Sermon: Renamed & Renewed

Renamed & Renewed

Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine

Aug. 3, 2014

Genesis 32:22-31, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 

This summer we have been spending time with our ancestors, getting to know the forebears of our faith a little bit more intimately perhaps than when we were first introduced to them in Sunday School, which is for some of us many years ago now. We are now visiting with the third generation – the grandchildren of Father Abraham; these are Isaac’s kids – the twins – Jacob and Esau. They are the Danny DeVito/Arnold Swartzennegger kind of twins — couldn’t be more different. Physically, Jacob is slight, stays close to home and depends on his wits to get by; Esau is strong and muscular and loves hunting and the outdoors.   Their personalities are different too – Jacob is calculating, always looking for the advantage, planning ahead and not adverse to manipulation and cheating to get what he wants; and Esau is blunt, straightforward, quick tempered, and pretty much lives in the moment without thinking of the consequences.

Because their parents played favorites, the boys grew up estranged. Jacob swindled Esau of his family birthright, which entitled him to a double share of the family inheritance. And later, he connived with his mother Rebekah to swindle the family blessing from his blind and dying father, Isaac. When Esau threatened to murder him for this betrayal, Jacob fled to his uncle Laban in Haran, the very place his grandfather Abraham and his mother Rebekah had departed from years before. In the twenty or so years Jacob lived there, he married his cousins Rachel and Leah, and eventually fathered thirteen children with them and their two slaves, Zilpah and Bilhah.

In a kind of poetic justice, Jacob met his match in his father in law Laban, who was as much of a trickster and conniver as Jacob was. Finally, it seemed best to leave his tense situation with his father-in-law and head back home. They had conned each other one time too many over the years, and their relationship was fast deteriorating. The only fly in the ointment to returning home, was his long lost and embittered brother Esau, who when last heard of was threatening murder.

Jacob sends greetings ahead to Esau, and the response is swift; Esau approaches with 400 men. Jacob is terrified, and prays to God for help for the first time in his life, but also hedges his bets in perfect Jacob style, sending gifts, or more realistically, bribes, hopefully to pacify his brother. As night was falling, he even sends the women and children and the rest of his caravan on across the river Jabbok so that they will be between him and the advancing Esau. Finally he collapses into a deep sleep, alone, powerless, and anxious – caught in the middle between Laban behind him, and Esau before him – no place to go, no place to run, no place to hide.

The last time Jacob was alone was when he was escaping from Esau’s wrath, and he dreamed of angel messengers ascending and descending on a ladder from the sky, and God gave him assurance that God’s intention was to use and bless Jacob’s life. I wonder if he even remembered that dream; it had happened so long ago. But God did not come to him in a bright dream this time. God came as an intruder, a heavenly stranger, who wrestles with him throughout the night until daybreak, at which point, the stranger cripples Jacob with a blow to his hip that disabled him with a limp for the rest of his life.

To his credit, Jacob didn’t wimp out in the middle of the struggle! He fought the stranger all night long, and near the end demanded that the stranger bless him. Instead, the stranger asks him his name. And here is the real crux of the story. Names in the ancient world are not simply names, they are descriptors, indicators of one’s character and nature. And Jacob’s name – literally means “heel” or “grasper” because he was the one who was grasping at Esau’s heel as they were being born. And he’d been grasping ever since – living by his wits, trusting no one, and proving himself untrustworthy over and over again. So when the stranger asks him his name, he is really asking him to confess – confess who he really is – confess his failures, his shifty deals, his compromised integrity, his shoddy character, his selfish misuse of his life and the lives of others all to get what he wants regardless of the cost. It is time for Jacob to come clean; time for him to confess who he really is – that he is a cheat and a scoundrel.

But once he does, an extraordinary thing happens. God refuses to accept Jacob’s confession as the end of the story, refuses to allow his name to be all there is to him. And instead, God gives him a new name – Israel – which has been interpreted to mean “the one who wrestled with God and humans and prevailed.” And with this new name God then blesses Jacob and sends him limping into a new future, marked almost immediately by the arrival of his brother Esau, who runs toward him not to kill him but to embrace him and to welcome him home.

