Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sermon Conundrum: Abraham and Isaac

This Sunday's text is a story known as The Binding of Isaac.  Google it if you don't know it.  It's a terrible story, and running though it once on Sunday is enough for me.
What was I thinking?  I switched to the Narrative Lectionary this month.  Had I stayed with the nice Common Lectionary, I could preach on the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin from the Gospel of Luke. I would be much happier. But oh no -- I got this idea from our yearlong Bible study that it would really help my congregation to approach the Bible in order.  At least in the order which appears in the Table of Contents, which is only one sort of order. So last week we looked at the creation story and, this week, we come to one of the stories in those about Abraham and Sarah: the awful little story in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son.  To stab him and burn him up on an altar.  Yeah.
The first time I really paid attention to this narrative, I was with the group of adults destined to become my nearest and dearest friends.  We were all duly horrified -- parents of young children, every one of us -- and I'm sure that some of us began to doubt the advisability of our return to church in our thirties.  Perhaps church would not be a good place at all for our children.
The second time was when I took my summer of intensive Hebrew at seminary the summer after Josh died.  Apparently there is a lot in the way of useful vocabulary forms in these chapters.  I duly memorized all of said vocabulary, had at least one meltdown in the classroom, and concluded that both God and Abraham were ~ well, not entirely in their right minds.  When I noted in one commentary that one explanation for Sarah's subsequent silence was that she never spoke to Abraham again, I understood that to mean that at least one person had maintained some semblance of reason.
Now, this week: the third time.  The text no longer enrages me.  Other things do, but not a few more pages of violence in the Bible.  And I like one of the commentaries I read that suggests that Abraham had it wrong, completely misunderstood  God, was listening to some version of God other than the one he knew. I am confident now that God is solely the God of Life, and so I'm guessing that Abraham was completely out to lunch on this one.
So, what am I doing? I am focused on the words "Here I am."  Abraham says them three times -- to the God who is calling him; to the son who is curious about what they are up to, these men journeying for days with a load of firewood; and to the angel of the Lord, who reaches out to stop him.  "Here I am," he says each time, and I am wondering about his tone of voice, his frame of mind, with each response.  I wonder what it means that he keeps saying that. 
I don't actually have any idea.  Fortunately it's only Tuesday.


  1. Thank you Robin.
    Every time I have read and heard this I experience confusion.
    The people around me take this all in stride and
    I am horrified by this.

    I haven't studied theology so I always thought I was misunderstanding and possibly there was a deeper meaning.

    Thank you again

  2. Hineni!

    We read this passage each year on Rosh Hashanah morning so I heard it last week. It is always frightening. And flies totally in the face of what I understand to be your own belief in God, Robin. Abraham believes that God will provide and he keeps saying, "Hineni" to let God know that he is still there and following his "direction".

    My question is not so much why didn't Sarah ever speak to Abraham again (makes perfect sense to me) but how could Isaac ever trust his father again? I have often wondered what, besides having the Department of Family and Childrens Services knocking on one's door, would happen to a contemporary family and marriage in the face of such choices and behaviors. And the corollary to that is, or course, that blind faith is dangerous and leads to fanaticism. And the loss of free choice.

    Thanks for posting this. I think I'll sleep on it tonight during these Days of Awe and reflection.

  3. I think the story is about fear---fear of God's will, fear of what He may ask us to do, fear of our fathers, fear of the unknowable.

    I also think it is a good reminder that God is as full of unfathomable horror as He is unfathomable joy. Sometimes to know God is to be horrified.

  4. This postings sounds like the beginning of a wonderful sermon.