Sermon 6 28 20
Deuteronomy 26:5 “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” That is what anybody bringing offerings to the temple in Jerusalem was supposed to say to the priest when they presented their offering. That meant that they were descended from Abraham. As are we all!
The story of the origin of Christianity is wonderful and unusual. It is also the story of the origins of Judaism and Islam. We all go back to Abraham – the first wandering Aramean. No kings, no emperors, no Pharaohs – just a wandering nomadic chieftain named Abraham who left his father’s land of Ur, probably in search of good grazing land for his growing herds. He was too successful to stay where he started. So he had to move on.
Now there are those who believe the story of Abraham is a myth and they may be right. We talked about the nature of myths with Father Don and Mel Caron during their last installment of the “Living the Questions” series. “Coming to you every Wednesday night over ZOOM at 7 PM. Check out our website to find out how to connect.” What is myth and what is history? Does it matter?
Abraham was the founding father of all founding fathers! Was there a real Abraham? Or is he a made up combination of all the Semitic nomads who wandered into the land of Canaan at approximately the same time?
I believe myths start from kernels of truth. I believe there probably was a man named Oedipus who unknowingly had sex with his mother (BIG mistake!) thus teaching us about a taboo that many different societies now hold in common. Incest is a no-no!
The story of Abraham is curious. It’s not about a king. It’s about an ordinary man who has extraordinary faith – faith that defies logic. He was promised that he would be the father of a great nation. Well, he and his wife Sarah had to wait a while for that. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born and Sara was 90! Now, we have to remember that the older a character is, the more respect they are due in our ancient chronicles. So lots of ancient characters were reported to have lived to great ages. Also, Sarah’s and Abraham’s ages established the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth.
You want a lot of respect? Get really old!
Another unique feature of Abraham’s story establishes the difference between the God of Israel and the Greek and Roman gods. Abraham had an extraordinary relationship with God. They walked and talked together – like friends. Consider Apollo’s relationship with the people of Rome – Apollo rarely showed an interest in humanity, unless they were female and capable of being impregnated.
And that leads me to today’s story – often referred to as the binding of Isaac. That was the worst that happened to him. And yet it was the worst that happened to him. Our story begins with “God tested Abraham.” I’ll say! God calls to Abraham and Abraham answers with his most frequent response. “Here I am.” Oh, the trust in those words — “Here I am.”
Then God speaks words of instruction that seem to mock Abraham’s willingness to obey. “Take your son, your only son Isaac (Ishmael was gone by now – turned out into the wilderness with his mother) 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.”
How could God ask that of him? This would make his life with Sarah and his short time with his long-promised son a mockery. Abraham, he who conversed with God, well, apparently he had nothing to say for three days – just cut wood and set out to go to where God told him to go.
They arrived where Abraham saw the place for the sacrifice far away in the distance. He asked the two young men with them to stay with the donkey and he and Isaac continued on foot. He asked Isaac to carry the wood for the fire. How ironic is that? To innocently carry the wood that will set you aflame, that ill roast you alive. I’m reminded of Jesus carrying his own cross. Abraham carried the fire itself and a knife and they kept on walking. What was going through Abraham’s mind?
Isaac tries to speak with his father, “Father!” And Abraham responds just as he responds to God, “Here I am,” and Isaac says, “We’ve got the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham answers him, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” The agony of that response. Indeed God would. Perhaps God already had – 12 to 13 years ago.
Our story continues, “So the two of them walked on together.” Apparently in silence. What were they each thinking? Isaac having a nice walk with his dad? Abraham walking in devastation and obedience. Both putting one foot in front of the other.
They came to the place God had shown to Abraham. He built an altar, probably of stones, and laid the wood out on top of it. Then the story tells us that he bound his son. He tied him up so he couldn’t move, so he couldn’t run. In silence, he laid his son on the wood. We don’t hear any more from Isaac. Did he know? Did he cry? He had to be bound. Abraham picked up the knife to kill him. Did Isaac see it? I don’t think any of us can imagine the pain of that moment. To prepare to kill your own child. Why is God doing this? We never get an answer, at least not a satisfactory one.
“I’m a good man! I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked me to do! We waited so long for this boy! He’s precious to me! He’s the only son you let me keep! I do what you tell me to do! I’ve always done what you tell me to do! Why?”
And it isn’t until the very last second, as he lifts his hand to stab his son, to kill him, that the angel of the Lord stops him. “Abraham, Abraham!” and one – more – time Abraham says, “Here I am.” And God tells him to stop. “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 a ram magically appears and Abraham sacrifices it and he calls the place, “The Lord will provide.” And that’s it.
I wanna know what the walk home was like! “My dad was willing to sacrifice me! He was willing to kill me!” Did Isaac understand? Was he ever able to trust Abraham again? Or did his trust grow because his father was so good at trusting God?
If you read further on in Genesis about Isaac, he proceeds with a fairly undramatic life with his wife Rebekah. He gets tricked by Jacob regarding his legacy, but that doesn’t actually affect Isaac. He’s just a good old patriarch who lives a long time and leads a healthy life in the land God gave him. A wandering Aramean. The wandering Aramean. Our wandering Aramean.
Is his story a myth? I hope not. I hope it is the story of the years of God’s people learning how to be God’s people. It is a story that rings with humanity, not with unlikely tales of heroes and gods. It is a story that we can understand today. It is a story that invites us to join in the constant struggle with God and humanity. Read the stories of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, and their sons and daughters. Our ancestors were wandering Arameans.