Life on the Edge

Message preached on July 2, 2017
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Genesis 22:1-14

Order of Worship

(worship powerpoint)

The follow was not preached on this date - here is what was preached.

Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


A young couple wants to own a house. In order to do so, they save money, thereby sacrificing other pleasures that that money could buy in order to one day purchase something of greater value to them… Add to this equation - children, and the sacrifices become greater. Can one parent afford not to work in order to focus upon raising them? Maybe or maybe not, with the price of everything else. Any direction you move, sacrifice is involved. And if there is only one parent in the picture?...


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


The question is: What is most important in life? In the list of life’s priorities, what is highest, such that you would be willing to sacrifice for it. That is a hard question, perhaps the most difficult challenge we all must face. What is most important to us, and what are we willing to sacrifice for it? It is on the edge of this question that we all live...


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


In the Bible, we find the story of Abraham. He was a man who lived with a dream. He wanted a family. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren. He wanted a family. He also longed for a place to call home, land for himself and his descendants. Was his dream much different than our own? Of course, he lived in a day when careers and family and land weren’t as separated as they are today. You needed family to do your work - which was connected to the land.


Abraham’s goals were no pipe dream. You see, he lived with a promise. God told him many times as he journeyed through his life, “Abe,” God said, over and over, “Abe, your great-grandchildren will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. And one day you are going to inherit some real good property. Count on it!” It was on the edge of this dream, these goals, these promises, that Abraham and Sarah his wife lived. And they sacrificed everything for it to happen.


God said to them early on: “GO, leave your family and your homeland,” and they did. Only problem was, for many years, their sacrifice seemed in vain. They became old, barren, nomads. Until...until one day, finally a child was born. The name they gave this boy should say it all: Isaac, which would be the same as if we were to name a child of ours: chuckle, giggle, hee-haw, snicker, laughter, or Joy.


It’s sort of like when you see something that’s really important to you come true, or at least begin to happen. Before you get there, you tell yourself “I’ll be happy, really happy, when it happens, when that dream comes true.” Of course, once you buy the house, you gotta pay for it. Once you get the job, you gotta do the work. Once the baby’s born, you gotta raise it. Sacrifices still have to be made. If anything, maybe life on the edge gets a little harder. That was the case with Abraham.


In perhaps the most difficult passage in the Bible to read, let alone understand, Abraham faced into the hardest question life has to offer. What is most important in life? Actually, he didn’t face into it by choice, few of us ever really do. It’s the circumstances in which we find ourselves that seem to confront us, or is it more than that? For Abraham, it was the voice of God. 

Abraham,” the voice called out.

Here I am,” responded this man, unaware of what would come next.

Abraham,” God 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.”

In case there is some confusion over what constitutes a burnt offering, let’s be clear about it. This is no picnic trip. Though Abraham will be coming back, Isaac had a one-way ticket.


Jews and Christians have wrestled with this story, because we live with a sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” And “murder” is precisely what we mean here by “burnt offering.” “Go and kill your son,” is essentially what God required of Abraham, minus all the religious language. As difficult as that is to swallow, this is not really a story about ethics, about what is right or wrong. It is rather a drama about priorities, about what is most important in life.


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


“What is most important to you?” God was in effect asking Abraham. “Where do your priorities lie?” I don’t know about you, but as the father of four children, now grown, I don’t like this story at all. I mean, aside from the issue of a Dad doing away with a son, which is hard enough to fathom, even though there are moments when murder is not that far distant from a parent’s mind; but, aside from that issue, I struggle to sort out priorities, just like you. I tried, as my children grew, sometimes not all that successfully, to place my family, my children, ahead of the other things in my life.


I don’t like this story one bit, just like, when it comes right down to it, I don’t really like to live on the edge of the question - “What is most important to you?” Like everyone else, I can try to escape dealing with it, even now that I have grown beyond the child-rearing years. Like everyone else, I desire laughter without sacrifice, even though I know such happiness doesn’t last very long, nor does it go very deep. Are you like me?


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


Maybe Abraham knew that, and that’s why he heeded what God said. The Bible doesn’t probe into his brain to pick out why he did what he did, which must have torn his heart in two. The murder of his own son, by his own hands The death of a dream, a lifetime goal, a promise of God. The Bible just says he got up the day after God told him to go and do this deed, and he started out on that dreadful journey. He saddled his ass, cut wood for the altar upon which his son would die, and with those very hands led Isaac across the desert until they reached the place where the matter would reach its conclusion.


As they climbed the hill where together they would build a rough, stone altar, Isaac turned to Abraham,


“I’m here, son.”

