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DeacoNote 36: The Giver Of The Gift


July 5, 2023


Last Sunday, our Pastor's message explored some key aspects of sacrifice - that of others on our behalf, our own on behalf of others, and being a party to that of another on behalf of still others. If you missed it, I encourage you to navigate to our church You Tube channel and watch the recording of that service. See: https://www.youtube.com/live/s-9QU_f-uWo?feature=share In exploring this concept Pastor Russ used the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22: 1-14. This is one of those sections of scripture that contains so many key lessons, it would take many weeks to cover them all. It is for this reason, that I find myself hesitant to leave it too quickly - preferring to linger a while - poking at it a bit more to see what else might pop out. It is a familiar set of verses - we've probably all heard countless sermons preached on and around this story. In fact whole books have been written on this story alone - the one I am most familiar with being Soren Kierkegaard's Fear And Trembling, first published in 1843. He explores this story as a study in how man exercises his free will in an environment of anxiety and despair. This idea, that we are free to choose to obey, or not to obey, and its possible consequences - is cause for anxiety, especially when our decision making may be flawed in emotionally charged situations. The title, itself, telling part of the story, is drawn from

Philippians 2: 12 Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that works in you to will and act according to his good purposes.

And as Pastor Russ pointed out a number of times in his message alluded to above, the situation Abraham finds himself in in Genesis 22 is a test. This becomes most clear when we find out he passes in

Genesis 22: 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he (God) said, "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

This, of course, raises other questions. What was it about Abraham's life, that made God doubt his sincerity and find it necessary to test him? And what would have been the consequences for Abraham, if he had failed the test by disobedience? The Bible is full of tests, if you look for them. Adam and Eve were tested. Having failed, they were banished from the garden of Eden in Genesis 3: 23. Ananias and Sapphira were tested. Having failed, they were struck dead in Acts 5: 5, 10. While we usually focus on what would, or would not happen to Isaac, depending on Abraham's decision making, there were also consequences for Abraham, should he have failed to obey the Lord's commands. When we normally think of tests, we most often think of them in relationship to "testing" whether, or not, we have learned something. And so I began by asking myself, what was Abraham supposed to have learned, and to be able to demonstrate that he had learned, in order to pass this particular test? At this point in Abraham's story, his relationship with God had already matured significantly. His covenant with God was confirmed in Genesis 17, when, among other things, his name was changed.

Genesis 17: 5 No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

But he also had done things, that seemed to display a certain doubt in God's promises. For example, he had slept with Hagar in order to have a son, Ishmael; and later out of fear for his own life, he allowed Abimelech to take Sarah. It suggests that, when push came to shove, Abraham tended to trust in his own powers as much or more, than he did those of God; and he tended to fear other men, as much or more than he feared God. One of the things the test of Genesis 22 seems designed to correct, then, is Abraham's perception of who and what God is relative to mortal rulers. Who is the king of kings? Who is in charge? Who is to be obeyed above all others?


In his covenant with God there was supposed to have been an exchange of trust,

Genesis 17: 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you ... to be your God and the God of your descendants
Genesis 17: 9 Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you"

In some sense it is almost as if God is saying to Abraham, that he is acting in a way that implies, that he does not fully appreciate who and what God is. I believe God is asking Abraham to acknowledge that God and God alone is the source and giver of life. God and God alone can cause it to come into being and gets to decide when, and if, it should end. Jesus' words in Matthew can be read as a similar challenge

Matthew 6: 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

We, by definition, do not have that power. We may want it, we may wish for it, but as Pastor Russ stated in his sermon on Sunday (at about the 48:56 mark on the recording)

We are not God!

Whether Abraham believed God would stop him and provide an alternative on the mountain, as he told Isaac, or, whether he thought God could bring Isaac back to life, just as God had given him an unexpected life in the first place, or, whether Abraham was just acknowledging that life was God's to provide, or to take, as God and God alone sees fit, his actions passed the test by acknowledging that God was God, the one in charge, and he, Abraham was not. Once you understand that the life of Isaac was a gift, I think there is also a second lesson to be learned here - by Abraham and by us. And that is, that God is God. Not Santa Claus. We all know verses like

Matthew 7:11 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

And Abraham, like many of us, had been the recipient of many good gifts from God over and over again. He was a blessed man. And once we have these gifts, we take possession of them and begin to think we own them. And then we fear, or worry about losing them. We are tempted to hide them away, keep them for ourselves, rather than invest them in the kingdom - like the servant in Luke 19: 20. This can be true not only of the "things" God puts in our lives, but the people He blesses it with as well. Instead, we are counseled

Matthew 6: 31-33 So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Another way to state it, especially in Abraham's case:

God wants us to love the Giver
much more than the Gift!

God gives us gifts to solidify and strengthen the bond between Him, as the giver, and us. There is nothing wrong with loving the gifts in our life, especially when they are people, but, not at the expense of our relationship with God.

Exodus 20: 3 You shall have no other gods before me.
Matthew 22: 27-28 Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

This simple rule should enable you to pass all your tests. Amen Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the Comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester

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