Opening Up the Bible 20081

4. Abraham and Sarah


St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON

Sunday May 11, 2008

10:00 a.m.


Children's Message:

Presentation of Grade 3 Bibles

Thank You Gifts

Children's Message:

-Three weeks ago we began a sermon series

called “Opening Up the Bible.”

-We noted that Jews and Christians

gradually sifted through various writings,

eventually choosing the best,

which would be counted as Scripture.

-Two weeks ago we looked at the Bible's first book,

Genesis,

and saw that there were clearly

two different accounts of creation,

and differing details

in two accounts of Noah's ark, as well!

-We learned that scholars believe

there were four different documents

behind these early Old Testament books

– J, E, D, and P –

documents compiled at different times

and with different emphases.

-Whenever there were differences in the accounts

from J, E, D, or P,

rather than choosing one,

the editors simply included both versions.

-Last week we did a very quick overview

of the First Testament.

-From Abraham and Sarah

to Moses and Miram,

through judges like Samson and Deborah

through King David and Bathsheba,

through the kings of the divided monarchy

and even when the Jewish people were in exile,

God continued to work with them

remaining faithful to the covenant promise

that they would be a blessing to all nations.

-We also looked at the last book written,

the book of Daniel,

an example of “apocalyptic literature,”

which is not written to predict the future,

but to remind people that God is always working

even in the midst of bad times.



-Today the Christian church celebrates Pentecost,

often described as the birthday of the church.

-This wondrous outpouring of the Holy Spirit

fell on a Jewish festival which was celebrated

50 days after Passover each year,

and commemorated the giving of the law.

-The original event – the giving of the law –

could be considered as the birth of Judaism, too,

with its distinctive following of the law.

-Other events, as well,

can be counted as formative for Jews:

-the Exodus

in which God called them out of Egypt

and led them to their Promised Land;

-and before that,

the calling of Abraham and Sarah,

with God's promise

that they would have descendants

too great to number.

-Today we look at the foundational story

of Abraham and Sarah,

about 2000 BC.


-Abraham and Sarah

are among the most-respected ancestors

of our family tree!

-Abraham's name is even mentioned 68 times

in the New Testament!

-And each time,

he's held-up as the great model of one who trusted God!

-The one who trusted God enough

to leave his home for an unknown land!2

-The one who trusted God enough

to obey God's call and risk the sacrifice

of his only son!

-It was through Abraham and Sarah

that God promised to bless all nations!

-And so, it is because of Abraham and Sarah

that you and I are here today!


-Yet as wonderful as they were,

as trusting and faithful and as devoted as they were,

and as much as we owe to them ...

they were not perfect!

-That's something I deeply appreciate about the Bible:

it never whitewashes the truth.

-Even our heroes are portrayed flaws and all!

-So it is with Abraham and Sarah.


-God had promised that Abraham and Sarah

would become the parents of a great nation,

with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky!3

-Yet in spite of that promise,

Sarah remained barren.

-It looked as if God's promise

would become null and void!

-So after many years of waiting for God

to fulfill the promise,

Sarah had taken matters into her own hands!

-She would find a surrogate mother

to give birth for her!

-And so, the Bible records in Genesis chapter 15,

starting at verse 5 –

those of you who have Bibles can turn there with me:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.”4


-So it was that Ishmael was born.


-Finally, Sarah does indeed, bear a son.

-But her joy is cut short

just after Isaac has been weaned.

-It dawns on her

that Ishmael is Abraham's first born,

and so Ishmael would be the heir

to all that God promised.

-So Sarah has Hagar and Ishmael tossed-out

into the wilderness to die.

-Turning now to Genesis 21, starting at verse 10:

So [Sarah] said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.5


-God affirms the promise to Abraham and Sarah,

yet also promises to bless Hagar and Ishmael.


-This story tells us several important things!

-First of all,

the story tells us that even in the best of us,

there is evil!

-Even in the best of families,

there are skeletons in the closet!

-Abraham and Sarah,

our great ancestors,

were willing to send a mother and her son

to their death,

in order to ensure that their own posterity

be given a place of privilege and honour!


-Abraham was a wealthy man

who — by today’s standards —

ought to have provided handsome alimony

and generous child support!

-Instead, the patriarch Abraham

sends Hagar and Ishmael out to the desert

with only a bit of bread and water,

to die!

-Even in the best of us,

there lurks evil!


-The story also proclaims God's care for the underdog!

-The name "Ishmael"

means "God hears"!

-And that's the core of the message!

-God hears the cry of every child in pain,

of every hurting mother,

of all those cast-out!

