“Defying Gravity” Genesis 22:1-14, Matthew 10:40-42 June 29, 2008 Lake Harriet Christian Church Minneapolis, MN
The cell phone rang early on a Tuesday morning. My partner Daniel anxiously picked up the phone knowing the call was from his brother John who lives in North Dakota. The day was here. John’s wife, Julie, was pregnant with their first child and that very morning, her water had broke meaning it was time for the baby growing inside of her for nine months was ready to make their debut.
Daniel was excited. This meant we were heading to Fargo to meet John and Julie and await the arrival of a new niece or nephew. We had just got back from seeing John and his Daniel’s sister and her family the day before. But we were going to make the trip back to North Dakota.
Now, you would think that would make me happy. And at some level, I was. But I was also a bit upset because this was messing up with my normal schedule. Before you think this is because I was being selfish, you need to understand something about me that you might not know. Recently, I was diganosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is a form of autism. One the characteristics of Aspergers is that we tend to like stability and order and predictability. I. Don’t. Like. Surprises. I was expecting a normal Tuesday where I would go to work as I always do. So, the news that we were going back to North Dakota was messing up my defined schedule.
Later when we chatted with the specialist I am seeing concerning my Aspergers, Daniel brought up my reaction to this. The specialist was understanding that of course, I would have this reaction since this is the way m brain is wired. But he also said that I would be missing out on a great experience if I just chose to stay with the routine. Yes, it was scary, but he noted that Daniel was my greatest resource, and would be with me as I dealt with this disruption to my settled routine.
In the way that I am wired to look at the world around me, I think at times we as the church like to think that God is predictable and tame. But the texts for today show us that God is hardly tame.
The Genesis text today is a hard one to read. After hearing about how God promised Issac to Abraham and Sarah, we now hear God telling Abraham to kill his promised son. Now, some will take this text to talk about religious extremism and get caught up about why a father would so willingly try to kill his son. While I think those are issues that are important, I also think such focus misses the point of the story. The story isn’t telling us to go and sacrifice our children. Nor is it the story of a crazy old man. It is the story of the God we serve, a wild and unpredicible God that promises strange things and sometimes tell us to do some even weirder things.
So the story begins with God telling Abraham to take his son Issacc, his only son Issac, and go up to some mountain and offer up his son as a sacrifice.
Now, most people would have wondered if they drank too much or ate a bad hamburger. God would not as this of Abraham, would he? But Abraham did as told and took Issac to the appointed place. Issac notices that Abraham is bringing things for a sacrifice and wonders, where is the lamb? Abraham tells his son that God will provide. What was Abraham feeling at this time? Was he scared? Did he wonder if God really would provide a lamb? Did he thinking of backing out?
We later see Abraham bounding up Issac and getting ready to offer him up to God. Just as the blade comes crashing down, God says stop. He sees Abraham’s faith is strong. Instead of offering Issacc as sacrifice, God gives Abraham a ram to offer as sacrifice.
Yeah, pretty scary stuff.
But again, I want you all to focus on God here. The God that we see here is pretty demanding. He wants Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is a God that seems a little crazy, a little mad and frankly horrible. But this is also the God that we serve, a God that is wild and can’t be tamed. A God asks all of us and has given all for us in the form of Christ.
One wonders if Abraham had become used to having Issac around. The promised son was now a reality. Nothing could happen to him. He expected everything from now would be smooth sailing.
Except it would not be.
God then calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, the promised one. Now he has to give up this son that he had given up everything for.
Why would God do this? Why would God give Abraham a son only to take it away? Didn’t God know how much Abraham loved his son? But the thing is, Abraham did what was asked of him. He trusted this God and knew God was with him.
In our day and time, we tend to want a very tame God. I am reminded of the science fiction book “ A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” where Earth is described as “mostly harmless.” That’s the way we want God to be, mostly harmless. We want a God that doesn’t ask much of us. We pray to God for things, and see God as a cuddly and loving person. God is a grandparent writ large.
But the thing is, God isn’t like that. Look at the Bible and we read of God telling people to do this and that, to leave their homes and follow him. This is a God that tells Paul to go to this place and that and preach about Jesus. This is the God that even allows his only son to die on a cross like a common criminal.
It’s hardly an accident that Aslan, the character in the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis is depicted as a Lion. For many Christians, Aslan is the God figure in Narnia. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver describes Aslan as good, but not safe. He is a lion, of course.
And God is a good God, but God is hardly safe. God calls his followers to do some risky things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was correct in saying that when Christ bids us to come, he bids us to come and die. In the gospels, Jesus says that only those who love God more than father and mother and even life itself can be worthy of following him.
This past April, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King, who was educated in some of the leading institutions, could have spent his time being the Senior Pastor of a large African American church in a big southern city like Atlanta or Birmingham. Instead, he chose to work for civil rights, placing his life at risk. When he was felled by an assasin’s bullet in 1968, he was working for the rights of poor sanitation workers in Memphis. He chose to listen to the wild God and was faithful.
Listening to God is scary business. No, I don’t think God is calling us to sacrifice family members, but God might be calling us to do other things that seem risky, which scare us silly.
I think today, God is calling us to leave our comfortable (or not so comfortable) pews to go out into the world and share God’s love in both word and deed. I believe God is calling us to stop worrying so much about our buildings and budgets which we’ve grown so accustomed to, to move beyond mere maintainence and to ministry with God in the world.
That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said that his disciples would have to love him more than they love their families. They needed to sacrifice that love because it could get in the way of serving God.
And so it is with us. As a society, we want it all, and we don’t want to give anything up. But with God, we are called to give up all to follow God. My friends, we have to be willing as faith communities to not be so concerned with the upkeep of buildings and budgets and get on with God’s work in the world.
So about that birth. Julie gave birth to a baby boy named John Luke. Daniel and I came to see the new family and I got to do something I’ve never done before: hold a newborn, a being that had only come into the world a few hours prior. It was an amazing experience and I’m glad that I was able to see it- even if it broke my schedule. May it be with us, as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.