Monday, July 3, 2017

Sermon: The God Who Provides

The God Who Provides
Genesis 22: 1-14; Hebrews 4: 14-16
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
July 2, 2017

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.’
- Genesis 22: 1-14

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4: 14-16

For certain, today’s story from Genesis is one of the most disturbing in Scripture. Whether you have read this story on numerous occasions or if you are hearing it for the first time, most modern readers have the same reaction: If God could test Abraham to sacrifice his son, then show me the door. I don’t want a God like that.

Rest assured of this. Old Testament Scripture abhors child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 7: 30-34; Ezekiel 20:31). God does not call you or me to sacrifice our children. There is a word of truth and good news in this story!

God tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1). We read those words over and over again trying to make sense of this last call God placed on Abraham.

One of our members shared with me this week that maybe Abraham could have refused to obey saying, “Whoa God! Don’t you think you are asking a bit much of me?!” But that was not Abraham’s response. Abe was not a perfect man by any means. But his trust of God’s ability and in God’s promises are lifted up as a model of faith throughout the whole of Scripture. Abraham’s act of faith is one of the reasons why we are here today worshipping God.

The Hebrew translates that word “tested” also as “proved.” And this week I have been pondering that word “proved.” What if God was proving Abraham’s trust in God?

The writer of Hebrews says, “God desired to show [through Abraham] even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of God’s purpose” (Hebrews 6:17). You and I are heirs of the promise God made though Abraham. When we find ourselves in the impossibly hard situations of life, like Abraham found himself in, we need a model of faith to cling to.

Step by step God revealed Abraham’s trust in God’s ability to provide.

God provided Abraham with direction. God assured Abraham that God would open Abraham’s eyes to see the mountain God would reveal to him (Genesis 22:2). God had been strengthening Abraham’s compass of faith from the very beginning of their journey when God first told Abraham to GO with a sense of urgency to the land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1).

God provided Abraham with space to reflect upon God’s faithfulness. For three days Abraham, Isaac, and the two men walked. (Genesis 22:4). The silence in the story is heavy with time for Abraham to think back on the ways he found himself trusting God. Confidence grows when experiences of trust are reassured.

God repeated the everlasting promise (land, nations, fruitfulness, kings) to Abraham over and over on their journey together. God’s faithfulness extended to Hagar and Ishmael (Abraham’s first born son) when Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith wavered (Genesis 16:10; 21:12-13). God delivered Isaac to Abraham and Sarah against all odds because she was barren (Genesis 17:15, 19; 18:10; 21:1-2). God even gave Abraham a vision of what his future generations would endure and the steadfast assurance of God’s deliverance (Genesis 15:13-14).

And God provided Abraham with courage to follow God in the most impossible situation of his life. Abraham remembered that God had been trustworthy in the past and he trusted that God’s steadfast love was ever before him. So Abraham told the two men accompanying him that he and Isaac would return after worshipping on the mountain (Genesis 22:5). Abraham assured his son Isaac that God would provide the ram (Genesis 22:8).

It is through Abraham that God provides us with this incredible gift of faith that we cling to. This is nothing less than grace. What God asked of and provided to Abraham alone, God fully reveals through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans, “No distrust made [Abraham] waiver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore [Abraham’s] faith was credited to him as righteousness, not for his sake alone, but to us who believe in God who raised Jesus, [God’s only Son and] our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4: 20-24).

And God proves through Abraham and ultimately through our Savior that God will provide a way when there seems like no way. God will provide encouragement to see the grace and hope set before us.

Therefore, when we find ourselves in the impossibly hard situations of life we, as heirs of the promise, have a model of faith to cling to.

This church knows a lot about God providing a way against all odds.

When children of this church have faced a long journey of medical intervention, God provided a network of support and a community of unconditional love to the children and families.

When Emily made the decision to follow God’s call into Army Basic Training, God provided her with endurance and strength through prayer warriors and cards of encouragement; and she will graduate next week.

When beloved family members are welcomed home to see Jesus face to face, those of us left behind are held in God’s deep embrace in the ebb and flow of grief as beloved church members hold us.

When the invitation was given here to show the love of Christ to inmates who rarely see the face of genuine mercy, God provided without hesitation. Cookies were given to those behind bars and gently used clothes were given for those truly beginning a life of freedom and second chances.

Each of us has a story about God’s provision. All that we have been given is a gift from God. We find ourselves surprised by grace because when God provides it overwhelms us.

But the beauty of God’s provision is this: it is most tangible when you and I are faithful to freely give of ourselves to be the hands and feet of the body of Christ. When the Spirit moves us to not withhold from God what is precious to us, then our acts of faith mirror God’s faithfulness revealed in Abraham and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s trust in God’s provision to make good on the promise and to provide the ram is not a blind trust but a bold trust. It is bold because while God’s grace is freely given, it calls us to risk something of ourselves.

Faith costs something of us because it cost Jesus Christ everything; the ram caught in the thicket foreshadows the Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world. Faith calls us to risk our comfort, to sacrifice things we treasure, to be uncomfortable, and to follow God into the uncertain and even hard places of life. Faith not only costs something of us as individuals but as the body of Christ.

Our church constitution says the church is called to be a community of faith entrusting itself to God alone even at the risk of losing its own life (The Book of Order, F – 1.0301).

Rev. Jill Duffield, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, shared this week, “Following Jesus demands that we take up our cross, lose our lives that we might find them, expect rejection [and sacrifice], and put nothing and no one before our Lord, trusting that God will provide.”

We truly are to hold nothing back from God because of our bold trust in God’s purposes to reveal the kingdom among us.

We know through Abraham’s example and ultimately through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, that no matter where God calls us, and no matter how terrifying the situation may seem, God guides our feet while we run this race.

The more we look back upon our past experiences we have an opportunity to see God’s faithfulness in our lives and in Scripture. God’s faithfulness has given us direction, reflection, and courage. And the more we do this, the more our trust in God’s faithfulness grows.

Our shared stories point to the truth: God will always go ahead of us to provide a way when there seems like no way.

Every step we take in this journey of faith we take in God’s faithfulness. The good news is that with every step God will provide encouragement to see the grace and hope set before us.

May it always be so for you and for me.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Art, "The Sacrifice of Isaac," by He Qi

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