For Jacob, this encounter is something like the encounter he has just had at the Jabbok. And he says to Esau, “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Gen. 33:10). Jacob is a changed man – the young Jacob was a deceiver who took his brother’s blessing. Now he is the one who has wrestled with God and come to terms with who he is in God’s eyes. He could have sung, as the choir did earlier, “All is right that once was wrong; I’m finally home.” He can see God in the face of the one who was once his enemy, whom he fled so long ago in fear for his life.

Walter Bruggeman has commented that the healing and reconciling work of God happens in both vertical and horizontal directions.[i] The love of God alters our understanding of who God is and who we are; it changes our understanding of our core identity and causes us to realize finally that we are beloved children of God. And when that happens, something also changes in our relationships with other people. A new kind of love can flow through us. And the more we give ourselves to God the more we are able to perceive other people differently and value them differently.

One of the beliefs we have as Christians is, as Paul expressed in 2Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (vv.16-18). And we remember this every time we gather together at the communion table, as we do today. Like Jacob, we say aloud our sins and shortcomings – and we are given a new name – forgiven, beloved child of God. And then we participate together in the meal of fellowship that Jesus instituted to remind us God’s reconciling work in Christ and encourage us to go forth to become reconcilers. It doesn’t mean that henceforth everything will be perfect; it certainly wasn’t for Jacob, as we will see next week. But it does mean that the God of Second Chances and New Beginnings goes with us, and will offer us opportunities again and again to find renewal, refreshment and reconciliation. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Walter Bruggeman, Genesis, 1982, 272.

Sermon: Nuptials

Nuptials
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
July 6, 2014
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Audio not available for this sermon. 

This summer we are remembering the foundational stories of faith found in the books of Genesis and Exodus. Some are dark and challenging, like last week’s story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac. And some are gentle and hope-filled, demonstrating great courage and love, like today’s tale of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. In all these stories, God has a way of calling very imperfect people to service, and making something of them in the process so that because of who they were – both in their strengths and in their failures – we are here today. Their failures are as significant as their strengths in shaping our faith history, and sometimes, maybe even more so.

These early stories begin with Abraham and Sarah, often called the Father and Mother of faith, because of their willingness to follow God’s invitation to leave their home and follow God’s lead, not knowing where they were going. Along the way, God made two promises to Abraham – about people and about land. God promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants, and God also promised that those descendants would be given the land of Canaan.

Interestingly, despite these grand future promises, by the end of Abraham’s life, his descendants are still easy to count –there are only two of them, and their existence is a miracle in itself. There is Ishmael, whom Abraham sent away with his mother Hagar and who could easily have died in the desert; and Isaac, whom Abraham had almost sacrificed to God in obedience to what he thought was God’s will, only to have his hand stayed at the last minute by an angel of God, telling him not to complete the act. For a man who was promised countless descendants, Abraham was not off to a fast start.

And he does no better with land. After the near sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham went down the mountain and back to his servants who were waiting for him, but no mention is made of Isaac, and it is thought by some that he did not return with his father. Couldn’t blame him, could you? And soon thereafter Sarah died at the age of 127. Again, reading between the lines, some have supposed that Sarah died of a broken heart after she heard what Abraham had attempted to do to her beloved Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Abraham mourned for Sarah, and, because of her death, he acquired his first piece of property in Canaan, a burial site, a cave called Machpealah.

At the end of his life, he has two sons from whom he is alienated and a grave — This slow and seemingly disappointing lack of progress could be an excellent opportunity for a sermon on “It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn,” or “Nothing is Impossible for God” or “God’s Time is not Our Time.” However, we’ll hold those for another day!

Today’s story begins the saga of God’s promises in the lives of the next generation. Interestingly God does not speak in this initial story; nor does God intervene explicitly in any way. But God’s steadfast love for Abraham’s family is obvious in the way the story unfolds. It begins when the elderly Abraham realized that his time was short and he needed to arrange a suitable marriage for his son. We have to remember that arranged marriages were the custom of the time, and the bride and groom had little to do with the process, except to agree to it! Abraham wanted a bride for Isaac from his home town, not from among the Canaanites, and he charged his trusted servant with the task of finding the right woman for Isaac, preferably a cousin, as marriage between cousins was a desirable arrangement.

