Let’s pray. Gracious and loving God, your love is steadfast and eternal. May our worship please you; may it be an offering that brings you great pleasure. Open our eyes to your light, that we may be a light to your world. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Call to Worship Psalm 13 (NLT)
1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.
“El Shaddai” performed by Amy Grant
Scripture Lesson Genesis 22:1-14 (NIV)
Morning Message A Matter of Trust
Let’s pray. Gracious God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love today, and strength to follow on the path you set before us this week; through Jesus Christ, Amen.
In Psalm 13:1 (our call to worship) David asks God the question, “How long, Lord? Will you forget about me forever?” In verse 3, he pleads with God to look at him and answer his questions. But finally, in verses 5 and 6, David decides to trust in God’s unfailing love. David was in a desperate situation, and it felt like God had abandoned him. But in the end, he chose to trust God based on all he knew about God, and all that he had already experienced with God: God was good, God was love, and God was faithful.
Billy Graham once told this story about trusting God even when we can't see what's ahead for us:
There was a man who became shipwrecked on a deserted island years ago. He managed to build himself a hut to live in, and with it stored the possessions he was able to salvage from his boat after it was wrecked.
He would watch every day for some sign of a ship or airplane passing by. He prayed to God for help. Some days he would get discouraged and wonder if he would ever get off that island, but still ... he prayed.
One day he was on the other end of the island and noticed some smoke coming from the direction of his hut. He ran as fast as he could back to the hut and then he realized that his fears had come true. His hut and all his belongings were destroyed by a fire. All that was left was the smoke and rubble of it all.
He asked God why did this have to happen. He did not understand. Soon he would find out. Later that day a ship appeared on the horizon and soon landed on the island and rescued him. They told him that they were plotting a distinct course and noticed smoke off in the distance and thought the smoke was a signal for help.
It was a sign for much needed help AND it was a sign from God that He was still in control and He would not forsake His beloved child even if there was a doubt.
That’s the question for each of us really. “Will we choose to trust God, with everything, even when we are facing the impossible, and even when we don’t understand?” Our relationship with God, and how we respond to him, is largely a matter of trust.
That’s the situation in which we find Abraham in our Scripture Lesson today, Genesis 22:1-14. The problem isn’t difficult to spot. There’s nothing to decipher. Plain and simple in verse 2, God tells Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on an altar at the top of Mount Moriah.
This is a story is written with practically no detail. The whole account is told in 14 or 15 verses. It is made all the more incredible and hard to swallow because of the lack of detail. It is dramatic precisely because there is no drama. Writer John Gibson describes it as Hebrew story-telling at its best, full of unbearable tension and suspense. There are two glaringly obvious problems with it, the first of which we almost have no need to even say out loud.
The first problem is simply that God’s request sounds outrageous to us. There is no logical reason why God would ask for a child’s life to demonstrate a man’s loyalty. A request such as this does not fit with the loving God we encounter all through Scripture. The book, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary comments, “we leave the story relieved that we got out in one piece.”
When, and if, we get past that first problem, we realize the second problem, a more logistical problem: Isaac, the son to be sacrificed, is a child born out of a promise from God.
God had called Abraham out of his homeland. He had promised that He would make a great nation out of him, as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. And God promised that out of his descendants would come a blessing to all the nations on earth.
Beloved Isaac is this long-awaited child of the promise and at this point, he is the only one left in Abraham’s household through whom God’s covenant promises could be realized. Nephew Lot chose to separate from Abraham and his family and strike out on his own. God said no to Abraham’s servant, Eliezer. Though with some protest, Abraham complied with God’s insistence that Ishmael be sent away. And now this. The final hope that Abraham and Sarah have for “a great name” is to be snuffed out at God’s command. To the human mind, this is incomprehensible.
Oh, and there’s one more problem with this story: Abraham seems to be okay with God’s command. He at the very least has decided to go along with it no questions asked. “Come on son, get your stuff gathered, we’re going on a day trip. We have to make a sacrifice to God.” Although, we may find a bit of relief with the fact that at some point at least, Isaac sees that there really is a problem with the whole scenario, and asks his father the question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Although then even he seems to comply quite easily.
I said earlier that our relationship with God, and how we respond to him, is largely a matter of trust. The question for each of us is will we choose to trust God, with everything, even when we are facing the impossible, and even when we don’t understand? It is in this question that Abraham’s lesson, and ours too, lies. To sort that all out we have to consider Abraham’s life thus far.
A lot has happened between Genesis 12 when Abraham was first called out of Haran, and it seems that the Genesis writer wants us to read Genesis 22 with Abraham’s history with God in mind. Because this story seems to be the climax of all that has happened before.
