3rd Sunday after Trinity

The Church is the people of God, and although we are physically separate, we continue to worship together with one heart and mind:

  • Many of us are praying at 10am every Sunday
  • BBC1 11:45am: The Rev Kate Bottley meets artists of different faiths who are finding common ground, and a former Buddhist monk who now shares his mindfulness techniques with millions.
  • Songs of Praise BBC1 at 1:15pm: Claire McCollum presents the show from the north coast of her home country of Northern Ireland, looking back on memorable faith stories from across the region.
  • Revd Graeme Holdsworth takes Holy Communion at 6pm, in his study on behalf of our community
  • Morning Prayer is said every day
A reflection on why I ask questions

Today’s Bible readings are a short Gospel from Matthew, when Jesus talks about being welcoming, and a longer Old Testament reading about Abraham and Isaac. Both can be found here on this link, or please read them in your favourite Bible translation. Genesis 22:1-14 and Matthew 10:40-42.

Collect Prayer for the 3rd Sunday of Trinity, let us pray:

God our saviour,
look on this wounded world in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Bible Reading, Collect and Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Trinity

Transcription of the Sermon for those who prefer to read…

May I speak in the name of the Lord, the one who provides

Today we have the sacred story of Abraham and Isaac. Genesis: one of Israel’s beginning stories, an origin story, a formation story. When originally told, it would have been heard by people who had a very different relationship to God than we do today. The people of Israel understood themselves to be the Children of God.

Quite possibly they heard the story and saw themselves in the place of Isaac, because the people Israel considered Abraham to be their father. They knew themselves to be the beloved children of God… the answer to a promise from God. So when the story of Isaac being offered as a sacrifice was told, it would have sounded more like a metaphor of the people of Israel being offered in sacrifice, because Genesis stories were read and understood by a people who knew that these stories were their life stories: they gave them a place in the over-arching scheme of Creation.

It is hard for us to read Genesis in the same way, it is like reading someone else’s family tree and being shocked by the relationships. Or it is like reading a novel and thinking; that’s not a nice book. I don’t like what this author has written, I don’t like this story. But we read the Bible every Sunday. We don’t read novels or fiction… we read the Bible. We read it for a purpose… not to learn history lessons of an ancient people of Israel, but to learn something about our place in the story of God and God’s children.

What can we learn from this Bible story? I think it depends on who you identify with the most, who do you feel is the character in the story that you feel an empathy for?

  • Abraham? Do you feel like God is asking you to surrender something you consider important in your life, possibly even to surrender something you feel God gave you?
  • Isaac? Do you feel like a chosen people? Do you feel like a Child of God?
  • The two servants of Abraham? Following orders but not really knowing what is happening.
  • There is the wider household of Abraham, or perhaps Sarah? Trusting that you are being led, trusting Abraham and his relationship with God but with questions of your own.

If you can understand how this story makes you feel, you might be able to gain some understanding of how your relationship with God is today, and how it might change in the future. I’ll give you an example, I can only really share my own perspective, so let me try:

I read the story and identify with Abraham. Not because I have illusions of grandeur, but because I am spending a lot of time thinking about God’s promises for the Colne Valley, and trusting that God is, has and will be, already at work bringing freedom and love into the lives of all around us. I feel that God has made promises to me: I see the big picture of God’s promise and I am trusting that God is at work. At the moment I don’t know ‘how’ God will work. I know that God will provide, I just don’t know how God will provide.

When Abraham went on the journey, God showed him the mountain first: the big picture of where he was going. In the meantime, there was a conflict, God had promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than there are stars in the sky. And here is Isaac. Without Isaac it is impossible to see how God’s plan could happen, and yet Abraham has been told to offer up Isaac, to offer up the very embodiment of God’s promise. It can’t make sense to Abraham, but we don’t actually know what Abraham was feeling or thinking, all we know is that Abraham followed where God led. Even if, to us, it seems foolish.

As Abraham travelled, more became revealed. Right up to the point where the lamb was revealed stuck in the bush. There was no way Abraham could have seen this from the foot of the mountain: he trusted God. That was all that was asked of Abraham at that time.

I identify with this because I feel confident that God has brought us together for a reason. I can see the mountain before us: the small number of people in our villages who believe and trust in God, the lack of money to pay for building repairs, the lack of money to even pay our Parish Share, but I can see God’s promise that we will grow. So I’m walking towards the mountain in faith, trust and hope.

I love my life here, and I feel like my life here is the answer to a prayer. But do I love my life more than I love God? Would I sacrifice my hopes and dreams? I’m walking towards the mountain and I’m trusting that God will provide.

