Second Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2006
The First Reading: Genesis 22:1-14
Sermon: "Abraham, the rich Young Man, Jesus and Us"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The First Reading:
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 alter 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."
Abraham, the rich Young Man, Jesus and Us
Second Sunday in Lent - March 12, 2006
Imagine for a minute that it is possible for you to have the one thing in your life that you have always wanted. I'm not talking about a deal or a genie's wish. I mean you have the opportunity to have the one thing that is the most important to you. It doesn't matter what it s. It can be large or small. It can be something material or something living. All you have o do is ask for it and it is yours. God says you can have it. In God's time it is given to you. ou have it for years and years.
Along with this one fulfilled desire, God promises to be with you always. Nothing can ever break that promise on God's side. In fact, God takes you to a special place to live with God, your family and his incredible gift to you.
If we can begin to fathom this idea we might be able to place ourselves in the shoes of Abraham. He has followed God. God has taken him to a promised land. God has also blessed him with a child. God has not failed in keeping the promises made.
Now, Abraham has been living in this relationship with God for some time. We might believe that everything was just fine. God is good. Abraham is good. Everything is fine. Abraham has everything he needs. Life is good.
This place can be wonderful, and yet, it can also be dangerous. The wonderful part is that life is good. There are no major bumps, no hurts, no unexpected occurrences. Life is easy. The dangerous part of this existence is how we start to feel about it. We start to feel like we are at this point in our lives because of something we did. We have the ability to control our own destiny. We don't need anybody else. We are capable of controlling everything around us. We don't need anyone else. We can handle life on our terms. In fact, we don't even need God.
There is also another danger. This danger comes with receiving or attaining our desires. When we attain our desires sometimes we think we got them all by ourselves. Another aspect of attaining our desires that is even more dangerous, is placing all our hope in them. In other words, we can't make it without them. The desire becomes all important to us. It is so important to us that it supersedes everything else in our lives. Furthermore, we would move Heaven and Hell to make sure we didn't lose that object of our desire.
Can we see ourselves falling into this pattern? Can we see ourselves trying to protect what is ours? Is there something in our lives we would feel empty without? Suppose our house burned down. Suppose we lost our jobs or our reputations. Suppose we lost our financial standing. Suppose we lost the person most dear, the closest to us, a mother, a father, a relative, a child, how would we feel?
If we can see just a glimpse of this dangerous place, then we are with Abraham. Abraham's greatest desire was to have a child to carry on his name. It was so important to him that Sarah allowed him to have a child through her maidservant Hagar. Now, he has a child of his own. He has his greatest desire. Does his love for his son eclipse the love he has for God? Does he believe that if Isaac dies, God's promise is over? The question is one of faith and trust. It is a difficult one both for Abraham and for us. Abraham was willing to trust God enough that if Isaac was lost to him, God would still keep the promise. How would we fare?
Many people don't like this story. They believe it is a form of manipulation and coercion. They also believe it is a form of child abuse. It is not either one. It is a story of faith and trust in God. For you see, there are two New Testament counterparts to this story. One is of a rich man. His desire was for his riches. Oh, he wanted to be assured of going to heaven, but he wanted his easy life as well. We remember the story as the story of the rich young man. He tried to follow the commandments and he even seeks Jesus out. However, when he is asked to give up the wealth and the prestige with it, he turns away. We like this story, but we don't like the one about Abraham. We think the young man will get what he deserves. God is just here. God is not just with Abraham. The difference is the means. Abraham has to be willing to give up control of the life of his son. The young man must give up his wealth. We say it's unfair, because Isaac is Abraham's son. Yet, Abraham does not own his son anymore than the man owns his money.
Abraham did not give full life to Isaac. He did not make Isaac take his first breath. God will not allow Abraham to force Isaac to take his last. Yet, like the man who could not give up his wealth, Abraham had to be willing to give up his son, his hopes, his dreams. What was stronger his love for God or his love for his own form of immortality?
The second story is a lot like the first. It involves a Father and a Son. The Father is God and the Son is Jesus. Jesus has come to the earth, God in human form, to teach us about the depth and breadth of the love of God. In his message there is no violence. In his message there is no manipulation or coercion. He does not trick people into following him. He asks people to follow him. He begins to teach. The teachings are radically different than the manner of the world. His teachings turn the hierarchical structure of the world upside down. The meek will inherit the earth, not the powerful. The poor are blessed and not the rich. The sick will be healed by the mercy of God. The hungry will be fed and the full will know emptiness. Finally, God's love is for all Gentile and Jew alike.
We are all worldly people. We know that no one could teach this message, build up a following and live. The powers of that time or any time would want that message destroyed. Now, did God know what would happen? I believe so. Did Jesus know what would happen? I believe so. Jesus knew that this teaching this message would get him killed. He went ahead and did it anyway. God allowed it to happen because the end of the message is just as important as the beginning. The end of the message is that death is not an ending. Death does not hold any sting for us. Death is overcome by love. So, Jesus freely offered his own self to show us the end of the message. Jesus had the faith that God would make all things right even beyond death. Jesus took the step that Abraham did not have too.
Even though we know the end of the story, we are still left with our challenge today. Our challenge today is to see if we have anything in our lives that we love or desire more than our relationship with God. If we do then we need to think about it and see what it is that we need to do. The good news is that God will help us. God is always with us. God was with Jesus all the way through his life. God will be with us. God will help us release ourselves from bondage and resurrect our spirits to a new and glorious day. Thanks be to God.