A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
June 28, 2020
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, there 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? There are no further interactions between Isaac and Abraham in the biblical text after this story. We can’t read too much into that, but it is worth noting.
I also wonder how Isaac reacted 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.
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. She’s promised a child but the world goes on around her while she waits decades for that promise to be fulfilled. And then her husband signs on to God’s plan to kill her one and only, long awaited son on an altar.
What would it be like if she told her own story, rather than having other people tell it for her? How do we think she reacted when Isaac came home and told her about his ‘camping trip’ with dear old dad?
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?
I wonder what God’s view of this story really is. I wonder if when God was testing Abraham, the right answer would have been for Abraham to call out, “what is wrong with you? Why would I kill my child? Any child?”
When God saw Abraham ready to go through with it, some terrible game of divine chicken, did God send in the angel and say “quick! Stop him! Put a ram in the thicket!”
I don’t know. Maybe God really wanted to see if Abraham was willing to commit murder for his faith.
In truth, that seems to be more of a human instinct than a divine one. What I know of God is at odds with the idea that God wants us to kill our children, or be willing to kill our children, in order to prove our devotion.
But I look around at our world, and we humans do seem a lot more like Abraham than I wish we were.
We claim a political solution to gun violence is too complicated, or infringes on too many freedoms, and on school campuses “…..Every year, nearly 2,900 children and teens are shot and killed and nearly 15,600 more are shot and injured. An estimated 3 million American children are exposed to shootings per year.” (source here)
We tie our children on the altar of gun rights every day in this country.
I’ve seen multiple images of children at recent anti-mask protests, holding signs their parents have written, that say things like “I don’t need a mask. God will protect me”.
(God wants to protect us by giving us masks to wear, which slows the transmission rate of this virus down by at least 50%. We can’t eradicate the risk entirely, but we can try our best to slow down transmission of the virus.)
We see similar themes from the religious communities that allow their children to die instead of taking them to the doctor for medical care, or vaccinations.
Parents, right now in this country, are willing to tie their children to an altar of disease in order to prove not their devotion to God, but God’s devotion to them.
These are illustrations about how we are willing to put our own children at risk to show our faith. Think about how much more easily we put other people’s children at risk.
Our government in recent years, has separated thousands of migrant and refugee children from their parents, putting them in detention centers. We have continued to do this, even as judges have ruled the practice must end.
While there are lots of good conversations we could be having about sustainable immigration policies, we aren’t having those conversations. Instead, we separate children from their parents, as they flee violence in their own countries, hoping to find safety in ours.
There are so many ways we are willing to be Abraham.
And I would suspect, if I polled the congregation, or the country, or Abraham, and asked “do you love your children?” we would all say, enthusiastically, “of course we do.”
At the end of this biblical story, of course, Isaac isn’t killed by his father. And Abraham names the place “The Lord will provide”.
Maybe that’s the good news in this text that doesn’t feel like good news—the reminder that the Lord provides and that we don’t have to sacrifice our children to show our devotion to God.
How can we name our community, our country, our world “The Lord will provide”? What can we do to show our devotion to God, not by agreeing to let beloved children die, but by providing for their care and safety?
Each time we provide food to a food bank, or for the food pantry at Borah or Grace Jordan, we try to prevent kids being sacrificed to hunger in our community. “In the Survey of Mothers with Young Children, 17.4 percent of mothers with children ages 12 and under reported that since the pandemic started, “the children in my household were not eating enough because we just couldn’t afford enough food.” We can participate in God’s work so that hungry children will know The Lord will Provide.
Each time we advocate for legislation that would reduce gun violence, we try to prevent children sacrificed to guns.
Each time we provide backpacks or other assistance to school children, we give kids a better chance to learn and succeed in education, helping them off the sacrificial altar of poverty.
Your Session met all day yesterday to plan what can be planned for the unknown season that is ahead of us. And we talked about some things we can do, even during a pandemic, to connect with each other and to connect with the community.
And yes, there are a lot of unknowns ahead for all of us while we stay as safe as we can from the vaccine, and with the upcoming pastoral transition. but with what the session is planning, I’m confident there are still ways you can help our community know the Lord will provide. May we commit to finding the rams in the thickets (I just like to say the word ‘thicket.’ Let’s bring that word back!) so we can see God’s provision and share it with the world.
May it be so. Amen.