For the first time we held a live broadcasting parish communion from St Mary’s Easton (taking advantage of the recently installed broadband). 40 of us joined for the service. As I predicted in my video letter last week we did have some technical hitches but we will over come these for the next time we meet for Parish Communion. We did not do a recording of the service. Patrick Appleby read the lesson (below) Nicky Barber lead the prayers (below) and I preached (as follows).
Abraham and Isaac
What is your legacy going to be? What is your legacy going to be?
I wonder if you can guess the name of the person to whom this epitaph (written by an anonymous British poet) was attributed?
’Twas his to soothe the helpless orphan’s grief with timely aid,
the widow’s woes assuage,
To misery’s moving cries to yield relief
and be the sure resource of drooping age’
Will people (after your death) speak with wonder of what you have left behind you, as they did of this man, of your generosity both in your lifetime and by the bequests in your will as follows: ‘there few people more truly admirable…..than Edward Colston….’
Edward Colston, whose statute was recently uprooted by a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol, whose great munificence to the city of Bristol, its widows and orphans with institutions which he established and still carry his name, was at the expense of the lives and suffering of thousands of slaves transported to the Americas in the appalling slave trade of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; a crime against humanity, the legacy of which still blights the lives of so many of our people, so many generations later with profound consequences which perhaps we are only just now starting to grapple with and needs to result in changes to the way we, yes even us, behave to those of our countrymen and women who do not look like us…..
If you are thinking ‘well that’s not me’, ’I am not a racist’, then can I suggest that you read the book ‘Brit-ish’ by Afua Hirsch
How do we ensure that our legacy, the impact that we have on the world during the few years that we have to live, stands the test of time and that our memory is not chucked un-ceremoniously into the dock of notoriety, when a new generation of people wake up to who we were and what we did with the lives that we led?
How can the world be blessed by the fact that we were in it? Even in a small way…
Studying the story of Abraham and Isaac that we have just read may help us….
The story of Abraham is ultimately a story about legacy; but it is a very different legacy from that of Edward Colston, because it is also a story about surrender and trust, not control and manipulation. It is the story about how one man, Abraham, ensured that the impact he had on the world was a profoundly good one across the centuries.
But to see how, we need to return to the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in around 2000 BC where Abraham was born…it was a place of pagan, idol worship but the one true God, God the Father, the Creator of the Universe, spoke to Abraham and spoke out what his legacy could be. God said (Genesis 12:2) ‘I will make you into a great nation…and all peoples on earth will be blessed by you’
What an incredible legacy that would be! That his children would become a great nation and that everyone on earth would be blessed by him!
But there were two snags:
firstly, Abraham was 75 and his wife was about the same age….and they were childless
and, secondly, God said to him that he would only have this legacy if he travelledfrom his country, his people, and his father’s household to a land that God would show him…..out into the unknown…..
But Abraham does it…living day by day on the strength of the word of God’s promise, as he travels to an unknown destination, he surrenders to God’s calling with his family and servants, flocks and wealth, goes off into the wilderness to a land occupied by the hostile and pagan Canaanites and, in Genesis 15:6, God recognised that trust and ‘credited it to him as righteousness’. In other words, that belief that God would achieve what he had promised, that surrender to God’s will, that trust in God….put Abraham right with God.
And then Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.
Not surprisingly, Abraham adored him. Here at last was the one through whom God’s promise, Abraham’s legacy, was going to be fulfilled.
I think that the miracle of Isaac’s birth must have had such a profound effect on Abraham and Sarah as evidence for what God can do, however improbable, if we trust him. This combination of surrender and trust was so unique, something distinctly ‘Abrahamic’ ‘of Abraham’. It wasn’t surrender to the ways of the pagan Canaanites, to the ways of the world. Abraham didn’t follow their ways. He kept him and his family separate from them…His was not a fatalistic view: ‘What will be, will be’, but a very specific surrender to Father God as Abraham knew him to be.
It was that surrender to God’s will, combined with that trust in the promise that God had made that Abraham must have inculcated in Isaac and which cascaded down the generations through Abraham and Isaac to the 12 sons of Jacob, his grandson, the Israelites. It was this promise, that foundational belief, that was the religion of Israel.
So, now we need to turn to the story we have heard today….Abraham is called by God ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac and go to the region of Mount Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you’
How could he set out ‘early the next morning’ verse 3. How could he act immediately to do that awful task, if not because he was totally surrendered to God’s will and was totally trusting in God that somehow all would be well, even though he could not understand why God would ask this of him. As Pete Greig who runs the Prayer Course says, ‘It is possible to trust even when you don’t understand’.
As they set out for Mount Moriah, with everything that was necessary, but one item, for a sacrifice, Isaac asks the obvious question, verse 7 ‘Father ..where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’
Abraham replies ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’.
Abraham is still trusting God that he will resolve this contradiction between God’s promise to bless the world with Abraham’s progeny and his command to sacrifice his only son.
Abraham, in saying that ‘God will provide’, is calling Isaac to learn the important lesson of surrendering to God’s will, and to trust God. It is a test for Abraham and a lesson for Isaac, even when neither of them can see how this can possibly end well.
Isaac is still trusting when Abraham takes him and ties him up and places him on the wood on the altar…..if Isaac was not trusting God would he, as a young person, not have been able to run away from the ancient Abraham?
