I have never put myself out there as a grand financial wizard. My math skills are functional… usually. But last week, in a rush to get bills lined up and ready to pay this week, I had an error that was… almost catastrophic!
It was a simple task. Or so you would think. The gas bill (averaged payment) is $71 a month. In my haste to confirm payment for the month of July, I forgot a decimal point. Our bill paying service connected to our credit union took me at my word and paid out $7100. Seven thousand and one hundred dollars!???
Needless to say, we were charged fees for a “bounced” check even though I called and requested a stop payment. The reversal is in the works… and eventually we will have it all straightened out. It has taken multiple phone calls by me and my husband, for, you see, the credit union in all of its pin-headedness will not let ME talk with the bill pay service since only my husband is on the account. They actually told me “well, we always list the husband as primary on our accounts.” Really? REALLY?Shades of the 1940s.
In a first-world problem sort of way, we are all victims of the automated financial world where we live and work. A human would have seen the obvious OOPS and fixed it (or called.) A computer program can’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, now. Computers are wonderful. Computers save a lot of time on little repetitive tasks.
Unfortunately, computers can’t fix stupid. And this problem was of my own making.
Tonight I sat with my ledger sheet and checkbook and wrote by hand the checks that are due between now and the end of the month. I found stamps (A MIRACLE!) and stuffed envelopes. “Old school” bill paying is a lot more time-consuming, but in the end, I’ll only be out the postage… not $7100!!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 ESV)
Thank you, my new friends, for the warm welcome to your church and your pulpit. I have enjoyed my friendship with Pastor Dee and other women ministers in the area, as part of the group called RevGalBlogPals. We found each other through the magic of the internet. The six of us in our small ministerial group meet about once a month. We laugh, talk, cry and pray about ministry and about our lives. I’m honored to preach here today for your pastor and my friend.
I did not mention in my bio that I was a member at one point in a United Church of Christ congregation. During my high school and college years, my family attended First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, the church of Washington Gladden, Boynton Merrill, and Chalmers Coe. Being in a UCC congregation is very much like coming home! I say this to reassure you… I may be a crazy Baptist preacher, but I honor my UCC roots!
As you read from my bio, my primary ministry is that of a chaplain. When I worked at a trauma center, it was not uncommon to get that middle-of-the-night phone call. In a groggy, sleep-deprived state, I jumped out of bed, put on my shoes and headed for whatever emergency I was called to… But before I responded in person I needed to know Who’s Calling – and get straight in my mind what I was walking into.
Today’s text in Genesis 22 is one of those texts with a wake-up call in it. For if we do not remember the nature and intention of Abraham’s God, we can easily go careening off into the wrong direction. We can also do this text a grand disservice and take it as a simple conversation. Perhaps we might join philosopher Immanuel Kant in the depths of his cynicism. But this text can point us back to the Imagio Dei, if we are paying attention.
After all, it is a hard story to hear, isn’t it? As if Genesis chapter 21 wasn’t bad enough – the story of Sarah and Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael… of jealousy and banishment… and of God’s protection and provision. If we read this story with ears of disbelief, we might respond much like the Abraham immortalized in another of Bob Dylan’s songs, “Highway 61.” You may be old enough to remember it:
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
I invite you to ponder Genesis 22 with me as we try to find the threads of grace and justice and hope and peace that we believe ARE the hallmarks of the Divine’s work in the world. In a broken, twisted, confusing world like ours, there are many around us who do NOT see that God is there.
My imperfect take on this text is simply this: as you read these words, never ever let the Covenant God of the Patriarchs out of your sight. Read these words through the filter of a relational God, not an impartial, angry God. We will indeed struggle if we forget this story in its context. The context is one of a covenant relationship. And it is a covenant relationship that will go through a severe test of faith (for Abraham).
A Covenant God. A just God. A God who asked Abraham to leave everything he knew to go off into a new land, with a wife who has yet to bear children, to begin a great nation.
