After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 that I shall show you.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” 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.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”As you can see, the title of the sermon is “Speaking as a C Student”. Now, when Debbie saw it, she asked, “Why did you use this title, especially since you weren’t a C student?” And I’ve got to tell you,
that was a pretty good question, because even though there are all kinds of things that I don’t do well (and if you want a short list, ask me; but if you want a longer one, ask Debbie or maybe Maggie), I’ve always been a good student.
But I don’t want you to think I’m bragging; Like I said, there are plenty of things that I pretty safe in calling weaknesses. For example, how a machine, any machine works is a mystery to me and I know never to try to fix any plumbing problem around the house because, frankly, I can’t afford to pay a professional to fix not just the original problem, but also my repairs. Let’s just say, around the house, I’m useless, mechanically challenged. But, when it comes to what my mom called “book learning”, I’ve always been pretty good. And so the title confused Debbie.
And so I had to explain that the title really has nothing to do with high school, college or seminary. Instead it has everything to do with how I often feel when I think about my relationship with God and in particular how my faith shapes certain aspects of my life. I mean, even though I know all the right words, because remember, I’ve always been a good student, sometimes I don’t feel it, not to the extent of some other folks I know. For instance, often my vision seems limited. While I can sort of see God working, usually in broad strokes, I think I often miss a lot of the details and I’m fair clueless to those times when God may be moving in ways or directions I don’t already expect. I think I miss a lot.
And when it comes to confidence, well, I generally tend to be fairly cautious and careful. I mean, let’s get really, if I give too much money, we might not have enough to send Maggie to college. And before suggesting changes to the way we do things around the church, good night before we make even small changes to the worship service, I’d better check out who’s going to be upset. As a matter of fact, it would be downright foolish for me to step out in faith without being pretty darn sure that I’m not going to trip over my two left feet, right? Now other people don’t do that. Man, they don’t seem to worry at all, but I do. I’m telling you, when it comes to faith, they seem to be the ones making the As, and me, well, sometimes I feel like a C student, not the worst by any stretch of the imagination but not the best either. But since a “C” is suppose to be the grade given to those who are average, I don’t think I’m alone. As a matter of fact, although I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, I think there’s a better than even chance that most of us here this morning have sort of found a home on the meatiest part of the spiritual bell-curve. I mean, let’s face it, when it comes to living the faith, if we’re really going to honest about it, most of us are probably making Cs; we’re average, right in the middle, something I really have a hard time saying because, being a solid C student myself, I certainly don’t want to offend anybody.
But you know something, I think there’s a real advantage to being spiritually average, and here it is: if we’re able to see ourselves as average, C-students, there’s really a lot of room for us to improve, you know, for our faith to become stronger and our relationship with God to become more focused and fulfilling. As a matter of faith, with some changes, we could actually approach Abraham’s level of faith, something that I believe is pretty clear in the passage we just read.
I mean, just think about it, without getting into some of the thorny issues in this passage, you know like why God would feel the need to “test” Abraham or how a father could be willing to kill his son regardless of the situation, I think we’d all agree that not only did Abraham pass the “test” but that he experienced some things that only people with a really deep faith seem to experience, attitudes and perspectives we often lack but frankly wish we had. For example, according to this story, he had a confidence in God that I can barely get my head around. I mean, when Abraham was leading his only son up that mountain, he knew exactly what God expected him to do. Good night, the Lord himself told him point blank, “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.” Now, I’m not sure it can be any clearer than that, and yet, when Isaac asked about what they were going to sacrifice, “Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” Now, personally, I don’t think he was lying to the boy. No, this is exactly what Abraham believed, because he was confident, in the power and promises of God. And I’ll tell you, I think he was confident when he built the altar. And I think he was confident when he tied up the boy and laid him on the wood. And I think he was confident when he “…reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.” You see, he knew that God would provide a sacrifice. Unlike us, Abraham was confident.
And in the end, he had vision; man, he saw the presence and the providence of God. Remember, after hearing the angel of the Lord tell him to stop, “Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” You see, that was the kind of faith that Abraham had, at least according to this passage. In other words, he had a couple of things we often lack. He had both confidence and vision.
