Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lordcalled out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.
20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.
I love the concentric story telling of the Bible, like a water drop rippling outwards in a pond, providing us a visual focus for meditation. I love how stories foreshadow other stories and narrative and theological themes emerge and merge. This is a great – maybe even the best – example of this. Obedience and willing surrender to God have already been established as tenets of good Faith, and that is what this story is all about. It also foreshadows Christ: Isaac, Abraham’s only son (by Sarah at least), carries the wood for his own funeral pyre up the mountain to be sacrificed, much like Jesus, God’s only son, carries his own cross up the hill to be sacrificed. And once again we see if we trust in God, His mercy and goodness prevail.
I do want to point out the timing of this test Abraham underwent. He is well over 100 years old now. In my post on chapter 17 I discussed how perhaps there was a reason God waited until Abraham was 99 to establish the covenant of circumcision: basically, he was mellowed out enough to accept it. Since then, God has literally appeared to Abraham and basically had a dinner party with him, Abraham has watched the wrath of God wipe two cities from the face of the Earth, seen his 90 year old wife miraculously give birth to Isaac, and God spoke to him once more regarding Hagar and Ishmael. I’m not trying to make light of God’s request of Abraham, I’m sure he had at least some trepidation, but I also want to point out that Abraham, by this point, must have been as secure in his faith as humanly possible. I say this to encourage everyone who may feel weak right now, and like they could never be as faithful as Abraham is. Don’t worry, God isn’t asking you to be. Of course He wants you to be faithful and good and dedicated to Him, but He also isn’t asking us all to go around sacrificing our kids, right? Working on trust is a good enough place to start. When we’re ready, he’ll lead us to higher callings.
Which brings me to the UMC General Conference vote last week. First, let me summarize: the United Methodist Church (like many denominations) is actively wrestling with issues pertaining to sexuality. The General Conference that happened last week was convened to vote upon plans addressing these concerns. Delegates representing UMC congregations from all over the world, in a surprise move, voted to stick with the Traditional Plan, which reinforced it’s commitment AGAINST ordaining LGBTQ clergy and NOT performing same-sex marriages. (Most, including me, thought they would go with the One Church Plan, which allowed for individual congregations to make up their mind over whether they would accept a gay minister or perform same-sex marriage.) Most of the news reports made it sound like half the congregations that make up the UMC will no longer be in the UMC by the time this is published. In truth, there’s still a lot of road ahead: First, the judicial body of the UMC has to review the decision to make sure none of it violates the church’s constitution, and then, for those churches that may still want to leave, decisions have to be made about assets, as the UMC as a whole, instead of individual congregations, own the physical churches/grounds/etc. So long story short, nothing is settled yet, but it was still a blow to progressives and the LGBTQ community.
Dear friends, it is tempted to be discouraged by this. But it simply means we have more work to do. Please, do not lose faith. I understand if you want to leave the United Methodist Church, but I hope you don’t turn your back on Jesus. There are lots of moderate and progressive UMC congregations that disagree with this decision. There are also lots of open and affirming churches of other denominations, too. If you are searching for one, I suggest trying out an Episcopal, Lutheran or United Church of Christ to see if those feel more like home. Personally, I will still be attending my UMC church. I think work needs to be done from within, and, I’ll be honest, even with this issue still in limbo it is the best fit for me and my family in our community.
But again, please do not lose faith. What Christianity, and the world, needs now is more examples of faithful allies, not less. If we can provide a loving and united voice in favor of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters (and non-binary siblings!), I believe we will win. We will make the world a better place, where people’s humanity isn’t question, where people’s love for one another isn’t questioned, and where more people feel welcomed in the church. And isn’t sharing the good news of Jesus one of Christianity’s major goals? That everyone can come to know Christ and also God’s infinite love for us? Like Abraham, God will work through us when we are fully ready, we just need to keep practicing our faith.
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. I’ll be opening Lent by contemplating Psalm 38, and then spend the rest of Lent upon the first 18 chapters of Job, if I counted correctly.