We all want things to turn out the way we think they should. From our view, this or that needs to happen. And wow, do we have a massive list. In fact, much of lives can be put on that list of things that need to go a certain way. Now of course we’ve gotten better over time, I hope, with letting others get something and letting the Lord step in or having your faith keep you patient. Life is more like, one for me and one or more for others. Let’s give away things we only thought we’re required. How about we free up some space for others to gain something. We can trust that the Lord has enough for us even when we’re not filling our cup to the brim.
When you let go of what may be consuming you it takes the pressure off. The Lord will provide. One for me and one for God is a good way to get some balance between what you can do and what you can’t, what’s required and what isn’t. God can see things we can’t see. Our field of vision is limited. Our experience is limited, and our wisdom is limited. We need to release control of some situations because quite often they’re not like we think they are.
Many years ago, I was investigating whether I wanted to apply to a senior pastor position at another church. I knew the interim pastor a bit. We talked once on the phone. I called him again, but this time he ended the conversation quickly. I was feeling down, like I had said something wrong, or they weren’t interested in me anymore. Pastor John, with whom I worked here for the first ten years, had been in the room for that call. Do you know what he told me? He told me to let it go. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Then he said something I still remember, “He may have had to go to the bathroom—that’s why he got off the phone fast.”
It’s easy to be frustrated when your plans aren’t working out. It’s natural to find fault with yourself. But that’s just a way of convincing yourself you have control over the situation. Instead, let God have control. Do what you can do but trust that others are doing their best. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You can plant the seed, you can water it, but only God can bring the growth. If you’re doing your best, rest assured God will get you where you’re supposed to go.
Psalm 55 says, “Cast your cares on the Lord.” The cares are your worries and anxieties. They’re all those things about which you say, “If it doesn’t work, I can’t make it.” “If it doesn’t turn out as it should or my way,
it’ll be terrible!” We need to let those cares go. Trying to change things you can’t change can keep you from what God’s trying to do and what you’re going to have to do. Keep your mind wrapped around the idea that your life is in God’s hands. Thank the Lord for doing what you couldn’t do. Thank God for not making you have to take on everything—just what’s really yours.
That’s the thing. Some people get confused about what they’re supposed to let go of. Let me tell you we’re not supposed to cast away our responsibilities. Cast our care or letting go of worries is not the same thing as casting your responsibilities. We have things that are on our plate. We’ve been handed some keys. We’re supposed to open some doors, take on some work, engage in ministry in Christ’s name, produce for the kingdom. We may even have to fight and struggle for getting the good work done. We should take pride in our responsibilities. Getting them done is important. But learn when you’re taking on more than what’s yours.
There are times in life when it’s time to let go of something you thought was crucial to happiness and purpose. It’s never easy. We thought it was going to be one way, but it’s not. But there’s a way to handle such times and situations: It’s one for me and one for God. God really does provide, even when it seems you’re in a tough spot.
Nobody had it harder than Abraham. It’s impossible to like our passage; perhaps we can appreciate it at some level. If you ever heard it as a kid read in Sunday school you likely were thinking, “Run, Isaac, run! Don’t let him get you!” As parents it’s even harder to contemplate. What dad would ever go along with it? As Bob Dylan once sang, “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son.’ Abe said to God, ‘You must be puttin’ me on!'” There’s no doubt part of this story is communicating why Hebrew people didn’t sacrifice their children, as some of their neighbors did. But it’s confusing, to be honest.
In fact, many people think of this in ways that don’t make complete sense. They try to turn it into a story centered on obedience or a test of obedience. It can be to a certain extent, but we can go only so far with it. The problem is that Abraham never believed he was going to sacrifice Isaac. He kept saying to his boy, “God will provide.” It leads us to feel as though this is a bit of a game, as if Abraham is going through the motions, which really doesn’t make this episode into an issue of obedience. Can this story really be about obedience or a test if Abraham never thinks he’s going to have to sacrifice Isaac? Not really.
Our passage also brings up the question of what we’re hearing when we hear a direction or command or an answer. In Abraham’s situation if he keeps saying God will provide, it’s like he’s saying I know the real God will show up and not this one I keep hearing tell me to sacrifice my son. Who’s right? Or what’s right? What’s the right thing to do in this situation? What’s the real divine direction? How do we know?
That is what the story of Abraham sacrificing, or rather, not sacrificing Isaac is about. Our famous passage teaches how important a certain principle is. Abraham deals perfectly with this whole thing because he holds on to a principle. He keeps repeating it himself. God will provide is about God’s character, who God is, and it counteracts a divine command that runs counter to it. God is a provider of children and for families and for Abraham, not a slayer of them. In the midst of this highly conflicted situation, Abraham keeps this deeper principle in mind and it directs his actions, leading him to the right conclusion.
