“’Here I Am’:Responding to God in Tests and Trials”
Year A, 4th Sunday After Pentecost: Genesis 22:1-14 and Matt 10:40-42
Sermon to Pohick Church, Re-Gathered Outdoor Eucharist, FB Live, June 28, 2020
The Rev. Dr Lynn Ronaldi
A cup of cold water! Now thatsounds like a life saver in this heat! Seeing your beloved faces – even behind a mask — is a drink of cool, refreshing water! Being together is life-giving! It makes us appreciate how precarious life can be!
Looking back to Sunday, March 8, who knew what great trial was about to unfold? Who’d have guessed, not only would we be unable to gather for worship, but we would also face isolation, depression, illness, loss of financial security, and even death? It’s been three months and counting! We continue to suffer from the one-two punches of global pandemic and civil unrest!
These trials test us to the core! As individuals, nation, and world, we cry out with the Psalmist:
“How Long, O Lord…how long will you hide your face from me?!”
But wait! Trials and tests are a part of life! God never promised there wouldn’t be hard times! God did promise that His redemptive purposes and plan of salvation would unfold over time!
The question is not whether there will be trials; the question is, how will we respond, and grow through them? How will God save us through our trials – not only now, but throughout our lives? One lesson we’re learning is life is short, my friends. Time flies.
There is an inscription on the Chester Cathedral clock about the nature of time. This poetic prayer suggests that now is the time to learn and grow:
When as a child, I laughed and wept.
When as a youth, I dreamed and talked.
When I became full-grown,
And later, as I grew older,
Soon I shall find, while traveling on,
May Christ have saved my soul by then.*
At age 75, Abraham enrolled in the School of Faith. At age 100, Abraham is beginning again. His soul is still being stretched. Genesis 22 records the greatest test Abraham faces: the request to sacrifice his beloved, only son Isaac as a burnt offering.
When God summons Abraham to the unthinkable, the unreasonable, the impossible, how does Abraham respond? He simply answers, “Here I am.”
In this story, I want us to listen for the repetition of the phrase, “Here I am.”Notice how Abraham responds with emotion, not once, but three times with the same reply.
First, let’s recall the back story. Abraham was no stranger to trials. He’d left his loved ones to step out in faith to a new land. He’d faced famines and a few tests he initially failed: Sarah became impatient with God and suggested that Abraham have a child by Hagar.
But through it all, Abraham was learning, growing, and grasping three important truths:
- He could expect God’s tests of his faith,and trials throughout his life;
- He could believe God’s promises;
- And he could trust in God’s provision and redemptive purposes.
For the Lord did what He promised: He provided a child. He redeemed their lives. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age. Imagine their joy and delight! This childless couple were promised to become parents, ancestors of a great nation, and a land of their own.
Life is good, and Abraham is surely feeling confident and fulfilled, when the greatest test comes. Today’s reading from Genesis begins, “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 I shall show you.”
I wonder how Abraham feels when he responds, “Here I am” the first time? Surely horrified! Bewildered! Questioning! We don’t know, but we do know Abraham is responsive and present to God. He is courageous and willing.
Abraham expects God’s tests.
The second voice calling is Abraham’s son. Isaac calls out “Father!” Abraham replies, “Here I am, my son.” When Isaac asks where the lamb is for the burnt offering, Abraham says, “God himself will provide a lamb…”
I wonder how Abraham is feeling this second time he says “Here I am.” He must feel great anguish, even as he is being compassionately present to Isaac.
Abraham must also feel confident in God’s promise.
Then, on the mountaintop, Abraham lays his only son on the altar. He hears his name called a third time. An angel of the Lord says: “Do not lay your hands on the boy…for now I know you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And God provides a ram as a sacrifice.
Abraham is doubtless overcome with relief, joy, and gratitude for God’s provision.
Abraham expects trials, believes in God’s promise, and trusts in God’s provision. In listening, responding to, and welcoming God, Abraham is being saved. Abraham may be old, but he has made great progress in the School of Faith.
We’ve already established that life is short. Time flies. We might ask ourselves, what are we doing with the time we have left?
What trials are you facing today? Are you paying attention, learning something new, and growing in God’s School of Faith?
We can check our teachability and progress by asking ourselves 3 questions when difficulties arise:
- Are we easily discouraged? Or do we expect tests and trials?
- Do we tend to demand explanations? Or do we believe in God’s promises?
- Do we trust that God will provide, and will fulfill his redemptive purposes?
The story of Abraham and Isaac beautifully prefigures the paschal drama of God the Father and God the Son. God does not demand the blood sacrifice of Abraham’s son; Jesus becomes the final sacrificial lamb for us all. The Risen Jesus embodies God’s redemptive, resurrection power.
God is not interested in our paltry attempts to appease Him. What God wants is our trust in Him, our compassion, our loving care of others, and our perseverance for justice.
In the midst of our current pandemic and unrest, I wonder, to what new depth of faith might God be calling us? What creative action is the Lord seeking? How does He want us to grow?
Let’s open our hearts to a soul-stretching experience. Let’s expect, believe and trust in God. We can practice listening prayerfully and intentionally, with spiritual ears open to the Lord’s voice.
As we do, the Lord may speak to us directly. He might communicate through a family member, or even through an angel. However His voice manifests itself to us today, we can be sure that we are welcoming the Lord with a cup of cold water when we respond with the heartfelt words:
“Here I am!” Amen.
Rev. L. Ronaldi+ June 2020