Life is full of choices.
Sometimes those choices are between good things.
Friday night I went to Coneflower Creamery, an ice cream place over in Blackstone. Apologies to anyone who is lactose intolerant but their ice cream, its like in the top 5 I have ever had in my life. There are no bad choices in Coneflower Creamery.
Sometimes choices in life are between, less than ideal things.
Like choosing between different chemo, surgery, and radiation treatments.
Sometimes the decisions we make might involve giving things up, what we might call sacrifice.
It’s snack time at school, or in the office, and your best friend doesn’t have one. You could share yours but the snack you packed that day is your absolute favorite, and your pretty hungry too.
Your friend is desperate for a ride to the airport, but their flight takes off at 5am and you have to be at school by 7:30.
Your and your spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend, help each other out at big work events. But your significant others work event means being in Lincoln at 5:30am on a Saturday.
You feel called to join the military or serve our country in some way.
You leave your home country, maybe you have to for safety, maybe your seeking different opportunities, but you leave your home country and can’t take your whole family with you.
You transition jobs or cut back on your hours and get to spend more time with your family. Or you take a higher paying job or take on more hours and spend less time with family but have more financial resources for your family.
And when we add living the way God wants us to. When we add our faith into the mix and trying to live a life loving God, loving our neighbor, and seeking justice, we encounter a new layer of choices and sacrifices. However, not all sacrifices are ones God would have us make. Life is full of choices and life involves sacrifices. And while there are things God wants us to do with our life there are some sacrifices that God does not require of us and in no way wants us to make. Consider our scripture today.
At face value, our scripture is about Abraham and Isaac. God tests Abraham and instructs him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Abraham is about to go through with it when an angel stops him and says no, no, no, no, no, don’t do it, don’t do anything to him. And God provides a ram for the sacrifice instead. Traditional interpretations of this passage emphasize Abraham’s faith and how he was wiling to do anything for God. Sermons based on that interpretation might encourage us to go out on a limb for God or to be prepared to give up anything and everything for God. And to those interpretations I say, ok. If that interpretation has been meaningful and life-giving to you, ok. And, what if this text also teaches us that not all sacrifices are meant to be made?
God stops Abraham. God does not have Abraham go through with it. God stops Abraham. And by stopping Abraham, God establishes who God is. God is a God of love and compassion not violence. God is a God who asks things of us. Abraham and Sarah had already left everything they knew to go out to a new land, into the unknown, to follow God. Abraham and Sarah had sacrificed for their faith, but this sacrifice, of Isaac, that was not the kind of sacrifice God wanted.
In Micah 6 chapter 8 God is speaking to the prophet and the people:
“6 “With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?”
God does require things of us, our faith asks things of us that may involve some kind of sacrifice. Loving your neighbor is not always easy and may involve sacrificing your time, resources, or some level of comfort to meet people different from you. If you are here in person or online, if you have chosen coming together in community, to worship, to recharge, to feel hopeful, to feel inspired/challenged/comforted, there are other things you could be doing. Prayer, meditation, reading scripture, worship, volunteering, might involve some kind of sacrifice. Our entire faith is based on God, coming down as Jesus, and pouring himself out in the most thorough and ultimate act of love. Sacrifice is a part of our faith and this story of Abraham and Isaac also teaches us that not all sacrifices are meant to be made.
When things are done to you. It could be bullying or something more serious.
When it is involuntary.
When it is something placed on you or is because of your age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, country of origin.
Not all sacrifices are healthy, not all sacrifices are life-giving, not all sacrifices are meant to be made.
And I’m emphasizing this point so much because the church gets wrapped up in some pretty unhealthy understandings of sacrifice. Somehow, we go from Christ pouring himself out, God choosing to pour out love through death and resurrection, to we are invited to live a Christ-like life, to every sacrifice, even the ones we force on other people, are what we’re supposed to do? No. For generations, women and men have been told what kind of sacrifices they needed to make for their families. The church and pastors have told women and people in situations of domestic violence to stay with their abusers, using the rationale that, that’s just the sacrifice they need to make, that’s their cross to bear. No.
And all of this, like our scripture today, is messy and complicated. Some situations, like situations of abuse and persecution, are objective. Those are not sacrifices you are meant to make. But so many other situations, are subjective. The sacrifices we make to care for our children, our parents, ourselves. The small daily things or the big life-changing things. The jobs you take, where you move, how many activities your kids are a part of. There are no cookie cutter answers and I can’t go through a list of every possible scenario, or every opportunity, or every choice. But I do want to empower you and encourage you.
I want you to know that sometimes hard decisions, sometimes giving something up or taking something on, sometimes sacrifice is a part of life and a part of our faith.
I want you to believe and know that not all sacrifices are meant to be made. Some are genuinely harmful in no way something God would want us to go through.
But most of all, I want y’all to believe and know that in the painful, beautiful jumble of our lives, there is good news. The Good News, is that God sees you and God loves you. Like in our scripture, God provided a ram on the mountainside and God can fill you with strength, courage, comfort, and hope. In the midst of decisions and situations, even the most unimaginable ones, you are not alone. I don’t know what each and every one of you are going through, but I know this. God can bring change, God can bring new avenues, God can bring renewal, resurrection, and hope no matter what life comes our way. Together all the people say, amen.