My sermon from services June 26, 2005 in Mt. Uniacke and Beaver Bank.
The story of God requesting that Abraham bring forth his only, promised son for sacrifice is a difficult piece to text to dwell on. It challenges our trust in God deeply and emotionally. How can the God that we know ask a father to sacrifice his son? I think of my own daughter, what would have I done in Abraham’s shoes? Do I trust enough in God that I could respond in the same way that Abraham did? How much trust do I have? Now I don’t think that God would ask us to do such a thing, He has already given His own Son to us, freely given in Jesus Christ. But how is God calling us to put our trust in Him when we face what life offers us?
With these difficult questions running through my head, I prepared for this service the only way I could think of… I packed up my notepad, grabbed my Bible and started walking to the tip of Point Pleasant Park. I sat down at a picnic table next to the water. A place where I could soak up the sun, the sounds, the smells and the view of God’s wonderful creation.
As I sat there, I thought about how often we trust in things without even realizing it. I see sailboats sailing by, trusting that the wind will take them to their destination, trusting that their sails will hold, trusting in the safety of their craft. A large containership then comes into view as it enters the harbour. It is a huge vessel, loaded full of goods from who knows where. The crew of that large boat trust in their navigation system as they cross the vast oceans of the world. They trust that the cargo is securely loaded and balanced. They trust that the ocean will be safe, and that they will reach their destinations without incident.
From those thoughts, come thoughts that come closer to our daily lives. We trust that our cars will get us from point A to point B, for some of us that may be more hope and prayer than trust, but we still trust! We trust that other drivers are obeying the laws of the road, so that we all might be safe in our travels. We trust that the grocery store will have food for us when we enter its doors. We trust in those we love that they will keep us safe, and will not hurt us. We trust that things we can see and hold will behave in a manner that is expected.
But where is our trust when things don’t go as planned? When we have difficult decisions to make, where do we look for guidance? Maybe it’s a change in career, moving to a new home, or even more difficult decisions such as around the health of a loved one. In what do we trust when we make these decisions? What are we holding on to that blurs our ability to see the outcome of such decisions?
In the story I shared earlier, a child is asked by her father, whom she loves and trusts a great deal, to give up her cheap dollar-store pearl necklace. She is so attached to this jewelery that she is unable to give them up to someone that she knows cares for her deeply. Instead she offers less important items, things that she cares less about. She cannot see that her father has a greater gift in store for her if she can only give up what is asked for.
This past week, I’ve been taking a summer course at AST called â€œJustice and Reconciliationâ€. In it we discuss how people that oppose each other, or have wronged one another, need to come face-to-face in order for the truth to be known, and for healing and renewing of relationships. In our example in class, we look at post-apartheid South Africa, and how after years and years of intense discrimination, hatred and violence, the nation has made unbelievable progress towards healing and reconciliation through the process of sharing truths. The healing is not only for the victims, but also for those that perpetrated the violence. People have been sharing their stories with one another, and in many cases very painful stories of parents losing children, families losing loved ones, and the effects that years of violence can have on both the victims and the perpetrators. But they come to tell their stories. The come to understand what their fellow citizens have gone through, and can begin to work towards healing of the nation. They hit a breaking point, and now move down the long journey together towards reconciliation.
In the story of Abraham, his relationship with God as been off and on. After receiving promises of fathering great nations, he still argues with his neighbours. He still lies to the King in order to protect himself, even to the detriment of his wife, Sarah. Despite the promises of God, Abraham still falls short. He obeys God when God asks him to do things, but he quickly falls back into his old ways.
But this time, God asks Abraham to give up his only son. The same son that was promised to be his heir. The same son that would go on to begin to build the many nations. Surprisingly, Abraham does not question this call from God. Abraham has been very responsive to God’s requests up to this point, it’s only been in the in-between times that Abraham has gotten himself in trouble. But this request HAS to be tearing him up emotionally as he walks up the mountain with Isaac. But he goes all the way, he is about to kill his son when God sees the trust that Abraham has, and stops him. Abraham has seen the fullness of God’s grace, and after this we no longer hear of Abraham fighting with his neighbours, or other such acts. God’s grace has opened his eyes, and he now sees the promise that is offered to him. In that moment, Abraham reconciled himself with God and became the father of many nations. He finally receives the greater gift that God was offering when he finally came to truly hear and trust in God’s promise.
In our reading from Matthew this morning, we can easily get lost in the language Jesus uses. â€œWhoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophets rewardâ€ and so on. And it closes with â€œtruly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.â€ Jesus reminds his disciples just before he sends them out to spread the Good News to the people of Israel that those who serve God as faithful followers of Christ, in all they do, they will receive their reward. It may not be on this world, but their reward is awaiting them in God’s Kingdom.
We all hold onto things that keep us from entering into the fullness of God’s grace, yet God still offers it to us anyway. It is through being open to God’s call in every part of our lives that we are most able to receive the gifts that God offers to us.
Are we holding onto cheap trinkets that blind us to the wonderful gifts that God is waiting to give us? Are we trusting enough in God’s love that we will be open to see what only He can offer?
â€œJenny didn’t say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, ‘Here, Daddy. It’s for you.’
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.â€
Where is the treasure in our lives? What is God waiting for us to give up, so that He might give us a greater gift? The gift of life in the eternal kingdom.