Today’s reading offers several hard conversations that remove the smile from Abraham’s face. God’s demand for a sacri ce will remove the laughter that Isaac has brought to Sarah and Abraham’s life. Isaac carries the wood for the sacri ce while Abraham carries the re and knife. That knife can cut the ten- sion in this story. Isaac calls to his father who replies in the same manner to which he replied to God: “Here I am,” adding the words “my son.” And with Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb?” another hard conversation begins. Listen to the ready deceit in Abraham’s voice as he responds to his son’s inquiry: “God himself will provide the lamb.” As they continue walking, surely Abraham wonders if this child of the promise will really become the sacri ce.
With altar built and wood laid on, Isaac no longer has a reason to ask about a lamb. As the glint of Abraham’s knife ashes above, another conversation begins. It too opens with a call to Abraham. And yet again we hear Abraham’s standard reply: “Here I am.”
Does Abraham’s obedience win the day? Does it bring to the fore a different conversation than the hard ones up to this time? Yes! God tells Abraham not to lay his hand on Isaac. So Abraham names the place: “the lOrD will provide.” Disaster averted; promise intact. Obedience or faith rewarded? The text says God tested Abraham. So how did Abraham do? Verses 16-17 give us the answer: “The angel of the lOrD called to Abra- ham . . . and said, ‘Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars.’”
Today I shall have a hard conversation with God about the demands of faithful obedience.
Not only is God’s call on Abraham unthinkable, it jeopardizes the long-delayed but now-realized promise. Yet in the end, Abraham’s faith and God’s grace prevail. Psalm 13 is the classic example of a psalm of complaint. It shows that a prayer of complaint is a vigorous, active form of hope in God. Thus the psalm moves from a situation of need to a resolution in joy and confidence. In the passage from Romans 6, Paul juxtaposes three pairs of opposites: sin versus righteousness, freedom versus slavery, and wages versus gifts. For Paul, sin is a power that exceeds the abilities of human beings to contest. Only God is a match for the power of sin. We cannot earn or achieve eternal life; it is a gift from God. Matthew 10 makes a strong claim about the identification of believers with Jesus and, in turn, with God.
• Read Genesis 22:1-14. We do not often face such demands from God as the one Abraham faced. What hard situations has God called you to? What hard conversations followed?
• Read Psalm 13. The psalmist asks God to pay attention and take his situation seriously. When has that been your request of God?
• Read Romans 6:12-23. When have you felt like a scout earning merit badges for God? How has obedience from the heart helped you reorient your life?
• Read Matthew 10:40-42. What “cup of cold water” might you offer to someone in need?
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