Sometimes life gets comfortable, and we like that. We like knowing what to expect, and the idea of new things can seem daunting, even scary. But when new things come, when bad news is heard, when things are shaken, it's trust in God that can see us through.
This message based on Genesis 22:1-14.
A few years ago, Reader’s Digest carried a story about Jermaine Washington. Jermaine was 26 years old when he did something rather remarkable. He became a kidney donor, he gave one of his kidneys to a woman he describes as "just a friend." He met the recipient, Michelle Stevens, who was 23 at the time, when they began working together at the Department of Employment Services in Washington, D.C. They became friends and had lunch together and chatted during their breaks. "He was somebody I felt I could talk to," she said. "One day, I cried on his shoulder. I had been on the kidney donor waiting list for 11 months, and I had lost hope."
She told him how depressing it was to spend three days a week, three hours a day, on a kidney dialysis machine. She suffered from chronic fatigue and blackouts and severe joint pain. He could already see that she had lost her smile. "I saw my friend dying before my eyes," he recalled. "What was I supposed to do? Sit back and watch her die?"
Michelle’s mother suffered from other health issues, so she wasn’t eligible to donate a kidney. Her two brothers were reluctant. "I understood, they said they loved me very much, but they were just too afraid," she said.
The operation began with a painful procedure where doctors inserted a catheter into an artery in Washington's groin. Then they injected dye through the catheter into his kidney, and took X rays to determine if it was fit for transplant. A week later, an incision nearly 15 inches long was made from his navel to the middle of his back to remove one of his kidneys. After the surgery he was hospitalized for five days. That’s a pretty big sacrifice for someone you don’t know that well.
Today, both are fully recovered. To this day, people wonder why he did it - and even question his sanity. But when one person asked him where he had found the courage to donate a kidney, he answered, "I prayed for it," Washington replied. "I asked God for guidance and that's what I got."
What would be your response if you prayed, and God asked you to give up one of your kidneys? Not to a family member, just to a friend. And not just any friend, but a friend you just met a few months ago. Would you be willing to trust God in something that big?
In January of 1926, six-year-old Richard Stanley showed symptoms of diphtheria, signaling the possibility of an outbreak in the small town of Nome, Alaska. Today, diphtheria is easily treated, but in 1926, it wasn’t. If it was diphtheria, and it was left unchecked, it could have wiped out the whole town. When the boy passed away the next day, Dr. Curtis Welch began immunizing everyone with an experimental serum. It wasn't long before the supply ran out, and the nearest serum was in Nenana, Alaska--1000 miles away, across frozen wilderness, with no roads. Amazingly, a group of trappers and prospectors volunteered to cover the distance with their dog teams! Operating in relays from trading post to trapping station and beyond, one sled started out from Nome while another, carrying the serum, started from Nenana. They faced frostbite, fatigue, and exhaustion, but the two teams pressed on, until finally, 144 hours later, in wind chills of minus 50-degrees, the serum was finally delivered. As a result, only one other life was lost. The sacrifice those trappers and prospectors were willing to make had saved an entire town. Would you be willing to trust God in something that big?
Our reading this morning gives the example of what we might consider the ultimate sacrifice. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. What I think makes this story of sacrifice remarkable is that God didn’t tell Abraham why He wanted Abraham to sacrifice his son. He just said, go. And Abraham went.
If you think about it, Jermaine Washington made a sacrifice for someone he knew, maybe he didn’t know her really well, but he knew that she would die if he didn’t do something. The trappers and prospectors knew that the whole village of Nome, Alaska could die if they didn’t do something. But Abraham’s sacrifice, this request didn’t seem to have any purpose to it. Why? There was no good reason for it. I suspect most of us would have fought it with everything we have. But Abraham loved God so much that it never occurred to him not to do what God asked him to do.
God gave very little information. And remarkably, Abraham didn’t ask for more information. He didn’t argue. He didn’t fight it and try to justify it with reasons for not obeying God. Bottom line, he loved God, even more than he loved his only son. And that was enough. He would have done anything God asked.
