The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 23 March 2023
A Sermon on Genesis 22:1-14 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Genesis 22:1-14 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 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 of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do any-thing to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
HOLY COMMUNION: THE LORD WILL PROVIDE
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s Not About Isaac
The Old Testament reading is no more about Isaac than the Gospel reading is about Lazarus. Perhaps that comes as a shock to you, because for the past five hundred years everything has been about us. By that, I mean that the LORD God is largely absent, a bit player, or on the fringes of the human drama, the progress and triumph of humanity. In the present context, Isaac would be the traumatized victim, who after several glasses from the bottle of Stoli in the freezer or a couple of bowls of potent pot or maybe both, calls home to raise hell with Sarah for not preventing the worst day in his life: “Like, where were you, Mom, when that monster almost killed me?”
Friday evening, we watched the movie version of the Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” the story of a fatherless teenaged boy with severe social anxiety, whose absent male therapist has suggested he write letters of encouragement to himself. When an angry, isolated fellow student, a white male from a wealthy family, takes the letter from the printer in the school library, Evan is distraught at the thought of anyone or everyone knowing what he feels. The subsequent plot revolves around Evan telling a lie that gives comfort to the other boy’s family and, momentarily, gives Evan all that he has longed for. But when the angry boy’s family becomes vilified on social media, Evan finally tells the truth and loses all he had gained from the lie. Evan tries to make amends, and something of beauty comes out of the twisted mess he has made. His mom, who works all the time to make ends meet, tells her devastated son how much she loves him and that even without a father present in his life he will be ok. So, by the end, Evan has learned life is difficult but, if you accept who you are and press on, you can make it and who knows what else.
The music is beautifully written by the team that wrote the music to “The Greatest Showman.” But the dissonance between the stirring music and the message of the movie is disturbing. Despite all the powerful singing by Tony-award-winning actor Ben Platt as Evan, the movie says everyone is essentially all alone, so accept yourself as you are and don’t stay alone. Be true to yourself and find love wherever you can. And people can still do beautiful things even if they lie, because all the lonely people are really, at heart, good and probably just misunderstood.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is the 21st century Isaac, stabbed and burned by his father and left for dead. If there is a God, He is, don’t we all know, like most fathers, abusive and uncaring, so Isaac somehow gets himself off that burning bundle of wood and somehow scrapes his way through; terribly scarred by it all. But, my god, that poor, traumatized boy can sing and make people cry.
That’s what the world looks like when God is shoved out of the world He makes and owns. That’s what the world looks like when fathers are absent and where therapists are the deus ex machina, the god people create to write prescriptions and give advice that may get us in trouble. That’s what the world looks like when everything is always all about me. We’re left all alone.
But it’s not about Isaac or Evan or all the terrible things that we broken people keep doing.
And…It’s Not About Abraham
When you read the Bible as if you are in the center calling balls and strikes, you make it all about people. It’s like what Disney did to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan is replaced in the center by Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan: Wow, look at how those kids can fight with their backs pressed up against the wall. God’s victory is nothing compared to ours.
Conservative, liberal, and the vast crowd of in-between Christians read the Bible as if people were the heroes: Just look at what can happen if you only have great trust like Abraham. So, you’re having a really bad day when you’d like to murder your teenaged or even adult son? If you only trust God, you will get through it all. And, as for Isaac? Suck it up, buttercup.
Or, if you’re angry that Sarah isn’t mentioned, and why shouldn’t you be? If only Sarah had been there, cooler heads would have prevailed. I mean, the poor woman gets dragged off by her delusional husband to some godforsaken place where all they have is what they can haul around. Then, you wait 89 years to have a baby, and put up with all the ridiculous trouble that comes when you trust a man and have to clean up his messes like that horrible Hagar and her love child. Then, what? You’re going to let Abraham just go off to kill your precious son? No… Oh, yes, Sarah should have been in charge. What good are men other than for having a child? Really.
But it’s not about Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, or one of nameless servants. After all, how did they feel about schlepping around tents, animals, and what not in the ancient equivalent of a U-Haul?
So, then, if it’s not about Abraham or us, and, isn’t that a stretch for 21st people? Then, who?
It’s About the God Who Provides
There would be no Isaac, Abraham, Sarah, the unnamed servants, or you and me if we were, in fact, like Evan Hansen (and everybody else) all alone, left to heal ourselves in the universe. We are not all alone, and we are not the center. There is a God, who creates and owns everything and everyone. God provides everything we are and have, so that we might become servant people.
People are not the hero of the story even when some behave heroically. In short, it is precisely when we suffer through the pain of all the twisted messes we and all broken people make, we learn there is a God who provides what we need most: Himself. We are never alone. At well past 100 years of age, Abraham went even as he went when he was 75 and in Haran. Abraham went to worship the God who promised to make a great nation through Abraham and Sarah. It wasn’t heroic that Abraham went, just as it isn’t heroic that you and I came to worship today… as if God hands out lapel pins and gold stars for showing up. Worship isn’t a quid pro quo… you give me this; I give you that. Abraham went, because we are made for worship, and when we learn to worship rightly, we know our place in the universe, in the world, and in all our relationships.
