Parliamentary Procedure and Child Sacrifice

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church on June 22, 2014.

Genesis 22:1-14

As I’ve confessed before, there are scripture passages I’d just as soon never read.

This is one of them.

I confess it is hard to find the “good news” in a passage of near child sacrifice.
It makes me wonder about our ancestors’ experience of God, if they expected God to demand this of them.

It also makes me wonder about my experience of God, if I am willing to put limits of what God demands of me.

Yet it is in the Bible.

And so we trust God will speak to us through this, and other, conflicting and conflicted texts.

As we read scripture, we should also be listening for the voices not represented in the text.

What did Isaac say, I wonder, after Abraham untied him and pulled him off the sacrificial altar?

How did Isaac interact with his father after that?

Were there limits on his trust?

How did Isaac react to a God who wanted to use him as an object lesson to see the limits of Abraham’s obedience?

I also wonder about Sarah.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read Genesis, she married Abram and agreed to follow him as he answered God’s call to be a sojourner—to give up his home and life in order to follow God in to the promised land. She was also barren, which would be devastating to any woman, but certainly to one in a culture where your ability to give birth was your one way to have value in the world.

And God promised her a child. And in very old age, Isaac was born.

I feel for Sarah.

She is often a character in the Genesis text. But her perspective is rarely considered sympathetically. Her husband tries to pass her off as his sister—twice—just so men won’t kill him to take his bride. She’s promised a child but the world around her goes on while she waits decades for that promise to be fulfilled.

What would it be like if she told her own story, rather than having other people tell it for her?

I invite you to think about all of the voices in any biblical text. Whose story is told? Whose story is not? Do people get to tell their own story or is it told for them?

And how does that play out in the world around us? When you hear a story on the news, are all sides of the story being reported? Are people able to tell their own story?

One of the gifts of being at the General Assembly this past week is watching the way all voices are protected through our process of parliamentary rules.

Watching someone substitute a motion for the main motion and trying to follow the intricacies of Robert’s Rules of Order can seem odd and outdated.

But those rules, as frustrating as they may be, are intended to make sure all voices are counted in our process. We don’t always like the outcome, but we trust the process will protect all voices.

Listen to this observation on our process from Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press reporter, who tweeted, “Watching the Presbyterian assembly you see why Protestant-rooted civilizations have been so successful. You see the Protestant sense of time, order, democratic openness, rule of law, & an unending drive to improve themselves & the world.

It is interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective on our process, isn’t it?

With a majority of 71 %, we passed an amendment to the Book of Order about marriage equality. But the 29% were heard as well. And when you’re in relationship with the people who disagree with you, you temper the celebration of the vote because you remember not everyone is celebrating.

People did not cheer or boo. We prayed. Together.

All of our voices matter, even as the process allows for the majority to carry the day. I’m thankful for the respect shown on both sides of the issue this week. I’m grateful for my colleagues, who don’t agree with me, but who still welcome me as a sister in Christ.

All of our voices matter.

I’ve been thinking parliamentary procedure and about child sacrifice, and about Sarah. I don’t know how she felt when she heard this story. But I’ve got some ideas about it. I’ll share my version of Sarah’s story now. I invite you to imagine it for yourself too.

Because there is Good News for us in all scripture. May God help us find it.

 Sacrifice of Isaac by He Qi

Sacrifice of Isaac by He Qi

I am furious.

I have sojourned with him all across the Middle East. I forgave him when he tried to pass me off as his sister. Twice.  We’ve had some good times too, for sure. He stood by me in my barrenness. Even after God promised we would be the ancestors of more offspring than we could count, Abraham stood by me as that promise seemed false. He even agreed to my ill-conceived plan to have a child through my maid, Hagar.

But at long last, well past anyone’s expectation of childbearing, I gave birth to Isaac. When you wait 100 years for a child, he is treasured indeed.

Which brings me back to my fury.

The boys have just returned from what I thought was your standard father/son weekend at Mt. Moriah.