-If we work to ensure that we maintain our positions

of privilege and honour on this earth,

at the expense of others,

we are no better than Abraham and Sarah

at their worst!!

-They were blessed by God

in order to be a blessing to every nation!!

-No one

is outside the scope of God's love and care!

-Not even the descendants of Ishmael,

who are known to us as Arabs and Muslims!

-The story of Abraham and Sarah,

of Hagar and Ishmael,

tells us that God blesses us

so that we may have the ability

of such loving action for others!!


-This story also reminds us

that it will often seem as if God is acting slowly!

-It took twenty-five years

from the time Abraham and Sarah

were promised children,

until Isaac was born!

-It will seem to us, at times,

that God acts very slowly indeed!

-But the story of Abraham and Sarah

calls us to trust that God is, indeed,

faithfully at work

even when it takes years for us to see the results!


-And finally, this disturbing story proclaims

that in spite of the very worst

which is present in each of us,

in spite of our shortcomings and failures,

God still loves and protects us!

-God still calls and guides us!

-We learn from stories like this

that we can be honest with God and with one another,

because no matter what,

we are assured of God's love!

-And just as God accepts us with all our flaws,

so, too,

can we begin go accept others with their flaws!

-For they have no more skeletons,

no more dirty laundry

than we!!


-There's a skeleton in our closet all right!

-But thanks be to God,

who forgives,

and even uses,

skeletons,

to bless others! Amen.


The God of Abraham Praise, #831,

Stanzas 1-4, and 8.



Sending Thought: Foreshadowing


-There's a harrowing story told about Abraham & Isaac

in the 22nd chapter of Genesis.

-Those who have Bibles with them

might like to turn to chapter 22 of Genesis

and follow along:

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.”...


Then continuing at verse six:


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.


-Most of us will know that the story has a happy ending!

-But it's a story that still brings chills to my spine.

-And when it comes up in our list of Sunday readings,

many times I hear from mothers

who just can't stand the story.


-Let's continue reading in Genesis chapter 22,

from vs 9:

When [Abraham and Isaac] 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.”


-This story has so much deep meaning

that it is used both in the New Testament,

and also frequently by Martin Luther.


-Turn with me to the book of Hebrews now,

part of the General Epistles

near the end of the New Testament...

Hebrews 11:17 [to 19] to see how the story is used

in the New Testament:

17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.


-In verse 17 that phrase “only son” – referring to Isaac –

is the very same word used of Jesus, μονογενης,

the “only son” of God.


-That got me thinking about how much

the near-sacrifice of Isaac

is a kind of foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus

on the cross!

-In Genesis 22:6,

we read that Isaac carried the wood

for the burnt offering;

Jesus carried his own wooden cross as well.


-Martin Luther6 calculated that the journey

from Abraham's home to the place of sacrifice

in Moriah

took 3 days;

Jesus' sacrifice, too, was 3 days between death

to resurrection.


-According to the book of Hebrews,

the near-sacrifice-of-Isaac story

also speaks of resurrection7:

Hebrews 11:19 (NRSV)
19 [Abraham] considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.



-Another parallel between Christ Jesus

and the near sacrifice of Isaac

is hinted at in Philippians 2:5-7a

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave...


-Martin Luther notes that even though,

according to Genesis 14:14,

Abraham had 318 servants,

yet at the end of the trip to the place of sacrifice,

Abraham tells the servants to stay behind,

as Abraham himself takes on the role of a servant,

and carries the fire and the knife.

-In the Jesus story and the Abraham story,

sacrifice and servanthood are linked.


-It is true,

as the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac says so well,

God himself will provide the lamb”8 for the sacrifice.

-We have such a gracious God,

and this God has always been gracious!9


The Benediction follows ....

1Although the series is based on Jackie Nunns' Opening Up the Bible (2004). this sermon is my own compilation.

2Genesis 12

3Genesis 15.5

4Genesis 16:1-3

5Genesis 21.10-20

6Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 4: Luther's works, vol. 4 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 21-25 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (4:98). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

7Luther recognized this too: see Luther's Works vol 4, page 96

8Genesis 22.8

9In James 2:21-23, the New Testament also refers to the near-sacrifice of Isaac: “21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Luther quotes St. Paul in Romans 4:2-22 to refute this understanding that works are part of salvation: “James concludes falsely that now at last he was justified after that obedience; for faith and righteousness are known by works as by the fruits. But it does not follow, as James raves: “Hence the fruits justify,” just as it does not follow: “I know a tree by its fruit; therefore the tree becomes good as a result of its fruit.” (Luther's Works, Vol 4, page 133).So, too the Book of Concord (Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000), page 569).