June 26, 2011 Matthew 10:40-42 Genesis 22:1-14 Dr. Ted H.

Sandberg

³Abraham¶s Story´

If only I knew why, maybe the whole thing would be easier to understand. So many things I don¶t understand. The Lord God, blessed be He, told me to leave my home in Haran, and go to the land of Canaan. At first I wondered about this. Why had the Lord God, blessed be His name, chosen me of all people to go to that far off place? But then I remembered my father, Terah, God be good to him, telling me that he¶d originally planned on going to Canaan, but Haran had turned out to be such a good place to live, so much water and so much good land to graze our herds, that we¶d stayed there and hadn¶t gone on. I thought the Lord God, blessed be He, simply wanted us to be in Canaan, why I don¶t know, so I was told to do what my father had not done. So I left. I took my wife, Sarah, though she was known as Sarai then, and my brother Lot, and all my possessions and we set out for Canaan. The Lord Himself had said to me, ³Go from your country and your kindred and your father¶s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.´ Why the Lord God, blessed be He, said this to me, I don¶t know. But I was chosen, and for some reason, not completely clear even to myself, I obeyed. As you may have guessed, I am Abraham. People call me a patriarch, one of the great founders of the Israelites, but I did not feel like a patriarch. I was just a man who wasn¶t sure what the Lord God, blessed be He, wanted me to do for sure, and so I stumbled my way across the desert seeking to obey. Oye, the stories I could tell you. The Lord God, blessed be He, promised to bless me and mine, but I was never too sure of that promise. Once, we had to go down into Egypt because of a great famine, and I, being the wise man that I am, I told my wife Sarah to say she was my sister. I did not want the Pharaoh to kill me in order to add Sarah to his harem. She was, after all, the most beautiful woman I ever set my eyes on. Somehow it all went wrong though, but the Lord God, blessed be He, kept Pharaoh from touching Sarah and kept me alive. Oye, what a story. Oh and the Lord God, blessed be He, told me that I would be the father of a great nation. My descendants were to be as many as the stars in the sky, I was told. But Sarah and I, we didn¶t have any babies. Now how can I be the father of a nation when I can¶t even be the father of one little son? I ask you, how could that be? So my good wife Sarah, knowing that I needed a son, told me to sleep with her slave-girl, Hagar. I said, ³Sarah, do you know what you are telling me? You want me to sleep with this slave of yours? Are you sure? Are you sure this won¶t cause problems in our houshold?´ And Sarah said, ³I¶m sure. I want you to do this.´ And so I did. I slept with Hagar, and she bore me a son whom we named Ishmael. And I, not being all that wise at the time, thought everything would be fine. I had a son, and I was happy, but oye the trouble it caused between Hagar and Sarah. Oh, the tension in the tents. It was more than I could bear at times, but I won¶t bother you with the sorry details. It¶s enough to say that things were not good. But at least I had an heir. It was a good many years later that I was visited by three strangers. I remember, it was on our 83rd anniversary. These three men came to our tent, and being the good host that I am, I invited them to stay with us, and one of them said to me, ³Where is your wife Sarah?´ And then he said, ³I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.´ And when he said that, I heard my dear wife Sarah, God be good to her, laughing behind the tent flap. You see, Sarah was old ± way past

