June 26, 2005
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Sometime back there was a brief news report about a youth director of a local church who was fired because he had duct taped one of the unruly boys to the wall of the gym and left him there. The pictures you see are of kids and adults who consented to being duct taped to the wall not for punishment purposes but as fund raisers.
The Darwin awards came out this week and the winner was James Elliot. When his 38-calibre revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, the would-be robber did something you only see in the movies or in old Three Stooges skits. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked. He received the award posthumously.
Now, your reaction to those two stories might very well be, "Get Real." But they are fact. Just read News of the Weird in Friday's paper or subscribe to This Is True. It doesn't get any more real that that.
I don't know about you but I think this whole reality TV thing sort fits in with News of the Weird and This Is True. I really can't believe some of the things people will do for money or to be on TV. That's what causes me to say "Get Real."
"Get Real!" We use that phrase interchangeably with "No Way!" Or "You've got to be kidding!" Or others like those. It's a phrase of incredulity. We can't believe what we're seeing or what we're hearing.
And it's a phrase that Abraham could very easily have spoken when he heard what God wanted him to do and what God had in store for his son, Isaac. Let's look at the passage: Genesis 22:1-14
 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."
No wonder Abraham might have said, "Get Real." Let's look at this passage through the words, SACRIFICED, SURRENDERED AND SANCTIFIED.
A. First SACRIFICED. I can't imagine having to go through something like that. Can you? Oh, we've all wanted to send them packing from time to time. Especially, if they just drove a golf ball through the bedroom window. Or if you watched them ride up on their bike, an hour late, throw their watch in the sewer, then come in the house and say they lost their watch and didn't know what time it was. But to have God say, "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."
Of course Abraham would have reacted by saying something like, "Get Real!" But it turns out, it's all part of the process of "Getting Real." On the surface, this is a hard passage to understand. Why would God demand something like that from Abraham? Especially after waiting so long to bless Abraham and Sarah with children. Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 90.
There are a couple of things that we need to lift up to help us understand this passage.
1. First, in the Hebrew, when a phrase is repeated over and over, it means something. It's a focal point. The first thing God tells Abraham to do is "Take your son, your only son Isaac." Isaac is the focal point. And that's the problem. Isaac was not only Abraham's pride and joy, Abraham had begun letting his love for Isaac push his love for God out of the center of his life. And if God was going to raise up a great nation through Abraham, then God had to remain the central focus in Abraham's life. And that was the test on the Mountain.
2. Another interesting thing is that, according to Scripture, Abraham didn't even seem to flinch when God told him to sacrifice his only son. One of the reasons is that at that particular time in history, there were lots of pagan gods who people worshipped. And many of these, such as Molech, god of the Ammonites, modern day Jordan, demanded child sacrifices. Usually of the first born male. So, when God told Abraham to make an offering of Isaac, Abraham probably wasn't surprised. He may have even been expecting and dreading a moment like that.
B. What can we learn? First, too many parents have sacrificed or are sacrificing their children on the altar of success, the altar of money, the altar of personal dreams, the altar of anything but parenthood. They have forgotten that God comes First, Family second and themselves in third place.
That was Abraham's test. Did God really come First?
The second thing we learn is about God. When God intervened and offered the ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac, God was telling Abraham and the whole world, "No More Child Sacrifices." That's not what it took to love God. And then to emphasize that, God did what He told Abraham not to do. God offered His Son on the cross for our sins. Offering us forgiveness and freedom from the guilt of sin.
God SACRIFICED where Abraham didn't have to. God SACRIFICED for our sakes. God SACRIFICED so we could GET REAL.
A. Abraham started GETTING REAL when he SURRENDERED to God's will to offer Isaac.
There's a great scene in the movie Field of Dreams, maybe not as memorable than the one where Ray Kinsella is playing catch with his dad or where Shoeless Joe first appears. This is the scene in which Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, who gave up baseball and became a doctor, gets his only at bat among major league ballplayers. The elder Graham is played by Burt Lancaster. He's lamented to Ray that he only played one inning in the major leagues and never got to bat. He tells Ray wishes he could have one at bat, in which he winks at the pitcher and then hits the ball deep, stretching a double into a triple.
Later in the movie, when the younger Graham does get his turn at bat in the field of dreams, he comes to the plate with a man on third and fewer than two outs. He immediately winks at the pitcher. He gets brushed back by the pitcher a couple of times and then slams one out to right center field to score the runner. Not exactly what he wanted, he didn't even reach base and yet he's as satisfied as someone who had just hit a home run. You can tell, he feels like he's come home, he's found his place, his little slice of heaven.
But toward the end of the movie, Ray Kinsella's little girl falls and is hurt. And Archie has to make a decision. For once he crosses out of the Field of Dreams, there's no going back. But when he sees the little girl hurt, he doesn't hesitate. And he surrenders himself and saves the little girl from choking to death on a piece of hotdog which is lodged in her throat.
B. Ray got his wish because he surrendered to the call. Archie got his wish because he too surrendered to a calling as well. Abraham got his wish because he surrendered to God's call. And it's in that moment of the SURRENDERED heart that you and I find our deepest peace and happiness.
Most of us nowadays don't know much about this word sacrifice. We think it's a sacrifice if one of our vehicles is in the shop and we have to take our spouse to work. Or when we drive through the take-out line at one of the fast food joints, we discover that they didn't leave the mustard off, we think it's a sacrifice when we eat it with mustard.
