(I preached at the Iglesia Presbiteriana Central, Guatemala City this past Sunday, June 26, 2011. The lectionary passage that I chose was Genesis 22:1-14, which tells the dramatic, disturbing story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. Here’s the basic gist of the sermon.)
Isaac was the only son of Abraham and Sarah, the son that God promised so the covenant could continue for future generations. The story about God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac has been a favorite through history. Somehow people usually overcome the story’s cruel and violent underpinnings, and focus on the importance of obedience to God, and God’s ultimate generosity to us. I want to highlight three elements in the story.
Worship. The word “worship” makes its first appearance in the Bible in this passage—“We will worship.” Worship establishes a healthy relationship between God and creation, reaffirming the centrality of God in human life. Since sacrifices were such a common feature of worship in Abraham’s context, it’s not surprising that sacrifice is so central in this example of worship.
The message is repeated elsewhere in the Bible—our love of God must be first and foremost. Jesus even teaches that “whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
However, through the Bible there’s a shift away from sacrifice. One reason was the prophets, who criticized the insincerity of many sacrifices. Another reason was the recognition that we can’t ever sacrifice enough to reconcile ourselves to God. Ultimately, the sacrifice that saves us from sin took place on the cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s grace.
Faith. In Hebrews 11:17 we read, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac.”
We see Abraham’s faith in God’s goodness in several of his statements. As he and Isaac approached the place of sacifice, Abraham told his two servants, “We will come back to you.” Later, to Isaac, Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering.”
At times we might feel anxious about how things will turn out for us. Rarely are solutions explained to us in advance. Yet, God provides what we need in the time and way that’s best. Abraham demonstrated his faith in God’s plans. He believed that in the end God would work things out, and that Isaac would be okay.
Surrender. Abraham’s repeated use of the phrase “Here I am” suggests surrender. However, his actions speak even louder. In his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham shows that everything he is, that he has, and that he seeks is at God’s disposal.
As a college student I had the opportunity to visit the Panama Canal, which has been used for over a century by ships to navigate between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. During the tour I was fascinated to hear about the requirements for any vessel that wants to enter the canal.
The first requirement is to pay a fee, which is determined by weight. Currently the highest fee has been $317,142, paid by a freighter in 2008. The lowest fee was paid by a man who swam the canal in 1928. He paid 36 cents.
The second requirement is to turn over the ship’s controls to one of the canal pilots. No matter the size or importance of the ship, its captain must surrender the wheel to those who are familiar with the canal’s unique and tricky conditions, and know how to avoid disaster.
In a similar way, the Lord calls us to a new live, the way to salvation. However, there are some requirements. First, there’s a cost. Unfortunately for us, the cost is set according to the weight of our sin, and we can’t afford it. The good news is that Jesus has paid this price for us by giving his life, that by God’s grace we’re invited into this new life.
The second requirement is that we turn over the wheel, that we surrender the controls of our lives to God. We place ourselves in God’s hands, trusting that God knows much better than us about the conditions of the world, with its tricky twists and turns.
Yes, God provides for us all that’s needed to journey through life, to enjoy its abundance, and to glorify God along the way. With a spirit of worship, faith and surrender, God’s divine plan is fulfilled.