And so the servant set out for the city of Nahor, praying all the way that God would direct him to the right place and that he would find the right woman for Isaac. He was very specific in his prayers, as we are sometimes! He prayed that he would find her at the town well, and that she would greet him, offer him water, and offer water for his camels.

And sure enough, that’s just how it happened. Rebekah arrives, at the well, and the servant learns that she is the daughter of Bethue, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, who is Abraham’s brother! Although, this is a story of faith and trust, but it is also not lacking in humor. The servant notes Rebekah is beautiful, a virgin, and also apparently quite strong, as well as friendly, because after offering the servant some water, she does indeed offer to bring water to his ten camels so that they can drink their fill.   And as I have read, one camel can drink as much as 20-30 gallons of water at a time. So you do the math – that’s a lot of water, but we are told “she promptly emptied her jug into the trough and ran back to the well to fill it, and she kept at it until she had watered all the camels.” (24:21)

For her hospitality and hard work, the servant gives Rebecca several expensive gifts, and asks if he might be able to spend the night at her home with her family. The servant is overjoyed with his good fortune because God has led him right to the door of Abraham’s nephew. And he quickly tells his hosts about his mission to find the appropriate bride for Isaac, how he prayed for a sign from God to show him the right woman, and how his prayers were answered by Rebecca’s appearance and welcome.

He wastes no time getting to the point by asking his hosts, “will you agree to what my master has proposed?” And Bethuel, Rebecca’s father and Laban, Rebecca’s brother, immediately answer that this proposal of marriage must be directly from God. Therefore, they say, “Rebekah is yours. Take her and go; let her be the wife of your master’s son, as God has made plain.”

After they had agreed to the marriage, the servant worshiped God, and gave appropriate gifts to the family. But, by the next morning he was ready to be on his way back to Abraham with Rebekah in tow. However, her family asked for the customary ten days to celebrate the betrothal despite the servant’s eagerness to get back on the road home.

Interestingly at this point, the family finally decides to ask the bride what she’d like to do. You might think that a young girl, knowing that she will be traveling a long distance to marry a stranger, might want a few more days with her family. She would surely appreciate the extra time to get ready for this journey of a lifetime since she probably would never return or see her family again. But surprisingly, she is ready to leave immediately, looking forward to her new life and what God has in store for her.

From her first entrance into this story, Rebekah has demonstrated her decisive character. She isn’t hesitant to take charge, and to initiate action, unafraid of challenge. She is quick to respond to a stranger’s request for a drink; sensitive to his animals’ needs; strong and determined as she runs back and forth to satisfy the thirsty camels. On her own, she invites the stranger with the camels and the gifts to spend the night at her home, perhaps sensing an opportunity for her family.

Rebekah has much in common with her soon to be father-in-law. As with Abraham before her, Rebekah ventures by faith far from her homeland and from her kindred. She, like Abraham will have a multitude of descendants. She seized the chance to become a part of Abraham’s family. With her strong will, she will shape its destiny in the next generation, as she advocates for her younger son, Jacob.

When Isaac finally appears in this story, Rebekah sees him wandering in the fields, perhaps still disoriented and grief stricken over his father’s near sacrifice of him and his mother’s death. He looks up and notes only a caravan approaching without attaching any significance to it. But Rebekah is alert, and she sees a man who might be her intended husband. True to character, quickly inquires about his identity and then veils her face in anticipation of their meeting.

The servant explains to Isaac all that has happened, testifying to God’s guiding presence in the encounter at the well. Isaac makes no comment and Abraham does not appear to greet his daughter-in-law. This this Rebekah’s story, and it ends with her meeting with Isaac, and the comment that Isaac loved Rebekah. In the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, love was not considered a necessary ingredient in a marriage, but for Isaac, it is perhaps recompense for the loss of his mother, and his alienation from his father.

Unlike last week’s story of high drama, today’s story has a gentle and hopeful ending, saying Isaac took Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent and he was “comforted after his mother’s death.” (v. 67). After the loss of Sarah and his own near death experience, his grief is quieted, and the promise of life begins anew in the next generation. Rebekah is a strong young woman—much stronger than her husband Isaac. Because she was not afraid to offer hospitality to a stranger and to take the risk of leaving home in order to find a new home, she will become the matriarch of a new generation, and through her efforts, which interestingly will not all be above board, God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled.

