(I know it's not a ram, but it's all I've got.)
4 Pentecost July 2 2017 Audio
The story we have before us today in Genesis makes a claim on our lives. All that we have, our lives and the lives of those we love, belong to God who gave them to us in the first place. We hear that God provides for creation, God trusts us, and God is present with us.
As I hear this story of Abraham and Isaac, and Sarah unvoiced, but hugely present, I imagine what may be going on. In the privacy of their tent, Sarah and her husband were exchanging words. Sarah to Abraham, "God told you what! God told you to take Isaac up on the mountain and make him the sacrifice! No way, God would never say that. It's God who gave Isaac to us when we were already too old to have children. It is God who said through this child there will be as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. And even if God did say it, you'll do it over my dead body!" You see, Sarah was fully dedicated, actively committed, to helping God’s plan happen.
Abraham, because he was so pigheaded and stubborn, and because he trusted God with the life of his son, and God trusted him with the lives of God’s people, took Isaac against his wife's better judgment, loaded him up with wood for the fire, and led him up the mountain. In my imagining, Sarah followed secretly. While Abraham built the altar and laid the wood on it, Sarah hid in the bushes. She waited for the moment she would jump out of the bushes to prevent this horrible thing from happening. She watched Abraham stop his work of setting the fire, and listen. But then she saw a ram not far from her, caught in the thicket by its horns. She got near enough to it so she could wave a stick in it's face and it thrashed about and Abraham turned and looked, and realized he could use the ram for his sacrifice. Silently and separately, Abraham and Sarah heaved a sigh of relief, and whispered to themselves, "The Lord does provide." God provides, God trusts, God is present.
This is a really hard story. This is a really troubling story. And it’s not the only troubling story in our Bible. What do we do with them? The story that precedes this one, where Sarah banishes her handmaid Hagar, and Hagar’s son by Abraham, Ishmael, is as troubling and tragic.
What kind of God asks a father to sacrifice his son in the name of trust? What kind of God assumes a mother will just go along with it? Sometimes, as a mother, and as a pastor, I just want to sit down and weep at the tragedy and the brokenness of life. I just want to weep when mothers and fathers must bury their sons or daughters because of gun accidents. I just want to weep when mothers and fathers must bury their sons or daughters because someone was distracted while driving a car. There are so many times I just want to weep. Sarah and Abraham must have felt that kind of pain.
I’ve been asked, as I imagine you have as well, why do we read these hard stories? Why are these stories even in our bible? God provides, God trusts, God is present. Because you see, some days I don’t know if I trust God with my son’s life.
But then I remember, you probably remember too. That you let your child grow up, you let your child drive a car. You let your child go out into the world. You let your child travel to far flung places in the world. You trust God with your child’s life. And you know, that life is not in your hands. You know, that life is risky, and that none of our children will get out of this live alive. You know that we are only stewards of our children’s lives, not owners, and that God calls them as God calls us. Is it the same as God’s trust in Abraham, and Abraham’s trust in God? Is it the same as the fear and pain I imagine for Sarah? I don’t know.
But I do know that following and trusting God in this world is hard, and messy. I do know that tragedy is a frequent visitor to parents who love and trust God. I do know that some days it doesn’t feel much like God provides, or God trusts, or God is present.
And then I remember that ram. That ram that Abraham saw. You see, there’s a little word play happening. The Hebrew word translated ‘provide’ is literally the word for ‘seeing’. (Thank you workingpreacher.com). God provided that ram, and Abraham saw that ram. It doesn’t take away the difficulty of this story, but it does remind us again, that God provides, God trusts, God is present. All that we have, all that we are, belong ultimately to God. And we begin to see that for us, who are followers of Jesus, this story may point us to the story of the life, death, and resurrection of another son, the one in the flesh, the incarnate God, Jesus.
It is a tragic story as well. God in the flesh, Jesus, who says, oh God, why have you forsaken me, and who dies on a cross erected by the empire, with words of forgiveness on his lips. It’s a tragic story of suffering. It’s a joyful story of relationship. It’s a tragic story of loss. It’s a joyful story of the kind of love that the world condemns, love that is not a commodity, but love that lays down it’s life for the beloved. This is the God who provides, the God who trusts, the God who is present. Even, and this is the most amazing part, even, when we come up short, even when we cannot trust, even when we cannot find God anywhere, even when we wallow in our own self-doubt, that ram shows up. And when the ram shows up, it doesn’t save us from the tragedy of life, it does not rescue us from the reality of death. But maybe we see, maybe we see the God who claims our lives, and comes in the flesh to walk with us in our most tragic minutes, and hours, our eyes are opened to the God who creates us, the God who claims us, the God who provides, not what we want but what brings us true joy, the God who trusts, even when we cannot, the God who is present, even we cannot see. God gives all there is, God gives Godself on the cross,for us.
Oh, Sarah, mother of Isaac, when your heart breaks, God’s heart breaks too. Amen.