The commitment of Isaac as hope for today future

A sermon for Proper 8, 3rd after Pentecost

Genesis 2, 2:1-14, Psalm 12, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

Focus: The commitment of Isaac as hope for today future

May 18, 1980 after many hours VGT came into the world and changed our lives forever. Thursday afternoon after many hours LPF came into the world and will change our lives as only grand children can, a new venture I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait to spoil LPF rotten.
LPF’s birth with its remembrance of VGT’s birth brings a poignancy to the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. It brings home in unexpected ways if not the horror, then at least the fear of child sacrifice. However, to get stuck here is to miss-read scripture; it’s a failure to honor its context; the story’s connection to Ishmael and it’s origins in Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Most importantly it is a disservice to our children and grandchildren.

I want to explore four aspects of Isaac’s sacrifice:  the opening conversation, burnt offerings, Ishmael, and the Babylonian context and see how this sacrifice provides hope for today’s children and grandchildren.

We don’t know how long is has been since Ishmael and Hagar left, or since God has spoken to Abraham. But God does call and with a little imagination the conversation goes like this:
Abraham
Here I am
Take your son.
I have two sons.
Your only son.
Each is the only son of his mother.
The one whom you love.
Is there any limit to a father’s love?
[Take] Isaac ~ (Schifferdecker)
[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.
Imaging the opening verses as a conversation allows us to hear that Abraham remembers his older son, that God told him to let Ishmael go, and that he does not want to lose Isaac. Two other notes: Abraham is directed to go to Moriah but to yet another unknown location; when he and Isaac leave the attendants Abraham tells them:
… the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.
Abraham knows what God is asking, yet here is says we will come back not I. It seems there is more that Abraham is aware of than we are aware of.

Burnt Offerings are one type of sacrifice in the Temple Cultic sacrificial system. That system hasn’t been established yet (more about this later); however, the idea of brunt offerings is well established in the story’s time line. The Hebrew ʿōlâ is most frequently translated burnt offering; it is also translated to ascent or to go up. It’s root ʿālâ means to come up, to ascend.  (Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary)
Easton’s Dictionary notes burnt offerings were regarded as ascending to God while being consumed (Easton). It is at least conceivable that Abraham has a notion that he is shepherding Isaac into God’s presence, and perhaps to commit him to God’s service, as all first born will be after the Passover, or as Nasserites will be (Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:11).

I was surprised the connection between Ishmael’s story and the story of Isaac’s sacrifice was mentioned only once, and there was no commentary. A quick review of Ishmael’s story. Sarah decides Ishmael is a threat to Isaac and tells Abraham to take Hagar and Ishmael into the dessert. God tells him to do as Sarah says, lso that Ishmael and Hagar will be okay, that God will make a nation of him. (Genesis 21:13).
He does as God tells him. Genesis tells us Ishmael does well.

We do not know how long it is between Ishmael’s and Hagar’s dismissal and Isaac’s journey to sacrifice. It must be some years, because Isaac walks the distance, carries the wood for the sacrifice, and engages his father in knowledgeable conversation about the sacrifice, so he would be at least in his early teens. Time enough for Abraham to know of Ishmael’s life. He knows God keeps God’s word. So here’s the logic. Abraham knows God’s logic is incomprehensible. Abraham knows God keeps God’s promise. Abraham knows God promised him an heir, knows Isaac is that heir: it is through Isaac that offspring will be named for you. (Genesis 21:12 b) so even though this journey to sacrifice Isaac makes no sense Abraham makes the journey in faith that God will do as God always has, keep his promise, Isaac will be his heir.

Finally Babylon. You may remember from a couple of weeks ago that Genesis was written when Israel was in captivity in Babylon, over against competing creation myths. Isaac’s sacrifice may well be oral tradition; however, it too is written over against the oppressive and corrupting conditions in exile. Terence Fretheim’s writes: Exilic Israel may have seen itself in both Abraham and Isaac … (Fretheim 494)
Fretheim continues:
God has put Israel to a test in which many children died, has called forth its continuing faith, has delivered it through the fires of
judgment and renewed the promises. (Fretheim 494)

Visualizing Israel as Abraham assure leaders of a captive people that God is faithful and has not abandoned them. Visualizing Israel as Isaac assures the future. Both encourage Israel to keep the faith, to remain obedient to God, which will not speak to sacrificial rites, but rather keeping their allegiance to one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I mentioned earlier the cultic sacrificial system was not established in the story’s time line. But, as it was written in Babylon exile, the sacrifices, though not available are part Israel’s lore. They know what burnt offerings are. They know about: the Passover commitment of all first born to God, and Nasserite commitment.

There are all kinds of gleanings in the story of Isaac’s sacrifice. Is Isaac the heir God promises? God does not know what Abraham will do.
Will Abraham be faithful? They are all about relationships:
God and Abraham (and Sarah),
Abraham and Isaac,
Isaac and God,
God and Israel,
God and us.
For VGT now VGF and LPF and PF the story of Isaac’s sacrifice is not about brutal sacrifice. We must move beyond that fear to gleanings worth sharing:
Always engage God in conversation, it will lead you to insight.
Never be afraid to shepherd your beloved into God’s presence.
God is frequently inscrutable, but always faithful.
Life is full of trials and desperate times, that may separate you from all you believed crucial; Paul say it best:
38  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV))
Amen

Works Cited
Easton, Matthew George. Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Wordsearch, 2008.
Fretheim, Terence E. The New Intrepreter’s Bible, Genesis. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. 1. 2003. 12 vols.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Genesis 22:1-14 Commentary by Kathryn Schifferdecker – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL).” 24 6 2014. Working Preacher. web. 24 6 2014. .
Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

A sermon on the Feast of the Presentation

 Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40, Psalm 84

Focus: Life with God in the ordinary

 This morning is as new for me as it is for you. The feast of the Presentation is always February 2nd. The last time that was on a Sunday was … well I couldn’t find it; however, in a conversation Wednesday I was told the next time it occurs is 2025. That’s a long way of saying I’ve never preached this Gospel story before. We are all in for an adventure.