Keep in mind that throughout Abraham’s life, after he said yes to God’s call to leave his homeland, the pressing question becomes that of a proper heir. How will Abraham produce a son when he is old and Sarah is barren? It’s a relief when Sarah gives birth to Isaac and God affirms that this is the one through whom his promises will be realized.
The heir apparent is the primary theme, but it is complicated by a sub-theme which is the wavering faith of Abraham. In Genesis 12:4, Abraham responds to God without hesitation, packing up and going to the land that God would show him. And in Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.
At other times, however, Abraham acts in ways that clearly suggest doubt.
- For instance, twice, out of fear, he tries to pass off his wife as his sister and Sarah ends up in a compromising situation with a local ruler (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18).
- Then there’s the fact that Abraham is so worried about producing an heir, he sleeps with a woman other than his wife. (Although admittedly, that was originally Sarah’s idea)
- And then, in Genesis 17, Abraham laughs out loud when God tells him that Sarah would bear a child and that she would become the mother of nations.
- So, throughout his life, there are indications that Abraham still doesn’t quite trust God to accomplish what he promised, or believe that God will keep his promises.
God’s test of Abraham served its purpose and leaves an indelible mark on both God and Abraham. Abraham now knows, in an unforgettable way, that life with God is a gift, and God’s blessing is freely bestowed. He doesn’t need to do anything - God will provide—generously, and wondrously. All he has to do is look up him to see that God has been there all along, guiding his steps, directing his paths, and making a future for him.
But God now knows something too. God learns that Abraham fears him. This is the first time the writer describes Abraham’s attitude toward God in this way. Before this, Abraham listens to and obeys God. But now, God experiences from Abraham more than that, because now Abraham respects God, is in awe of God, and has a healthy dose of fear of the one who created him in the first place.
This is a hard story to read. But something changes between Abraham and God that day. Abraham learns to trust and fear God. And God proves that God can be trusted.
Although as I read the passage this week, I saw that this didn’t happen overnight. There were clues of Abraham’s spiritual growth. For instance, the two times God calls on Abraham, Abraham quickly answers, “Here I am.” He didn’t avoid God or run and hide. Then in verse 5, when he and Isaac separated from his servants he said to them, “We will go and worship, and WE will come back to you.” And in verse 8 in answering Isaac’s question about the lamb for sacrifice, Abraham said, “God will provide.” I believe Abraham, despite his past wavering and lack of faith had grown to the point in his relationship with God that he truly believed God WOULD provide, even though he had no idea what that would look like.
And in the history of God’s relationship with human beings, God demonstrates this time and again. In the end, God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to Abraham and bringing about his redemptive purposes would end up costing God dearly. For while Abraham’s son is spared, God would give his own son up to death on the cross. This too was an act of provision on God’s part—a provision that would ultimately fulfill what God started in Abraham, that is, the restoration of blessing to the nations and to the world through his Son Jesus Christ.
And because Christ died, our relationship with God has forever been changed. Whatever sin, whatever guilt, whatever brokenness we carry, Christ has dealt with and abolished it in the cross. This story invites us then, to take the same posture of fear and awe that Abraham did, and to hold a deep gratitude for God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and the redemption we have through him.
I’ll close with these thoughts, questions really: Do you trust and fear God as you should? And will you choose to trust God, with everything, even when facing the impossible, and even when you don’t understand? Your relationship with God, and how you respond to him, is largely a matter of trust.
Let’s spend some time with God in prayer:
Loving and Sustaining God,
You call us to obedience,
to follow you in all things;
to give up the things we cling to,
and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to your purposes.
We confess that we don’t always find this easy to do.
We confess that it is often very difficult to let go of the things we love.
But we also know that you never ask more of us than what is possible,
and that you stand ready, at all times, to sustain us,
and to provide everything we need.
Give us courage to faithfully follow your leading,
even when we cannot see the outcome,
even when the path you call us to seems impossible to comprehend.
Help us to trust you in all things,
to let go of everything that would stand in the way
of whole-hearted obedience to you.
Lord, we bring before you now those who have been mentioned by name: those who are sick, those suffering with disease, those who are burdened with fear and doubt. We bring those who mourn, and those who are lonely. We bring all who are struggling this day. And we place them in your healing and loving hands. Heal, strengthen, and bless them. And in all things, may your perfect will be done.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.
*adapted from Prayer of Commitment: Genesis 22 found at https://re-worship.blogspot.com/search/label/Proper%208%20A
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive
us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
“Trust & Obey” performed by David Wesley
Benediction People of the Light
It is the light of God’s love in Christ that brings a rich harvest of goodness and truth.
So, let us live like people who belong to the light.
Let us live as people who have nothing to do with worthless things that belong to the world of darkness.
In the name of Jesus
We go forth living in the light, and giving thanks to God the Father.
*adapted from People of the Light by Rev. Bob Brown and posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website.