Happy 4th of July weekend! I have the happiest memories of my favorite national holiday: Fireworks, cookouts, swimming – blissful memories.
I love what Erma Bombeck once wrote about the 4th:
You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die of happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism!
So relax and enjoy and be with those you love and invite folks to your party who are alone, and celebrate the best of this country, not the worst.
And remember the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 who did not know how their actions would play out. What they did know is that they had committed high treason against Great Britain. I don’t think they even had the majority of colonists on their side at that time.
“We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” is Jefferson’s final sentence. And for over 20 of the signers, that pledge took on a woeful meaning in the years after 1776.
Nine signers died for the cause of Independence. 17 lost every penny and every piece of property they owned.
But they had this vision, which extended beyond their capacity to see.
Yes, they were all white men, some owned slaves. They were the liberal elite of their day. Despite what you hear they were not all Christians, although one was a Presbyterian pastor – John Witherspoon! In fact, you know that members of Parliament called the American Revolution “that damned Presbyterian rebellion!” So bully for us.
Their words and their vision inspired slaves to freedom, Dr. King to his mission, women to vote, LGBTQ folks to marry and immigrants to yearn for these shores and this land and for cities to welcome them.
In 1776, those men were between promise and fulfillment.
We are still between promise and fulfillment in 2017. Still working it out – not sure how it is all going to go. What are we willing to sacrifice for health care for all? For racial reconciliation?
There is nothing pre-ordained about the specifics of my life or yours – other than we begin and end in God’s love. However through sweat and sin and the exigencies of history here we are – still in the middle of the story.
When did you sacrifice? I am sure you’ve just “gone for it.” Said “yes” or “no.” Walked out into the desert of choices.
Do you remember what it felt like then? Do you reflect upon it now? You should. It can be a good discipline.
What are you willing to sacrifice today? For your faith or our country, okay, but more importantly, I mean personally and communally. In terms of your yearning, your comfort, your popularity, your vocation, the status quo, your opinion that you believe is a higher calling.
Abraham – an old man—left everything to start a journey.
Abraham believed he heard God say, “Get up and go.” He believed God told him that he would be the father of many nations.
And so Abraham got up and went.
It took him years and years and years to see the promise unfold. He was willing to give up his wife twice – not pretty stories.
He was almost ready to accept Ishmael as his heir; but then kicked him and his mother Hagar out of the camp.
He wandered through the blistering desert and then one day the son was born, the promise was before his eyes.
And then God called on him to kill his son. To kill the dream. To lay Isaac out on the wood of a sacrificial fire.
The story of Abraham taking Isaac and binding him on a rock and getting a razors edge away from killing him because he believed God had told him to is both horrible and inexplicable.
Where was Sarah, Isaac’s mother?
The author of this amazing short story knew how to create tension, horror, release – leaving the reader dumbfounded. What? Why? OMG, did I just read that?! What are we supposed to do with it?
I am not going to explain this story, or allegorize it, or tell you what it means, because I don’t know.
I want you simply to feel it and wrestle with it and figure out what it is telling YOU to do when you are tested, when you’re called to sacrifice, when you struggle with obedience – and you don’t want to do what you are told to do.
We read that God tested Abraham. He called to Abraham: “Ab-a-ra-ham!” and Abraham answered “Hey ne ne” – Hebrew for: “Here I am.”
And the tension builds from there. “Take your son, your only son….the son that Sarah bore to you when you were 100 years old – yes, that son, not Ismael (as the Muslims believe). The son that I promised you – the one you left Haran for, the one you prayed for as you looked up into the heavens and saw the stars….” Yup, that one – your best and last hope…. that Son….”
Poor Isaac was clueless. But then he becomes aware. “Dad, where is the lamb for the offering?”
And to think of Abraham going through with it, and Isaac looking up at his father as he raises the knife….
Then at the last minute comes the call: twice this time: “Abraham, Abraham” and again the response: “Hey-nee-ni” “here I am!”
The ending is quick – a ram is found, the sacrifice is made. But I doubt that either Abraham or Isaac is ever the same after this. I suspect that God is not the same either.
How far would you go?
We can’t intellectualize this too much – this is a gut check text at a gut check time.
I have an evaluation method that I use often. At the end of a meeting or a study, I often ask each person to give a ONE WORD gut feeling about what happened: “How do you feel about …what just happened?
Getting in touch with the gut is often the far more important place to start then the head. Often times our actions reflect what is stirring inside really about something else. It is often good to first ask not “What do I think about that?” but “Why do I feel the way I do, about that?”
The heart drives the head. That’s why in ancient Hebrew the “gut” is the seat of both emotion and understanding.
I wonder what Abraham felt. What Isaac felt. What God felt when God realized that Abraham was actually going to follow through. I wonder if God was kind of scared of Abraham after that.
Each of us will be tested.
Every one of you will have a cross to bear; shaken and stirred. Are you going to cut and run or raise the knife?
Nobody get the easy pass. And unfortunately, not everyone finds a ram in the thicket. Heck, you might BE the ram in the thicket for someone else’s story.
This is a hard story – but are you listening for your name being called?
Are you willing to risk your safety, your possessions, and your honor…your job, your child, your deepest held conviction… about God?
This story is not about protecting and securing. It is about the radical call of discipleship. It is about abandonment and trust.
This story is just THERE, awkwardly, between promise and fulfillment.
This narrative continues long after Abraham’s life and Isaac’s life. The story does not end with them.
But that one moment when the knife is raised shapes everything after, cuts through all the niceties. The Exodus, the Holocaust, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, your life. our lives together.
So I choose to believe that God’s grace has brought US safe thus far and God’s grace will lead us home.
I proclaim that YOUR story, our story, isn’t over. We are still between promise and fulfillment with the final words of Abraham in our ears: “The Lord will provide.” And that gives me great hope to see how our adventure will turn out.
“Here I am!”