Father Mark, Sermons

Tests

The author facing his test of his fear of heights

Proper 8C; Pentecost 5; Genesis 22; 6/28/2020

How many of you have never ever experienced test anxiety?   Life is full of tests from the time we learn to walk,

maintaining our balance, learning how to tie our shoes; learning not to sneak the cookies from the cookie jar,

school tests, achievement tests, tests to certify licenses and certifications for our vocations.

Remember your driver’s test?   Athletic and musician tests of skill and endurance.

Then there are those tests we experience in relationships which involve a dual focus.   We are tested in being a means of grace for living with other’s faults while at the same time attempting to reduce the number of our own faults so that the relationship can grow. 

We are in the midst of numerous tests to our lives such as how we face the COVID pandemic.

So when people ask me does God test people, the first thing that comes to mind that is that life itself is a series of tests or if you’d rather, challenges.   Forks in the road are a common occurrence.  Every choice we make is in some way a test.   Tests are a part of our spiritual, mental and social development.

Our choices in response to life’s tests questions come from the authority on which we choose to base our lives. 

The authority we choose determines the guidance we receive and values inherent in that authority by which we make our decisions.  The God or gods that we choose determine our response to the tests we take in life. 

There are courses in test taking—how to take tests—that I have attended.  Sometimes it can be helpful to learn how others take tests.  The story of Abraham is one example.

Abraham discerns God’s calling him in a dream to walk a three day journey to a land called Moriah, which 1000 years later would be the location of Jerusalem and the Temple.  He hears the words, take your son.  The words in Hebrew do not indicate a command but more of an appeal to sacrifice Isaac.  This request gives Abraham a choice without the fear of guilt for not doing so.  This must have been mind boggling and agonizing for him. 

Abraham left and lost his home and extended family in Haran for the promise of a new land and extended family and nation that would become as numerous as the stars. Sacrificing Isaac, would nullify everything that God had promised.   It didn’t make any sense.  Since guilt had been removed from the equation, Abraham faced a free choice to walk away or sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham’s response indicated the depth of his faith.  The angel’s intervention, and the provision of a ram indicates God’s distaste for child sacrifice which was a common practice during those times.  

The story may also reveal how difficult discernment can be.  Understanding God’s movement in our lives can be difficult to ascertain.  Cultural influences can contaminate our receptivity.  In Abraham’s case, child sacrifice was not uncommon in those times.  Could the child sacrifice in the culture have influenced Abraham’s dream?

God’s loving corrective nature adjusts our vision and behavior as we move along.    Discerning unexpected changes in direction is not out of the ordinary.  Often times when God calls us to move we aren’t given the total blueprint in how everything fits together and how the finished product will look. 

Following the trail for the Holy Grail takes time—the Grail meaning Christ himself.  The Grail is the vessel that contains the presence of God.  We are now that vessel.   

The three days in the story did not represent a specific 72 hours but signified a long period of time.  

How difficult it is for us to take “three days” to sit in prayer and to listen for the voice of God moving in us and to move out in the direction we are being led?  

I believe we’re in a similar situation to Abraham in that we are being tested during this COVID pandemic.

Our “three days” are faced with the limitations it places on us and how we are to respond to those limitations. 

How do these limitations, and the impact they have on us, affect our physical, mental and spiritual lives?  

What message might an angel of the Lord bring to us in the midst of all this as the virus drags on and on and on and on?   As the psalmist (137) said, “how do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” when the people of Israel had been exiled to a different country. 

Our “exile” is of a different nature.    Where in our lives do we experience a sense of exile?    Where do we experience a sense of exile within? 

We as Abraham can respond to God, by saying, “Here I am.”  We’re in this situation we really don’t like. 

What path do you want us to take in our minds, hearts, and spirits?   Help us to listen.  Help us to hear.  Help us to follow. 

Amen.