North Shore Baptist Church
26 June, 2011
(Scene 1: Are You Sure?)
Sisters and brothers – come with me as I engage in some sanctified imagination. Come with me back to camp where a boy wakes up to the smell of breakfast.
The day started out like any other. We woke up to the smell of the breakfast mom had made. I don’t know how she does it – at her age she is always the first one up; has a fire stoked; and breakfast ready for us. I came out of the tent. Sleep crusted in my eyes. The summer heat had already begun to make its move. I gave mom the ritual hug. But something seemed different this time. She would not let me go. The others were looking at me and beginning to laugh.
“Come on Mom. My friends are laughing,” I said struggling to get away.
“I love you, my boy,” she whispered in my ear. As she moved her face away from mine and let me go I noticed my cheek was moist. I looked at mom. She had tears in her eyes. That was weird. I had only seen her cry once before. Usually she was so full of joy. The only other time I had seen tears was when I was little and she kicked her servant out of the camp – She was angry, then, though I don’t know why. My brother and I were just playing dodge the rock. I miss him. I wonder where he is now. Anyway, I grabbed a piece of bread and some goat meat and went to join my friends.
We were playing tease the camel when I realized I had not seen my dad. He was usually up shortly after mom getting the sheep together and ready to go to pasture. The sheep were still wondering around their pen and dad wasn’t with the servants. He would meet with them every morning and tell them about the promise Ha Shem had given him. He kept talking about being the father of many nations and how he was going to be a blessing for many. He would tell them that Ha Shem had called him away from the gods of his parents and claimed to be the One True God. I had heard it all many times, but still had questions. But my dad trusted Ha Shem – The Name – completely. It was one of his enduring qualities – his love for Ha Shem.
Dad was nowhere to be found. I was worried. He was old, and should not be out wandering around by himself. He always took two or three of us with him, but today everyone was at camp.
Thinking about it now, though, I do remember him tossing and turning all night. He would get up and pace around the tent. I remember the sound of the shuffling of his feet. And hearing him muttering something about, “Is there no other way? I thought you were different from the gods of my fathers. They would demand death. They took human blood. Why are you doing this?” I had no idea what on earth he was mumbling about. Sometimes he was known to have “episodes.”
Then I saw him. Coming over the ridge in the east. It was his silhouette, the sun was rising over the hill behind him. He was hurting, I could tell. He made his way to where we were playing. It hurt to look at him. He was not the spry old man I was used to seeing. The one who would play tease the camel with us. The one who would sit around the fire at night telling us jokes. The one who held me on his lap when I was a boy. No, this was a man who now looked all his years. His eyes were vacant. He looked at me, but he was looking past me – through me.
“We need to go to Moriah. Gather wood with the servants. We leave after breakfast.”
“Why? It is 3 days away.” He was gone.
When he finished breakfast, he got on his donkey and we headed out to Moriah. We walked. Baking in the summer heat. We went with two of my friends. I was hoping this would be an adventure. Like the time into the mountains for fox hunting. But something was different this time. Dad was silent. Not saying a word. For two days. I kept trying to make conversation, but each time – nothing. He would just stare straight ahead. We went on.
On the third day we stopped. I saw Moriah in the distance. Dad stopped. Muttering something under his breath. It sounded like, “I thought you were different.” He turned and told my friends to stay put and to put the wood on my back. We were going to make an offering to Ha Shem. We moved forward. This was only the third time I had been allowed to go with him to make a sacrifice. Only since I had turned 13. But something was off this time.
“Dad, you have the dagger and torch. I have the wood, but where is the animal? Why didn’t we bring one with us?”
Then he said his first words in 3 days, “Ha Shem will provide the lamb for a burn offering, my boy.” Tears began to well up in his eyes. He now had the same sadness in his eyes that mom had 3 days ago.
We got to the mountain top. I didn’t see any lamb. “Help me build an an altar, son.”