And Isaac told me a chilling tale.

Apparently his father tied him up and put him on an altar.

And, apparently, Abraham took out a sharp knife and was going to KILL MY BABY BOY. Isaac saw the blade of the knife headed toward his body!

I guess I am supposed to be thankful the angel got there just in time to stop Abraham from carrying out this sordid story?

But I can’t be thankful right now.

I am furious.

What was this “exercise” supposed to prove?

That Abraham was obedient?

Or that Abraham was insane?

Why weren’t Abraham’s many years of sojourning and obedience enough to prove his faithfulness? We’d already given up everything we knew to follow God into this new promised land. How much more proving does this God need?

We are going to have a talk, you can be sure. If Abraham wants to watch his son grow up, he’s going to have to learn new ways to talk with God. He’s going to have to learn to suggest God find some other ways to prove his point.

He’s going to have to talk back to God, because God can take it.

But I’m about done.

Because my poor son is devastated. How do you recover from having your father tie you up and nearly sacrifice you on an altar?

I’m going to go for a long walk. I’m going to keep saying to myself, “God would never have let this happen. God did not let this happen,” until my fury abates.

I’m going to let Isaac eat all the ice cream he wants and play video games all day long.

And when I calm down, (please, God, let me calm down), I will pray that I can see redemption in this story. Because I don’t see it right now.

I will pray to see Blessing as I kiss Isaac goodnight and smell his hair as I hug him, thankful he came home from this horror story.

I will pray for the strength to forgive Abraham for his “faithfulness”.

I will pray I have the courage to invite him back into the house and out of the not-proverbial-but-very-real-doghouse, so I can console him.

And when I calm down, I will pray to God this never happens again to any mother, or that at least the presence of God is tangible with them in the horror.

Oh, God, bring me understanding. Bring me peace. And for pete’s sake, enough with child sacrifice. Don’t try that one again. Amen.

10 thoughts on “Parliamentary Procedure and Child Sacrifice

  1. This is the main reading every year on Rosh Hashanah, and there is a ton of midrash on it. Most of it tries to defend Abraham for something that’s indefensible. I agree. What a brutal story.


  2. Just heard Dom Crossan say, (as part of a larger 3 day seminar with him, Joan Chittister and Marcus Borg) that this story is all about God saying human sacrifice is NOT acceptable. The providing of the ram instead was God’s doing and teaching of a lesson. Interesting idea…


  3. Marci, I found it so interesting that you chose this as your topic today. My son, Treysen, checked out a book from the school library this past spring called How to Draw People from the Bible. A couple of days later, he came to me saying, “Mommy, there is something inappropriate in my library book.” I asked him to bring it to me. It was a drawing of Abraham about to stab his son on the altar. I assured him that Abraham did not actually go through with it, but that did not comfort Treysen. Even as a 6-year-old, Treysen said, “Who would believe in this!?!” I wondered a lot about this story. The way the story is told makes God seem really insecure to ask someone to kill their child to prove their love for God. As a parent, I wouldn’t ask my child to do something morally wrong to prove they love me. Isn’t God supposed to know what’s in our hearts? Doing something morally “wrong” to prove a point doesn’t make it right. I love your point about imagining how Isaac and Sarah felt, their perspectives not told in the Bible. But Marci, what is the answer? Why did God ask Abraham to do this? How do we make sense of this?


  4. Kathryn Schifferdecker of Luther Seminary pointed out last week on Working Preacher that this is essentially the second sacrifice of a son of Abraham–Ishmael was the first, cast out in the wilderness to die with Hagar. It’s all so painful and terrible to read, but at least nobody papers over these awful things that the founders of the religion were doing. I don’t know if we could expect that level of honesty from ourselves and our leaders today. Thank you for your honesty here.


    • Good point. We love to hold our public figures to perfection standards. So far, none of them have been able to live up to those standards. Glad the biblical text doesn’t whitewash our ancestors stories. Thanks for the comment.


  5. Pingback: To Remember When Waking | Glass Overflowing

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