Sermon: July 2, 2023

Abraham is the father of three major religions.
We know him as the faithful man who answered God’s call at the age of 75 to leave his native land and to travel with his wife to an unknown land.
We know him as the man who had a son when he was well past the age that he could be expected to have a son.
We know him as a man of great faith.
And indeed, he was.

But, like all human beings, he had other sides as well.
He is also the man who lied about the identity of his wife to Pharaoh in order to save his own hide.
And he is the man who drove his first son, Ishmael, and his mother into the wilderness.
And today we hear the story of Abraham’s almost sacrifice of his younger son, Isaac.
Isaac, the son born to his elderly and previously barren wife Sarah. Isaac, the key to God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of nations.

I will be quite honest with you.
I find the story of Abraham’s binding of Isaac to be a very disturbing one.
On the surface it appears to describe a terrible God who would ask a father to be willing to kill his son in order for the father to prove that he is faithful to God.
This is certainly what the writer of this story seemed to think.
In verse 22:1 it says, “After these things God tested Abraham,” and then in verse 22:15 God says, “Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you.”

You can see why so many people over the centuries have interpreted this story as being about faith and sacrifice.
Many people have read this story and said to themselves, “This is a story about being willing to sacrifice anything and everything for God.”
I will be quite frank with you; this particular interpretation is a stumbling block for me.
I don’t think I believe that God asks us or would ask anyone to sacrifice a child to prove our faith.
For me this interpretation describes a God who is abusive, and I don’t believe that God is abusive.

Others have argued that we shouldn’t focus on Isaac as we read this story.
Instead, they tell us that Isaac merely represents God’s promise.
Abraham, being a man full of faith, was willing to trust that God would find a way to fulfill his promise, no matter what.
But I can’t look past Isaac.
I can’t look past the undeniable fact that the story still involves the possible murder of a boy by his father at the command of God.
I can’t look beyond the fact that an innocent boy came close to being killed.

Still others understand this story to be an allegory for a transformation happening in the life of the Israelite community.
There is some evidence that child sacrifice was practiced at some points in Israelite history.
Eventually, however, this practice was rejected by the community.
Some argue that this story is the story of Israel’s rejection of child sacrifice once and for all.
But I am still stuck with the fact that Abraham doesn’t seem to come to the idea of sacrificing his son on his own.
God tells him to do so.

And finally, many argue that this story is a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus: God being willing to sacrifice his only son.
It is an allegory of the Christian story.
But you see, I don’t think God sacrificed his son.
I think God sent Jesus into the world to show the world how to love, and the world killed Jesus because the world was afraid of this love.
So, I want to offer you another possibility this morning.
A possibility not original to me, I think others have also come to this conclusion, including Madeleine L’Engle, the great writer and Episcopal lay woman.
What if this is not a story about faithfulness?
What if it is instead a description of sin?
What if it is the story of a world that has lost its way and lost touch with God?
Maybe Abraham did not pass his test after all?
What if God really wanted Abraham to stand up and say “No! I will not kill my son!
I will not participate in the death of another human being!
I will not kill!”?
And what if Abraham failed the test because he did not do this?

After all, Abraham has repeatedly failed to protect his family, as he has sought to be the father of nations and to protect himself.
First, he offers his own wife to Pharaoh in order to protect himself.
Next, he sends his oldest son away in order to placate Sarah’s jealousy, a jealousy that Abraham was largely responsible for creating.
Maybe this story is the story of God giving Abraham one more chance to be the person God knows he can be.

In the Jewish community, the most important part of the story is not Isaac or Abraham, but the ram.
The ram is the symbol that in the end God stopped Abraham from committing this horrible act.
Every year on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, a ram’s horn is blown to “remind” God that in the end God was opposed to human sacrifice.
They blow the horn to remind themselves that God will keep all of His promises.

Isn’t the same true for Christians?
We don’t stop at Good Friday.
We don’t linger there.
Good Friday is a key part of our story, but it is not the most important part.
The key moment in the Christian story is not when Jesus is nailed to the cross.
The key moment in our story is when he is raised from death into new life.
The key moment is when God defeats death, defeats sin, tells the world that the ways of God are more powerful that the ways of human beings.

What if the test was not a test of Abraham’s faithfulness to God, but instead a test of Abraham’s ability to show love to his fellow human beings?
What if Abraham did not pass the test, but instead failed it?
And what if God did what God always does and redeemed Abraham?
What if the Good News of this story is that in spite of Abraham’s failure and his sin, God loved him anyway and still made him the father of many nations.

For me, this is an interpretation of this story that I can not only live with but can also learn and grow from.
We too fall down.
Like Abraham, we also fail those we love.
Like Abraham, we often harm others in our attempt to protect ourselves.
And, like Abraham, God loves us anyway.
This is Good News.
This is a story of God’s love. Amen.