A Covenant God. A God who keeps promises. A God who tells Abraham to walk for 3 days and then kill his son as a sacrifice. Our minds boggle. WAIT… Hold on now… Binding up a human being for sacrifice? Where is this relational God now?
The binding of Isaac, or the Akedah, is found in the Sacred texts for Jews, Muslims and Christians. The text weaves in faith and despair. Hope and disbelief. Kierkegaard in his work Fear and Trembling takes chapters and chapters to untangle the philosophical questions in this story. Never fear – I will not read the entire book to you! (But, should you wish to wrestle with this personally… there is your assignment!)
The relationship and love of a father for his son is emphasized in the construction of the very words of our text. In true ancient storytelling fashion, the repetitive words make it clear that this son, this Isaac is precious and beloved.
From our text in v. 3: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…
Yes. His only legitimate son and heir. That one.
and go to the land of Moriah,and offer him there as a burnt offering…
…and Abraham is given this horrible task…
The classic Jewish midrash by Rashi suggests God made this as a request to see if Abraham would really obey and follow him, only to then reward him.
The Holy One, blessed be He, makes the righteous wonder (or wait), and only afterwards discloses to them [His intentions], and all this is in order to increase their reward.
Was this just a “test”? Was this a challenge to expand Abraham’s faith or just the beginning of the tale of God’s faithfulness?
When God promised Abram his descendants would outnumber the stars in Genesis 12, did Abram know how it would happen? He had no children, no land other than the space he pitched his tent! He did not yet know how God would do all these things but believed. We read in Genesis 15 and later in Romans that God “credited it to him as righteousness”. Against all the odds of the improbable, Abraham believed.
The Apostle Paul reminded us of this in Romans 4:18-22
18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
And isn’t that what we are called to in a time of improbable politics and conflict? We are called to believe that though it seems unlikely, God is at work… in and through and in spite of us!
On some level, Abraham had faith that God would do something even though he thought he was to sacrifice Isaac. In his own words in Genesis 22: 5, Abraham says…
Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.
…WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.
Was it a prophetic statement or a quiet and desperate prayer by Abraham? “WE will come back?”
I would suggest to you that Abraham may have been uncertain HOW God would bring offspring… with no son… or how Isaac would return with him, alive, but he believed that El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One would do it! Based on all Abraham knew of God’s work in the past, he had faith.
Rev. Jacqueline Lewis says: “Faith in God means remembering deliverance in the past and expecting deliverance in times to come.”
Remembering deliverance… expecting deliverance… I suggest to you that THIS is the narrow way through to understanding and living with this text.
Two other characters in this story deserve a moment of our reflection.
Other than knowing the backstory, that she is Isaac’s mother, she is absent from this narrative. It’s not surprising. Women in the time of the patriarchs did not offer sacrifices nor lead worship, so they would not have made this kind of journey. They supervised households, had babies, made clothing, cooked meals, tended flocks and crops, and fetched water.
Sarah’s real worth in her culture’s eyes was measured by how many sons she birthed. She believed her barrenness was from God. In Genesis 12, she said that God had “prevented” her from having children, and in order to see that promised sea of descendants appear, she suggested Abraham have children by her slave, Hagar. She saw no other option.
How do we view Sarah? Do we see her as a schemer? Someone trying to keep her position as Abraham’s first wife?
Or do we see her through the lens of a woman who knows she is only chattel? Someone who not only could be replaced, but has no other recourse? Someone who only has an outside chance that things might go her way… but just in case… she pegs in her own position in the sand.
When we force people to the margins in society, whether by virtue of race or economic status, why are we then taken aback by their desperate measures? Rather than long-range planning, Sarah found a short-range solution. It’s a strategy that many of us have fallen prey to, if we are honest… Fear that I won’t get what’s “mine” or I will lose what little security I have.
Women of today are all Daughters of Sarah… If we from our place of privilege can find compassion for Sarah’s plight, can we then transfer that compassion to “the Hagars” in our lives? The people who have been intentionally shoved into exile? The ones who do not have favored status? The ones who are aliens…?