I share this with you because I feel that we are called to be on a journey together.

We can also be other characters in the story – and that might teach us something of how we are feeling in our relationship with God, our relationship with the Church and our relationships with each other.

Who do you identify with? Read or listen to the Bible story again and as you hear it… ask yourselves who you feel most close to and then ask, why do I feel that way? What is it that I’m dealing with that makes me feel the way I do?

  • Abraham? Do you feel like God is asking you to surrender something you consider important in your life, possibly even to surrender something you feel God gave you?
  • Isaac? Do you feel like a chosen people? Do you feel like a Child of God?
  • The two servants of Abraham? Following orders but not really knowing what is happening.
  • There is the wider household of Abraham, or perhaps Sarah? Trusting that you are being led, trusting Abraham and his relationship with God but with questions of your own.

If this sermon has helped you to ask questions, and if I’m not boring you… follow up on the questions. Write them down, or if you are artistic, why not draw what comes to mind. If you prefer other ways of expressing yourself – perhaps a conversation with your family… don’t leave these questions unasked. Ask them, even if you don’t know the answers.

Then with me, let us pray for a greater understanding:

Dearest Jesus – we believe: teach us
Holy Spirit – we believe: help us with wisdom
Heavenly Father – we believe: draw us closer to you in love
Amen.

8 Comments

  1. i have enjoyed and been reassured by that.
    Abraham’s tremendous faith and patience, beyond our reach (but not His) when he said ” On the third day we will go AND come back again. a true ante type of the resurrection.

  2. I have been comfortable with religion most of my life until a few years ago a friend suggested I read the bible. This I did from cover to cover. However instead of the comfort of the words that I expected to find I came across the most horrific stories like the the one in your sermon about Abraham and the request by God that he kills his own son. Why did a so called loving God ask Abraham to do this evil act in the first place. Was it to prove something to God if so why? The story of “Job” is another horror story, OK perpetrated by Satan but authorised
    by God, for what other reason than to prove Jobs faith in God. Ok in the end Jobs destroyed life and family are replaced by others. So does this make everything alright. REALLY. These are just two of the many horror stories
    that I have had the misfortune to read in the Old Testament which I deaply regret. When I stand up in church on
    a Sunday and sing Glory Glory to God I sometimes ask myself why am l doing this. When I ask questions about this from religious leaders they do not answer or say God loves us all which just leaves me with no answers at all. I still go to church looking for answers but as yet l have not found any.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this Anthony – I’m the Vicar at St Bartholomew’s and St James… easy answers or failed platitudes do not satisfy me. I hope we can meet and talk – the questions you raise are not isolated, others wonder this too. The courage to speak up is a blessing on all those who feel as you do, but are afraid to say. Until we meet, or speak: peace be with you. Graeme.

      1. Thanks for your reply Rev. Graeme. We have met, I have been a member of the congregation at St Bartholomews for few years now until the church was closed down. Yes I would like to talk with you sometime to see if we could resolve some of the problems I have with my beliefs and mabee lay some off them to rest. Peace be with you too.
        Anthony Lockwood.

        1. Aargh! I’m sorry Anthony… I was only just getting to know everyone when this lockdown began. Thank you again, and see you soon I hope. Graeme

  3. Like Anthony, I hear this as one of the most horrific stories in the Bible. We can hear it in different ways, and see some very different – even conflicting ideas in this particular part of Genesis. Yes it tells us about the incredible and unexpected ways in which God’s promises are fulfilled, and it tells us about the deep faith that Abraham himself clearly had, that God had a plan, and that things would work out. But the story as it unfolds in the ensuing chapters, also tells us about the way in which Abraham’s family relationships – with Isaac and with Sarah particularly – were damaged beyond repair as a result of what Abraham did to his son.
    This story contains so much – wonderful and painful – about faith, about promises, about our understanding of God, about ancient ideas about sacrifice – and also about the complicated nature of our relationships, and about the price we (or others) can pay when too much is asked of us.

  4. I love the old testament because it gives us insight into people of faith, trust and belief in very difficult situations.
    Abraham’s faith for instance spans the whole of his life the choices he made good or bad and though we cannot imagine living in that time it shows us a deep relatonship with God.
    The promise for instance as Graeme says,Abraham descendants would be numerous has the stars and the grains of sand.
    Abraham’s faith was so strong i believe he new God was testing him and that God would not kill Isaac because of His promise to him.
    This I believe is a picture of God providing the sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ and inviting Him into our lives opens up the Scriptures by His Spirit.

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