Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Bible Challenge, Day 9: Genesis 22-24; Psalm 8; Matthew 8

The impact of sacrifice:
Years ago, I saw a bible-genre movie about Abraham. Central casting had placed Richard Harris in the role. One of the greats: he was the "Man called Horse," Arthur in "Camelot," and the first Dumbledore for the Harry Potter franchise...I would suppose that would make him a Hollywood Icon? Yes. Right up there with Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Rameses from the "Ten Commandments."

We don't know what Abraham looked like, but in my mind's eye, and because of that movie, I see Abraham looking and sounding a bit like Richard Harris. One scene stands out: Young Isaac has gone to his father to ask what it means to offer sacrifice to God. The old man takes the young child in his arms and tells him something like this, "First, you must take something very precious to you, something you love very much; and then you must let go of it...you must give it to God entirely. Once you do that, then you can understand what it means to offer sacrifice." The young boy struggles with that concept. Why give up something you love so much? That makes no sense. Why not give up something you don't really want all that much? "Well, then," says Abraham, "that is hardly a sacrifice, isn't it?"

Not long after that in the movie, Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, the one whom he loves, Isaac. Oh, Lord. I am not sure I like this section of the Hebrew scriptures. We have seen the expulsion of humanity from the Garden. We have witnessed Cain slaying Abel. We have been tossed on the waves of the flood that wipes out nearly every living thing. We have seen Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt after his daughters are offered to a crowd of men who want to assault angels in Sodom and Gomorrah. Sure, good things have happened...but at a minimum, if humanity were to post a relationship status with God at this point on Facebook, it would have to be, "It's complicated."

And so, Abraham sets out, with his son Isaac to the place of sacrifice. He has cut the wood and taken the knife. He walks with enough weight in his heart, I am sure, as to break the strength of any man...and with a knife he prepares to do what God has asked of him. Cue the camera back to Richard Harris' iconic face. Tears are streaming down it, and he can't look down. Even as he raises the knife, his heart-our hearts, and souls, are breaking. How dare God ask this? How dare God demand the most precious thing we possess?

God stays his hand. Isaac is redeemed to him. The story has a "happy" ending. But, the lesson is learned, the lesson he sought to teach his son. Sacrifice to God is our willingness to let go of those things that are most precious to us, to give them up totally...and to trust God completely to restore us. We are asked to be willing donors to God of our selves, our souls, our bodies. Sometimes, that is an outrage. But if God gives life and freedom to us, what are we to hold those back?

Psalm 8 offers a little perspective..."What are human beings, that you (God) should be mindful of them?" God chooses to be mindful of us, and has given everything in creation into our hands. Wonderful...but the relationship is covenantal, and not one-sided. There is accountability on our part to our stewardship of those great gifts, and the willingness to live sacrificial lives that are committed to glorifying God in thanksgiving for ALL that God has given us (and with that a real willingness to give it ALL back to God). Accountability. We don't too often think of that in our relationship with God, and yet, that is truly where the rubber meets the road...

When, in Matthew, the centurion pleads with Jesus to heal his servant, we see that sort of sacrificial living offered up. The centurion is a military officer of the greatest empire the world has known. He has absolute, temporal power over most everyone he meets, particularly Jesus. Instead of commanding the healer to come to his home, he sacrifices that authority in order to seek the holy man's blessing for his...servant...and is also allowing that HE is not fit to have the teacher come under the roof of his home. He recognizes Jesus as one who is, too, under authority. He asks only for a word...the rest he is willing to give up to God.

This impresses Jesus, "I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven't found faith like this. I say to you that there are many who will come from east and west and sit down and eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

The centurion was willing to put it all aside, to offer up all his power and authority, in order to seek a healing for someone who was far, far beneath him. He was willing to place his trust and faith in a man over whom he could easily have exercised his power to compel his will. He chose instead to offer it up and let it all go.

Richard Harris is no longer with us. I am sure he is one of those sitting with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the kingdom...and yet I can hear his voice today..."First, you must take something very precious to you, something you love very much; and then you must let go of it...you must give it to God entirely. Once you do that, then you can understand what it means to offer sacrifice." May we be willing to hear God's call to offer it all up...and may God be with us, that we might hear the voice of our Redeemer restoring us and all creation to new life in the name of Jesus Christ.

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