(Adapted from a sermon preached on Genesis 22:1-14 at All Saints' Littleton NH on 6/26/2011)
I will admit that my body and mind, while in one sense rested, are also a little confused right now...
We left Thailand on the red-eye flight Friday morning, 12:15AM. Twenty-Six hours and two connecting flights later, we arrived in Boston...on time...at 3:25 in the afternoon...with it still being Friday.
As I said: I'm a good, but a little confused...
I loved Thailand: it was an incredible journey in so many ways, and I look forward to sharing stories with those wanting to hear.
We encountered many Thai people who spoke English well, and in reality, most Thai people knew at least a few words of English. We also discovered that there are a few Thai adapted English sayings that seem to be universally known.
My favorite one popped up in markets and restaurants. In an attempt to make a purchase, I would point to an apple, and the person would say “15 Bhat” (which sounds like a lot, but equals only a half of one of our dollars). Then I would point to bunch of bananas, to which the vender would reply “Same same”.
The funny thing, besides it’s sound, is that this could mean a number of things. Perhaps apples and bananas are the same price. Or, it could meant that apples were 15 Baht per pound, while the particular bunch of bananas I wanted cost 15 Bhat.
“Same same” meant that the items could be understood to be of equal value in some way, even though in the final evaluation, you might end up with more on one side or the other, and the final cost could be different as well.
Same same...but different.
This phrase is so popular that Darlene and I both ended up with t-shirts that proclaimed “same same” on the front, and “but different” on the back.
I’ve come to see this morning’s story of Abraham and Isaac as a prime example of Biblical “same-same, but different.” What I mean is that from the same story you can reach two understandings of equal validity. Same same. And yet, personally, I have come to see one understanding as a different illustration of the hope for our relationship with God and each other.
It is clear in this story that God tested Abraham.
“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.”
Abraham undertakes the journey to the mountain, and when they reach the base of the mountain, Abraham and Isaac go up alone with what is needed. Isaac asks where the lamb is for the offering, to which Abraham cryptically replies that God will provide the lamb.
The text describes what follows tells only the actions, leaving out any dialogue or emotions:
So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar 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.
Even divided from what must have been gut-wrenching terror filled dialogue, the horror of this scene is undeniable. If this happened today, Abraham would be jailed for life for his action, and Isaac would require years of therapy. I have to believe that the ancient hearer of this story would have recoiled from it as well.
The angel stops the “offering” at the last moment, saying on God’s behalf: “...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
Classically, it has been insisted that Abraham passed this test of God. After all, Abraham ends up being blessed by God.
“I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”
It sounds like reward for a great success. But, personally, I’ve come to the opinion that Abraham failed this test.
Same-same, but different.
What is it that God really wanted to see from Abraham: obedience? God clearly already had that: Abraham always did as God instructed.
As a results of “obeying God’s voice” concerning the sacrificing of Isaac, Abraham receives a blessing of God that had already been promised earlier in chapters 12, 15, and 17 of Genesis. The only thing added in this blessing is “And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
I wonder: is “possessing the gate of one’s enemies” really what God wanted for Abraham? After all, what has been different with Abraham from others before him is Abraham’s willingness to both be obedient to God and question what God was doing: Abraham asked “Why am I childless, when you promised me descendants?” Abraham asked, “Would you destroy a town if there are 50 righteous people there? What about twenty? What about ten?”
Abraham was the first to really live into the promise of being made in God’s image. Through his interactions with God and others, he showed wisdom and insight. He learned from his experiences, and seems to show compassion and honor that truly reflected God. So, in this final test, was the willingness to sacrifice Issac without question really a demonstration of the reflection of being made in God’s image? I just don’t think so.
The overall message of the story remains either way: “God will provide.” I believe, however, that God wanted a different path for Abraham. Upon reaching the place of sacrifice, I think God wanted Abraham to say, “I cannot do violence to my son. It is not for me to do. Take me, if you want Lord: I am yours. You will do with Isaac as you believe just, but I cannot sacrifice him as you ask.”
Perhaps, in this context, saying no to God was the better answer.
If Abraham had been able to do so, perhaps his descendants could be the ones to reconcile with their enemies, instead of simply possessing their gates.
Same-same, but different.