Sunday, June 28, 2020
"What the Lord Will Provide"
A Sermon preached via Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter
Pentecost IV - Proper 8 A
June 28, 2020
I’m going to get to the Gospel in a minute but I still haven’t caught my breath after reading the first lesson from the 22nd Chapter of Genesis.
Even after all these years and the hundreds of times I’ve read this passage, I get through the first sentence and my palms start to sweat. By the second paragraph, a voice in my head starts screaming, “How can you do this to your son?”
By the end of the story, when I get to the part of the story that reports, “Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide (“Yahweh Yireh”); as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided,” I can barely contain my anger and incredulity and outrage.
“Don’t you blame this heinous act on God!” I yell at Abraham! “Don’t. You. Dare!!!” God WILL provide – has always provided – but do NOT blame this on God,” I hear myself say, “Man up and take responsibility for it yourself!"
Is it any wonder that, when Isaac came down from that mount, he never spoke to or saw either of his parents ever again? He didn’t even come to his mother’s funeral. And, why would he? She was the one who convinced his father to banish his brother Ishmael and his surrogate mother Hagar to die in the desert.
An interesting footnote in this story is that, as we learned in last week’s lesson, Hagar and Ishmael end up traveling from Abraham's dwelling in Beersheba (Genesis 16:1) to the wilderness of Paran.
Years later, when Isaac meets Rebekah, it is said that he was at Beer-lahai-roi, (which means “well of the Living One that sees me”) – the very place where Hagar was visited by God and she and Ishmael were saved from death.
It’s conjecture, of course, but I imagine that, after coming down from that mount where his father Abraham bound him and was prepared to kill him, Isaac was suffering from we know today to be PTSD.
You only have to look at Caravaggio’s portrait of “The Sacrifice of Isaac” and see the intent in Abraham’s eyes, the force of the angel as he holds down Abraham’s arm with his hand holding a knife at Isaac’s throat and the horror on Isaac’s face to have absolutely no doubt just how traumatic that was for that young boy.
I imagine that Isaac ran away to safety and security to stay with the only sane parent he knew – Hagar – and made there a family with her and his brother Ishmael. Good for him. Good for them. How horrible for Abraham and Sarah. They are left to their old age without the presence or affection of either son – one banished to the desert to die and the other almost murdered by his father.
The story leads me to wonder: Did Abraham mean to kill Isaac so that his firstborn son, Ishmael, the child he had with his slave Hagar, would be his rightful heir? Or, was this just a plot he contrived to ensure that Isaac would, in fact, be recognized as his “legitimate” first-born son, because, see?, it was so decreed by God?
You know, it doesn’t really matter. What happened, happened. What matters is that Abraham never took responsibility for his actions. It was all God’s fault, see? He was only doing what God wanted him to do, right? So, he’s off the hook. And, see? God provided anyway. It was just a test. Just a test, is all. I don’t believe God is that cruel.
Am I saying that God does not provide? Am I saying that sometimes, when we are headed in the wrong direction, a “God-incidence” doesn’t happen and we are able to change course and spare ourselves and others from disaster?
As St. Paul likes to say, “By no means!”
You and I have been in situations where, at the last minute – or, what we later learned was a place of imminent danger or disaster – “intuition” or a “hunch” or a “sense” came over us and we changed our mind or took another direction or made another choice. And later, all we can say is, “Thank God! The Lord provided.”
I won’t even try to pretend that I understand those moments in our lives. And, while I’m more than willing to ascribe generosity and grace and unconditional, salvific love to God, I also understand that I must take responsibility for my own life, for the choices and decisions I make – good and bad, and not let myself off the hook and ‘blame” them on God. Or, fate. Or luck, good or bad.
Which, believe it or not, takes us to the Gospel for this morning, by way of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Paul says that we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves to grace. I love that: “a slave to grace”.
No, he doesn’t say exactly that but he infers it. What he says is that we are “slaves to righteousness,” having been “set free from sin”.
Paul says, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart” to the teachings of Jesus.
From. The. Heart.
I want to stop here because the point is so gently nuanced you might zip right by it and miss the enormity of what Paul is saying here, which is this: We are no longer slaves to the letter of the law but free to follow the spirit of the law.
From. The. Heart. Free to follow insight. Intuition. To risk the illogical. To embrace the incomprehensible.
Paul is talking about the amazing gift Jesus has given us which is nothing less than the liberty to reclaim the gift given to us at the beginning of Creation.
Because of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, we now have the liberty to return to The Garden to redeem the gift of free will, first given to the first two humans.
Because of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus, God knows – God understands – the human condition. Because of Jesus, we not only have the gift of free will restored, but we also have the gift of grace when we fall short and miss the mark.
This means that we can take responsibility for our actions and choices and decisions because, no matter what we have done, God understands. God forgives us. God loves us. Unconditionally. God didn’t understand in the Garden. Having suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, God in Christ understands God’s own creation.
Imagine how Abraham might have felt had he known that! Imagine how differently he and Sarah would have acted – might have chosen – would have decided – about their sons Ishmael and Isaac. And, poor Aunt Hagar.
Imagine how differently you and I might act if we really took Paul at his word – if we really took Jesus at his word – and began to believe in the mystery of the gifts of free will and grace. Imagine if we took responsibility for our decisions – not only the ones that led to bad outcomes, but the ones that led to the good things, the wonderful things that happen in our life, by the mysterious grace of God.
When we understand life within the context of this tension of free will and the gift of grace, we know that nothing we do is apart from God and nothing will separate us from the love of God. Not even ourselves. Not our hubris or our humility.
Which leads us to the Gospel. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
You see, my friends, we all have within us a divine spark. Each. And. Every. One. Of. Us. No exceptions. We all have the potential to do enormous good and terrible wrong. It is our choice. And, it is our responsibility. We have free will AND the gift of grace no matter our choice.
Grace to be forgiven. Grace to bring glory to God. Grace to find hope, no matter how dark the future may seem.
Abraham named the mount where he almost killed his son, Abraham, “Yahweh Yireh” “The Lord will provide”. Abraham thought that the only thing the Lord provided him was a ram to sacrifice instead of his son.
Turns out, the Lord provided so much more, even than free will and grace.
What does the Lord provide? I think one answer can be found in the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving which is the last prayer in the Service of Morning Prayer. In it, we pray in thanksgiving “for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.”
The means of grace. The hope of glory.
The prayer continues, “And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end.
The means of grace. The hope of glory.
Even Old Father Abraham and Old Mother Sarah, flawed and faulted as those two human beings were, knew both the means of grace and the hope of glory.
Let us not forget that it was Abraham, from afar and estranged from his son, who arranged for Isaac’s wife, Rebekah. It should also be remembered that Abraham insisted that the choice also be hers, made of her own free will.
Let us also remember this sentence in scripture, “And, Isaac loved Rebekah.”
Isaac loved Rebekah. It is one of the very few times that that said in the Bible about an arranged marriage. Co-incidence? Or, “God-incidence”?
“Yahweh Yireh” The Lord will provide.