Sermon: The Test

The Test
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
June 29, 2014
Genesis 22:1-14

This summer we are looking at our family tree – the one we share with our Jewish forebears, the one we share with Jesus. Between now and the end of the summer, we’ll be remembering some of the high points and low points of the significant lives in our family. Last week Jodie spoke of an invisible ancestor – Hagar, the servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Hagar’s son Ishmael and Sarah’s son, Isaac were half-brothers, sharing the same father. Last week Abraham sent his oldest child away; this week he is told to kill his youngest. Reading the Bible is not for the faint of heart!

Some background might be helpful before we tackle what has been rightly called “a text of terror.” Perhaps you remember that years before, Abraham, received a message from God to leave his home, the only place he’d ever known, and leave his family, the only people he’d ever known, and go to a place only God knew where. He went, with no idea of his destination, taking his wife Sarah with him. Life wasn’t easy during the journey, and he got himself into all kinds of tight spots, sometimes lying to save his own skin. Right off the bat, in fear for his own safety, he lied about his wife Sarah claiming to the pharaoh of Egypt that she was his sister and offering her for the Pharaoh’s harem. Fortunately, the Pharaoh was not as ethically challenged as Abraham, and when he found out the truth, he sent Abraham and Sarah on their way after a good tongue lashing, and along with a number of fine gifts including some camels.

Another time, Abraham argued with God about the appropriate punishment for the city of Sodom. God intended to destroy every last person living there, but Abraham persuaded God that Sodom should not be destroyed even if only ten righteous people might be discovered living there. “Shall not the God of all the earth do what is right?” Abraham asked, as he argued in his attempt to save Sodom.

Later in their story, when God insisted once again that there was still time for Abraham and Sarah to become parents of a child of their own, they both practically fell down laughing at the improbability of that ever happening. Thus, in disbelief and impatience, Sarah urged Abraham to father a child with Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and soon thereafter, Abraham urges God to accept reality; Ishmael is the only heir he is ever going to have.

But, as they had been told, nothing is impossible for God, and sure enough Sarah produced a child at the ripe old age of about 90, and soon began to see Ishmael as a problem rather than a solution. She insisted that Abraham banish Ishmael and his mother from their camp and into what would be certain death in the desert. Abraham complied regretfully, and gave Hagar some bread and water to delay the inevitable for a little while.

Obviously, Abraham and Sarah are less than perfect examples of the faithfulness they are remembered for. While it is true that when God called, they answered the call, left home and set out in faith and trust for the place God would show them, in everyday living, things began to deteriorate – with the lying, and arguing, and laughing disbelief, not to mention, forcing Hagar to bear a child for them, and then, of all things, abandoning her and her child, Abraham’s son, to death in the desert.

It is with that very mixed history that our story for today opens. “After these things, God tested Abraham,” it says. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Morah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” And what does Abraham do in response to such a command? Does he lie, as he did with the Pharaoh? No. Does he argue with God as he did about the destruction of Sodom. No. Does he fall down laughing at the preposterous suggestion the way he did when he was told he’d be a father? No. Does he consult Sarah on what to do? No.

His silence is deafening. And for that reason, rabbis through the ages have sought to insert some additional dialogue into the first verses of this text. They imagine it going this way – “Abraham,” “Here I am.” “Take your son.” “but I have two sons.” “Your only one” “This one is an only one to his mother, and this one is an only one to his mother.” “The one whom you love.” “I love them both.” “Take Isaac.”

And so Abraham, believing he has heard the voice of God commanding him to kill his son, sets out with Isaac, who carries the wood for his own funeral pyre on his back. It’s no wonder that preachers don’t like to preach on this passage, called the Akedah, or The Binding of Isaac. As one as put it, it is “far too terrible to use in an act of preaching. . . . We preachers must learn to speak of the demands of faith without resorting to stories that employ the abuse and murder of a child to make a point.”[i] I respectfully disagree, because if we don’t speak about it, our silence becomes a deafening as Abraham’s.

But it is no easy task. Sometimes we try to get around the horror of this story by suggesting that it was probably included in scripture as proof that the God of Israel, unlike pagan gods of the time, did not require human sacrifice. Maybe that was the motivating reason way back then when these stories were first told and then passed along from one generation to the next.

