In the beginning: God provided!

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

Reading: Genesis 22:1-18

 

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to also live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in your Christ, your Holy Word’s name, we pray.  Amen.

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This morning we continue our journey through the book of Genesis.  A summary of the first twenty-or-so chapters of Genesis would go something like this:

In the beginning, God created everything good, but that goodness could not keep us on our feet.  We tripped ourselves up.  We fell hard.  But, the story doesn’t end there.  God made a promise!

It was a promise that seemed outrageous.  God promised a geriatric couple that they would conceive a child in their old age.  It was a promise that God had to tell Abraham multiple times.  It seemed so outrageous that God had to keep reminding Abraham that it would in fact come true.  After God reassures Abraham for the fourth time, in utter disbelief, he falls on the floor laughing, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child” (Genesis 17:17, New Revised Standard Version)?  When Sarah, eavesdropping on Abraham’s conversation with three angelic guests, first heard that she would conceive a child, she too laughed to which the angels looked her right in the eyes and said, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord” (Genesis 18:14a, New Revised Standard Version)?

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.[1]

Abraham was 100 years old when his son, Isaac, was born.

God made a promise to Abraham, that his offspring would become more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore.  And, with the birth of Isaac, God’s began fulfilling that promise.

I can only imagine the joy Abraham must have found in Isaac.  Having struggled with infertility myself, I can tell you that children—regardless of how they come to you—are a blessing; but, there is something special about conceiving a child on your own.  To look at his son, Abraham could not have helped but see a bit of himself and a bit of his wife.

Abraham loved Isaac.  The day Isaac was weaned, Abraham threw a great banquet (Genesis 21:8) as if to say, “My boy, you thought that was good, let me introduce you to some steak.”

Abraham loved Isaac.  He’d waited a long time to have an heir from the wife he loved, God was beginning to deliver on what Abraham thought to be an improbable, impossible, even laughable promise.  It would be a great story that you could make a Hallmark movie out of, if only it ended there.  Up to this point it’s a heartwarming tale of the seemingly impossible coming true, which is why the next part of the story is so damn disturbing.

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”[2]

God commands Abraham to take his only son to an undisclosed location and offer him up as a sacrifice on an altar to God?!?  Put another way: God gives Abraham a son whom God then asks back as a sacrifice for Godself?!?

I’m not going to even try to defend this story.  It’s too painful.  For someone who has struggled with infertility, for someone who has longed for a child and suffered the grief of a lost child, it is beyond my comprehension of what God is asking Abraham to do.  To sacrifice the son he loved is an idea that I cannot even imagine entertaining, let alone enacting.

How long and lonely those three days must have been as they marched through the wilderness to the place God would show them.  How long and lonely the walk up the mountain must have been.  Did Isaac fight his dad when he tied his hands and feet?  Did Isaac cry and plead for his life when Isaac placed him on the carefully stacked pile of wood?  Was Abraham crying as he clasped the knife?  Did Issac scream when he saw the knife being pulled out of its sheath? as Abraham wielded it over his chest?  Did Abraham question the voice he heard asking him to stop?  How did he know it was a voice he could trust? a voice different from his own screaming heart?

The story is just too much for me to comprehend, too painful for me to defend.  I don’t know why a loving God would ask a loving father to butcher sacrifice the only son he loved?  What I do know is this—God provided for Abraham and God will always provide.

What is commendable about this story is not (!!!) that Abraham nearly killed his son or that God would ask a father to do such a thing.  What’s commendable—and what begs our attention today—is that in the midst of a situation that makes absolutely no sense, God provided.  And, perhaps, what’s even more miraculous, Abraham agreed to work with what God had provided.

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You may find yourself in any number of impossible situations: situations that don’t make any sense, situations that you just can’t believe a loving God would allow or lead you through.  But know this, God will provide.

It’s interesting that Abraham named the place where all this craziness happened, “the Lord will provide” (see Genesis 22:14).  He didn’t call it “the place where God provided.”  Having gone through such a traumatic experience, I think Abraham wanted to be perpetually reminded not that God had provided, but that God will provide in times when we can’t make sense of what’s going on.  I think, he probably wanted to be reminded to always be on the lookout for God’s provision, because failing to do so could have dire consequences.  God always provides and it always works out if only we’d work with the provisions God provides.

We can “pray without ceasing” for God to deliver us from the beyond explanation, hard times in our lives; but, if we’re not willing to use the provisions God provides we’ll never be delivered.  God always provides, but we’ve got to be willing to work with the things God provides.  We’ve got to be willing to risk taking the hand of a stranger who reaches out to us.  We’ve got to be willing to trust the word of someone else when they say trouble is on the horizon and they know a way around.  We’ve got to be open to seeing what we don’t expect, like a ram in a bush we have walked past a hundred times as we stacked the wood.  God will provide, but we’ve got to be open to and use the provisions God gives us to make it through.

In the beginning, Abraham found himself in an impossible situation, but God provided.  No matter where we might find ourselves, may we never forget that in the beginning, God provided and God will continue to do so.

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God,

Help us to trust in your provision.  And then, when you provide—for you always provide–help us to work with what you’ve provided that we might see our way through and experience the peace, love, and joy you promised.

In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 

[1] Genesis 21:1-3, The New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Genesis 22:1-2, The New Revised Standard Version.

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