As a denomination that has been searching for a way forward for decades, many United Methodists are growing weary of the possibilities. As a pastor halfway through a tense annual conference, it can feel like we are groping around in the dark with no guiding light. It helps me to know our story is full of people who were empowered to be faithful in times of testing.
Abraham is one who inspires me by his trust in the LORD. Genesis 22 tells of God’s test of Abraham’s trust by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is difficult for us to imagine the violence in taking a life in worship of God. Our times and culture are thousands of years removed from Abraham and Isaac. We can’t help but feel distant from a God that would ask for a father to sacrifice his son. Scholars tell us that neighboring religions in the Ancient Near East practiced human sacrifice.
Remember Abraham and Sarah waited for years, and not so patiently at times, for their son Isaac to be born to them. And now God tells Abraham to sacrifice him. This story is not just about the faith of Abraham, but the selflessness of his son Isaac as well.
It is amazing to me that Abraham so swiftly and heartily sought to fulfill God’s will. He got up early the very next morning. I’m afraid I would have thought and prayed about it for some weeks before I followed God’s direction.
But Abraham followed God’s direction immediately. He, Isaac, and two young men set off on what was at least a journey of several days. So I imagine they packed that donkey pretty heavily. They traveled two days and on the third day, they stopped. Our ears should perk up any time we read in the Bible about something happening on the third day.
I don’t know if Abraham was a storm of emotions and conflict within himself or if his resolve ran to the core of himself. I can’t imagine walking toward that mountain with my child. Abraham did everything necessary to follow God’s directions, and as his son lay on the altar he had built, the LORD’s messenger intervened; Isaac was spared! However, a sacrifice was still required, and God provided it. A ram caught in a thicket became the sacrifice Abraham offered to God. Abraham was put to the test and he passed.
If we jump ahead a couple thousand years, we can’t help but make connections with Jesus Christ, God’s one and only son. While Abraham was spared this test, God did not spare himself. Jesus Christ – the spotless, sinless Lamb of God – was sacrificed on the cross for all. Once again when sin required a sacrifice, God provided; and in Christ our savior, he provided for all people in all times and in all places. As God always does, when it comes to restoring relationship with fallen humanity, God puts himself on the line.
A couple of summers ago, my husband Kit and I took our kids to see the new Cars movie. Another great Disney animated film. The familiar racecar Lightning McQueen is now an aging legend, struggling to stay in the race with a flood of new faster racecars that have come on the scene. Racing is everything to McQueen, but people are suggesting his retirement. Other racers are retiring so he’s feeling the pressure to do so as well. And yet he can’t let go of his identity as a racer. In his training for his one last shot to stay in racing, he meets Cruz Ramirez. Cruz is an eager young technician who has her own plans for winning.
In Lightning McQueen’s last chance he realizes (spoiler alert), with a little help from his late great mentor – the Fabulous Hudson Hornet – that his future is in helping his protégé win the race rather than racing himself. It was in sacrificing the most important thing in the world to him, racing, that McQueen found his future. He discovered the meaning and purpose he once had in racing, was now in coaching and training the Cruz. In sacrificing his own racing career, he was provided with a new purpose and meaning beyond what he dreamed.
I know it was a movie aimed at children, but it allowed us an opening to talk about sacrifice with our children, and it served as a gentle reminder to us that sacrificial living is as the heart of our faith.
What is it that is most precious to you that you must commit to God? I like how one of the Disciple Bible Study series puts this question, “How willing are you to commit your future and the meaning and significance of your life to God?”
Answering that requires trust and faith in God. It helps to know God provided for Abraham. And there are countless other examples of how God provided for people in the Bible. Ultimately God provided through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ a way for any and all people to be saved. And in our lives, we can surely point to numerous times God has provided for us.
When Abraham named the place where he nearly sacrificed Isaac, “the LORD Will Provide,” he made a profound statement about God. God is one we can place our trust in. Abraham could have named it, “the LORD Provided,” past tense. And that would have been a fitting memorial to what God miraculously did so long ago. But instead, Abraham named it to reflect the nature and character of our God for all times: “The LORD Will Provide.” The Lord will provide, now and forever!
By Leslie S. Tomlinson
June 11, 2019
The Rev. Leslie Tomlinson is the pastor in charge at Lutie Watkins Memorial United Methodist Church in Llano, Texas. She is also a leader of the WCA Chapter in the Rio Texas Annual Conference.