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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1–19
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. 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”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba. (NRSV)

One of my favorite hymns is the beautiful hymn of commitment “Here I Am, Lord,” based on Isaiah 6:8–9. Abraham offers similar words when he responds to God’s injunction to sacrifice his only son:  “Here am I.” And when Abraham has laid the fire and taken his knife in hand, he responds to Isaac’s cry of “My father!” with the words “Here am I, my son.” In the first instance, they are words of obedience to God’s test. In the second, they are words of reassurance to his beloved son, and when the boy asks, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responds, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”

In the Sunday morning class on “Jewish and Christian Difference,” we have learned that early Judaism’s interpretation of this text emphasizes Abraham’s obedience to God. For Christians, however, this passage is about faith and grace. Abraham puts his trust in God, and God spares Isaac in an act of grace. And of course, as an Easter people, we Christians are quick to see the parallel in God’s sacrifice of his own Son. Jesus is the “Lamb of God” whose blood is shed so that we, God’s people, might be granted salvation by grace. When, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22: 41–42), in a sense he, too, is saying, “Here I am.”

Do we have the strength to trust in God’s ultimate wisdom, to be assured that God will provide, and to answer in return, “Here I am”? In what ways can we respond to the call to hold God’s people—the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and the hopeless—in our hearts?

God of grace, God of all good things, grant us courage, grant us acceptance, grant us obedience, grant us wisdom, grant us faith, and help us during this Lenten season of reflection and preparation to remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Not my will, but thine be done.” Amen.

Written by Claudia Boatright, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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