And how did he get there, well, I think that’s it’s not only here in this story, but you can see it throughout Abraham’s life. You see, I believe his confidence and vision came from his willingness to do two things we’re not always willing to do. Abraham listened and he obeyed didn’t he? I mean, at the very beginning, when God “…said to him, ‘Abraham!’ [Abraham] said, ‘Here I am.’” Man, he was listening. And then, near the end, when “…the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ [,again] …he said, ‘Here I am.’” I’m telling you, Abraham listened for and to the voice of God, even though what God said he didn’t want to hear. He listened. And then he obeyed. He obeyed when he packed up and “…set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.” And he obeyed when he and Isaac “…came to the place that God had shown him [and he] …built an altar there and laid the wood in order [and] he bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar…” And he obeyed when he “reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.” Now you may question his parenting skills, but not he willingness to listen to God and to obey him. But this really is surprising. Isn’t that what Abraham did when God called him to leave his home to go to a foreign land? And isn’t that what he did when God told him that his whole household needed to be circumcised, because that would be the sign of the promise? And isn’t that what he did, as we talked about last week, when, in spite of the fact that he was deeply disturbed, he did what God told him to do and sent Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness? Abraham was a man who was willing to listen and to obey, and as a result his confidence grew and he was better able to see God.
And I’ll tell you something, I believe the same thing can happen to us. You see, if we want to feel more confident as we live out what we say we believe and if we really want to see God moving all around us, if this is what we really want, man, we’ve got to willing to listen and to obey. And to listen, well, we really need to be in a place where we might hear. It’s like winning a raffle. We increase our odds with every ticket we buy, but if we don’t buy at least one, we shouldn’t wonder why we didn’t win. And I think we can say the same sort of thing about hearing the voice of God. I mean, although I believe God is everywhere and he’s speaking through all kinds of people in all kinds of places, I think we can most clearly hear him when we pick up our Bibles and start reading, and if for some reason you can’t read it, I’ve got a website where they read it to you. And we can most clearly hear him when we turn off the television and come to one of the studies offered right here in this church, and again, if that’s a problem, we post a podcast of most of them. And I think we can most clearly hear him, when we just get quiet so that we can hear what’s often a still small voice. If we’re serious about listening, these are some of the things we might do, but that’s not all. You see, to really get the message, we might also want to put aside some of those things that can become distractions. I mean, we’re probably going to miss a lot of good, godly stuff if we make the decision only to listen to things we want to hear or already believe. My gosh, it’s not rocket science. If a conservative wants to broaden his political perspective, it probably won’t happen if all he watches is Fox News anymore than it’ll happen for a liberal who’s stuck on MSNBC. Although it may make us uncomfortable, I think we can best hear God when we decide that we shouldn’t be filtering his message. We can listen.
And as it relates to obedience, I’ll tell you, I think our willingness to obey starts with the decision that God really is in control. You see, if we believe that he’s in control of everything, and he holds our destinies in his hands, it’s a lot easier to do what he’s called us to do then if we assume that we’re in control, you know, that’s it’s ultimately up to us, what we think, what we assume, what we feel. Obedience is grounded in trust, and I’ll tell you, I think this decision to obey, well, it always leads to action. Confidence doesn’t grow and vision doesn’t expand if we never leave our pew or the pulpit. Faith is lived, and that life is shaped by our willingness to obey what we’ve heard.
And you know, that’s pretty good news for a guy like me and maybe like you. You see, even though we may not have the vision and confidence we might like, right here we have a pretty good example to follow, and a man whose confidence was never shaken even in the face a horrible situation and who’s vision was so clear that he could see that his confidence was well placed, I’m talking about a brother who demonstrated over and over again both in this passage and throughout his life a willingness to listen and to obey. You see, I believe we can follow his example and like him, grow in our confidence and vision. And if this is what we decide to do, instead of being a lowly C student, maybe we’ll earn an A just like Abraham.