Readings: Genesis 22:1–14, Romans 6:12–23 & Matthew 10:40–42
In last week’s sermon I spoke about God’s grace, and the fact that although freely given to us, it does come at a cost. The gift that God gives us, is that we are reconciled to Him through the death of Jesus, in whom God revealed Himself to us.
God created humankind in His own image: He created us to be in relationship with Him, but throughout history, humankind continued to turn its back on God, and to trust in itself, placing greater value on objects of its creation (such as wealth, power and status) rather than on Him. The result was that we, that is humankind, became estranged from God. But by the grace of God, not by anything that we say or do, we are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus. All that is required of us, is that we are open to receiving this grace, which we do by believing that God did reveal Himself in and through Jesus. In other words, we receive God’s grace by faith.
The figure of Abraham is often held up to us as the perfect example of a person having faith, and today’s reading from the Book of Genesis is perhaps the best demonstration of that faith. In today’s passage, God calls Abraham to take take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. Remember, this is the same son who was born to Abraham when he was 100 years old, and when his wife Sarah, who had been unable to bear children previously, was 90 years old. The same son, through whom God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. And yet now, God tells Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice. Without argument, Abraham makes preparations to do what God has instructed him to.
Interestingly, we are not told in the story how old Isaac is, but he is clearly not a small child, because Abraham takes all of the wood which he has gathered for the burnt offering, which would not have been an insignificant amount, and he places it all on Isaac to carry. So Isaac is obviously physically big enough, and strong enough, to carry all of this wood. The range of ages suggested by different Jewish traditions claim that Isaac was somewhere between a teenager and twenty-five years old at the time of this event.
Again, quite interestingly, we hear nothing about Isaac putting up any physical resistance to his father. Did Isaac also accept that God’s will should be carried out with no questions asked? Perhaps Isaac also had great faith? Unfortunately the passage provides no answers to those questions. What it does tell us, is that Abraham is about to kill Isaac, when suddenly an angel of God calls to him and tells him to stop. Abraham’s faith has been tested, and he has passed with flying colours. Abraham places his personal faith and trust in God, above everything else in life. I’ll come back to this point shortly, but for now, I also want to touch on something that relates to our second reading this morning from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
In today’s passage from Romans, Paul uses an analogy of slavery, to describe the difference between living under the law of Torah, and living under the grace of God. We must remember that according to the Jewish religious tradition of Paul’s day, the only way that a person could be reconciled to God, was by observing all of the statutes and commandments of the Torah. However, if we take the example of Abraham, there was no Torah. The Torah only came into existence 430 years after Abraham, when Moses received the commandments from God on Mount Sinai. Yet Abraham was clearly reconciled to God; he was in a good relationship with God; and he was in that relationship with God because of his faith. So let me come back now to the point that Abraham had a personal faith and trust in God above everything else in life. That’s what Jesus asks of us.
The gospel tells us that Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matt. 22:37–39 NRSV) To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, is to put our faith and trust in Him above all else. Not to put our trust in things such as wealth, power, status or possessions, and not to arrogantly trust in our own ability to navigate our way through life.
God has given us the gift of His grace. He has revealed Himself to us in Jesus, and we have been reconciled to Him through the death of Jesus. Let us accept His grace, and put our faith and trust in Him to guide us through the challenges and joys of life.