The trip itself was a pretty major sacrifice. God said, go to the region of Moriah, and sacrifice him on the mountain I will tell you about. Later it says that they were gone three days before Abraham could even see the mountains off in the distance. Three days travel! That would be like God asking us to go to Colorado or New Mexico to a mountain he would tell us about later. Would you take off on a trip like that and drive for three days, not knowing where you’re going, to sacrifice as a burnt offering someone you dearly love? … You would if it were for a God that you loved more.
In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Abraham hadn’t read this verse, it was written nearly four thousand years after Abraham was willing to make such a dramatic sacrifice. But he seemed to know it, didn’t he? Instinctively, I think we all know it. If we really love God, we will show it by doing what he asks us to do. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even it turns out to be quite a sacrifice. We love Him, we would do anything for Him. And we know that He would never ask us to do anything that wasn’t best for us in the long run.
For Abraham, that meant showing that he loved God more than even his son. That God was truly number one in his life. That he trusted God for what was right more than anything, even more than his own son. Do you trust God enough to do what’s inconvenient? Do you love Him enough to do what He asks even it turns out to be quite a sacrifice?
In Matthew 16:24, we come across another of those difficult verses on sacrifice: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” That should be an indication that the life of a Christian will include great sacrifice.
I think that it was Martin Luther that once wrote that “a faith that costs nothing is worth nothing.” There is a ministry on the Internet, Contender Ministries, that includes on their web page, “To come to Christ costs nothing, to follow Christ costs everything…”
God does ask us to trust Him. For Abraham, when he showed that he did trust God even when his request didn’t make sense, God provided for him. He provided a ram caught in the brush that Abraham could use in the sacrifice. That was a last minute thing, Abraham didn’t know a ram would be there. I know he told his servants that God would provide the sacrifice, but he also bound his son and laid him on the wood. He didn’t know a ram would be there. He had the knife at his son’s throat when the angel stopped him. He certainly wasn’t looking around for something else God might have provided, he got there and prepared his son for the sacrifice. He had no idea God was testing him, he was just following God.
Following God means trusting God. Knowing it won’t be easy, knowing it will require a sacrifice, but trusting Him anyway. I think there are a few ways God is calling us as a church to trust Him.
We are on the verge of a new order of worship. For some of you, it won’t be much of a change, you’re already comfortable with this style of worship, for you, the time change is the biggest issue. But for some others, it’s going to seem very different, almost foreign. And there is a tendency to dislike anything new, anything that’s not comfortable. But I believe God is calling us to trust Him.
The church leadership – and I’m talking about all three boards, feel this is the way we as a church needs to move forward. Are you willing to trust Him, even it means giving up your preferred style to increase the chances of reaching other families? Are you willing to be a little uncomfortable in order to increase the comfort level of younger families? Are you will to set aside what you’re used to, what you’ve grown up with, to try something new? I seriously hope you will. And if you’re struggling with this, please give me call, let’s sit down and talk together. Give it a few months and as you become more used to it, I think you’ll get a little more comfortable.
Obviously, worship isn’t the only thing we do here. There are other opportunities to serve here, other ways you might step out and trust Him. The rummage sale is right around the corner and there is a sign up sheet on the board in the hallway that still has a lot of spaces, there is plenty of room for you to help with that. You can donate, and I suspect all of us can find some good things we don’t use anymore that we could donate to a good cause. But there are lots of helpers needed for set up and for managing things that day. Can you give up a day or two, or even just a few hours, to help out? Remember all the proceeds go to kid’s ministries here, so it’s an important cause.
Also, week after week, there are openings on the nursery and junior church sheets. Can you give up an hour a month, or even every other month, to help out? Chances are, when your kids were little, there was nursery. Today, that’s not always the case, we need your help. Remember, what we do for God’s church, we do for God. Serving in the church is serving God.
We have an incredible church here. We have so many valuable ministries here. We truly follow God. But following God requires great sacrifice. Will you trust Him in the sacrifice?