The truth is, Abraham has to have this principle in mind to see the ram and to tell himself that that is the sacrifice the Lord wants and not my son. He’s heard, he believes, a divine order that tells him Isaac is the sacrifice, but keeps telling himself an almost contradictory message or principle—that God will provide—and it’s only because he kept this principle in mind that he didn’t disregard the ram caught in the thicket and could justify using it as the proper sacrifice. In the end, now listen to this, Abraham isn’t faithful to God, or to God’s command, at least not to that divine directive. He’s faithful instead to a principle he believed in that spoke of God, or one might say, the real God.
This story is in effect then a story about disobedience to the supposed God message and faithfulness to a principle that gives guidance when something is amiss between God and humans. Abraham had to be disobedient to be faithful. He held to a principle that gave him guidance when a religious directive and a social order didn’t align with deeper principles. He held a principle that allowed him to interpret the present situation faithfully rather than blindly holding to a supposedly divine order or way things must be.
Blind obedience isn’t the heart of this story. This wrong interpretation of the Abraham/Isaac story has been misused for centuries. Rather, almost its opposite is true: this is a story that a certain kind of disobedience is proper, a disobedience that springs from a humanizing principle, a higher calling, one
might say. Without such a principle, that God will provide, that in effect, says God is a good God and not one that sacrifices children, Abraham would not have seen or utilized the ram. He would have only listened to the preliminary message. He would have murdered his own child. Instead, he relied on a deeper understanding of God’s nature and character, and that drove him to find the better solution, even if apparently contradicting a divine order or the way things were.
I want you to remember this story, this famous story, when you are wondering what the right thing is to do or believe. When people say the Bible says or they say this is how it’s always been I want you to remember Abraham being told to sacrifice his son and the whole time holding to a better principle of God’s real divinity. If we dehumanize a child, other children, others we aren’t listening to Abraham’s principle. When we dehumanize others, we demonize God. Abraham refused to do either.
What Abraham faced, we face, we are facing. Safeguarding the humanity of another, of all, safeguards God’s divinity. If we dehumanize a child, children, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and turn them into others, into objects that can be sacrificed because of the way things have to be, because the Bible says, because this is who God is—but of course isn’t—we have failed Abraham’s principle. Abraham’s principle shows us the way forward and what is the right choice to make.
I’ll give you an example: Letting 19 children and two teachers die, allowing people to be killed by semi-automatic handguns and rifles time and again, is permitting what Abraham refused to permit. We are sacrificing our children on the altar of a falsely interpreted constitutional amendment, as if it is the way things must be. It fails the Abraham test—to hold to a principle higher than lesser ones, that is, to use a humanizing principle to interpret a dehumanizing directive. Children and people aren’t sacrificed. We must reject that message; it’s false and it’s demonic.
Let me put it in a more historical way: It’s impossible to believe that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, et. al, wrote and/or signed the Constitution believing they created a country from it that would permit mass murders to occur again and again, the victims being elementary school age children, or that murders occur with outrageous frequency in towns and cities, in homes, schools, theaters, churches and synagogues, on the street, anywhere and everywhere, and their Constitution, would be worthless to protect children, families, and our
country against such deaths and massacres. They never wrote a word that would obligate this country to live as it is living now, to accept as unalterable fate that elementary age children will be slaughtered and over 120,000 people will be killed in a decade by gun violence without being able to find any constitutionally acceptable means to prevent it.
Abraham found a way to save his son. He refused to accept as his unalterable fate that Isaac would have to be killed—that he would be sacrificed because that’s the way things are. He rejected it and was provided another way. God provided, just as he believed. Just as Abraham found a way to save his son, we must find a way to save our children and our country from the continuing nightmare of gun violence and terror.
Someone told a story about how a few years back he was with his family on a vacation at a very nice hotel. It was a large place. There were different types of lodgings all over the property. When they first arrived, the bellman took them to their lodge down a long winding sidewalk. They followed a curving path around bungalows and over this bridge and then around that big lake. The dad paid close attention to where they were going so he could remember it. A few nights later, the family had dinner at the main lodge. As they were leaving the lobby to return to their room, the ten-year-old son Jonathan said, “Dad, you know we’re taking the long way. It’s much quicker this way.” Dad said, “No, Jonathan. I paid close attention. This is the way the bellman took us. This is the right way.” “No, dad,” he persisted. “I’m telling you there’s a quicker way.” “Jonathan, I am positive this is the right way.”
For the next couple of days, they always went dad’s way. Each time Jonathan said, “Dad, we’re going the long way again.” On the last day of the vacation, they were leaving the lobby again when Jonathan begged, “Dad, can we go my way at least once?” “All right,” dad conceded. Jonathan led the family down some stairs through a narrow passageway, and their room was right there! It was probably a hundred yards closer than the way they had been going. Dad came to find out that the bellman had taken them on the long scenic route so they could see the whole property. They had been going in almost a complete circle to get to their lodge.
Let us find the short cut to what is best and right. Understand who God truly is and who you truly are and who others are truly. Give the Lord more of your life so you can receive even more in return. God will provide. One
problem for me and one situation for God is a good way to keep things in a better perspective.
Can the church say Amen?