Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is a tough text. I think that’s why we don’t often read it in church. But I think that this story tells us a lot about God's relationship with God’s people. We have to remind ourselves that this is an old, old, story. Thousands of years old, written for the people of that time, not this. I was reminded as I was studying this story, that in ancient times people did not have any explanation for the bad and good things that happened. Sometimes the rain didn’t fall, and the crops failed. Sometimes the rain fell, and there was an abundant harvest. People began to believe that there must be some outside force or god, controlling what was happening. Over time, religions grew up around these gods and rituals of worship and sacrifice meant to appease the gods. So, in the time of Abraham, there were many gods in many countries or tribes.
The story of Abraham is the story of God—the one we know through Scriptures—the one God who created the world as we heard in Genesis. God and Abraham had a complicated relationship. Mostly, Abraham followed God, but sometimes not so much. He tried to pass Sarah off as his sister twice, in order to get in good with powerful leaders. And when God didn’t seem to be fulfilling the promise of children, Sarah convinced Abraham to sleep with her slave and Ishmael was born. But unlike all the other gods that people believed in, God did not smite Abraham or turn his back on him. God even listened to Abraham when Abraham tried to save his nephew, Lot, in Sodom.
But now there is a son, the promised one. Isaac was the child of Abraham and Sarah’s old age, the most precious thing Abraham had. Suddenly, God orders Abraham to sacrifice this child, Isaac, as a burnt offering to God. Why did God test Abraham in this way? We know this was a test because we heard that in the beginning of the story God was testing Abraham to see if he loved God more than anything in the world, more than his only precious beloved child. So, Abraham took Isaac to the mountain. No questions, no pleas for mercy. He just took the child and went. Does Abraham realize that this is a test? We have hints that Abraham was trusting God. When he left the two servants to wait, he said, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will walk up there, worship, and then we will come back to you.” And when Isaac asked his father where the lamb was, Abraham replied, “God will see to it, my son.” And God did see to it. God did not let Abraham sacrifice his son, and God provided the ram for the sacrifice.
So, what is the point of this story? Why should we read it today? For me, this story and others in the Old Testament speak of the growing relationship between God and humanity. There were many stories of human sacrifice in other places, but God prevented Abraham from killing Isaac. Just like there are many ancient flood stories, but only in Genesis does God relent and promise never to flood the earth again. Maybe these stories are a way for God's ancient people to separate the one true God from all those other gods who demanded more and more offerings and sacrifices. We know and believe there is one true God because we have heard the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Humanity rejected God's one and only precious child, as a traitor and a criminal and hung him on the cross. God’s response was to raise him up on the third day. Our God, the one true God that Abraham and his descendants worshiped, will never abandon us. And we are called to tell that story to everyone we meet. Amen.