The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Radical Obedience
A Homily for 7 Trinity
August 4, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Genesis 22
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
In this morning’s lesson from Genesis we are reminded of this challenging but simple fact - God calls His people to obedience, providing what they need in order to fulfill that call, and blessings them, in order to glorify Himself. Abraham comes before the Lord with his only, and miraculously born son, much like Hannah, whom we learned about a couple of months ago – this son was longed for, desired, and yet for Abraham and Sarah – it was not until the twilight of their lives that they received him. God had promised that from Abraham would come a great nation – yet how could this be with no children and no male heir? And now, because God has called him, he is ready to give that promised fulfilment back to the Lord. There is much that we need to understand about this passage in order for us, in the 21st century to follow God’s calling us to faithfulness.
Right of the bat it is important to note that as we read this passage we rightly find the call to sacrifice Isaac horrifying. How could a good and loving God require this of the one chosen to be the father of God’s people and more importantly, why do we read this and celebrate it?
First, we need to see that while we as Bible believing Anglicans confess this story to be historically accurate – that is to say there was a man named Abraham and a boy named Isaac, that they went to a mountain, and that Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, that this story is as much about the historical action as it is a foreshadowing of a greater son, and a greater sacrifice. As we read this – both Isaac and the ram are types for Christ. That is to say – that Abraham being willing to put to death his only son – points us to God who sent His only son to die on the cross for us. In Isaac we see a shadow of the greater thing to come. In the same way – the ram given for Isaac points to Christ who gave His life for us.
Secondly, we need to understand, as horrifying as it is, there have been in many times and places pagan gods who demanded the sacrifice of young children to appease their wrath. So while the God of Abraham had never demanded and never demanded again that an innocent child should die – this would not have been shocking to a man living amongst so many pagans which child sacrifice was a normal thing. So common was this practice that there is a green valley in Jerusalem where once the pagan would slaughter young children regularly, this valley is called Gehenna and so horrible are the memories of it – that Christ used it as an image for hell. Yes, these facts are horrible, and no the true living God will never again ask his children to slaughter their offspring, but He does call us to radical obedience, obedience over cultural norms, over our own selfish desires, over all else, knowing full well that the cost will be high.
Now – we also need to understand what his calling to faithfulness looks like. There are again two parts to this – first – rarely will we audibly here God say “go do this,” or “go do that.” No, we may have an inclination to move across country, to marry some specific person, to find a new job, to invite a friend who doesn’t know Christ to church, or to become a missionary in some foreign land, but His calling is not often audible as it is for Abraham and in fact we must be careful of saying “God has called me to do this, or to do that.” For too often we put too much pressure on those around us to agree.
I have heard too many stories where a boyfriend who says to his girlfriend “God has called me to move across the country,” and so he goes, and she thinks “well, who can argue with God.” Yet, it was not God who caused the heartache – but a breakdown in communication or in the relationship itself. Instead of owning the desire to move on, that this relationship isn’t working – he pushes the blame off on God and leaves the other half wondering why God has been so silent to her. No, this isn’t what it means to follow God.
Instead – our radical obedience is found in God’s call for us to flee from sin, to love Him, to love our neighbors. In regards to our flight from sin – St. Paul regularly provides for us lists of the things we are to flee, one such list is found in Galatians 5 where he tells us of the works of the flesh which includes: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Think for a moment – in a world consumed with sexual gratification, or worse confusing sex with love – seeking sexual purity is radical obedience. In a world consumed with a desire to get what you want when you want it for our satisfaction, or else the world tells us – don’t feel pain, enjoy these pleasurable things – avoiding sensuality, and acknowledging that life can be painful, and walking through that pain with our Lord is radical obedience. In a world where anything can be your god, where it is celebrated to simply believe in something no mater what, to pursue orthodoxy is radical obedience. In a world and age where enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, and divisions can define almost every politician and political movement and where popular news source seem to be constantly stoking these sentiments – seeking peace and kindness, even with your ideological enemy – is radical obedience. In a world where companies try to tell us that having the newest gadget or another thing will finally make us happy – will make us as good as if not better than our neighbors – seeking to live in peace with those around us, and having contentment not in what we possess but in the Lord Himself – is radical obedience. In a world that seeks every new high – with alcohol, drugs, and sex – seeking our satisfaction from the one who created us, passing through our suffering with the joy found in Him – is radical obedience.
Are you seeing here – radical obedience does not have to be some major and glamourous act – and chances are it won’t be? No we won’t all be called to be Mother Theresa, in the poorest slums of India, or Jim Elliot giving his life that cannibals might know Christ – the radical obedience of the Christian comes from pursuing God and the cost of all else. It comes from knowing His word and seeking the spirit so that we might be obedient in all things – the little and the big. Chances are there will be days of confusion, days where we wondering why the world around is us the way it is – but our call is not always to understand – but to continue to pursue, to continue to dive deeper and deeper into the life sanctified by the Holy Spirit which God has called us to pursue.
Next – this call to obedience does not grant us any promises beyond knowing God, and enjoying Him forever – but think about that for a moment! The God who created heaven and earth – wants to know us and for us to be known by Him – how great is this promise?
Too often we hope to bribe God – sometimes literally with money, but more often with our obedience – we think if I behave myself, if I read my bible, if I don’t sin too badly, God will grand me my hearts desires. Yet this is not the purpose of obedience and we see this with Abraham this morning. He desired and longed for a son, an heir – and when he finally received this incredible blessings – God asks for Him back and Abraham’s obedience demanded that he followed that call. God’s promise of blessing is all so much greater than anything earthly that we may desire. Yet – there are good things to desire – it is good to desire that our church grows, it is good to desire to find a spouse, it is good to desire a loving family, it is good to desire comfort for our family – but it is better to desire Christ. It is better to desire intimacy with our Lord. These last desires – are the better and worthy of the sacrifices obedience calls us to.