God did not require Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, because Isaac wasn’t THE Child of the promise. In short, Abraham and Sarah failed to be obedient servants most of their lives, just as Noah and his family failed to be obedient servants most of theirs, just as Adam and Eve failed to be obedient servants in the first place. God had to do what they and we cannot. God had to do more than show up from time to time to set things right. At the right time, God became truly human in or-der to give His own life Blood as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus stayed on the cross and died for your sins, my sins, and all the sins of all the broken people who make such twisted messes of things when we listen to and repeat the lies of the ancient foe who asked: “Did God really say?”
Today, God provides lonely, self-centered people like you and me what we need most: Himself. Have you made a mess of it all? Have you lied to get what you want? Are you still trying to figure out who you are and why you are here? The LORD does provide when you come just as you are to the One who can cleanse each spot. He says, “This is my Body…this is my Blood given and shed for you. Do you not yet understand how precious your life is? He died for you. He gives to you His forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation, which is final healing of you.
There is peace and joy, yes, a calling when you have been joined to the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection in Baptism. Lazarus was only given back his old life and had to die again. Baptized into Christ, you have a new life, a new identity as a child of God, and His family across space and time. You are never alone. You are His, part of the perfect and never-absent Father’s family.
So, forget about yourself. All of that Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) can keep you self-absorbed and either sitting alone in your darkened room or moving so fast no one can figure out you are broken, too. I think of Jim, a Stephen Leader in a former congregation. When asked how he was, he would answer: “Fine… except for being in bondage to sin and unable to free myself.” For that’s who we are apart from Christ, all alone and struggling mightily to be noticed.
But, in Christ, death can no longer hold us, sin can no longer destroy us, and the evil one can only have the power over us that we give him if we listen to his lies. You are never all alone.
So, Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit in your Baptism. When you learn to worship rightly, you come empty handed to receive in the Host and Cup what you need most: Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb who takes away your sins and remembers them no more. The devil keeps throwing them in your face. But not Jesus.
So, then, it’s not about Isaac or Abraham or Sarah or Evan Hansen or you or me. It’s about the God who provides Himself: that your life may become a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the perfect Father of us all and that you may be His in every relationship. Why? So that you may give your life away in limitless, humble service with gratitude to the One who created and owns you and to do so with everlasting joy. Be who you are, child of God. Use your gifts to the glory of God and for a blessing to neighbors. Show up in daily life. Serve. That’s who you are!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Communion: The LORD Does Provide
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 986).
Genesis 22:1 “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’… ‘Here I am.’’’
Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “Give your attention, you who have approached God – who believe yourselves to be faithful. Consider diligently how the faith of the faithful is proved from these words that have been read to us” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Genesis 12-50, 101).
Genesis 22:2 ““Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… offer him there as a burnt offering”
Origen of Alexandria: “What do you say to these things, Abraham? What kind of thoughts are stir-ring in your heart? A word has been uttered by God that is to shatter and try your faith. What do you say to these things? What are you thinking? What are you reconsidering?” (102).
Genesis 22:7 ““Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?””
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “Therefore he brought his beloved son to be sacrificed, and him whom he had begotten so late he offered without delay. Nor was he held back by being addressed as father, when his son called him ‘father’ and he answered ‘my son’” (105).
Genesis 22:13 “Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
St. Athanasius the Great [4th Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “… God accepted his intentions, but he prevented him for slaying Isaac. The death of Isaac would not buy freedom for the world. No, that could be accomplished only by the death of our Savior, by whose stripes we are healed” (110).
Genesis 22:14 “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’”
Origen of Alexandria: “For when you have approached God joyfully, he again gives back to you what you have offered and says to you, ‘You will see me again, and your heart shall rejoice, and no man shall take your joy from you…So, therefore, we appear at least to engage in business for the Lord, but the profits of the business go to us. And we appear to offer victims to the Lord, but the things we offer are given back to us. For God needs nothing, but he wishes us to be rich; he de-sires our progress through each individual things” (111).
1. Do I approach the Lord’s altar conscious that He is the Lamb of God, who died in my place?
2. Do I willingly offer my entire life, all that I have and all that I am, in gratitude for His sacrifice?
THE SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
AS THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY SHOULD TEACH IT IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
Where is this written?
The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too. Place their pictures and/or names in a prominent place as a reminder to pray for them
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Place their pictures and/or names in a prominent place as a reminder to pray for them. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend what the Lord Jesus promises in the Words of Institution. Read 1 Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 for a greater sense of context.
4. Consult Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 181, for the daily lessons appointed for Lent 5 (Year One) and read them daily before offering your prayers on behalf of your family, the world, our nation, our state, and our local communities.
5. Read Luke 24:13ff., the road to Emmaus experience, to learn Luke’s favorite name for the Lord’s Supper, “the breaking of the bread.” Read Acts 2 for further understanding of that.
6. Plan to attend as many of the services of Holy Week (which begins next weekend with Palm Sunday) as you are able. Pray for and, then, invite your unchurched dearest ones and friends to the services of God’s house during Holy Week and Easter (April 2 – 10).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”