A Sermon for Proper 8: Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42
Some months ago, Angie and I cut the cord, the TV cord. We just were not watching live TV; we were streaming all sorts of stuff. We enjoy seeing our favorites shows a second and sometimes 3rd time. We watch these shows differently; we know what’s happening, which lets us hear with different ears. Recently we were watching a BBC murder mystery, and I heard a musical phrase that sounded like a musical phrase from one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan movies. Curious. We see with different eyes; as an example, the facial expressions of a character in the background, that gives you a clue to what’s happening; it was all there the first time, but our attention was else were because it’s how the scene was designed. It is a Yogi Berra said, “Deja-vu all over again.”
As I was reading this week’s lesson from Genesis, I could hear familiar phrases. In my imagination, I was seeing familiar scenes. I just knew we had been here before.
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is far more and far less than what we read into it. It is highly disturbing to many readers today, in a culture that is rightly concerned about child abuse. There are some commentators who think the story is an argument against similar ancient practices. However, one commentary says such a reading runs the risk of being too narrow (Harrelson).
So, what I want to do is walk through the story, pay attention to what is written, and what is not written, what context knowledge helps us understand, and what the déjà vu phrases are.
God calls Abraham and tells him
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 (Genesis 22:2).
Remember Genesis was written while Israel is in exile in Babylon, as was much of the first five books of the Old Testament. This means the readers know about Exodus and the events after Israel’s escape from Egypt including God’s demand that the firstborn of all humans or animals shall be God’s (Exod 13:1) as a remembrance of God’s actions; and how God also provides for their redemption, how they can be released or reclaimed (Fretheim). It is true Abraham doesn’t know this; however, the writers and the first audience do; and oh yes – so do we.
In what God tells Abraham is the phrase Take, go to the land of Moriah, that I shall show you (Genesis 22:2). It is very similar to Abraham’s call Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1). This Abraham does know, and after these 100 plus years, he will remember, because it is the beginning of his extraordinary journey with God. The meaning of ‘Moriah’ is connected to seeing (NISB). File that away.
The next verse begins Abraham rose early in the morning (Genesis 22:3) Wait didn’t we just hear that last week? We did. Sarah tells Abraham to throw Ishmael and Hagar out of the camp, which is the middle of the wilderness, and that ensures their death, which greatly distresses Abraham. However, God assures him Ishmael and Hagar will be okay. The very next verse begins So Abraham rose early in the morning (Genesis 21:14). If we are aware of the parallels between the beginning of Ishmael’s and Isaac’s story, surely Abraham is; after all, both are his sons.
On the third day of their journey to the mountain, Abraham sees the place far away and tells his young men Wait while the boy and I go to mountain and sacrifice, then we will come back. Another link to Ishmael is that Abraham refers to him as the boy the only way Ishmael is referred to in the story of his banishment. Yes, it puts distance between Abraham and Isaac, possibly a foreboding sign. At the same time Ishmael is safe, so perhaps it is a hopeful sign. And note the phrase ends then we will come back. “WE will come back.” not “I will come back.” There is no indication here that Abraham does not expect to return with Isaac. It is true he may have been hiding something from his servants, but he could have just said: “Wait here.” Also file away the meaning of ‘Moriah’ which is the place Abraham sees far away.
Isaac and Abraham walk for a time when Isaac observers that they have everything they need for a sacrifice except for a lamb. A couple of things. How old is Isaac? He is old enough to carry a load of firewood. He is old enough to be knowledgeable about sacrificial rituals. Is he as old as Ishmael, 16 or so? Or perhaps he is about 12 the same age when Jesus goes with his parents to the Temple for the first time. Or is he older? We can’t know, but it is curious; because even at 12 I suspect he could escape his 112-year-old father. I’m not even sure how old Abraham is n0w, could be 125 or older. Anyway, Isaac could get away when Abraham tries to tie him up when they get to where they are going (Gaventa and Petersen).
