Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Discernment and Sacrifice: Proper 8 Year A

A Preface
There's been a lull in posts because of all that's happened in the life of Danville, KY and Trinity Church.  

The week of Pentecost was the Great American Brass Band Festival.  Every year, several churches come together for the Sunday morning community service.  Pastor Jerry Shepherd is the fearless leader and preacher of the service.  And, as he says, "we all deserve a Sunday off..."  I felt blessed to be a part of the service.  The most amazing part was listening to the reading from Acts read in Ebu while watching it be interpreted in American Sign Language: a whole new insight on the reading.  

The week after was Trinity Sunday.  Known as the Sunday when no pastor likes to preach (defining the Trinity is a slightly arduous task), it is our namesake (obviously).  It was my desire to lead this wonderful community into a vibrant celebration of us and our place in God's kingdom.  So, we did: brass instruments, banners created by the kids, and a blessing (by the children) of some historical books that contain the first roles of membership.  It was a great day and I celebrated by offering a children's sermon comparing the Trinity to the apple (you know: the whole three-in-one aspect).  

On to this past Sunday, as the first Sunday in ordinary time, it welcomed us with some difficult scriptures.  I decided to take the Genesis reading head on.  A note: I've decided to the leave the format in its preaching format (it's easier for me that way and, yes, I am that lazy :-) )

I'd love your comments and any ideas you have for preaching on the Trinity (I imagine I'll be preaching on the Trinity for years to come and welcome your perspective).

Peace be with you,


During the season of Ordinary Time
(the season that follows Pentecost),
the lectionary offers us some choices. 
We can either walk semi-continuously
through some stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. 
Or our readings can be more typological:
marrying the Hebrew Scriptures with the Gospel. 

When I sat looking at today’s choices,
I was tempted to avoid the reading from Genesis. 
Indeed, I initially chose the reading from the prophet Jeremiah. 
And, I could not avoid the Genesis text. 

As I studied this week’s texts,
I was drawn deeper and deeper
into Abraham and Isaac’s story. 
It became clear to me
that I had to make a different kind of choice. 
I could avoid the story altogether
and, therefore, avoid begin uncomfortable. 
Or, we could share the story,
be uncomfortable together and wonder about its significance today. 

And so,
it is with trepidation that I invite us
to consider and study the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Abraham was a nomad whom
God called to be ancestor of a great nation. 
The relationship between Abraham and God
relies on one command: Abraham’s faithfulness. 
As Abraham follows God’s call, he marries Sarah. 
Sarah, though, appears to be barren. 
We might wonder how Abraham can lead a great nation
if he has no children. 
Sarah, in her anxiety, convinces
Abraham to father a child, Ishmael, with Hagar, his concubine. 
(I'm uncomfortable
Eventually, though, Sarah does conceive
and gives birth to Isaac, their only son.  
With Isaac’s life, God’s promise is fulfilled:
Abraham and Sarah become the ancestors of a great nation.

Now, it is not uncommon for scripture
to tell us that God tests the faithful, the most famous being Job.  And so it is that God tests Abraham:

“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.” 

To be clear,
sacrifice means bind and kill on an altar dedicated to YHWH.   
It appears that God asks Abraham to give up his only child,
the fulfillment of God’s promises. 
This makes me, and I hope you, uncomfortable. 
At this point, our minds should be full of questions,
Why would God ask Abraham to commit such a violent act, especially to their only, beloved child?  
Where is Sarah;
where is the community holding Abraham and God accountable? 
Why does God test Abraham in this way;
why does God test Abraham at all? 
Do we believe that God tests the faithful?

All of scripture is story. 
Most of the stories in scripture
offer us comfort, courage and strength. 
Some of them, though,
paint a portrait of the brokenness and violence of creation.  
Either way, each story sets out to explore truth:
truth about God and truth about us, God’s creation. 

And the truth is violence is a part of our world. 
Every day children are beaten, even killed,
by those who care for them,
sometimes in the name of God. 
Trust me;
this truth is as hard for me to say as it is for you to hear. 

And maybe we don’t want to talk about these things in Church. 
Perhaps we wish to preserve church for the comfortable stories, the comfortable words of Jesus. 
Perhaps we wish to shut the violence
of those beautiful red doors. 
Surely the writers of Genesis wished to ignore
and avoid these stories. 
Yet, even so, there are many stories in scripture
that witness to the violent brokenness of the world. 
They are part of our scriptures for a reason;
they hold great value. 
When we tell these stories,
we journey on a path towards understanding God and our lives.  

So, what does the story of Abraham and Isaac say to us? 
How does it relate to our lives and relationship with God?

Some claim that this story is about obedience and faithfulness. 
Others say that this story is about trust. 
Still others say that Abraham and Isaac’s story
is a preface to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. 
Each of these claims contains some truth and wisdom. 

To me, the heart of the text lies in discernment and sacrifice. 

We don’t talk a lot about either of these in our culture. 
Indeed, we work hard to avoid them. 

Discernment takes time. 
It takes prayer and contemplation. 
We often move quickly from one decision to the next. 

Sacrifice is painful;
it requires us to give up something,
usually something we value. 

Put them together and we discover
that the life of discipleship is hard work. 
Jesus says,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9: 23 – 25). 

To follow Christ,
to believe in God,
requires giving up our whole lives. 
This is what discipleship requires: sacrifice. 
To make these sacrifices,
we must listen for God’s call on our lives. 
These are crucial aspects of our lives with God
and we cannot follow Christ without them.

This is true for individuals and for communities. 

Remember that story from Acts
where the entire congregation holds everything in common.  Surely this required sacrifice within the community
and from each person. 
It is also required discerning hearts:
a willingness to trust that this call benefited God’s kingdom
not just the people. 

All of us
must diligently seek God’s call and discern the sacrifices
we must make:
in our own lives and as a church.

The story of Abraham and Isaac
depicts the struggle between discernment and sacrifice. 
There is no doubt that we are responsible to God, our creator.  In response,
we must be responsible caretakers of our lives and creation. 

The story of Abraham asks us:
are we listening and are we ready? 
Do we hear God’s call in our lives
and are we ready to make the necessary sacrifices? 

Let me be clear:
(My husband says I should print this sentence twice...)
I DO NOT believe God asks us to violently sacrifice
the life of creation, especially children

I DO believe God entrusts them to us,
depending on our care and mercy. 

Indeed, I believe all of life is a gift
and we must consistently care for all of God’s creation. 
To live this way requires sacrifice
and we can be sure that God will show us how. 

This is the good news of the story. 

The angel of the LORD comes to Abraham and says,

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God…And Abraham looked up and saw a ram…” 

Abraham finds himself poised over the life of his son,
on the verge of acting in radical violence. 
God meets him there and reveals a different way:
the way of mercy. 
It turns out that the sacrifice Abraham must make
pales in comparison to what he imagined. 
In the end, Abraham’s story reminds us
that God asks one thing from us: 
our faithfulness. 
This will require sacrifice
and our sacrifice will always be met with God’s mercy:  Thanks be to God!

No comments:

Post a Comment