Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is your Isaac?

Hebrews 11.1,8–22

Preaching this reflection was particularly challenging; it was my first non-occasional sermon in almost two years, and it was in a congregation which I had never visited in a corner of the state to which I had never been.  It was fairly off-the-cuff and hard to piece together again after the fact.  During the soup supper before worship, I got the chance to briefly talk with a few members about the church community and about their concerns for the world.  They helped to shape my reflection for the evening.

After a brief summary of my story, of my several cross-country journeys, I shared my perceived inadequacy to speak to the concerns of the community.  I shared some of the concerns I had gathered over dinner, including poverty; the growing tragedy in Japan and around the Pacific from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis; and the growing population of people without homes in a nearby community.  Then I began to comment on the scripture.

It seems to me that this pericope focuses on the reality that living faithfully is about taking risks.  The Book of James tells us that true faith results in loving acts (or works); show me your works, the writer says, and I will show you your faith.  Jesus says something similar: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  In essence, act in ways that you know will please God, even when you might not want to, and your faith will grow (is concurrently growing?) to match your works.*  Abraham took huge risks, leaving behind his ancestral home based on God's promise, and taking his son, Isaac, up the mountain to sacrifice him.  Even though Isaac was the link between Abraham and the fulfillment of God's promise, God asked Abraham to kill him; in the end, Abraham didn't have to let go of his beloved son, but he was willing to do so to serve God's inscrutable purpose.

So, returning to the concerns I had gleaned from the congregation, I submitted that if it occurs to you to be concerned about a particular issue, then you may be called to assist in ministering to that cause.  So many feel inadequate to the monumental issues about which they feel concerned, but like Abraham, the equipment i gained along the way.  Isaac was born on the long journey to the promised homeland, and the sacrificial animal was gained on the mountaintop.  It could be argued that Isaac was Abraham's most precious belonging (not that people own people anymore, but that was the mindset at that time), and he was willing to give up what seemed like the fulfillment of a promise to be obedient.

So, what is YOUR Isaac?  Where are you called to go, and what precious things are you reluctant to give up to follow your call?  What gift from God do you cling to more than obedience to God?  I'm not suggesting that you have to give up the things that are precious to you, but are your priorities in order?  God gives to us in order that we might live an abundant life, but do you have an Isaac that blurs the line between abundant life and greed?  Set out to fulfill your call from God, and you will be given (and have already received some of) what you need for abundant life along the way.  For it is not sufficient to simply hope that things will get better; we need to take action in faith that God will use our works for godly purposes.  It is faith that makes our actions meaningful, because faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.

*Martin Luther would cringe.  He called James a book of straw, but it's hard to deny the truth of what the author is trying to say.

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