“Yes, dad.” I was starting to feel ill. There was something about the way he said what he said. He was not here. His mind was elsewhere. As we piled the rocks he kept muttering. I don’t know what he was saying, but he would have to stop from time to time to and step away fro the work. I would hear him shout. He was speaking a language I didn’t know. I don’t know what he was saying. Then, “This is how you show you love me for all the times I have obeyed you. Ha Shem. I don’t want to do this.” Then he came toward me with the rope that bound the wood. He whispered, “My son, forgive me. I don’t know what I am doing.” They as quickly as he would when lassoing a lamb, the rope was around my chest and arms. Pulling tight. I couldn’t breathe. Where was he getting this strength. I couldn’t breath. I was gasping for air. I fell to my knees. I couldn’t speak. I looked into his eyes. Tears pouring down my face. I mouthed words – “Daddy. Why?” Tears streaming down his face, Dad lifted me like was a baby and put me on the altar. On top of the wood I had carried up the hill. I tried again, “Daddy?” Nothing came out.
Then, his face as red as a sunburnt baby. His beard and mustache covered in snot and tears. His eyes, the most sad and broken things I had ever see, they were full of guilt and grief. He rested his hand on my forehead, bent my head back. Exposing my throat. He raised his arm. The dagger. The sun hitting the blade. A rainbow in the iron reflection. The dagger held over my head. He muttered a prayers. The blade to my throat. I gasped… “Daddy? Daddy?”
(Scene 2 – Daggers All Around)
Sisters and Brothers – the binding of Isaac. The sacrifice of a child – a human being. It is one of the most difficult texts in the whole cannon. And yet, everyday we are bound like the beloved son of Abraham. We are laid on the altar of gods that demand our death, like the gods of Abraham’s fore bearers.
For them it was sacrifice for a good harvest, or rains. A sacrifice for the birth of an heir. A sacrifice to appease an angry god.
We are now laid at the altar of mammon. At the altar of corporate greed or governmental polices that demand the vulnerable die for the benefit of the “greater good.” We are laid on the altar of profit and prosperity.
Sylvia Jo Olgesby, a woman from the South Side of Chicago who marched with Dr. King, was laid on such an altar when her bank refused to modify a loan for her; even though she lived in the house she was trying to refinance for 41 years. The dagger of foreclosure is being laid at her throat. The gods of bank bailouts are demanding her death.
Last night a 7 year old girl was laid at the altar of death when she was shot in the leg. The gods of the gun lobby were calling for her death.
Some here today may be laying on an altar. Starring at the dagger. Caught in the tangled web of debt. Captive to the cost of prescriptions. Struggling to find meaning after loosing a job. Wondering how to deal with a loved one questioning her reason to live. We all have been tied to the altar at one time or another. The gods of this world demanding what we can not give.
These gods have demanded human sacrifice for so long that it becomes normal for us to hear such news. Another 5,000 jobs lost in manufacturing; 28,000 jobs lost in various local governments; a 13 year old hispanic boy is killed; cuts are being proposed to WIC and Medicaid. We get so used to hearing this that we miss seeing the dagger shinning in the sun. These gods are demanding our death. We are being bound to the altar like Isaac.
(Scene 3 – The Ram!)
It is no wonder then, that Abraham seems to so willingly sacrifice his son. Though I am sure he knew what he was doing was wrong, and he may have questioned the motives of God – even to the point of arguing – he still went to that mountain all those years ago. Prepared to offer up his son – because, though he believed Ha Shem was the One True God – the gods of his past made their way back to his mind. Remembering their demand for death – His God must now be calling Abraham to pay up what it due. “I gave you this son, now kill him. If I gave you one, I will give you more and my promise will still be good that you will be the father of nations, but now – give me my sacrifice.”
But then, as the knife was laid at the throat of Isaac. A voice came from the air, “Abraham, Abraham. Do not hurt the boy. I will bless you because you have obeyed. Abraham, you are loved by me. Isaac, my child, you are blessed. You are loved by me. I did this to prove that I will provide. I am not like the gods of this world. I demand life, not death.” And a ram was in the thicket.