Another thing to know is when Isaac asks about the lamb Abraham answers God will provide. An avoidance? Possibly, except that ‘provide’ is literally “see about it” (Harrelson). This is the second of five times a form of “see” appears in this story. Seeing maybe a pivotal theme.
They get to the place God has shown Abraham. Abraham builds the altar, lays out the wood, and then binds Isaac. This is where Isaac’s age raises the interesting question, of trust. Regardless of Abraham’s mixed past behaviors, in general, Abraham trusts God. He knows Ishmael flourishes after he abandons him and Hagar wilderness, in part with God’s assurance. He trusted God enough all those years ago to leave behind everything that provides security and meaning to go to an unknown place on the word of an unknown god. Basically, Abraham trusts God. Does Isaac trust God because Abraham does and therefore he does not resist being bound? Or is Isaac simply a willing sacrifice (Gaventa and Petersen)? Again, all we know is that Isaac is bound.
Abraham takes the knife to ‘kill’ Isaac. The word translated ‘kill’ is customarily used to indicate the slaughter of sacrificial animals (Harrelson) (Genesis 22:10), which keeps us in a holy state of mind unless of course, you are the sacrifice. God does not waste time immediately calling Abraham and commanding him not to harm the boy. Again, the impersonal language raises the possibility of a connection to Ishmael. Immediately Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket; which is exactly what happens with Hagar who does not see the well until she answers God’s call. The well was already there. The ram was already there. Neither could see clearly, and then they did. How many times have you been taking one path, until God/Jesus/Spirit showed you the true path? God/Jesus/Spirit helps us to see.
Our reading ends
So 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 (NRSV) Genesis 22:14;
So Abraham called that place “The Lord will see”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14).
These are the last two references to ‘seeing.’
There are commentaries worth of discussion about what is going on between God, Abraham, and Isaac in these verses. I know, I’ve read a few. But what I’m drawn to this morning is seeing, specifically, divinely enabled seeing. We live in a world divided in many – many ways. Everywhere you look ~ or listen ~ multiple voices or visions are thrust in your direction. There is a vision of manifest destiny proclaiming our right to take what we want. God/Jesus/Spirit vision enables us to see the blessings that are already showered upon us; we don’t have to take, just accept (Lose). There is the latest NRA ad that proclaims I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place (Bertrand). It separates us into warring camps saying one is using violence against the other and implies that the NRA is the only safe place. The shooting in Little Rock doesn’t help. It frightens people, sets us to looking for safe places. It’s an example of how we use violence to settle casual disagreements. God/Jesus/Spirit enables us to see that whatever separates us from each other separates us from God and is, therefore, sin (Epperly). God/Jesus/Spirit empowers a radical welcoming that is part inclusion, part reciprocity, part hospitality, part doing for others and part including the stranger as neighbor (Blasdell). God/Jesus/Spirit sees. God/Jesus/Spirit provides.
All of us are challenged to discern what is false from what is divine. That discernment does not appear out of nowhere. For both Hagar and Abraham the ability to see, or hear, the truth comes from an abiding trust in God. For Isaac, and perhaps Ishmael, trust begins with witnessing Abraham trusting God all his young life.
So, this morning, I think we are left with two takeaways; if you want to see clearly begin looking by trusting in God/Jesus/Spirit to guide you. And oh, by the way, it may be a roundabout journey, how long has Abraham’s journey been? Secondly, if you want someone else to see clearly, witness your trust in God/Jesus/Spirit. Then trust God/Jesus/Spirit.
As we prepare to celebrate our political independence clear seeing for all will begin the process of healing divisions and nurturing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Bertrand, Natasha. “A chilling National Rifle Association ad gaining traction.” 29 6 2017. businessinsider.com. <businessinsider.com /national-rifle-association-ad-call-to-violence-2017-6>.
Blasdell, Machrina. “Whom Ought I Welcome?, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.” 2 7 2017. Sermons that Work.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 7 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Matthew 10:40-42. 2 7 2017.
Kiel, Micah. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Pentecost 4 A: “Even”! 2 7 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 22:114. 2 7 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.