Abraham almost sacrificing his son… What a great Fall Fellowship story! Right?
We here at Grace are doing a 4 year plan to cover most of the Bible’s major stories, and we are currently in year 3. Hence why we get stories of child sacrifice on the day that we give Bible’s to 3 year olds!
Ash and I have 3 children in our family, ages 6, 4 and 1. And sometimes, when I reflect on what life was like before kids to now, I notice many changes, obviously, but there’s one change that was quite unexpected.
When I watch TV, or movies, or sometimes even commercials, I cry way more than I ever have. More like, all the time. Every time there’s any plot line involving kids or parents, I imagine myself or my kids in those roles, and I just start bawling.
For example, the other day we were watching “How to Train Your Dragon”, and sure enough, Hiccup is in the middle of fighting this really, really big dragon, and I started crying. My kids looked at me: “Daddy, why are you crying?” “Because, the dad just told his son how proud he is of him, and that he loves him, and I love you kids so much and I am so proud of you.” But at this point they’ve already forgotten about me and my tears and are watching Hiccup and Toothless defeat the big Red Death dragon. And Ashley is looking at me from the other side of the couch, and I’m not sure if she’s filled with love and admiration for her husband, or if she’s wondering what happened to the man she married 12 years ago.
So when I read this story in Genesis 22 about a Dad going on a 3 day journey )to sacrifice his kid because God told him told, oh my goodness, what a horrible story. I mean, what kind of dad is Abraham? Tying your kid up and reaching for your knife? Because God told you to?
And it’s even summarized as a “test”. That Abraham passed the test with flying colours.
What kind of sick God puts people through tests like this?
If I believed God told me to kill my kid, I would not do it. And neither should you. Think of the trauma we’d inflict on our children, and ourselves.
What kind of God would tell you to kill your child?
Well, as we hopefully know by now, what’s the first question we should ask when reading some of these strange Bible stories?
Why was this story written down?
When we look at this story through our 21st Century eyes, we are rightfully horrified. But notice how Abraham didn’t put up fight? He didn’t protest against God? Because sacrificing your children to the gods was something that was normal and expected all those years ago. It was just what you did. No big deal.
I heard it explained years to me when I spent a weekend with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr, and I’ve said it here once before, but I found it so profound, I’m quite alright saying it again.
Very quickly in our development as humans, we discovered that our very survival depended on the whims of nature. Too much rain, we die. Too little rain, we die. We meet at sabre-tooth tiger in the forest? We die.
And so we ended up giving offerings and sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of us getting the right amount of rain, sun, and to limit the sabre-tooth tiger encounters.
If our harvests are bad, or a sabre-tooth tiger attacks our cousin, it might be because we didn’t offer enough food and sacrifices. The gods might be angry! So next time, we offer more.
If our harvests are great, and we don’t have to send anyone to the hospital because of sabre-tooth tiger attacks, great! Our offerings and sacrifices worked! The gods are not angry! So next time, we offer a little more, just to be on the safe side… you know, to stave off the wooly mammoth attacks as well.
It’s a never ending cycle of us offering sacrifice to the gods, of us not knowing where we stand with the gods, of us living in constant anxiety that the gods are angry with us, and so we kick up offerings. From fruit to bread to chickens to goats to cows to our income tax refunds and eventually, what’s the most important thing we can sacrifice? Our children. That’ll make the gods happy. We can’t offer anything more.
This is Abraham’s world. God says to go sacrifice your children. Sure. That’s what we do.
But this story ends differently, doesn’t it. It doesn’t end with Abraham killing his son. It ends with God providing.
So if we ask the question, what kind of God would tell someone to kill their children?
The answer here, is, not this God.
This God is about something different. This is a story about a God who provides. This is a story about us ending the never ending anxiety of wondering if we’re doing enough to make God happy.
But this story in Genesis is just the beginning of humans understanding this new type of God. There’s still the sacrificial system, and then Jesus. But this story is the beginning of a trajectory.
