A Day of Falling Stars Clyde E. Fant Genesis 22:1-18 (5 Best Sermons) Edited By James Cox Published by Harper Collins Without permission
He rose before it was light and looked outside his tent. It was the darkest night, he thought, he'd ever see. Then he waked his son quietly, so as not to wake her. That would be the last thing he needed. He would have to decide how to tell her later. He stood again at the flap of the tent and looked up into the black night and thought of another night at the same tent, when God had pointed him to the stars of the sky and said: "Abraham,Do you see those stars? Your descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the sky." But this night there were no stars, and in the tent there was no laughter. The boy's name was Isaac, but for Abraham it would no longer mean "laughter." For God had said something to Abraham he could not believe. Like a crack of thunder on a clear day, without preamble or warning, the words of God had come to him: "Take thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest… and offer him for burnt offering upon one of the mountains I will tell thee of." He had been in a kind of stupor ever since. But he obeyed. He knew nothing else to do. And so they went, three days journey toward the mountain. When they reached the place, Abraham said to the servants: "You stay here with the animals. My son and I will go to that mountain and worship; and when we are done, we will come back to you."... And they went, both of them together. The servants thought nothing of it; the customs of these people were all familiar to them. They followed an invisible desert God; they worshiped on top of mountains; they made sacrifices. So their master was going to pray, to make a sacrifice of some sort. They scarcely noticed his leaving. The boy carried the wood, the father carried the fire, the knife; and they went, both of them together. After awhile, as they climbed, the other words came, the words Abraham dreaded -- not like thunder, but soft and curious -- The words of the boy: "My father, I see the fire and the wood, but where is the animal for the burnt offering?" Like a dead man, Abraham answered, his own heart already pierced though: "My son, God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering." In our lives there are not voices -- at least none that seem to come from beyond ourselves -- no clear voices that articulate nouns and verbs, subjects, objects, in our ears, neither words of promises nor words of condemnation. Nonetheless, in the unpredictability of our existence, in the caprice of fate, life often seems absurd, as absurd as it ever seemed to Abraham: when life goes wrong, when hopes are cut down, when, in a word or a heartbeat or a flash of time, all the stars fall. Abraham faced three tests in his life. The first was the test of Where? Where shall I go, O Lord? The second was the test of When, When shall I have a child, O Lord? But the third was the worst test of all -- the test of Why? Why, O Lord? Why must my child die? Isn't Abraham's story our story? Like Abraham, You and I first have to learn where we are to go in life, where our paths should lead, where to study, where to work, where to find a home. And even those of us who have found the answers to those questions still ask, "Where do I go from here?" Then, sooner or later, we find ourselves asking, "Lord when, Lord? I've gone where; I've followed what I thought to be right for me; but when, O Lord? It doesn't seem to be in my hands yet. I have a family; I have a job; I have my plans; but when? When will life be as the stars of the sky? When will the promise be ours?" But these two trials appear insignificant before the bitterest question of all, a question we all must face someday: Why, O God? Why did it have to be this way? Why did life have to take that turn? Why does this have to happen in my existence?" Neither in heaven nor earth can we find justification for the seeming capriciousness of the tragedies that strike our lives. For Abraham this test came in an absurd demand. Those words, Offer your son upon an altar, posed the ultimate test of his faith. It contradicted everything in Abraham: his common sense, his understanding of life, and, most of all, his understanding of God, the very God who had stood at the door of his tent with a chilling stare, and an unrecognizable face, and words that froze his heart. When Abraham heard God's words he could not think, just as you and I cannot when the caprice of life strikes, when we are confronted with the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and we ask ourselves -- WHY? I said that in our world we hear no voices. That is not so; there are many voices. There are the voices of the screech of breaks and the scream of metal; there is the telephone call in the dark of the night; there is the friend standing at the door, eyes downcast, tongue fumbling for the words; there is the hushed voice of the doctor in the hospital corridor. There are many voices in our world that tests our faith and our obedience. How will we answer them? And they went, both of them together. Then what? For Abraham, or for us? We can only climb with these words: God will Provide. As parents have told their children, and one another, when there was nothing else to say: God Will Provide. I'm sorry, I wish it could be more than that; I know it sounds too pat, too glib. Trust me, from the mouth of Abraham that day, there was nothing glib about those words. He had gotten no answer to his why? All he knew was, that he had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was the promise of his life. He had nowhere else to turn. What could he have thought, as he climbed? You know what he thought: I have sinned in God's sight. God is taking away only my son, but the Promise. We are not seeing a story simply about a father losing a son, as poignant as that is. Abraham's psychology is not the focus here. We are seeing the ultimate insanity of the universe; we are seeing the irrationality of fate and life. And blindly he walked, by what stumbling faith he had, and he mumbled those words again and again until his son looking at him, stopped smiling, and shook his head and only looked at the ground. God will provide. God will Provide. GOD WILL PROVIDE. They came to the top of the mountain. He took the knife, and the boy looked at him again: FATHER! The scripture moves slowly here, with uncommon detail, for the writer does not want to miss any of the pain of Abraham: the wood placed on the alter; the boy bound around (thank God, spared more details of that); the knife flashing in the air. And again the booming voice of God: Abraham! Now I know…and behind him, the ram in the thicket. As they went down the mountain there was laughter -- wild, joyous laughter -- somehow, someway, Isaac was "laughter" again, and Abraham had the knife taken out of his own heart. The dead were alive again. More than that, the Promise was alive. When I read these words I thought, this ultimate drama and surely somewhere, someone has written poetic words about this tragedy. But I could find nothing, so I offer these words: The Sacrifice Of Isaac And they went, The both of them together. Who knows what they thought, the said? "Behold the fire, the knife; but where the lamb, my father?" Choked anguish, able scarce to speak; (Dost ask, my son, my little lamb My morning star in sunset years?) And they went, both of them together. (oh, why my future now, O God, My future from me take away? My past already from me torn, From Ur of Caldee sent away. How to endure this loss most grave: Tomorrow's promise, love most dear. All lost; all lost; all lost; All lost.) He carried torch and knife most dread, The wood alone upon the child, In gentle love protecting yet From accidental harm. How strange: The child with wood, the light knife his. But which among us, who would say, Who bore the heaviest load that day? And they went, both of them together. Still silent now, the summit reached, Altar built, wood in place, The boy bound round, the knife now reached, Eyes searching, searching; love unmistaken, Yet how to explain the awful act? His own heart pierced already thought. "Abraham! The ram! Stay…I Know." With blinded, hope-crazed eyes he saw! His fingers flew the bonds to loose, His child embrace, the mount descend Their laughter echoed in the quiet -- Where on the mount, with pierced heart, Another parent hid his face, Another son to wood was bound. And there God bore the awful grief Another must not bear. God will provide our offering. So Abraham and God, they shared A parent's love forever; And that is why though life they went, The both of them together. And if the brightest star of your life, the brightest hope of all your days, is extinguished, then hear these words; "I Jesus have sent my messenger to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star. You will do well to pay attention to this as a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns, and the morning star rises in your hearts." (Rev 22:16, Pet 1:29) The Promise Is Alive. Let Us Pray: We are not prepared for grief, O Lord, Ever: And sometimes children are not delivered from death; And sometimes we ourselves are the offering; And sometimes stars do fall. Remind us that you experienced the very Lose That Abraham never suffered; And that the bright and morning star Also was extinguished Only to rise again, In your plan, and in our dreams. So for all of us this day, Those who are people sitting in darkness, Place in our sky that light That shall never again be extinguished; So that when we cannot see anything The morning star may yet show the way. In Christ Name Amen
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