But as historically interesting as that tidbit might be, it is little comfort for us today in a society that would have Abraham behind bars or in a psych unit in a heartbeat if he tried such a thing. And it leads us to the misguided conclusion that these stories from long ago really don’t have anything to do with us today; they are dusty, ancient relics of barbaric bygone eras.

Sometimes we try to explain this story by pointing to Abraham’s unquestioning obedience to God in the face of the most awful thing that could possibly happen to any human being, the death of his child. The argument goes that God is totally other; we cannot control God; we cannot know all that God knows. And so, even though things seem terribly unfair and unjust at times in our lives, when seen from an eternal perspective, there is a guiding purpose that we finite humans are simply not able at the moment to understand. So we sing hymns like “we’ll understand it better, by and by.” And when we’re really grasping at straws and trying to make sense out of the inexplicable, we say really stupid things like, “God needed another angel.”

Others have looked past the child Isaac altogether, and said that he merely represented the promise of God; he was a symbol. And Abraham, being faithful to the end, was willing to trust that God would find a way to fulfill God’s promise. But can we reduce Isaac to a symbol? He isn’t an inanimate object; he is a child. He wasn’t simply an abstract promise; he was a boy. He wasn’t simply a means to an end; he was a human being. And we are all children of God, and scripture tells us that none of us ever is simply a means to an end.

Still others point to this story as a prefiguring of the crucifixion story, saying Abraham’s willingness to kill his son is a foreshadowing of God’s allowing his only son to be crucified for our salvation. Just as the ram was provided to save the life of Isaac; so Jesus was provided as the sacrifice to save our lives. This reasoning is flawed in a couple of ways.   First, it does a disservice to the power and validity of Old Testament scriptures by making them dependent on the New Testament for their ultimate meaning.  And second, it affirms that the primary reason Jesus died on the cross was because God put him there.

This affirmation calls into serious question the nature and character of God. What kind of God requires the death of a son to prove anything? But knowing what we do about God from other places in scripture – that God is love and that God’s mercy is boundless, that explanation sounds more like something we’d come up with than something God would do; we are the ones who sanctify violence as a redemptive tool I believe that Jesus gave his life willingly to demonstrate the forgiving love of God, not that God required it of him.

All this being said, what then are we to make of this story, this horrific episode in the life of our father in faith, Abraham? For centuries it has been told as Abraham’s successful passing of the ultimate test of faithfulness. But, for today, I would like to suggest something else. What if we are wrong in assuming he passed the test.

What if the real test was whether or not Abraham was willing to stand up, and say “No!”[ii]   It is clear that God wanted to learn something about Abraham. Abraham had failed to protect the dignity of his family members, first with Sarah in Egypt; then with Hagar; and then with both Hagar and Ishmael as he sent them away to certain death in order to placate Sarah’s jealousy that he himself had helped to create. Maybe God wanted see if Abraham would take the opportunity to redeem himself. He’d thrown Ishmael away. Would he do the same thing with Isaac? Would he realize the error of his previous behavior and this time, this time, say NO when told to kill his own flesh and blood?

But Abraham silently takes Isaac on the terrible trek to Mt. Moriah, without offering a word of objection, and when Isaac asks where is the lamb for the burnt offering, he evades the question by answering “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And sure enough – when God learns what God wants to know, God does provide the lamb. The angel of the Lord says, “I know that you fear God.”   If that’s what God wanted to know, then God got the right answer and Abraham passed the test because he feared God. But what if God wanted to know if Abraham loved God? Loved God in Isaac who was made in God’s image? Loved and trusted God enough to say “No.”

I have thought long and hard about this story this past week. And coincidentally or not as I thought and prayed about the story, about the cultural differences, about faith, about obedience, about the will of God, about fearing God and about loving God, in our own United Methodist Church an Abraham and Isaac story was playing itself out. Maybe some of you are familiar with Rev. Frank Schaefer, who in 2007 agreed to officiate at the wedding of his son to his partner. As a United Methodist Minister he was forbidden by our Book of Discipline to perform a same-sex marriage. But as a father, who had seen his son’s pain almost verging on suicide, had seen the discrimination he had experienced in his life, had spent hours encouraging and supporting him, and affirming God’s love for him, he could not then refuse his son’s request; it would be a denial of everything he had taught and of the God he believed in. And so he married the couple, not in the church, but in a restaurant; not in their own state, but in a neighboring state; not in front of his congregation, but in front of a few gathered family and friends.   He didn’t advertise what he did or seek publicity; he didn’t inform his congregation about it. It was a private family matter.