With Mel gone on Sabbatical, I can tell a Mel story (I do miss him, though).
We have our staff meetings on Tuesday mornings, and after talking about the latest sports news from the weekend (like how the Bombers beat the Riders at the Banjo Bowl), he usually brings a question to the meetings. In the past, they’ve been like, “What do we learn more from, success or failure?” or “I was reading Thomas Merton personal journal this morning, and he suggests that every time we’re insulted or angry that’s just our ego defending itself. What do you think?” Or something else deep and profound like that.
But with him gone, I’ve been making the staff meeting agendas. And when we get together it starts like this “Well, I changed two dirty diapers this morning, one of the kids made it to daycare without any shoes, the baby ate some unknown food off the floor, but we made it to the bus on time, so that’s something.”
Regardless of the seasons of life we find ourselves in, the full or not so full, the beautiful or the not so beautiful, the busy or not so busy, I am grateful for a God who provides. A God who is not angry. A God who puts us on a better trajectory.
And I am grateful for a church community that gathers and doesn’t heap guilt on each other for not offering enough. A community we can come to who will try to love each other and the world, even when we feel inadequate or that we’re not doing enough, or that we haven’t read Genesis 22 since we were children, or that we’re in spaces where find it hard to pray and trust and believe. A church community that knows we’re in this thing called life together.
The last time I preached on this story of Abraham and Isaac, it was for my preaching class in university. (I remember that class quite well because I didn’t read the textbook, got an email from the prof telling me that if I skipped one more class I’d be kicked out, and I STILL managed to pass the class!)
When I was preaching on this text, we were graded on both delivery and content. And I remember my prof, who was an Old Testament buff, said to me, “Kyle, you failed to mention that some scholars think that the mountain Abraham climbs with Isaac is the same place that Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John.” I remember my outside self, nodding and saying “Yeah, okay.” And my inside self was screaming, “YOU ONLY GAVE ME 10 MINUTES TO PREACH, AND AIN’T NOBODY BUT OLD TESTAMENT PROFESSORS GOT TIME FOR THAT!”
Well, some years later, I think, maybe, I might have been wrong.
As Anabaptist Christians, we read Scripture through the lens and words and actions of Jesus. At the center of our Bibles is Jesus, and getting to know Jesus is how we best know God, and so if that mountain is the same place that Jesus talked to Samaritan woman at the well, then, this gets kind of fun.
Because at that well, Jesus points the Samaritan woman in a new direction. He says to her, “You worship God, but there’s one or two things I think you’re inaccurate about. I’m just going to reorient you a little bit, and once turned, you’ll see me.” – John 4:21-26 (my very loose paraphrase)
So Abraham is worshipping God, and God reorients him to not kill his kid. And the Samaritan woman is worshipping God, and Jesus reorients her to focus on Jesus.
I now think that the story of Abraham and Isaac is a great story for Fall Fellowship, a Sunday when we symbolically kick off our fall.
It’s a story that reminds us that we are enough. That God does not have unrealistic expectations of us.
And it’s a story of a God who is always pointing us in new directions, always reorienting us to look at the way of Jesus. To quote one of my favourite singers,
“The heart of God has been revealed… to bring love and not hate, to pour out and not dominate, to forgive and not blame, to make whole and not shame.” – Alana Levandoski
Maybe this is a great story for Fall Fellowship because it’s a reminder that when we put our trust in God, we open ourselves up to seeing God provide for us. That when we do our best to be faithful to God, however that looks… when we sacrifice a morning of sleeping in to come to church, when we teach little children or meet new people at a potluck (which I know is tough for a lot of people), when we give money to help a family from Syria make a home in Steinbach or make sandwiches for local school kids or sing at nursing homes, or say all sorts of prayers for all sorts of people… I think that in all the different ways that we show up, they’re all little acts of faithfulness… they’re acts of trust in God. And this story is a good reminder that if we trust in God, God will provide.
Grace and Peace.