Genesis 22:1-14 Matthew 10:40-42
Many years ago….back before Rush Limbaugh…Mike Gallagher…Ann Coulter and Hugh Hewitt…back when radio station talk shows were a service to the community…I had the privilege of hosting one of those shows in Dubuque, Iowa. One day a lady called to tell everyone about some awful thing that was happening at city hall. I told her that…as a reporter for the radio station I was in city hall every day for two to three hours…talking with everyone….janitors…the city manager…the mayor and many department heads. I told her that I had heard the same rumor…spent several days and numerous conversations checking it out…and that I had concluded it was only a rumor. She responded that she felt it was a “true rumor”. When I asked her what made a rumor “true” she paused and couldn’t go further.
Sometimes the answers are clearer…even self-evident…when we ask the right questions. Today…let’s ask two questions.
Who or what is your Isaac?
Whose shoes are you cobbling?
God was testing Abraham. Abraham didn’t know that…but we do. It’s right there in the very first verse we heard this morning.
Over the years Abraham had grown in his faith…grown to trust and to believe God. He had been promised by God that his offspring would be great in number…greater than the grains of sand on the beach. Abraham believed that promise. Yet…God tested him.
What was God trying to find out? God wanted to see Abraham accept God…not the gift that God had promised him. Some might ask, “Why would God do this when God already knows? After all God knows everything.
One commentator suggests it was done for God’s benefit. He wrote…“We can agree that God knew ahead of time what Abraham was going to do. But there is ample evidence throughout Scripture that God desires us to act out our faith and worship regardless of the fact the he knows our hearts. God wants us to pray even though he knows what we are going to say and He might already have the answer in motion. He wants us to praise him even though he knows how we feel. God asks us to express our faith and love. It is honoring to Him for us to demonstrate those things that He knows exist because it pleases Him. That is what I mean when I speak of God’s ‘benefit”.
That seems plausible. We all know that as much as our parents, spouses, and children know that we love them, it is important that it be said and demonstrated. Head knowledge is not enough and is often less than satisfying. Let us not be to God as the husband of twenty years was to his wife when she asked why he never told her he loved her. His response was…”I told you when I proposed and it hasn’t changed since.”
God may also have wanted to stretch Abraham’s faith even farther. Our faith grows…and strengthens over time. It’s stronger today than when we first discovered God. Yet…it’s not as strong as it will be as life stretches our faith through testing. Growth in faith involves testing. As life tests our faith it is stretched and thereby grows. In his test Abraham’s faith was stretched to the limit. Because he held firm his faith has become the grandest faith example in history. Trust God as you can. He will give you so much more than you expected. Then you will trust him even more.
Did you notice how truly deep Abraham’s faith and trust were? He not only took no action to argue with God when he received the command to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham knew that somehow God would bring them through this whole ordeal. When he left the two young men with the donkey…Abraham told them to wait there while he and Isaac went to worship. Abraham told the young men that “we” would return.
Life tests. God wants us to show our love for him. Who or what is your Isaac? I have heard more than one person say…”that’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do”…as they held the hand of their dying spouse to the very end. Yet…through that tough test God has taken each of them…and strengthened their faith…their belief in God’s promise of salvation and life eternal.
Who or what is it that God has blessed you with that you cherish? Do you cherish that person…that thing…more than God? The test will come.
Before asking the second question let me share a brief story written by H. L. Gee…a twentieth century British author. “There was a lad in a country village who…after a great struggle… reached the ministry. His helper in his days of study had been the village cobbler. The cobbler…like so many of his trade…was a man of wide reading and far thinking…and he had done much for the lad. In due time the lad was licensed to preach. And on that day the cobbler said to him, ‘It was always my desire to be a minister of the gospel…but the circumstances of my life made it impossible. But you are achieving what was closed to me. And I want you to promise me one thing—I want you to let me make and cobble your shoes– for nothing—and I want you to wear them in the pulpit when you preach, and then I’ll feel you are preaching the gospel that I always wanted to preach standing in my shoes.”
This is another way of telling the story of what Jesus was telling his disciples in what has become known as the mission discourse…disciples like you and me.
We cannot all be prophets…or stand in a pulpit and preach and proclaim the Word of God. But the person who gives God’s messenger just a simple gift of hospitality will receive a reward as great as that of God’s messenger.
Even in this day of instant fame through the social media…we cannot all be seen by the whole world as righteous. But…the person who helps a person to be good receives the same reward as the good person.
We cannot all teach the child…but in a very real sense we can serve the child. We may not have the knowledge or skills to be in the role of teacher…but there are simple actions we can take to serve the child…without which the child cannot live. Child here…does not speak only to the matter of age. It is not the children’s Sunday school class of which I speak exclusively here. There are also those who are children in the faith…perhaps who have not yet experienced our faith…though they are adults. They need our service as well. For them…there is teaching that comes by our way of living…by our example…and by our words and touch…teaching that every person can give another.
William Barclay put it this way. “The Church and Christ will always need their great orators, their great shining examples of sainthood, their great teachers, those whose names are household words; but the Church and Christ will also always need those in whose homes there is hospitality, on whose hands there is all the service which makes a home, and in whose hearts there is the caring which is Christian love.”
Let me close with one more story about my days in radio. Though long ago this story should cause us to see testing and cobbling opportunities.
In the early 1970s Harry Chapin was a very popular American troubadour…a writer and singer of songs that were really stories. The general manager of my radio station and I went to his concerts when his tour brought him to one of the local colleges. Harry Chapin didn’t sing all that well…but his stories touched the hearts of many people who could identify with them. Many of the songs were played on most radio stations.
In 1972 he released an album entitled “Sniper and Other Love Songs.” The title song was a well told story…but it was never played on the radio…not our radio station…not any others. It was the story of a young man who…in 1966…climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin. He had been trained as a U. S. Marine sniper and carried several weapons to the top of the tower with him. He began firing at people down below. By the time the authorities got to him and stopped him he had killed 15 people, and wounded 30 others, two of whom died later. It was the day America experienced its first mass shooting outside of combat.
Our general manager simply explained why he and his counterparts across the country didn’t play the song on the radio. He said they knew their audiences wouldn’t want the violence.
Now, just shy of 51 years later, we awoke Wednesday morning to the news of two mass shootings underway…one in Virginia and the other in California. They were the 147th and 148th such incidents in the United States in the first 165 days of this year.
And, what do the general managers of the radio and TV stations say about this violence. They say their audiences want to see it. They say their audiences want to see drama programs that depict violence. Check the newscasts and newspapers and you’ll find there is some truth to the adage…”If it bleeds, it leads.” The booksellers will tell you their best sellers are books about violence. And…we don’t have to go very deep into a day before we encounter someone with violent words or promises to pop someone in the nose.
While the U. S. has always been a rough and tumble nation…have we chosen to let violence become an accepted norm? Or…can you and I cobble someone’s shoes today with love and with a rejection of violence? That may be the test we are all experiencing today…a test won by faith and love…a test that will build our faith.
Look back on your Christian journey and you will see that God has stretched and grown your faith through testing…has asked you to give up your Isaac…to show your love for…and trust in God. Tests will come again through which your faith will grow stronger.
Look around you today. You will find that there are shoes to cobble…in your family…in your place of work…in your church…in your neighborhood. Whose shoes will you cobble?
What’s the reward…the reward is stated so well in the words of a song popular a couple years ago…”When you lose yourself…you’ve found the key to paradise.”