But a member of his congregation found out about the marriage and brought charges against Rev. Schaefer, who was then tried last November by a church tribunal, and given a 30 day suspension during which time he was told to reflect on his commitment to the Book of Discipline and his obligations as a representative clergyperson in the United Methodist Church. At the end of the 30 days, he returned to the court, and was asked if he was now willing to support and uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety in the future. And he answered he could not do that, commenting honestly that no one can uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety! He was then asked to surrender his ministerial credentials, and when he refused; they were taken from him.

He appealed the verdict, and an appeals court ruled this past week that the earlier court could not impose two distinct sentences – a suspension and a termination.   They ruled that someone cannot be punished for something he has not yet done. And since he had fulfilled the requirement of the first sentence, having served the 30 day suspension, they re-instated Rev. Schaefer as a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church retroactively to the last day of his suspension.

This verdict in no way settles the ongoing conversation, often argument, within our church regarding marriage and ordination of homosexual persons. And I don’t bring it up this morning as a part of that argument. I offer it as a real example, right here, right now, among people of faith, of a father, who had to choose when tested – he had to choose between the rules of our denomination –and granted, the Book of Discipline should in no way be confused with the word of God, although I think some people do — and his love for his son. When faced with this choice, he chose love, he chose his son. It wasn’t an easy decision; he made it knowing he would potentially lose his livelihood, everything he’d worked for, and be forbidden from following his call from God within our denomination to which he was devoted. Nevertheless, he would not sacrifice his son to be obedient to the rules. He would not bind his son as Abraham bound Isaac.

Seeing this juxtaposition of the ancient father and son and the contemporary father and son has given me much to think about. Our ideas about God have changed greatly since the time the book of Genesis was written. And while it is appropriate to fear God, I believe that fear should be grounded in awe, not in dread of punishment. And while we are at times put to the test – in fact life can seem to be one big test after another — I believe that God walks with us through “the valley of the shadow of death” and does not participate in setting up the conditions for our distress.

Furthermore, I believe we must be careful as we listen for the word of God to hear its challenge as well as its command. God gave us free will; God gave us reason; and God throughout scripture has close, loving relationships with those who ask a lot of questions. Whenever we think we are acting at the command of God, we have heavy responsibility to think and ask questions before we act. There is no doubt that God can ask of us things we never thought we would be asked to do, things that stretch us, take us way out of our comfort zones, and lead us into unfamiliar territory. But one thing I know for sure; God will not ask us to harm another human being physically, emotionally, or spiritually because all human beings are made in God’s image, and to kill another person is to kill a part of God.

God might very well, however, ask us to sacrifice ourselves on behalf of another – Jesus said, there is no greater love than when a person gives up his life for a friend. And we have seen examples of this – the stranger who donates a kidney, or someone who darts into traffic to rescue a child. Members of the police and fire departments are prepared to do this every day. And of course there is the most recent Medal of Honor recipient who threw himself over an exploding grenade to save the life of his comrade. We must remember always that there is a huge difference between offering our own lives and taking the life of another.

At the end of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, after Abraham has bound Isaac and placed him on the altar, as he raises the knife to kill his son, an angel of the Lord calls out to him urgently, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him!” For many Jewish interpreters of scripture, the ram has been seen as the most important part of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac because it is the symbol of the fact that, in the end, God stopped Abraham from killing his son. God did not want Isaac to die. Because God is the God of life. God is the God of Love. God is the God of mercy. When Abraham failed the test; God did what God always does – God saved the Isaac, and with him God saved the promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] John Holbert, “A Nasty Little Bit of a Tale: Reflections on Genesis 22:1-14,” Patheos, June 22, 2014

[ii] Allen Pruitt, “The Binding of Isaac,” allenpruitt.wordpress.com, June 26, 2011.