Discerning God’s Voice 3
June 28 Discerning God’s Voice 3 Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
Most of us would say we would sacrifice just about anything for our kids, but who would be willing to sacrifice their kids? There are many horrifying stories from the Old Testament, such as dismembering an abused woman and sending the parts as a message, but God calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is the one I struggle with the most. Perhaps it is because we get more stories about Abraham and Isaac, and thus are more emotionally invested in them. We can put ourselves more easily into the story, perhaps, most likely identifying with Abraham now that we are older, perhaps we imagined we were Isaac when we were still kids. But the details here are disturbing: the long journey with plenty of time to think, the wood, the fire, the knife, the ram. Abraham ties up Isaac; perhaps we can even feel the cold knife in our hand. How could God ask for such a thing? How could we even get to this point if God asked it of us?
Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “nothing can come separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”, referring to powers and created things, but here we ask: what things do we do that separate us from God? God tells us to put Him first and avoid what may get in the way of our relationship with Him. If you can think of a more extreme example of doing so than calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to prove one’s faithfulness to God, let me know!
Isaac was the promised son to the two old nomads, something Sarah laughed off. Now Abraham is to kill that special gift, giving him as a burnt offering to God, the child destined to become a great nation. Such a thing happening to us is unthinkable today, so perhaps we should ask instead what the most important thing to us is right now. Spouse, grandkids, career, possessions, passion, or hobby? These are the things that define us and give joy and purpose. Can they get in the way of our relationship with God? Definitely: but they can also enrich it. What would we say and do if God asked us to part with what was dearest to us? Will we trust God to provide what we need? Here is 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.”
Most of us come from traditions that do not emphasize separation from one’s family in order to be closer to God, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, and others that have monastic orders and celibate priests and nuns. Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for parents to give their children to the Church, such as Hannah promising Samuel to God. This may not be as extreme as Abraham sacrificing Isaac, but certainly is very painful for those involved. We don’t like to think that our families and friends can hinder our faith, but for many of those with a special calling from God in the Bible, separation from family is a requirement. For everyone else, being part of a family is meant to be a blessing, though reality often falls short. Our Lord said in our Gospel lesson last week:
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Tough words indeed! We are to put Jesus first before all, and in doing so, we may lose friends and even family members. Maybe not here in America so much, but certainly in countries that are hostile to Christianity. It is commonly said in light of this passage that if we love God first, we will love others better, but this rings hollow sometimes. Perhaps social distancing is helpful, maybe not, as we are forced to think about what really matters and may not be able to see our loved ones right now. Hopefully, it will help us to not take them for granted, as we often take God for granted. He is always there for us, but so many other things vie for our attention. But this isn’t just about pushing our loved ones away, it is about drawing closer to God and learning to love all people better. Our Gospel passage this week ends the reading from last week:
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. Matthew 10:40-42
We seek to welcome into our hearts the God who loves and sustains us, and act accordingly. We are to welcome those who come in His name. We seek to set our minds on righteous things and avoid things that are harmful and sinful. When we stray, we ask for forgiveness and welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives. God’s grace frees us from the shame and guilt we incur when we fail to be faithful. As Paul teaches us:
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are called as God’s children to release those things that hinder us from drawing closer to God. We seek sanctification on the way to eternal life. How far are you willing to go? We try to break from sin and those things that are obviously bad but can be blinded to the effects the “good” things may have on our lives and our relationship with God. Sure I love donuts and believe they are one of the best things in life, but those cravings I have for them are distracting and can cause me to forget my obligation to take care of my body, or drive recklessly to the donut shop when those cravings take control. This is a silly example, but we know that similar things happen with more harmful things. Many things start harmlessly but can become obsessions or addictions. A wrong step or two and we are set on the wrong path, blinded to the good and not aware of how bad things get. This of course can happen in our relationships, careers, and hobbies. The stakes get very high indeed when such things cause us to sin and turn from God.
Hopefully, none of us will find ourselves in Abraham’s place, although we are still called to make sacrifices in order to be faithful to God. This requires us to open our hearts to His voice, taking time to listen for His guidance and instructions. As a discipline, this means being quiet before God and resting in His presence, waiting for Him to guide us.
Open Hearts: Free Listening Hearts Program Materials
A Primer on Spiritual Discernment: Topic 3
Centering silence is fundamental to the contemplative life in every major spiritual tradition. It involves being anchored to the center of your being and at the same time fully open to the invisible Spirit of Love and Truth. It is an immersion in the Divine Presence.
To get started, schedule a regular time for intentional silence each day, or at least several days a week. If you are unaccustomed to such silence, perhaps begin with two minutes, then gradually increase the amount of time to ten minutes, then possibly work your way up to twenty minutes. During this period of stillness, try to ignore all thoughts and feelings. Do not fight them; simply pay them no heed. Let them come and let them go so that they sort of float by at the periphery. To help draw you back when you find yourself slipping into a thinking mode, choose a word to serve as your sacred word that you can silently utter to ease you back into stillness. A short word, no more than two syllables, is best. Examples of possible words are “peace,” “rest,” “come,” “love,” “God,” “Source,” “be.” Any time that you start to get distracted, let that word take you out of your head and back to your center.
No one way is the right way to go about this. Different things work for different people. And what works best for a one person at a given time may not be the same at another stage of his or her journey. If one thing is not working for you, try something else.
Some people find it most effective to sit upright in a firm chair; others prefer to sit in a lotus position on the ground or floor; some even stay centered best when soaking in a bathtub full of warm water. Others find it easier to be prayerful if moving: walking, gently running or swimming, or on a treadmill or exercise bike—some kind of activity that does not have distractions and does not require concentration in a way that riding a bike in traffic does. Still others can easily sit still, but have trouble centering down unless they can move something in their hands, for instance by holding a ball of clay in their hands.
If feasible, designate a spot as your special place for this time of centering. Quiet pleasant surroundings are most conducive to becoming still within. Let people who might intrude know that you are reserving this space at whatever the time so that they do not interrupt you during this.
As you build centered silence into your life, you are cultivating a centeredness that eventually will stay with you through the activity of daily life and that you can readily access in the midst of turmoil. Regardless of the specifics of how you arrive at centered silence, you are merging with the Source of life and goodness, which slowly leads to peace, integration, and fullness of life.
While practicing inner prayer do not permit yourself any concepts, images, or visions.
– St. Nil Sorski, a Russian ascetic writer in the 15th century
© 2015 Listening Hearts Ministries
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