The Lord Will Provide
Pentecost 15 – Narrative Lectionary 4
September 17, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
Genesis 21.1-7; 22.1-19
In the movie “The Goodbye Girl,” based on Neil Simon’s play, Marsha Mason plays a single mom who has been in a series of “love them and leave them” relationships. Her latest boyfriend has left to pursue an acting career, promising to return. Mason knows he won’t. To make matters worse, the departing boyfriend has sublet his portion of the apartment to another aspiring actor, played by Dustin Hoffman. After many ups and downs, Mason and Hoffman fall in love and begin to make a life together.
Then comes Hoffman’s break, a part that will require him to leave Mason and her daughter for a time. No matter how much Hoffman says, Mason doesn’t believe that he’ll return. In the final scene of the movie, Hoffman calls Mason from a phone booth on the way to the airport, professing his love and repeating his promise to come back. Mason will have nothing of it, until Hoffman speaks almost a throw-away line: “While I’m gone will you have my guitar restrung?” Mason shrieks in joy to her daughter, “He left his guitar.” Sure enough, the daughter goes to the closet and finds Hoffman’s most prized possession, his guitar, something he never goes anywhere without. The guitar is a sign and a promise that he will return.
In our text today, God wants Abraham to trust him with his most prized possession, his son Isaac, bearer of the promise of a great nation. We need to acknowledge that this is a hard text and there’s no getting around it. This story is problematic on so many levels. It is scandalous in the usual sense that it is offensive that God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. After so many years of waiting through what seemed impossible circumstances, Abraham and Sarah finally have their son and God has finally fulfilled his promise. Now, God wants to renege on the promise. And Abraham does it without a whimper of protest. Where was Sarah in all of this? Did Abraham even tell Sarah what he’s doing? The story is not just offensive; it’s a stumbling block to our faith and who we believe God to be.
But what if the big scandal isn’t what God is asking? What if the scandal is that God actually wants us to trust him with the most precious things in our lives? Think for a moment what that might be for you. As I thought about an analogy, I thought of the three most precious things to me: my wife and daughters. One time when Angela was very young, she fell, hitting her head that produced a large gash above her eyebrow. I picked her up and took her to the doctor where I literally had to “bind her” in a sheet and lay her on a table so the doctor and nurse could put stitches in her head. All the while I kept telling her to trust me and the doctor, that it would be okay. I’ve had to do similar things with my other daughter Amy and my wife Cindy.
Now, I know that analogy isn’t perfect; nothing was wrong with Isaac (as far as Abraham knew). But when we ask ourselves why those early believers in God kept telling this story and then wrote it down, it seems the story becomes as much about God’s faithfulness as about Abraham’s. Perhaps they wanted to remember that God asks us to trust even in the midst of circumstances we don’t understand, when everything appears futile. Or, as Walter Brueggemann notes, in a world defined by the notion that we can only trust ourselves, or only trust what we can touch, taste and measure, or not trust anything, the claim that God alone provides all that we need is perhaps even more scandalous as the claim that God tests us.
One aspect of the story that I find intriguing is that even God takes a big risk and becomes vulnerable. What if Abraham had said no to God and walked away? He and Sarah had their son; that might be enough for them. Sure, God could have found someone else to make a chosen people, but God would have lost some reputation in the process. The fact is, that God was as much “all in” as Abraham was and had as much to lose. Yet, it was the faithfulness of God to his promises that Abraham was able to trust God with the most precious thing in his life and it was Abraham’s trust in his relationship with God that he know “the Lord will provide.”
Two thousand years later, unbeknownst to Abraham of course, God would take another huge risk and become vulnerable by taking on human flesh, giving up the thing most precious to him. As someone put it, God provides the Lamb of God, which is also the Lamb from God. The story of Jesus was a scandal and stumbling block then, and it still is to a lot of people. Both stories, Abraham and Jesus, are hard stories and they are not easily solved; nor should they be. Instead, we are invited to trust God with our most precious things, especially during the hard times when we can’t see any way forward, trusting that “the Lord will provide.” We are not “Goodbye Girls”; we are children of the promise who trust a faithful God. Amen.