Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Failing the Test

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Genesis 22:1-14 (NRSV)

The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac is a story that elicits a lot of feelings from a modern reader.  It sounds different if you read it while empathizing with Abraham over if you read it from Isaac's perspective.  Did they ever talk about this experience again together?

How would that conversation go?  Um, Dad, do you remember that time you tied me up and placed me on that pyre?  When you raised the knife, were you really going to do it?

If you were raised a Christian, you may not have thought about how this story sounds to people outside the faith.  It raises an important question, "Does God really test us in the faith where life and death hangs in the balance?"  What if Abraham had refused?

In today's society, what would happen to a father who tied his son to an altar over a stack of wood prepared for a fire and then raised a knife as if to kill him?  At the least, any children would likely be removed from the home.  Does this mean that God no longer tests us in this way?  Or does it mean that Abraham was misinterpreting the test to begin with?

If we explore the idea of tests of faith, could the Coronavirus be a test of faith?  I don't mean that God has sent it to kill nearly half a million people around the world so that we might be tested.  But with the circumstances being what they are, is our faith tested by crisis?

Do we grow closer to God or find our relationship more distant?

If it's a test of survival, such as in Abraham's case, survival of his lineage, how are we faring?

Testing is not so bad if you know the
material but curve balls can be brutal.
Am I adequately feeding myself, clothing myself, and finding medical care for myself during this pandemic?  Most people would include their immediate family in gauging how successful they've been.  What about more distant family?  As a Christian, how do we define family?  We take baptismal vows to help each other within the Body of Christ.  Does this mean our immediate congregation, those of our denomination or the much wider group calling themselves Christian?

As a Wesleyan, I believe in Prevenient Grace and so understand that God loves all people and is reaching out to them whether they believe it or know it, regardless of their response.  Does this make them in some sense my brothers and sisters?

If this is a test of faith, how have I responded to the least of these?  And who would be the least in this scenario?  If I am not among the least, do I have greater privilege than they do?  Should I be examining my life?  How am I spending my time?  

If Jesus commands me to love my neighbor, have I done things to protect them within my means?  Have I worn the mask to prevent possible illness in others?  Have I distanced carefully?  Have I avoided large groups so as to limit the possible contagion?
Have I spent enough time in prayer?  Have I asked God for release from this illness?  Not for myself but for all those afflicted?  Today?

I could add more questions.  The point in my asking questions is that one could always do more.  One could always be more faithful.  If you haven’t failed the test, we can always ask more questions until you do.

This is how some people honestly see God.  God is waiting for them to make a mistake.  To slip up.  To commit a sin.  Then they hear God saying, “I knew you were a screw up.  Look at you.  Pitiful.”

This week’s scripture from Genesis gives an early understanding of how people of faith understood God testing them.  What can we learn from it?  What does it teach us about God?  What does it teach us about second chances?  What does it teach us about our commitment to God?

I'll be preaching on this scripture passage on Sunday and exploring some of these questions.  You can join us at our campus in the Christian Activity Center at 8:30 or 11:00 am and we ask that you register your attendance in advance so that we'll have enough space.  We'll also continue to offer worship online and hope that you'll join us there if that is a better option for you right now!

In Christ,


Photo by Paul Townsend via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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