February 23, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
“Becoming All We Can Be: What to Do Next?”
“Holy God, Your love is both fierce and tender. Nourish and prune us through Your Word and Spirit, so that we may grow in truth, in peace, and in joy, bearing fruit in this world, which You dearly love. Amen.”
I am almost halfway through a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. It is a class on missions that meets for three hours a week for 15 weeks, with homework assignments each week, about 150 pages of reading each week, five one-page “reflections” papers, and one project that is due before the class is over. It’s kind of like a real class – I’m back in school and it’s exhausting, and fun. For my “project” I am interviewing an international college student from Saudi Arabia, an 18-year old boy named Musa. Musa’s a business major at Gonzaga.
During our interview we got to talking about how difficult it is to live in a country where no one speaks your native language. And if by chance you should find someone who does, quite often she will speak a different dialect, or with an accent that still makes it hard to communicate. British English, Australian English, Louisiana English, Boston English, Chicago English – they’re all different. Not only do we pronounce the same words differently, sometimes we use different words for the same things! [Hush puppy, icy, freezy, slurpy, slushy, etc.]
That’s where today’s Sermon Title comes from. Brianna invested her January in a remote Eskimo village 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where some of the elders still speak their native Inupiaq, and everyone speaks their Inupiaq dialect of English. So, Brianna told us, when the kids finished a school assignment, their way of asking for further instructions was, “What to do next?”
This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”. Being all we can be is a great motivational goal , but it really is impossible.
But we should be on the road to becoming all we can be. My taking this Perspectives class has put me on that road. The Bible calls this the “sanctifying” work of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench. Or, alternatively, a work we have the right and responsibility to encourage!
Three weeks ago we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”. Two weeks ago, we read from Genesis 3 and saw why the hope for living in that perfect image of God doesn’t pan out, but we also saw how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world. Last week we went to Genesis 12 and we discovered something new about who God is and how He redeems our Hope for eternal life. Today I invite you to join me in Genesis 22, where we get a glimpse of what to do next. Genesis 22:1-18 …. —-
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Quick review: 1: God created you and said, “That is very good!” Perfect relationship!
3: We have said, “I know better than God, let me do it my way.” And God calls us from our despair into a new approach to relationship.
12: God has “saved” humanity multiple times (Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Babel, Abram). Promising relationship!
What’s next Jack? What up? What comes after this? What to do next?
Look again at Genesis 22:2 – Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Let’s start with the first command here: “Take your son.” Are there any parents out there for whom this seems like a super good plan?
And just in case Abraham doesn’t get it – or maybe so that the readers, you and I, get it – God gets real specific: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – I mean Isaac (the promised offspring through whom all the promises of Genesis 12 will be fulfilled – land, children, nation, Savior for the whole world … take that boy of yours and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah!”
Does that not make you stop in awful wonder? What the faith? If Abraham does what God is commanding him, it will be impossible for any of those promises to be fulfilled!
And … it looks like Abraham does what he’s asked to do – and that Isaac, who is probably well old enough to overcome or run away from his (literally) old man, also faithfully obeys. Isaac even asks about Abraham’s plans. “Wait a minute Dad – w-w-w-where’s the sacrifice? W-w-w-w-what’d you say? You want m-m-m-me to climb up on the altar?” Isaac may have been thinking all those things, but what he did was obey.
My guess is that Abraham’s faith, not just that he obeyed this ridiculous command, but that he actually believed so much in his God’s power and love, gave him the strength to obey. Abraham told Isaac, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Did he believe God would allow him to kill his only hope in the promised fulfillment of God’s covenant with him because he also believed God could/would raise his son back to life? He told the servants: “We will go up the mountain; and we will come back to you!”
Listen to this extreme: Abraham heard this awful command to sacrifice his son – and he responded not just obediently, but worshipfully! This is a worship service for Abraham! That’s how much he trusted and loved God!
What to do next? Friends, after we hear the Good News of God’s perfect love for us in the Creation stories; after we experience that love again through His voice calling our names in our struggles; after we experience the beginnings of God’s promises of how that love will be expressed – do we trust Him with our very best? Do we believe He really has our best interest at stake? Have we faithfully, trustingly obeyed even when we had no way of understanding how this could be a good thing? Do we worship in the very midst of the unbelievably hard times?
Verses 15 – 18 restate the original set of promises, only this time God swears to God! Listen again to what God says: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies (become a nation), 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
What to do next? Live like we believe what we say we believe! Become all we were created to be!
And, are you ready for the kicker? It was on this same Mt. Moriah, which became known as Mt. Zion, that God completed the task He had tested Abraham with. 2,000 years after Abraham offered his son, his only son, whom he loved, on Mt. Moriah – that’s when God offered His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, on Mt. Zion – and all nations, every tribe, tongue and people, were blessed through Jesus.
What to do next? Let’s be on that road together and become all God calls us to be. Amen.
Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 113-120.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 347.