By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Pentecost, Proper 8 – June 29, 2014
“It’s not about you.” Did anyone ever say that to you? Something is going on. Some conflict is being worked out or some decision is being made about something that is going to happen and you are feeling threatened or put upon or involved in some other way. Then someone who is more deeply involved says to you, “This is not about you.” At first that may hurt your feelings because most of us operate on the assumption that almost everything is about us. But when the realization soaks in that it really is not about you, at least not primarily, and you discover a new way of looking at things and of relating to them, you may discover that “it’s not about you” is one of the most liberating things that was ever said to you.
Do you remember the story of Abraham and Sarah? The story began with Abraham and Sarah living the good life in a great city of one of the highest civilizations in the ancient world. Then Abraham heard the voice of some great invisible other coming from beyond everything he had known. The other called him to take his family and his servants and leave everything that was secure and dependable and to venture out into the unknown. He was to travel to a land that he would be shown. The invisible other promised that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah would become a great nation that would play an important role in human history and they would inherit the land through which he would travel.
Abraham and Sarah accepted the invitation. They ventured out trusting the promise of the unknown other. They lived many years and had many adventures trusting that promise. It was the promise that gave their lives purpose and meaning. But for most of the time, the one thing that would be necessary for the fulfillment of the promise had not happened. They had no children. Toward the end, they certainly began to feel that they had been foolish to trust that nebulous promise of an invisible other.
But finally, when both Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, God gave them a son, Isaac, the son through whom all of the promises were to be fulfilled. They immediately hung all of their hopes upon him. They sent away the other son, Ishmael, whom Abraham had fathered through Sarah’s handmaiden in a desperate effort to keep from dying without an heir. The fulfillment of their whole long life’s adventure centered in their beloved son, Isaac.
We can imagine that Abraham had come to think that this whole story centered in himself. After all, he had been the central character in the story as he had experienced it. He must have thought that the story was primarily about his ambition, his faith, his descendants who would make his name great and the land that his descendants would inherit. All of this must have begun to sound to him like Abraham’s success story – and it all centered in Isaac, the son that God had given him.
Then the day came when God required Abraham to take his son to the top of a distant mountain and to sacrifice him, to give him back to God. Now, there are lots of things about this story that can get us all churned up. If we thought we heard God calling us to kill one of our children as a sacrifice, we would certainly argue with God about that. We might very well refuse to do it. Of course, that is because we know something about God that Abraham didn’t know yet, some things that Abraham’s own experience has taught us. We know that God would never ask us to sacrifice our children. But the sacrifice of a child was not unknown in the religious practices of the pagan people among whom Abraham was living. He believed that it was really something God wanted him to do – and so he decided to do it. He had lived trusting God and obeying him all through his life. Now he would do it again this one more time.
Abraham took Isaac to the place of sacrifice to give him back to God. Our hearts hurt for Abraham and for Isaac as we read how Abraham made preparations for the sacrifice while his young son asked him trusting questions. Finally, just as Abraham was about to perform the fatal act, God intervened. God provided an animal for the sacrifice and gave Isaac back to Abraham. Abraham had proven that he would always trust God. God had proven that he would always provide.
But something very basic changed in the relationships between the actors as this drama unfolded. It became apparent to Abraham that this story was not primarily about him. This was not just Abraham’s success story. It was about something much bigger, something that God was doing for all humankind. Abraham would play an important role in what was happening and the role he would play would validate his life. But it was not about him. It was about God and God’s purpose.
As Abraham and Isaac left the mountain, something fundamental had changed in their relationship, too. Isaac no longer belonged to Abraham. He was no longer the one through whom Abraham’s ambition would be realized. Instead, Isaac belonged to God, just as Abraham did. Abraham and Isaac were two separate persons, each of whom existed in a unique relationship with God, each of whom would play an important role in the working out of the purpose of God. Very important relationships existed between them, but they were separate persons, each of whom existed in relationship with God. The promise that Isaac represented was no longer just a promise made to Abraham. It was a promise made by God to all humankind.
That changed lots of things for Abraham. Now that he knew that the story was not really about him, he could let go of it. He could play his role in it faithfully without having to believe that it all depended on him. It was no longer about his son, his ambition, his descendants, his land, or about the promise made to him. But he also discovered that he was a part of something much greater than the story of one man could ever be. He had a new freedom and an even greater meaning in his life.
God has indeed given us everything we have. Imagine yourself alone, naked, and empty–handed; a creature who, only a short time ago, did not exist and who, in a time much shorter than we like to imagine, will not exist again so far as this world is concerned. Our lives are only a minute in the history of the universe, and less than a second in eternity. Yet, there is a greater reality, who has no beginning and no end, who surrounds us and gives our lives meaning by loving us.
When God requires you to give everything back, God gives life to you again, but in an entirely new set of relationships. We will need to discover that there is indeed a story that keeps going on and that it is the story of God and of what God is doing to work out God’s great purpose for the whole creation. It really is not quite true to say that the story is not about you. It is very much about you. It is about you in the same way that it is about everyone else in the world. But it doesn’t center in you. It centers in God and in what God is doing in the world. It can be your story if you commit yourself to it. That would mean finding a new center for your life in something greater than yourself. And that will give your life a greater meaning and a freedom that you may not expect.
It can be a very liberating thing to learn that everything is not all about you. When we give back to God all that God has given to us, God gives it again so that we can have it all with new freedom and new purpose. What God was trying to show to Abraham on the mountain of sacrifice is the same thing that Jesus was trying to show us all when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25).Amen.
Sermon based on one by James L. Killen excerpted from Sermons On The First Readings: Series I, Cycle A (SermonStudio).
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