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the time of bearing children. Her clock had run out and was gathering dust, and here was this man telling her that she would bear a son. I almost laughed myself, but the look on that man¶s face was so serious that I stopped the laugh before it got out of my mouth. Oh, I wished it would be true. I knew how badly Sarah wanted a child. And, looking back on it, maybe Sarah knew right then and there that the men who were visiting were truly angels from the Lord God, blessed be He, and maybe she was laughing not out of disbelief, but out of pure joy, because she now knew that the Lord would give her a son. I don¶t know. I do know that what the man, whom we came to know was truly an angel of the Lord God, blessed be He, what he said was true. Sarah, old, old Sarah became great with child as we say, and she bore to me a son, and we named him Isaac, which means ³He laughs,´ because as Sarah said, ³God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me. Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.´ And I thought, life is good. The Lord God, blessed be He, has kept the promise that was made to me. All will go well after this. But it was not to be. My life seemed never to run smoothly. Sarah and Hagar became even more bitter towards each other. It was so bad that Hagar and my son Ishmael left and went away. And it broke my heart to see Ishmael leave, but I couldn¶t say anything because Sarah was just too angry. Through the years I heard that he married and had a family and that the Lord God, blessed be He, was good to Ishmael, for which I am very thankful, but oh I wish I could have seen him grow to be a man. And now I must tell you a most dreadful story. This is why I¶m here this morning, to tell you this story, but oye, it is a most terrible story to tell, and so I have been avoiding it. For what reason, I don¶t know, the Lord God, blessed be He, said to me, ³Abraham!´ And I said, ³Here I am.´ He said, ³Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.´ I couldn¶t believe my ears! I had waited 81 years, 81 years for a son, and now I was told to offer my dear Isaac as a sacrifice. Remember. We didn¶t sacrifice children. Others, barbarians, they sacrificed their children to their pagan gods, but we didn¶t do that sort of thing! The god who spoke to me had never even hinted at such a thing, but now my god said to me, ³Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.´ I don¶t know why the Lord God, blessed be He, asked me to do such a thing. Nor to be honest, do I know why I obeyed. I have thought and thought about it, but I don¶t know why I did what I did. Maybe I was in shock at the terrible command. Maybe I was out of my mind with confusion. Maybe, deep in my heart, I never believed that I would have to kill my son, Isaac, may God be good to him, I don¶t know. I don¶t know why I was told to sacrifice Isaac. I don¶t know why I obeyed. But I did. I rose early in the morning, saddled my donkey, and took 2 of my young slaves with me, and Isaac. We cut wood, and before Sarah had gotten up ± she was old, old, remember, we set out. I had to leave before Sarah got up. I don¶t know what I would¶ve told her. I couldn¶t have told her what I was to do. So we left, me with a breaking heart. It was a long journey to Moriah, but Isaac didn¶t complain. He was a good boy. He laughed and played as we traveled. He did ask continually, ³How much farther, father? Are we there yet?´ But he was a joy to be with so I didn¶t mind his questions. That is until he asked, ³Father, the fire and the

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wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.´ He was very smart, my son Isaac. But how could I tell him that he was to be the lamb? It was as if he ran a dagger into my heart. I told him, ³God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.´ And so we went on alone. I left the 2 young men behind because I couldn¶t bear to have them see what I must do. I kept hoping that I was wrong, that I hadn¶t understood what I had been told. I kept hoping that somehow I would wake up and it would be a nightmare. But then we came to that place, and I knew that this was the place, so we built an altar, Isaac and me, and we laid the wood on it. And then, and then ± I can hardly even now tell the story. And then I bound my son¶s hands and feet together ± my only son, the son whom Sarah and I had waited for years and years and years, the son who was to be the first of a great nation, I bound him and gently laid him upon the altar. He didn¶t say a word, but I could see the horror in his eyes when he understood that he was to be the sacrifice, he was to be the lamb. Even as I picked up the knife to kill my only son, I didn¶t know why I was doing what I was doing. God had told me to do things in the past, things not nearly as dreadful and as difficult as this, and I hadn¶t done them. Why was I doing this most terrible of things now, I wondered? Why? It was as if the Spirit of God himself was in me, guiding me to obey the command. Yes, that must be it, because I could never have done such a thing on my own. It must¶ve been God¶s spirit that moved me, that tested me, and allowed me to pass the test. I can not explain it otherwise. I picked up the knife, raised it above my head, and then I heard the words I longed to hear, ³Abraham! Abraham!´ And I said, ³Hear I am.´ And the voice of an angel said, ³Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.´ And I saw a ram caught in a bush, and I caught it, and together Isaac and I offered it up as a burnt offering. I explained to Isaac as best I could what had happened, just as I¶ve tried to explain it to you. I don¶t think I did a very good job telling him, because I didn¶t understand it myself. I told him that I had to obey the command of God, but I didn¶t know why God would command me to do such a thing. I told him that above all else, we must be true to the one God, blessed be His name. Looking back on it now, now that everything has worked out so well, I still have no good answers. Maybe the Lord God, blessed be He, was trying to teach me and my descendants that life was going to be difficult, more difficult than if we worshiped the stone images all around us. Maybe the Lord God wanted us to learn to trust in Him no matter what. Perhaps I was right to say that the Lord God wanted to teach us to place Him before all else, even before family. Maybe I was to learn to trust God¶s Spirit within me. Perhaps I was to learn that what I said to Isaac, that the Lord would provide, was more true than I could ever understand. I don¶t know all of what I was to learn, I¶m afraid. What I do know is that rather than hating me, Isaac loved me even more, and loved the Lord God even more. That can only be the hand of the Lord God at work. And my descendants are as the stars in the sky. God fulfilled his promises to me, blessed be the name of the Lord. Maybe then, that is my point for you. The Lord is faithful, even if we can not always understand. Even in the darkest of times, the Lord God goes with us. Even as we walk through the valley of death, the Lord God wants good for us. Remember, the Lord God did not make me kill my only son. The Lord God kept his promises then, and will keep His promises today. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.
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