Surely Isaac is a willing victim, also totally surrendered to God’s will, but also trusting him to find a solution, but tied (some commentators say) to avoid a last minute flinch which might make his death, unnecessarily painful and distressing.
The scene moves to slow motion as Abraham (verse 10) reaches for the knife to slay his son….then suddenly there is a call from heaven ‘Abraham, Abraham Do not lay a hand on the boy’, ‘Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son’. Abraham has proved that he is totally surrendered to God’s will and, in that sense, that he fears him…
A ram is found in the thicket and an appropriate sacrifice is made to God.
We may well think, this is an appalling story, but its only when we know something about Mt Moriah that we can get a glimpse of what is going on here, of how this is a prefiguring of something very important which came later.
For Mount Moriah was later known as Mount Zion. Around the rocky crag on which Abraham built his altar on which to sacrifice Isaac, was eventually built, by King Solomon, the Jerusalem Temple. The rocky crag became the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, the place where, according to the Old Testament, God dwelt on Earth. It’s within walking distance from Calvary, the place at which God’s son Jesus Christ, surrendered to God’s will, as he prays to the Father in Gethsemane,’Not as I will, but as you will’, the place where Jesus was not withheld by his Father and was a sacrificial lamb to take away our sin.
In this way, the legacy of Abraham was fulfilled by God the Father sacrificing his son and, in doing so, ensuring that the promise to Abraham that he and his son Isaac and their descendants (including us Christians as inheritors of the promise) would bless the whole world.
In this way, that promise comes to fruition so that billions of us now follow his descendant Jesus, all trusting that God will keep his promises even when we cannot imagine how he will do it.
And this is where Abraham’s legacy and that of Colston are so different.
There is no suggestion in Colston’s short biography that I have read that he was surrendered to God’s will…Indeed, his insistence that his bequests only went to those who agreed with his very particular religious views and his rejection of dissenters and what was then called ‘enthusiasm’, suggests otherwise. No, his generosity was one way of manipulating his contemporaries and future generations to see him as a great benefactor.
So different from another slave trader John Newton who found the Lord in a terrible storm at sea and went on to become ordained and an abolitionist, finally writing, Amazing Grace the hymn we heard last Sunday, and we will sing again today….‘I was blind and now I see’ His famous words.
I don’t think we can choose how we will be seen in perpetuity, but we can do what is right today. We can surrender to God’s will today.
Its only in that surrender, when we trust him, Its only in that surrender that we stop being blind to what we are doing, to who we are, It is only in that surrender to his will, that he can bless us with all sorts of improbable blessings and our legacy can become the story of his work on earth.
As we learned from Loulou’s experience in hospital, which we heard about at Valley Worship last Sunday,
it was only when she surrendered that she felt that the MRI scanner was God’s hand and that Jesus was breathing for her….
So what do you think about your legacy? How your children and grandchildren will see you?
Is your legacy going to be the good works that you have been seen to have done or would you want to have written on your tombstone ‘I surrendered to and trusted God, even when things looked bad’.
Because if you do surrender to him and trust him, whatever the crisis, you will never be disappointed.
Open our eyes Lord to the areas in which we are not surrendered to your will, in which we are still trying to control everything around us, to where we are blind
Please forgive us….
Lord help us to surrender these things to you and to trust you with the outcome
Nicky Barber read the following prayers:
Father, we thank you so much that today, for the first time since early March, we are able to celebrate our Parish Communion with Alex leading us from inside one of our churches again. We have missed our churches Lord and we look forward to seeing them gradually being opened up.
We look up to you our great and wonderful God, lifting our eyes from the things of this world and focusing on you. Help each of us today to take in the awesome significance of all that Jesus won for us on the cross and to respond to your love in heartfelt gratitude, love and obedience. Thank you Jesus that you didn’t turn back from the cross, that you chose to surrender yourself to that terrible ordeal out of love for us. We stand in awe of you today and in horror at the ultimate consequences of human sin. Help us in turn to worship you today by surrendering our lives in obedience to you.
We look up to you Lord, but we also look out at our hurting world. We think of those places in this country and abroad where people are suffering, not just because of the current pandemic, but because of poverty, famine, war and injustice. We also think of people we know who have lost their jobs, their health or loved ones, who have seen their businesses or relationships collapse, those suffering from mental health problems, anxiety or loneliness. You hear the cries of each of them Lord – please step into the lives of those who cry out to you for help and bring your healing, deliverance, provision and peace. We also lift before you our Queen Elizabeth and her family, our national and local government, all our frontline workers and we pray for wisdom, strength and courage for each of them as they do what they can to help this nation come through the various crises it is facing.
We have looked up to you, outwards at our world and now we dare to look inside. We ask you Holy Spirit to sift our own hearts and to show us those things that need attending to and in particular any thing that we are trying to hold back from you, to keep control of ourselves. As we go through these times of testing and shaking of so much that we had built our lives on, may we like Abraham pass the test and be found to have been faithful and obedient to you, to have invested our lives in what will last for eternity. We place our world and ourselves into your loving hands and entrust this coming week to you, our God who loves us and has promised to provide for us.
We ask all this in the precious name of Jesus.
We say together:
Accept these prayer for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ge 22:1–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.