Sisters and Brothers. God had to take a bold action to prove that Gods is a God of life. God demands life. In the midst of the gods of this world demanding death, our God says you are mine and you are loved. Ours is a God of love.
Our God loves us so much that God allowed Godself to bear the weight of the wood as he made his way to the top of the mountain to be sacrificed for the world. Our God laid down on the altar of the world – taking upon himself – in the person of Jesus – the dagger of sacrifice. For Sylvia Jo, for the 7 year old girl, for 13 year old Richard Gutierrez, for you and for me. God blessed Abraham and that blessing carries on to us. God stopped the dagger of death and said, “Death has no place in my Rule. I am a God of life. You are loved.”
(Scene 4: The Blessing)
Friends, God revealed that God is a God of life and love to Isaac;
So that, Jacob would learn of that love and pass it on;
So that, Joseph would be an heir of that love;
So that, when famine hit Canaan his brothers would come to Egypt and ask him for food;
So that, the children of Israel would share with their offspring that theirs is a God of life and love;
So that, as their numbers grew numerous and they were taken into captivity, a boy would be raised by his captors;
So that, as that boy grew into a man he would return to his people and lead them across the Red Sea – to freedom – to new life;
So that, they, too, would learn of the God of life and love;
So that, when they crossed into the promised land they would encounter a prostitute named Rahab;
So that, Rahab would become the great-grandmother of their future king, David;
So that, when the children of Abraham were captive again – a boy, born in a manger, would be born from the line of David;
So that, that boy would turn into a man and proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor;
So that, when the authorities held the dagger of death and demanded he carry a cross – he would;
So that, three days later he would rise from the grave and say that, “Oh gods of Death, You can’t stop the God of Abraham – For I am a God of life and love. You hold no power here;”
So that, 40 days later That boy born in the manger would ascend to be at the right hand of the God of life and love.
…But, sisters and brothers, that is not the end of the story…
All that happened
So that, 10 days later the tongues of fire would descend on the 120 in the upper room and they would move to the streets and tell the world of the God of life and love;
So that, the story of this God would move into Asia and Africa;
So that, men named Tertullian and Augustine would eventually learn of this God;
So that, an Augustinian monk in 1517 would plant the seeds for reformation – reminding people that the God of life and love is a God of Grace not indulgence;
So that, that reformation would bear fruit in England and Amsterdam in the person of John Smyth who would quote Tertullian when defending his belief in adult baptism;
So that, the Baptist tradition would be born;
So that, in the New World, a Baptist named Roger Williams would say that the God of life and love calls for fair treatment of the ones on this land before us;
So that, when persecuted in Massachusetts he could buy land from the natives and found Rhode Island;
So that, in Providence the First Baptist Church, in the New World would be founded;
So that, the God of life and love could be proclaimed with out being beholden to the state;
So that, in 1833, the Baptists of the North could say that the God of life and love wold abolish slavery;
So that, in 1842 C.B. Smith – one of the anti-slavery Baptists – would become the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chicago;
So that; God of life and love would be proclaimed in First Baptists many daughter churches;
So that; a mailman in 1905 would recognize that many of his neighbors were Baptists;
So that; North Shore Baptist church would be founded;
So that, we could be here today giving thanks to a God of life and love. A God that has known since the days of Abraham and Isaac – that you and I would be here today. A God who has been faithful through out the generations. A God who promised a blessing to Abraham and continues that blessing to us. A God who – when we are laid at the altar of death – says you are my beloved child. Live.
Our God has power over all the gods of this world. So, when times come when we feel tied to the altar of death, remember that our God provided another way. Our God has loved us since before we were born. We are here as a community to bless one another – to hold each other and to be witnesses of the God of life and love. If you are here today and feel tied to an altar of death – reach out. If you have been freed from the altar of death – reach out. We are heirs to Abraham’s blessing. Let us bless one another in the name of the God of Life and Love.