Weekly Sermon Illustration: Abraham

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic. 

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this week’s reading from the book of Genesis: 


Genesis 22:1-14 

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 following excerpt was originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words: 

If a schlemiel is a person who goes through life spilling soup on people and a schlemozzle is the one it keeps getting spilled on, then Abraham was a schlemozzle. It all began when God told him to go to the land of Canaan, where he promised to make him the father of a great nation, and he went. 

The first thing that happened was that his brother-in-law Lot took over the rich bottomland, and Abraham was left with the scrub country around Dead Man's Gulch. The second thing was that the prospective father of a great nation found out his wife couldn't have babies. The third thing was that when, as a special present on his hundredth birthday, God arranged for his wife, Sarah, to have a son anyway, it wasn't long before he told Abraham to go up into the hills and sacrifice him. It's true that at the last minute God stepped in and said he'd only wanted to see if the old man's money was where his mouth was, but from that day forward Abraham had a habit of breaking into tears at odd moments, and his relationship with his son Isaac was never close. 

In spite of everything, however, he never stopped having faith that God was going to keep his promise about making him the father of a great nation. Night after night, it was the dream he rode to sleep on—the glittering cities, the up-to-date armies, the curly-bearded kings. There was a group photograph he had taken not long before he died. It was a bar mitzvah, and they were all there down to the last poor relation. They weren't a great nation yet by a long shot, but you'd never know it from the way Abraham sits enthroned there in his velvet yarmulke with several great-grandchildren on his lap and soup on his tie. 

Even through his thick lenses, you can read the look of faith in his eye, and more than all the kosher meals, the ethical culture societies, the shaved heads of the women, the achievements of Maimonides, Einstein, Kissinger, it was that look that God loved him for and had chosen him for in the first place. 

"They will all be winners, God willing. Even the losers will be winners. They'll all get their names up in lights," say the old schlemozzle's eyes. 

"Someday—who knows when?—I'll be talking about my son, the Light of the World."