 I didn’t get six words into it before I was off into Bible dictionaries and Strong’s Concordance (which tells you what the Hebrew and Greek words are). I am aware of purification rituals, even that after childbirth women were ceremonially unclean, for thirty some odd days, and after that they underwent a purification ritual that allowed them to go fully back into society, allowed them to go in to the Temple. I was curious why it is ‘their’ purification, not ‘her’ purification.  It surprised me to learned the Greek participle αὐτός (autos) [i] is his, hers and theirs. In any case, Joseph and Mary follow the Law, as given by Moses and recorded in Leviticus; [ii] the gleaning is that they are righteous; they live in sound relationship with God.

 Their sacrifice of two pigeons caught my attention, and sure enough the prescribed sacrifice is a lamb and a dove; unless the couple cannot afford it then two pigeons are offered.  [iii] So we know that Jesus’ parents are of very modest means.

 We all know Jesus is the first born male. We might even connect that to that night in Egypt when all the first born males in the land die; except in houses with blood on the door post. As a reminder of their rescue, the Hebrews are required to dedicate every first born male to God; from cattle, flocks, herds to children. They can be redeemed for 5 shekels or about $15.23; [iv] however, there is no mention of Mary and Joseph redeeming Jesus. That may be because Luke didn’t know about it, his education is Greek, or it might remind us of Samuel whose parents, Hannah and Elkanah, in thanksgiving for having a son, dedicate their only son to God, and leave him with Eli at Shiloh, to serve God. As you know, Samuel grows to be a dynamic divine actor in Israel becoming a Kingdom, from nomadic people. Again this presents Mary and Joseph as being righteous, for by not redeeming Jesus for themselves means he is dedicated to God all his life, which is implicit in Gabriel’s telling Mary about Jesus barely a chapter, and maybe a year ago.

 Did you ever think so much could be woven into a single sentence? But it is all here: Mary’s and Joseph’s righteousness, revealed in the ritual of purification, their modest means, revealed in the sacrifice of pigeons,  and Jesus’ dedication to God, revealed in their not redeeming their first born son.

 Simeon and Anna are parallel characters. Both are very old, Simeon old enough to be near death, Anna is either 84, very old for the day, or has been a widow for 84 years, making her ancient even in this day and time. Both are righteous and devout, both spend all their time in the Temple, looking for praying for the consolation of Israel the redemption of Jerusalem. Both recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Simeon praises God, for he has seen salvation, the light for all people, the glory for Israel. Anna praises God, and starts telling everyone who is looking for the redeemer about Jesus.

Fred Craddock writes:

… both are miniatures of Israel … at [her] best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

They help us to recognize

that while God is doing a new thing, it really isn’t [new] … [because] hope is always joined to memory, and the new is God’s keeping an old promise. [v]

It is that new juxtaposed against the old, even the ancient, it’s Mary, Joseph and Jesus juxtaposed against the old Simeon and Anna, juxtaposed against the ancient Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel, juxtaposed against the more ancient deliverance in Egypt that reveals a trans-formative value of ritual observances, which are all but gone today. [vi] And just as purity rituals are not about minutia of action and words, but rather are demonstrative of a life given over to living all aspects life from relationship with God, and is inclusive of self, family, community, Gentile nations, flocks and herds, the environment, indeed all creation; ritual observances are all about grounding the new of our life in the beyond ancient hope of God’s redeeming promise. We will never know how Mary and Joseph’s righteous life affected Jesus. We do know, Jesus was himself righteous, and knowledgeable of life lived as a dedication to God.

When we limit God’s/Jesus’ presence to specific walls at specific times, everything else is diminished. The Psalmist sings:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!  
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD ….

But that dwelling place is not the Temple; the Temple did not even exist if David wrote this psalm. The courts of the Lord are, as our Lord’s Prayer teaches us, on earth. I don’t think the story of The Presentation teaches us much about Jesus. I think it shows us what comes of living life in sound relationship with God, of living a modest life, of dedicating what we hold most precious of our belongings of our family, to God’s service, maybe in a specified calling but mostly in the ordinary routine of day to day life.

I have challenged us to take on the specific tasks of
–         welcoming folks home,
–         inviting family, friends and strangers to Friday Families,
–         reviving our commitment to shut-ins, including regular visits with communion,
–         kick starting Brewing Faith, and
–         discerning a new vision that may be from these walls, and may be from elsewhere.

And while, at least for us, all of it is new stuff, it’s really old; really – really old, its life is revealed in keeping ancient ritual disciplines, of prayer, study and service, its hope is grounded in God’s keeping an old promise; which we know is breaking through for: with our own eyes we’ve seen … salvation; it’s in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to those who don’t yet see, and glory for your righteous people. [vii] When our work is done, may those who walked amongst us continue to grow and become strong, be filled with wisdom; and may the favor of God be upon them and us.

 


[i] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

[ii] Leviticus 12

[iii] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor,

[iv] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

[v] Craddock,

[vi] R. ALAN CULPEPPER New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS

[vii] modified from The Message, Luke 22:30