The Place of the God who
a sermon based on Genesis 22:1-14
(This sermon is indebted to On a Wild and Windy Mountain, by William Willimon, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984).
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
darkens, the wind howls as two people walk up a wild and windy mountain. The
conversation had started early that morning. No wasted words. Get up,
old man. Take your son, your only son Isaac, and sacrifice him to me on the Mountain
So the old man and the
boy walk on in the thinning mountain air. With each step the old man grows
older. With each step he chills, but the boy doesnt feel it. The boy
hops three steps to each stride of the old man. Now stoop-shouldered from years of
field work, the old man clutches fire and a razor-sharp flint knife. Trust and obey,
for theres no other way. Must be another way, the old man
thinks. Old woman, he mutters to himself, what will I tell
her? Barren before. Barren again. Old woman, forgive me.
Terror crouches in his throat; swallows his steps. Swallows his muttering. Now
atop the mount, the old man stares at the ground. Father, how can we worship
without a lamb? Wheres the sacrifice? The old man chooses his
words cautiously. So we have come without our lamb. Well, I guess God
will have to provide the lamb for us.
On top of Moriah, Abraham sees his son and then sees beyond his son to his own life that
rewinds back through the years. He sees himself again as a kida foolish young
man blinded by love and drunk with a passion for adventure. There he goesyoung
Abraham meandering across the desert with his bride in tow. Off to no place in
particular, just following what he takes to be the voice of his God. The years pass
and he sees himself once againthis time as a middle-aged man, living in goatskin
tents, breathing sand and rearranging the dust. Childless and barren. But the
conversation with God continues. More years pass, leaving him with cracked, leathery
skin. He entertains strange guests who tell him a cock-and-bull story about his old woman
becoming pregnant and he becoming a father. But the years pass and he remains
childless. When the conversation breaks down and still no promised child, he and
Sarah becomes so desperate that he has an affair with one of his own employeesa
household slaveso that his wife can at least have the child as soon as it descends
the birth canal. But he is sustained by the conversation with God over the years and
the impossible happens. He hears an old woman cackling and whinnying at a newborn
that she has just birthed. The old man sees his life in the eyes of the boy.
Abraham has lived a full life, a life of promise and miracle.
But Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering? The question is
not mouthed; its the boys eyes talking. The altar waits, the child
waits. Abraham waits for a moment as he searches the boys eyes, his hands
clenching tight the razor-sharp flint knife. He knows! How? He
knows! Theres no scene, no struggle, no wrestling to apprehend Isaac, to tie
him to the pile of wood. He offers his arms to be tied. The old man fumbles
with the ropes. I must steady my hands, he thinks. The end will
come suddenly. The boy watches the old man tremble in silence. The old man
says aloud to the barren mountain: So be it. But you hear me, demanding
God. This death will not end my journey. You have promised me a son. And
nothing can take that promise from me. Im sorry, old woman. The
old man will hobble home, childless to his old wife, twice barren. So be
it, Abraham cries as he lifts his razor-sharp flint knife high for an immediate
This story leaves us with a question mark hanging over Gods head. What kind of
a God are we worshiping this morning? What kind of a God are we building our
community of faith around? What vision of God is this that Jews and Christians and
Muslims honor in this story?
A pastor recently showed a video of this episode of Abraham and Isaac to his Sunday School
The group watched silently as the story unfolded. The modern actors did a superb job
recreating the sceneperhaps too superb. They watched as old Abraham struggled
up the windswept, raw, dusty mountain, Moriah knife under his coat, with his son trudging
silently behind him. Finally, the bronze blade is raised, the boys black eyes
flash with horror . . . So after the dramatic portrayal they talked about it.
What significance does this story have for us? Can this ancient story still
speak to us about God?
God still does, interrupted a woman, an older woman, hair graying, wearing a
flowered dress, hands nervously twitching in her lap. God still
does. How? the pastor asked. Quietly, with tears forming in
her eyes, she said, We sent our son to college. He got an engineering
degrees. But he got involved in this churcha fundamentalist church. He
married a girl in the church. Then they had a babyour only grandchild.
Now he says God wants him to be a missionary and go to Lebanon. Taking that little
baby, too. She began to heave to and fro sobbing.
The silence was broken again, this time by a middle aged man Ill tell
you the meaning this story has for me. Ive decided that I and my family are
going to look for another church. What? the pastor asked in
astonishment? Why? Because when I look at that god, the god
of Abraham, I feel Im near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike,
Rotary Club God that we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abrahams God
could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything from a person and
then want more. I want to know more about that God.
Interesting adult Sunday School class! By the time the wind had died down, the
bleatings of the ram could be heard no more, and Father Abraham had gone back down the
wild mountain, a group of 20th century, well-educated people trailing along behind him and
headed for the God who cannot be served without cost and sacrifice.
This story gives us a radically fresh vision of God. Were used to the tame God
that we worship on Sundaya God who never intrudes into our real life and affairs
during the week. A God who sits like a Buddha in the sanctuary quiet, serene, with a
lazy smile across his face, a God who is aloof and uninterested or unwilling to get
involved in our lives. But along comes the God who demands everything of
Abrahamand usand were not sure what to do with that kind of God.
Yes, God demands our very livestake
up the cross and follow him! On their way to the gas ovens, many faithful Jews
expressed that quality of faith when they prayed, I believe in the Messiah, I hope
for the Messiah and believe that he has the power to deliver me from this death, but even
if he should not deliver me, I will still believe and hope in him.
But the demanding God who calls is the God who provides for us. Thats also
what Abraham learned in the story. He learned to trust and obeyfor truly,
there is no other way. For just as his knife is about to flay the skin of his most
loved possession, Abraham notices that a ram has been caught in the thicket. Abraham
offers the ram in place of his son as the worship sacrificebut he comes away with
the new awareness that not only does God demand our best sacrifice, our best worship, that
thing which we hold dearest and closest to us, but God will give in exchange his life to
us. God will provide for us. So moved is Abraham that by the end of the story
he gets into naming againthis time he names the place where this drama took place
not First Church or Philly, but The Place of the God who Provides.
The sky darkens, the wind howls
as a young man walks up another Moriah, driven by a God who demands everything and who
stops at nothing. Like Abraham, Jesus seeks to be obedient to his Father, even to
the death of the cross. Willing to take up the cross for us. But unlike
Abraham, Jesus carries something else instead of the sticks and razor-sharp knife.
He carries a cross. God is, after all, determined to have his way with us, no matter
the cost. Amen.