Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on Sunday, June 29, 2014. Preaching text: Genesis 22:1-14, The Command to Sacrifice Isaac. The Rev. Tom Weller
The Lamb. I shall speak of the Lamb. The Lamb of God. You may be seated.
To every Hebrew scholar, our Bible story this morning is the picture of unspeakable shame: Abraham, by order of God himself, on the way to Moriah with his beloved son Isaac, child of laughter, long awaited son of promise, to slay the child and sacrifice him on a flaming altar as an ascending offering to God.
For all the dozens or hundreds of times I have heard and read the story at Genesis 22, I cannot handle it. It stirs my horror and grief as no other story ever has or ever could. A child. A little boy. A man’s beloved son. I cannot bear it. Abraham: is faith so blind, Abraham? And, Abraham, are you sure it was God? Surely not, Abraham: looking at the same story in The Holy Quran, Islamic scholars say God would never demand such a thing, that it could not have been God.
But if unthinkably so, who could ever again worship a deity who would demand such horror, outrage unto blasphemy.
In some small defense of Father Abraham, part of the rabbinical response is this:
- That when God said “Take your son, your only son,” Abraham interrupted, correcting God, “I have two sons.”
- That when God went on, “Isaac, whom you love,” Abraham corrected God, “I love them both.”
And Abraham did, did love them both. He loved his firstborn son Ishmael, was deeply grieved when Sarah banished the boy along with his mother Hagar.
And Abraham loved Isaac: Isaac, child of laughter, child of his ancient age, God’s own gift of love, destiny and heritage. Child of Sarah. Beloved son of eternal promise.
“Take your son, Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” So begins the incredible story of stunned horror. One visualizes Abraham’s grim, set countenance. With the Hebrew scholars, one hears the weeping, shrieking screams of the boy’s mother that dawn as his father tears her hands loose from her only son and leaves her curled into a knot on the ground, sobbing as Abraham sets out on a three-day journey of the dead, to execute the will of God.
One understands the legend, the ancient rabbinical wisdom that as from that moment, Sarah never again spoke to Abraham, or to Abraham’s God.
The stuff of nightmares.
How can we face this, how do we deal with it? How, where can we find God’s blessing in a nightmare? Fools and simpletons rationalize God, justify God, to “save God” who does not need to be saved by us. We say foolish things. That it was okay, that after all it was just a test, God testing Abraham, that God never meant for the boy to have his throat slit, never meant for Abraham to sin, to commit murder, the ultimate horror of infanticide, fully intended to stop it at the last moment, what a crock, skybalon, what utter nonsense. There is no excuse, no excusing: how do we escape from this story with Abraham justified and our God intact, unscathed and unscarred?
Mainline Christian scholars don’t know what to say, we are left speechless. Knowing not that they know not, thinking they must justify God, foolish Christian scholars speak rationalizing nonsense. Hebrew scholars blessedly do not know --- do not know how to explain the story, except as an embarrassment, the shame of the ages. The best Islamic scholarship says that Abraham had it wrong, that Abraham misunderstood, that the command came not from God but from the devil. But that’s not what our Bible says. God said, “Abraham!” He said, “Here I am.” God said, “Take your son.” My heart is broken. And yet,
And yet, here’s the Gospel: all Holy Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The story of Abraham and Isaac on the road to Moriah is but an early chapter in our salvation history on the Way to Calvary. For Christians, all Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The only begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds. God from God. Light from Light. True God from True God. Begotten, not made. Who for our sake came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried -- this God of ours, who goes to the Cross for us. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who calls each of us to our own cross, here’s the Gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son up to death on the cross, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have life everlasting.
On a Sunday in June, we did not expect to end up on Good Friday, but here we are on Calvary’s Hill, at the foot of the Cross, not with the son of Abraham, Isaac who was spared, but with Jesus Christ the Son of God who died in agony for your sins and mine, that you might live forever. And can it be?
Wesley’s incomparable salvation hymn --
And can it be,
that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be,
that thou my God should die for me!
It can be, and it is. Beloved, it is the heart and cornerstone of Christian faith. But I’m afraid you missed it. Listen again, carefully, King James Version this time, in the story, to the pathos of the ages as Abraham in deepest grief makes his way across the wilderness to the altar of his son Isaac.
Abraham, and God, and the Lamb.
You are there.
... And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide himself -- the lamb -- for the offering, my son.”
The gift of God for the people of God: God provides Himself. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.