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August 17, 2014 - Do You Still Want God If There Are No Blessings Attached? - Genesis 22:1-13

posted Aug 18, 2014, 6:18 AM by Grant Garber
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded.  This is a transcript of the message.

We all want to know the point to our lives. That’s why in our bravest moments, we ask questions like:
  • Why am I here?
  • What is my mission in life?
  • How will I know if I have done well in life?’
For the last six weeks we have followed the journeys of Abraham, who would tell us that the point to our lives is: You were blessed to be a blessing!

Abraham assumed that he and his childless wife Sarah were blessed when God told him that they would have a son. He was 75 years old when God made that promise. He was 100 years old when the child named Isaac was finally born. Now that the boy had begun to grow up, God told Abraham to go to the mountain of Moriah and offer Isaac as a living sacrifice. Without even an argument, Abraham sets out with his only blessing to do just what God told him.

When I am preaching, it is my passion to proclaim how the Biblical text is God’s Word to our congregation. I want to help you find yourself in the text. I want you to see that this isn't an ancient story, but it is God’s story of our lives as well. So today’s text has created a difficult challenge for me. What exactly is God trying to tell us with this text?

I've had an interesting and challenging time preparing for this sermon. I was overwhelmed by how different our world is from the ancient one. I dared to wonder, “How can we be worshipping the same God as Abraham?” Abraham is held out as a model of faith in both the Old and New Testament, but we would throw a father in jail for attempting to do what Abraham did. Child sacrifice may have been a part of the ancient world, but today we incarcerate religious parents who even refuse to give medical attention to a child. I started thinking, “Uh, oh, maybe I can find a new text for this Sunday.”

Next, I decided I would spiritually sanitize away the scandal of the story. I reasoned, “God isn't going to let Abraham kill his son. This is only a test.” But I found little comfort in that. This text is too great. We would all fail it. We all should. When the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham simply says, “The Lord will provide.” Is this God’s Word to us from the text? Maybe. It’s certainly true that the Lord provides, and it sure sounds spiritual. But what do we do with this advice? The next time you fill out a credit card application and you get to the income box, try squeezing in the words: “The Lord will provide.” They will love that down at the bank. Besides, Abraham wasn't taking Isaac up the mountain to give him a spiritual devotional. He was really going to kill that kid. So I abandoned trying to sanitize the text.

Next, I tried to take the focus off Abraham and place it on God. But then I was forced to ask, “What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his only son?” The answer, of course, is the same God the Father who would sacrifice His only Son. I read of a preacher who said, “I have five sons and I would not offer up any one of them for any one of you! But God had only one Son and He offered Him freely for the sins of a world that did not even heed His action nor desire His grace.” I have always found that statement memorable. This is why I look at Abraham’s action and see it as a truly high point of faith! But that leaves me with an overwhelming embarrassment because it is easier for me to feel the despair of old Abraham than it has ever been to realize the heartbreak of God the Father at the cross, where His Son was sacrificed for my sins. “That’s it,” I thought. “That’s the angle I’ll go with on Sunday. That at least will make sense.” But this text wasn't done with me. In my bones I knew I hadn’t yet found God’s Word for our congregation. God wants us to do more than feel His pain.

I was “sweating it” now. Most preachers organize their week remembering that “Sunday’s coming”. But I have to have a detailed outline ready to go by Monday morning when a group of us meet to plan for the worship service. So, I knew I needed to “get going”. I sat down again before this passage and asked, “How do I rescue this text for a contemporary congregation?” That’s when it hit me. I realized the silliness of all my previous thinking. I can’t rescue or make sense of God’s Word, nor have I ever been called to try. God’s Word is God’s. So I just surrendered to the text. After that, I could almost hear Abraham tell me: “As my story reveals, I've made a lot of mistakes along my journey. And the worst of them were because I was trying to make sense of God and what He was doing or not doing. Now, I just trust Him.” There it is. That, I believe, is God’s Word for us today. “Now, I just trust Him.”

We all trust and hope in something. If you are a student, you trust in your hard work and hope it will eventually get you a degree. If you in in business, you trust in your skills and hope they will produce a profit or a promotion in the marketplace. If you are a parent or grandparent, you trust in your love and hope it will take root in your children or grandchildren. If you are a preacher, you trust and hope that you can make sense of ancient Biblical texts.

Whatever it is that you are counting on, that is your Isaac. It is your blessing from God, given to make you a blessing to others. When the chips are down, we cling to this blessing whatever it is: education, health, skills, family, love, or a capacity for hard work. We all have something, some Isaac, and when the going gets tough, that is our blessed hope for how we will make a difference in life. But what will you do on the day God asks for that blessing back? If you can’t let go of it, then God is not your god. Then the blessing is your god.

Let’s take it a step further. What if the blessing to which you cling is a promise made by God’s Word? Perhaps you are drawn to the promise of a future filled with hope, the promise of a good work in your life, or the promise of a coming Kingdom where justice and peace replace poverty and violence. If we can’t cling to our abilities, our skills, and our loved ones, can we at least cling to God’s promises? Sometimes, no. Not even God’s promises can become our god.

Throughout this sermon series, I have consistently mentioned how good Abraham was at building altars. It was his constant means of sacrificing his failures and his understanding of God. But when he strapped his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham was giving God’s own promise back to God. Abraham had already sacrificed his past when he and Sarah left home to begin the journey with God, and now he as told to sacrifice his future. After that, there would be only God.

The issue isn't the reliability of God’s promises, which are always fulfilled in God’s strange timing. The issue is the sufficiency of God alone. Do you see the harshness of this text? I’m not trying to sanitize a thing about it. These are probably the hardest words I will ever have to speak to you as your pastor.

Sooner or later we all stand right beside Abraham with our most cherished blessing on the altar. It is then that we have to respond to the hardest question the soul will ever face: Do you still want God, if there are no blessings attached? Do you still want God if it is now God plus nothing? It is only then that you truly know if you have been worshipping God or worshipping the blessings.

When the Apostle Paul was writing about Abraham in his Epistle to the Romans, he claimed that Abraham had learned to hope against hope. That’s a wonderful phrase: hoping against hope. It means we have one great hope that stands against all other hopes. We have one God and so many blessings. You can count on your blessings most of the time, but you better not make them the one great hope.

When one spouse lays another in the grave, when you drive home on the day you have lost your job, when the marriage has failed in spite of all of your best efforts, when the thing you were praying not to happen has happened, it is then that you have to hope against hope. You hope against all your blessings that are now lost. You hope against your ability to understand. You hope against even your understanding of God and His promises. Then, all that is left is to hope in God alone. Sometimes that is all there is. And the proclamation of Abraham to us is that is all there needs to be.

Well, as you know, God didn't let Abraham actually kill Isaac. But it was close. As the knife was about to come down, an angel called from heaven to tell him not to touch the boy. Now, God knows you trust. Then the old man saw a ram and sacrificed it instead. So the Lord did indeed provide but not until Abraham gave up Isaac.

Abraham lived to be 175 years old. I believe that every day he enjoyed his son more than he did before this dramatic day on Mount Moriah. He could enjoy him because he wasn't afraid of losing him. And that’s because he had already given Isaac back to God. You can only enjoy a blessing if you don’t have to keep it.