Most of us don't understand what sacrifice and the SURRENDERED life is all about.
Most of my generation hasn't ever given much up for the their kids or their family or to survive. Not very many of us have given up much for the cause of Christ. That's not true of all of us, some of us have given up our lives and livelihood for the ministry.
A couple of years ago I met a man in Houston who gave up a job as the CEO of a company pulling down about $120,000 a year and is now serving on a little three point charge, preaching in all three of those church's while going to seminary and serving as a part time prison chaplain. He's now making a little over $30,000 with his Conferences equitable salary. He and his wife gave up their $300,000 home so that he could answer God's call to ministry. And they've never been happier. When they were telling me about what they were doing. They had the biggest grins you've ever seen. Their excitement for God and what God was doing in their lives just oozed from them. Why? Because they were GETTING REAL and were living the SURRENDERED life like Abraham.
A. And because Abraham was willing to SACRIFICE and was living the SURRENDERED life, God chose to SANCTIFY his life. Abraham's life was SANCTIFIED. And by that I mean that God chose to bless Abraham just as God said he would.
And Abraham didn't make the wisest choices at times. He blew it big time along the way, lying about Sarah being his wife among other things. And yet, it wasn't about Abraham. Abraham was a nobody. The whole story is about God. Abraham might have been inconsistent in his faith. But God was consistent in God's faithfulness. And that's what mattered.
B. I think it's fascinating how we can take an ordinary every day object and through our use attach a sense of sacredness to it. Take this chair for example. Last year at Annual Conference the theme was "Joining Our Neighbors At God's Table." All during Conference there was a table up on stage with a number of chairs and people were invited to sit at it while Conference was going on. At the beginning of each session they would introduce the folks sitting there. And each time, there was always one spot left open, an empty chair, to represent Christ sitting at the table with them.
It thought that was a cool idea so about a year ago, I placed that chair in front of the altar and waited for someone to notice it and ask, "Why?" One of the kids did and I explained, it symbolizes the presence of Jesus in everything we do, especially our worship. A couple of things have happened since then. Once during an Emmaus gathering, the pastor didn't understand the significance of the chair and kind of shoved it out of the way. And everybody from our church had the same reaction.
We all went, "Huh" and thought to ourselves, "He just shoved Jesus out of the way."
And then not to long ago, after a wedding, the chair didn't get replaced and was gone for about three or four weeks and we started to get questioned, "Where's the Jesus chair?"
Now the chair is just a chair, but because of the significance we have placed upon it, it has become a sacred object. A sacred reminder that Jesus sometimes gets in our way and that's a good thing. For in getting in our way He keeps us from falling away. But even more importantly this chair is a sacred reminder of the presence of Christ in our lives.
God did the same thing for Abraham. He was an ordinary human but God used him as a sacred reminder. God SANCTIFIED him just as we've sanctified this chair. All because Abraham chose to live the SURRENDERED life that day. And God does that for us as well, when we choose to live the SURRENDERED life. Through the SURRENDERED life God takes our ordinary every day lives and God blesses and SANCTIFIES us.
Maxie Dunnam's brother-in-law died in October, 1991 after a courageous battle with cancer. Randy Morris was 43 years old when he died. Before his death he wrote Maxie a letter telling about his faith. In it he described how he always prepared for prayer by going through what he called a "relaxation phase."
"After a few moments," Randy wrote, "I travel in my mind to a place in the north Georgia mountains where I used to go on camping trips. There I have built an open structure, a gazebo, where I go to talk with Jesus. Normally, I go in and call for Jesus and he comes. We visit, and usually I give him my prayers of thanksgiving and intercessions."
Late one summer Randy got the news that his cancer was back. He was in his own words, "an emotional wreck." At that time Randy prayed. In his mind he was again in the mountains waiting for Jesus to come to the door of the gazebo. "At that moment a completely unthought-of event happened that shook me to tears," Randy wrote. He saw himself as a five-year-old boy. "I became like a camera recording the event," was the way he described the experience. In the person of this boy he ran up to Jesus and hugged him. He pictured Jesus picking him up and carrying him to a seat and holding him in his arms. "He hugged me," Randy wrote. "I didn't say anything... He knew I was frightened. There were no answers and the future seemed so dim. As he hugged me he said, 'Trust me, Trust me.'"
"[Jesus] held me for a long time that night," Randy wrote, "until he knew I understood what he meant." Randy found strength from this experience. "We must trust Jesus as a child trusts, 'totally!'" he wrote.
Then Randy concluded his letter with these words, "Because of this, whatever turns out to be the ultimate result of this disease, it's not the burden it was before. [Jesus] made no promise, nor did he reveal the future, but he had provided the format for living out the rest of my life with just two words... Trust me." (1)
Abraham didn't understand why God commanded that Isaac be SACRIFICED, but Abraham was a man of faith who placed his trust in God and SURRENDERED his will to God's Will. Then having SURRENDERED, he was blessed and SANCTIFIED before God.
You and I can be like Abraham all we have to do is live the SURRENDERED life and pray a simple prayer that will help us keep GETTING REAL:
"God, today you're going to give me a lot of opportunity to choose. Help me to choose well. Help me to choose you."
1. Congregational Evangelism. Maxie D. Dunnam. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1992, pp. 10-11.
www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)
www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermon.html (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)
Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)
Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)
Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)
The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)
Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)
Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)
The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.