Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio (lived 1571-1610)
(Note the anguish in Isaac’s face.)
An Acceptable Sacrifice
The Sunday Closest to June 29
Third Sunday After Pentecost
JUNE 29, 2014
JULY 2, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 22:1-19 (New Revised Standard Version):
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him,
And he said,
Here I am.
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 them. 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 on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the wood. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham,
And he said,
Here I am, my son.
The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
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,
And he said,
Here I am.
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 thorns. 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 LORD it shall be provided.
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham, a second time from heaven, and said,
By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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.”
So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.
Psalm 13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 How long, O LORD?
will you forget me for ever?
how long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day?
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look upon me and answer me, O LORD, my God,
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;
4 Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
5 But I will trust in your mercy;
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly;
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Jeremiah 28:5-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD; and the prophet Jeremiah said,
Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing;
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2 For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever;
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3 “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn an oath to David my servant;
4 ‘I will establish your line for ever,
and preserve your throne for all generations.’”
15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout!
the walk, O LORD, in the light of your presence.
16 They rejoice daily in your Name;
they are jubilant in your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength,
and by your favor our might is exalted.
18 Truly, the LORD is our ruler;
the Holy One of Israel is our King.
Romans 6:12-23 (New Revised Standard Version):
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members as sin to instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 10:40-42 (New Revised Standard Version):
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,
but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
–Psalm 51:17-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer)
The story of the near killing of Isaac at the hand of his father disturbs me. God does not command such emotional abuse. Can you, O reader, imagine the lasting effect this had on Isaac? I can only imagine the journey of father and son after the incident on Mt. Moriah. Elie Wiesel, in a televised Bible study, noted that the Bible records no more conversations between Abraham and Isaac after this event.
Pay attention to the reading from Matthew: Jesus encourages kind treatment of vulnerable and marginal people, including children.
Indeed, one lesson from Genesis 22 is that God does not desire child sacrifice, a custom many people in the region practiced during the time of Abraham. My God concept comes from Jesus. And I reject Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the idea that Jesus took my place on the cross. Ante-Nicene Church Fathers proposed three theories of the Atonement, including Penal Substitution. My understanding of the Atonement is closest to another one of these, the conquest of evil via the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. So I reject the propositions that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and that God sacrificed his Son. If I did not reject these ideas, I would believe in Gangster God, who is not content except in bloodshed.
As Paul reminds the church at Rome, the death of Christ and his resurrection make possible the death to sin and the end of the overpowering power thereof. So, through Jesus, we have eternal life. Indeed, the definition of eternal life in John 17:3 is a relationship with God via Jesus. Eternal life is in the present tense. There is no eternity without God, so let us not confuse the concepts of eternal life and everlasting life. Eternity has nothing to do with time, only quality.
Having eternal life in the present, what should we sacrifice to God? Let us begin with everything that burdens and distresses us, as in Psalm 51. It is also possible that we might have to sacrifice careers, relationships, and even life itself, as in the cases of martyrs. So we ought to be prepared to sacrifice that which is most dear. But, as Jesus said in the Gospel reading (Matthew 10:34-39) for Proper 7, Year A, we need to value nothing more than him.
The prophet Jeremiah valued fidelity to God above all else. He suffered many deprivations and taunts. The reading from Jeremiah is set in a time during which Zedekiah, King of Judah, was a Babylonian puppet and the Babylonians had already exiled many Jews. The Kingdom of Judah was on its last legs. Hananiah, a false prophet, prophesied that all would be well within two years Jeremiah contradicted Hananiah, and history has proven the weeping prophet correct. Sometimes, as Jeremiah said, the truth is uncomfortable.
So let us also sacrifice our desire for easy, happy, and deceptive answers.
May we die sin and be reborn into eternal life, and stay there. Eternal life might require us to become sacrificial offerings and so to join the ranks of the martyrs of God. If so, may we face this reality in faith. Eternal life will require something of us; it does come at great expense to Jesus and ourselves. The details of that price will vary from person to person, but this principle remains. But this is the way to life in God, and its glories are wondrous.
God loves us. So we ought to love God and each other, if we do not do so already. In societal terms, we can begin to ceasing to sacrifice each other, metaphorically or otherwise. We can extend simple kindnesses and great respect to each other; we can treat each other with dignity. We might not like each other, but we can be civilized to each other.
We can be the face of Christ to one another. May we do so.
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on December 15, 2010