“Dad, we’ve got matches and wood, but I don’t see a lamb for the burnt offering.”

“God will provide a lamb, my son. God will provide.”

Perhaps those words echoed in his mind as he piled up the stones, laid out the wood, and finally tied up his son, and laid him on the altar… “God will provide...”


With knife in hand, he looked at his son, his dream, for the last time. And maybe, just maybe, a part of Abraham died as well… But then, the unexpected happened.

Abraham,” the voice rang out once more.

Here I am.”

Abraham, stop. Now I know whom you fear, for you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.”

And Abraham looked up, and there was a ram caught in a bush, to take the place of his son, who, no doubt, was very glad to get off that pile of rocks, alive. [It’s a whole other story what Isaac must have been thinking and feeling through all of this, a story the Bible does not tell.]


Strange as it may sound, Abraham had answered the question, “What is most important to you?” in a way that lead to life and not death. His very actions revealed that to him, the life of his son, and the dream, the promise his son represented, were not as important as the One who is the source of life, and the provider, the fulfiller of promises and dreams. In fact, that very day, Abraham named that hill upon which the unspeakable nearly happened, “Yahweh-yireh,” or “God will provide.”


Now, even with such a happy ending, I’m still not sure I like the story, if I’m honest with myself. But then, there’s a lot in life I don’t really like, but that doesn’t mean I can choose to ignore it.


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


There is another Bible story, in many ways similar to this one. It is the story of another parent, whose son lived on the edge of the same question: “What is most important in life?” Like the story of Abraham and Isaac, it is difficult to understand. But whereas Isaac was spared the knife of sacrifice, the son of this Father was himself murdered. O, you can couch it in all sorts of religious language, but the plain truth was “murder.” They called it crucifixion. And you know, if I am really honest with myself, I’m not sure how much I like this story. But then, I can’t really choose to ignore it, either.


Its genesis was simple enough. The father sent his son to share about what is really most important in life. And the son spoke about it in a hundred different ways, and acted upon it so people could see the truth of what he said. But talking about it, and living it out were not enough. Everything that is worth anything in life has its price. Some form of sacrifice is required. And so this Son, and his father headed toward another hill. It was there he was murdered.


The knife, so to speak, was not stopped in mid-flight. There was no ram waiting in a bush. No, it was not the father’s hand which slew him like a sacrificial lamb. Rather, it was the propensity in us all to avoid what is most important in life and thus choose death. But the father - God - let us. This son (whose name “Joshua,” or “Jesus,” means “God is salvation”) was offered as a burnt sacrifice on the altar of life. If something is worth living for, it is worth dying for. But this story did not end there. For the unexpected happened. Death was not the final word.


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


That statement was never more true. But funny thing is, it was through dying, that he lived. And he continues to live. Strange as it may sound, the father answered the question for us “What is most important in life?” The answer is not as we might expect.


Francis of Assisi alluded to it when he wrote: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” The psalmist implied it with these words: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. O Lord, truly, I am your servant, ... you have freed me from my chains (Psalm 116:15-16). Dietrich Bonnhoeffer said it plainly in these oft-quoted words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 99). This very Jesus whom God did not spare put it this way - “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who would lose his life for my sake will save it.” Again - “She who would save her life will lose it, and she who would lose her life for my sake will save it.


What is most important in life? It’s not the dreams we have, nor the goals we set, as valuable as those may be. It’s not the house, not the career, not even the family, as worthwhile as those indeed are. All of these things are important, yes. But all too quickly they slip through our fingers, and are gone. What is most important, as Abraham discovered long ago, is the One who will provide, the One who is the very source of life, life which is deeper than death.


So often, when we ask “What is most important to me?” our intent, once we discover it, is to grasp for it with all that is in us. But that which is most important in life cannot be grasped. It will always be beyond our reach. Just as the other important stuff - like family, success, dreams - cannot be grasped and held. A parent who will not release, loses. A career oriented person who does not risk, fails. A dreamer who does not at some point let go of the dream, sees it fly away.


Everything that is worth anything in life has its price.
Some form of sacrifice is required.


But, you know, it’s in that price, that sacrifice that the value of it is discovered, and received. It’s true of our families, our careers, our hopes and dreams. It is true, also, of the One who is the giver of all good things It is in dying that we live, through him who died for us, and who lives in us.


I wonder, as Abraham had his hill where he discovered that God will provide, the place where the question was answered: “What is most important to you?” I wonder, where is your “Yahweh-Yireh,” your hill of discovery?


(revised from September 6, 1990) 

©1990, 2017  Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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