So, Church, how might we respond today to the marginalized and ignored…?
The other character I’d ask you to consider is the ram, who is, as the poet Yehuda Amichai said, “the true hero of the Akedah” [Ah-KAY-dah]. Listen to the first part of his poem:
The True Hero of the Akedah Yehuda Amichai translated by Chavatzelet Herzliya
The true hero of the Akedah was the ram Who did not know about the pact among the others. It was as if he volunteered to die in place of Isaac. I want to sing, for him, a memorial song, About the curly wool and the mortal eyes About the horns that stood silent on its living head. After the slaughter, they were made into shofars To sound the blast of their wars And to sound the blast of their celebrations….
The ram caught in the branches may have been reaching to eat the last tender shoots of a limb. Picture the deer in your neighborhood, straining to get the new, freshest buds off the top of your azaleas. Or the cow reaching through the fence to find the greenest grass.
Perhaps the ram was struggling for survival in a part of the world where green things and water are scarce. One could imagine the ram losing its footing and its horns becoming enmeshed in the branches. It could not get away… and it was there. Stuck. Waiting. A Divine appointment. To be sacrificed would be a merciful end rather than a long, slow death by thirst and starvation.
Could this happen naturally? Yes! It did, as suggested by art found in “The Great Death Pit” from an archeological dig in the 1920s led by Leonard Woolley. (See pictures here at the Penn Museum website.) Some of the sculptures had a stylized animal, either a goat or a ram, caught in the branches of a small tree or bush. They were dated to be around 2100 BCE, the approximate time it is suggested Abraham lived.
The ram is also significant because it reminds us that the ancient peoples did not always use animals as sacrifices. The scarcity of resources, or fear of survival, led them to sacrifice children to the gods, like Amar-utu the Akkadian god of the desert sun.
Abraham was called out of this practice to worship the One True God. In this transition of a people group from old beliefs to new, he saw the ram as a reminder from God: I will provide for you.
Rev. Kathryn M Schifferdecker from Luther Seminary says “the sacrifice of the ram in place of Isaac becomes the foundational act for all the Temple sacrifices that follow”
With our modern-day eyes, we can make the connection between God providing the ram, with God making a way for us, for our faith to declare us as righteous. We know Christ, the Mediator between the human and the Divine.
And who is this mediator—true God and at the same time truly human and truly righteous? Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God.
How do you come to know this? The holy gospel tells me. God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son.
Abraham moves in this uneasy space of the old (human sacrifice) and the new (the ram). The ram brings a pause in the downward arc of the knife:
Whom do you serve? (You gotta serve somebody!)
Look up and see what God is doing! What God has already DONE.
We are all bound and unbound from challenges, illness, even death by the Creator God who made us. Even those we love the most. We bring heart-felt requests to God, believing, as Anne Lamott says, “someone hears us when we speak in silence.”
We must ask ourselves when we feel stuck: “Who’s Calling?”
Whom do we serve?
Do we SEE God?
Do we HEAR God?
Do we respond with understanding?
Can we sit with the tension of this text?
Can we feel the agony of an impossible decision?
Can we spare compassion for our neighbor who does not have enough money for rent AND food AND utilities AND medicine AND clothing?
Can we see this story from our places of brokenness?
Can we remember we only see one side to a story?
Do we forget there is a place for God to speak into our lives and change us?
Are we listening and responding to God’s Call?
Are we finally waking up from a deep sleep, grabbing the phone in our sleep-fuzzed states?
Are we even move-able? Or are we, as Anne Lamott says, like “mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins”?
Church, Church! Christ speaks!
Do we answer, Who’s Calling?
It’s Saturday. I have laundry to do, correspondence to send out, books to read and a sermon to write. I also have a head-pounding allergy headache. And what I really want to do is nap. Or garden.
Mostly I’m just wondering how I’m going to fit everything in my day into my day. Wondering where I’ll find that source with a perfect “pithy quote” for my sermon. Wondering why an antihistamine that worked fine for years stopped working this spring. Wondering why people gotta be so stinky to each other!!
