutte, 1981) we might do better to stand in silent fear and trembling.  As Brueggemann points out, the first step in faith, “as Kierkegaard has shown, drives us to dread before the self is yielded to God.” (Genesis, Interpretation, p189)

As Christians looking back on this story, there is another pattern that should be evident to us – Good Friday begins here immediately for Abraham after his “Here I am.” in the awful task assigned to him by God.  Here it is not God who comforts in the midst of life’s storms, here it is God who brings the storm.  There is something that God needs to know.  Everything that God is up to depends on finding out what needs to be known.  Can Abraham be trusted?  Where does Abraham’s deepest allegiances lie?

Psalm 13 captures what might be the interior agony of Abraham, though what we witness in the Genesis text hints only of the last two verses:  But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Notice the future tense…my heart shall rejoice, I will sing…Abraham’s Holy Saturday walk with his son and other young men is a remarkable one.  That small word, “So”, full of ache, thrusts us along with Abraham, Isaac and the young men on this unforeseen journey into the distance, towards a mountain where the future awaits.  Upon arriving, even before his second, “Here I am.” in response to Isaac’s calling of his name, Abraham states his trust in God’s promises aloud to the young men that both he and Isaac, “we”, shall return from making their offering of worship to God.  To the young men, ignorant of the dreadful command given to him, Abraham’s comment is a statement of the obvious.  The message here is meant for YHWH – “I trust You, are You listening?”  Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s perceptive question of where the lamb is for the burnt-offering, an answer we the readers climactically await,  restates his trust in God’s provision – for the offering, for the promises God has made, for the future.  Except that all Abraham knows at this point is that the lamb on offer is his own beloved son.  Here is the crux of discipleship.  Our calling is not one of knowing completely how God’s future will be made manifest.  A careful reader will understand though that it will be in a surprising, unexpected Way.

But it is not only Abraham who is being tested in this story.  Will God keep God’s promises?  Is this YHWH deserving of such trust and service and worship?  With Abraham’s third “Here I am.”  Sunday arrives and God provides as Abraham has trusted God would, though not without enduring the wounds of Good Friday.

We, as Christ’s church in the world, are the inheritors of this story, of the promises of God – which now include the defeat of death and the promise of resurrection – and the trust (and therefore obedience) of Abraham – and Jesus.  As Paul enjoins the church in Rome and in turn the church in North America, present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13b).  We will find our way forward into God’s future by trusting in the promises of God, not the promises of our nations, of our technology or science or politics.  We worship and trust in a God who provides the Way forward, who brings life from death.  Hallelujah.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a story, thank God, to tell my son.

2 Responses to “Here I Am”

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  1. Lorraine says:

    Hi Janice,

    Doug Todd had a piece on Abraham on his blog June 8th.
    A Michael Shapiro responded with this. The Biblical account of the Abraham /Isaac story has been misunderstood far too long. It’s about time to set the record straight: At the time c. 2000BC? Abraham was living in the land of Cana’an (today’s Israel) where the sacrifice of one’s first born male was the norm for the local Canaanite inhabitants. They worshiped a god called Moloch – who demanded and continually received this sacrifice. The message in the Abraham/Isaac story is not that Abraham was willing to satisfy his God’s demand (that was the NORM of the time..!.) The point was to demonstrate that the new One God (the Monotheistic God) did not require such sacrificial appeasement ! That’s why Abraham is stopped at the last moment. That’s the great message – One (new) God = No human sacrifices needed. If u don’t believe me, check the anthropology of the Canaanite period.”

    • Janice Love says:

      Hi Lorraine,

      I admit to having difficulty with both Shapiro’s approach (an implied attempt to settle the interpretation of a text once and for all) and the interpretation he offers which so conveniently side steps what the text actually states and its portrayal of the danger of the sovereignty of YHWH, which is why Jesus teaches us daily to pray “save us from the time of trial”.

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