So we pursue radical obedience to the Lord, not so that we can gain the earthly blessings we often want – but in order to know God all the better, and to continue to grow in him. For example – we are called to love our spouse well – regardless of their mood that day, regardless of whether we feel loved by them. Of course the nuance of this love becomes more evident as we realize that we are to love each other as Christ loved us – and so that means sometimes pointing out sins and failing, pointing out how we have stumbled along the way. But in loving them well may also mean accepting their grumpy mood and in loving them well we are not promised that they will magically not be ornery – perhaps they will, perhaps they won’t. But we will have been obedient to the Lord and this is the good thing.
Now we have gone quite awhile without looking at the passage itself – but I wanted to set these parameters, because there are two great mistakes that the church is making today and we must avoid these two things and to recap – the first mistake is thinking that we will always know exactly what the Lord wants. Yes – we know how we shall live – we shall live faithfully according to Biblical precepts, but that doesn’t mean we will know explicitly that we should go to Prescott over Des Moines or that it is right to become a presbyter instead of a missionary. Following the precepts of the Bible requires actions, deciding where to go requires faith – that God will prevent those things that are outside His will from happen and that He will bless the fact that we walked by faith, not always knowing what the future holds, or even knowing if the steps we take will be painless or painful.
The second great Christian untruth of our age is that living in faith means that we will always be blessed in this time – in a way that we can see in the here and now but all the more our blessings are those two things that we mentioned earlier – knowing God and getting to enjoy him forever.
Now – Abraham sets for us an example of this radical obedience. God comes to him and calls him by name to which Abraham responds “here am I.” When asked to give up the one thing he has longed for his entire life – Abraham doesn’t hesitate but sets his eyes to the task of returning his only son to the Lord.
All together too often we cling so tightly to the gift that we miss the chance to act in faith, we miss the chance to trust that God is calling us into a deeper relationship with him. We want so desperately what we want that we are no longer faithful and we kill the gift. But Abraham sets for us this example, and early in the morning he arises, and heads out with his sons and some servants for the task that he has been called to.
Now, there is a second “here am I,” but it is not directed to the Lord – but to his son. Isaac, being a smart boy realizes something is amiss and wonders where the sacrifice is. Here again, Abraham walks in faith when he tells his child that God will provide for himself a sacrafice. For all that we have – our family, our friends, our possession, are all gifts from God, and the Lord gives and the Lord takes away – blessed by the name of the Lord.
This brings us to the third “here am I” of Abraham – finally, God provides for himself and for Abraham a ram, because Abraham has not withheld from God that which is the most precious to him. When we hold all our worldly possession with a light hand – it glorifies God and we find his new mercies and blessings to be all the deeper. This does not mean that we do not care for the gifts we’ve been given, nor does it mean that we don’t love our spouses, our friends, and our family well. Rather we love them well, in part recognizing that each and every one of them is a gift from God, and ultimately His will in this world is perfect. So when someone goes to their eternal rise – blessed be the name of the Lord, when a relationship drifts apart or ends – blessed be the name of the Lord, when we see our businesses or careers collapse in upon themselves – blessed be the name of the Lord.
Please don’t here this and flippant – failure, pain, sickness, and death are deeply hurtful things – but in committing our lives to Christ – we see Him as our shepherd. We know that he will guide us through the darkness, and into a valley of green pastures. He is the sovereign of our lives – and it is in the valley of darkness when we cannot see the ground in front of us, blurred too much by the dark mystery of life and our tears that we learn most faithfully to rest in His guidance. So, yes, cry, mourn, acknowledge your pain to the Lord, but press on, and trust that the Lord is by your side.
Now God promises Abraham something for His faithfulness – the promise is that Abraham will have many offspring and that his family will be a blessing to the nations. These two promises are worthy of consideration. First let us consider the promise of being a blessing to the nations.
This is the promise of the coming of Christ – although it took 42 generations to get from Abraham to Christ, according to St. Matthew – eventually the light of the world came into the world to save sinners from death. So it was in the fullness of time Christ came into the world, and so it is that because of Him we can know God all the better.
This brings us to the second promise – that Abraham’s nation would be as many of as the stars in the sky, and certainly – the Jewish people have been numerous – but think now for a moment of the Christian people – because of Christ, we are adopted into that family. Even today, millions, if not billions call themselves Christian – and we so we know that many may now call themselves children of Abraham. So many, that they are more than the stars which we can count.
Now, the lesson today was supposed to end at verse 19, but I extended it to include the genealogy because something interesting happens here. Normally in ancient literature the writers are interested in the male lines, but in verse 22 and 23, we learn of Bethuel – who fathered Rebekah, Rebekah of course would soon become Isaacs wife. It is through Rebekah that the nation of Israel begins to be born.
Here, through God’s inspiration, scripture shows us that God is faithful to His people, that he is good for his promises, that we can have the hope of knowing and enjoying God forever that we are promised.
So my dear friends – I want to end with this thought – that I have found helpful as I contemplate obedience to God. Christian obedience comes down to desire – what is it that I desire – do I long for the things of the world, or the things of God? In our obedience to God, our longings will shift all the more to the point that we long not for the fleshly – but for intimacy with Him who has created and redeemed us. This is my prayer for you, and for All Saints – that we would be a community who’s chief desire is to know God as our good father, and Christ as our savior.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.