Jun 28, 2020

SUNDAY—June 28

SCRIPTURE     Genesis 22
After these events, God tested Abraham.
“Abraham!” God called. 
“Here I am,” Abraham replied.
“Take your son,” God said, “your only child Isaac, whom you love, 
and go to the land of Moriah, “(meaning) seen by YHWH (God).” 
Offer him there as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.”
Rising early the next morning, 
Abraham saddled a donkey and took along two workers and his son Isaac. 
Abraham chopped wood for the burnt offering, and started on the journey 
to the place God showed them. 
On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
Then Abraham said to the workers, “Stay here with the donkey. 
The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.” 
Abraham took wood for the burnt offering and gave it to Isaac to carry. 
In his own hands he carried the fire and the knife. 
Then the two of them went on alone. 
Isaac said, “Father!”
“Here I am, my child,” Abraham replied. “Here are the fire and the wood, 
but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “My child, God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” 
Then the two of them went on together.
When they arrived at the place God had pointed out, 
Abraham built an altar there, and arranged wood on it. 
Then he tied up his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. 
Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill the child. 
But the angel of God called to him from heaven: 
“Abraham! Abraham!” 
“Here I am!” he replied.
“Do not raise your hand against the boy!” the angel said. 
“Do not do the least thing to him. 
I know now how deeply you revere God, 
since you did not refuse me your son, your only child.”
Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. 
He went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his child.
Abraham called the place יְהֹוָה יִרְאֵה (YHWH-Yireh) as is said to this day, 
“On the mount of YHWH רָאָה (ra'ah)." (or, “On this mountain YHWH sees.”)
(On the mount of God there is vision, God knows our need and provides.)
The angel of God called Abraham a second time from heaven and said, 
“I swear by myself—it is YHWH who speaks—because you have done this, 
because you have not refused me your son, your only child,
I will shower blessings on you; 
I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven 
and the grains of sand on the seashore. 
Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

The story of Abraham and Isaac is placed within the context of a test. The Hebrew word נָסָה (or as transliterated into English as nacah) is usually translated as "test". "God tested Abraham" is how it is often found in the English texts of the Bible.

I suggest that "prove" might be a better translation, as the same word appears of "prove" in several other texts.

The story is part of the larger narrative wherein God promises Sarah and Abraham that they would have a son and that the fulfillment of that promise will have universal implication. "You will be blessed," God promises, "and in turn you will be a blessing to all humankind." In addition, Abraham would have so many descendants that they will number the more than all the stars in the heavens, and the grains of sand upon a shore.

The operative word in this text is that of "sacrifice". After giving Sarah and Abraham a child, Isaac, there comes a need for proving. The proof is in God negating the human tradition of child sacrifice. It is not a test of how much Abraham trusts in God and is willing to follow anything that God requests. Rather, in a land and time when the sacrifice of children, especially the first born male, God proves that such a tradition is neither desired, nor within the realm of God's will.

I mean, really, why would God test Abraham only to reverse the test by Isaac not being sacrificed. As the story is told, God at the last moment, provides a ram for sacrifice. Thus, the story is not about what Abraham in willing to do—as a test of trust in God—but, rather, it is about a God who keeps the promise that has been made and intervenes to prevent humankind from foiling that promise.

The point of the story is to set up a contrast, a change in human religions. Unlike other cultures and their practices of honoring God, the people of Abraham's God, YHWH, will not involve child sacrifice. God is acting as one who does what is good and right and best for humankind. If Isaac would have actually been sacrificed, where would the descendants of Abraham come from?

Of course, the followers of Jesus have a tradition of not only understanding the text as a test of Abraham's faith. They also find reason to reach back into the story to find a paradigm in which to apply regarding the sacrifice of Jesus, at the hand of his contemporaries, but ultimately by God, his Abba (as Jesus refers to God in two of the synoptic Gospels. Abba is what Jesus refers to as God in the prayer that he offers in teaching his followers how to pray (i.e. the Lord's Prayer or Our Father, as it is called today).

The reason to make a connection between the two narratives is to underscore the theology of a God who does not hold back, that in love for humankind God does not even withhold the "Only Begotten, Beloved One." In the death of Jesus upon the cross, the theology claims, God gave the Son (Jesus, the anoint one, or Christ/Messiah) to save creation from the sin of humankind. It is explained as a swap of "grace"—instead of requiring our life to atone for our sinfulness, God provided a substitute, a scapegoat—if you will. This theology has become the cornerstone of "Evangelical Christianity" (as the terms are understood today) being referred to as an atonement of "penal substitution".

Such a theology—depending on how you view itsacrifices God's holiness on the altar of God's love, or God's love on the altar God's holiness. A holy God requires a sacrifice, as the theology goes, but God in loving-kindness substitutes the sacrifice of his son, instead.

(Penal substitution is a theory of the atonement within Christian theology, which argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of sinners, thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive sin.)

Of course, we see all these things through the eyes of Easter. The resurrection of Jesus from death to life everlasting, one would argue, brings everything into a neater package. If God's holiness was sacrificed, the blessedness of resurrected life is the solution. If God's love was sacrificed, the merciful compassion of God becomes the explanation.

Most assuredly we are not eliminating the cross and suffering of Jesus from our theology. Rather, we are reassigning it to a different role. The cross speaks to what the possible outcome is when you challenge the status quo and the political systems of the day. But, the thing that is redemptive is not centered in Jesus' death, but in his life and teachings and way of proclaiming God's realm as a reality of just peace.

Far too often, the cross becomes a perverted advocate for violence. Thus, in the name of Jesus (with a bedrock basis of his crucifixion as being a source of forgiveness and making the broken whole) men have harmed, assaulted, abused, and oppressed women. In that same name, whites have harmed, assaulted, abused, and oppressed people of color. It is as if the church condones oppression, rather than living out a life of liberation.

From the point of a theology is disability, the cross has—in error—the explanation of why people experience brokenness. Instead of life's challenges as a person with disability being an access to compassion and caring for others, we get dismissed by a culture of ableism. Our wounded places become the point where it is believed that a disability renders one as being sub-human at best.

So, today we remember the story of Abraham and Isaac, focused on the altar built at YHWH-Yireh, knowing that God is One who knows our every need and provides for us.

Thanks be to God!

God of all blessing, 
you have blessed us with the gift of life:
the gift of hope to live it fully,
the gift of faith to live it justly,
and the gift of love to live it peaceably.
May we take all that you have given us
and use it (w)holistically
to the freedom of those who are oppressed
to the healing of those who are injured or ill
to the enpowering of those who are least among us
(according to the world we live in).
Lift each of us up to know your vision
and your will in each day.
Lift each of us up to follow in the way of Jesus.
Lift each of us up to be the very best person
we can be...in your presence and inspiration.
Blessed are you and blessed is your Kin-Dom
forevermore. Amen.

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