Scripture: Genesis 22:1-14
Sermon: Keep on Listening
This story has all the marks of an ancient tribal legend, and screams to be put in context.
Child-less Abraham has been promised by God he will be the father of a great nation. God has given Abraham and Sarah a miracle son, Isaac. Isaac begins to grow up. Then Abraham hears God telling him to sacrifice him.
In the time and culture and among the people with whom Abraham is living, the difficult part is not that a god would demand human sacrifice. The difficult thing is that God commands the death of the one through whom Abraham thinks God's promise will be realized.
Abraham obeys, though, and prepares to do what he knows is God's will. Then at the last second God intervenes to save the child's life and provides Abraham an alternate sacrifice.
The legend affirms a number of things central to Abrahamic (i.e. Jewish, Christian and Muslim) faith. God speaks and the divine will is revealed in varieties of ways. Those who hear and obey God's will are God's people through whom the world is blessed. And God provides what is needed for worship and relationship with God (and it is not the sacrifice of other people).
But what does it mean to "hear and obey"? Abraham heard and obeyed two different and opposite commands from God. First, he was convinced God wanted him to kill Isaac; then just as he was about to plunge the knife, something convinced him God didn't really want that, and had in mind a different way ahead.
What if Abraham had stopped listening once his mind was made up?
Are we as good at keeping our ears open to new revelations of what God really wants? At keeping our plans open-ended and subject to revision, even once our minds are made up?
It's a good question on the personal level.
It's a good question also on the political and social level. Friday, June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day, followed by Canada Day July 1. We'll remember both in worship this Sunday, and use the character of Abraham in this story as a focal point in exploring what it means to be a people and a nation that is a blessing to the world.