I’m Wondering Woman. And I lost my cape, sword and shield…
Look at my picture closely and you’ll see dirty dishes on the counter. Look even closer and you’ll find cat hair in the corners. (I think I got the cat hork all cleaned up. But you never know.)
Wondering Woman managed to get through the work week with everyone in the household alive and accounted for. I also saw God do big things in the lives of my hospice patients. And I had some gentle moments of encouragement and challenges to growth from people who know me well.
Yes, I’m Wondering Woman. Occasionally, (and by that I mean daily), I want to chuck it all in the river and float away, but the Spirit of God compels me. I’m picking up my sword and shield, not to attack, but to defend. Those bullets aimed at my self-confidence are all too Real.
Another bullet blocked.
If you’re sermon-writing, care-giving, child-chauffeuring, house-cleaning, or hammock-swinging today, don’t give up. Press on. And fight for the dear ones next to you.
It’s all in how you look for them, but the blessings are everywhere…
…in the shy bunny greeting me on the church sidewalk
…in the lazy, snoozy purrs of our feline residents
…in the tranquil beauty at sunset
…in the glory of a Peace rose
But most of all, in the love of the faces nearest and dearest to me. On today of all days, I feel very blessed indeed.
There is a lot wrong in the world, and a lot of injustice that breaks my heart. I’ll keep making space for those whose voices are not being heard. I’ll spend another day with my patients, eerily aware that their lives and their families are on the edge of death… and I go home to enjoy life.
It is a strange juxtaposition that many pastors feel when we rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom. 15) Today it is all the more poignant, and perhaps more striking as I mark the start of another year.
Something hit me. Hard. Whatever it was (or is!), I went from 100 mph doing chores, cleaning dishes and getting charting done to about 5 mph as I crawled into bed at 9 pm and slept for about 12 hours. A fever and GI symptoms knocked me FLAT!
I have gardening to do, housecleaning to mow through, reading to finish and reviews to write, and absolutely none of them grab my attention. My pillow, electric blanket and bed are calling me…
I am emotionally and physically run down. But I am also blessed down to my toenails with the good things in my life. So what do you do when you know you need a quick re-start to get back on track again?
I know. DUH. But that’s what I need to do. So today I slept almost all day. answered a few emails that couldn’t wait (about 2 out of 50) and followed my cats’ examples of getting into a good nap.
I’m still tired. I’m still facing the problems and discouragements of yesterday. I’m still angry at the lies and collusion that appear to be rampant in our government. But I’m a little better rested than I was yesterday.
And maybe, just maybe, I can tackle my “do list” with more enthusiasm and grace.
This morning I put on my robe and reached for a purple stole. I have two… but I chose this one.
I pieced this stole last year from odds and ends and purchased purple swatches. Considering I had never created a stole before, it was a work of much guesswork and happy accidents.
As I wrote last year, I was a bit uncertain how to finish this stole. The embroidered findings of a cross or bread and cup would not show clearly on the piecework. And it needed something, oh… a little more personal!
And then… as I rummaged and searched for the right finishing touches, I found the family heirloom lace and knew… a commercially created cross would not work. Carefully, I trimmed and sewed pieces of this lace on my stole. I would wear the handwork of my foremothers around my neck.
On Easter Sunday, I will wear more of my family’s heirloom lace on my white robe. As I pray and sing and offer Communion, I will again wear the legacy of my family’s faith. This lace trim, created by my great-aunt Maurine, was painstakingly sewn on late into the night on Holy Saturday last year.
Not everyone gets to wear their family’s love on their sleeve. I know that as I celebrate on Easter Sunday, I bring my family with me. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins bring a sense of “grounding” to my faith. I wear a labor of love!
I serve from a place of privilege, for I know I am encouraged and prayed for, welcomed and loved. I worship in safety. I can express my beliefs without fear of persecution.