Through dreams and visions, O God,
you broaden the horizon and hope of your people,
that they may discover the meaning of your covenant,
even in the midst of trial and exile.
Increase the number of those who believe in your word
so that all people may joyfully respond to your call
and share in your promises. Amen

Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Sacrifice of Isaac, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

RCL readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost may be found here. 

Oh preachers! If the casting out of Ishmael last week weren’t enough, now we have the binding of Isaac! This story raises so many theological issues that it is actually a goldmine for preaching, yet we avoid it because those issues are so thorny. I just realized that I am on my third time through the lectionary and I’ve never touched it. This year may be the year for me. I am most interested in the notion that God is faithful to the promises God has made, but that the way they work out is often fraught with unforeseen challenges when we expect and desire it to be simple and straightforward. God promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would number as the stars, and eventually they did, but it was a circuitous path that led there. There are, of course, many other ways to hear that story; how do we deal with the whole notion of sacrifice? What can we say about the faith of one who would lay his son on an altar at God’s command? What does it tell us about God that this happened and that God intervened at the last possible moment? So many possibilities, none of them easy.

Perhaps you’ll choose the prophet Jeremiah instead. Jeremiah has been walking around wearing a wooden yoke as he warns the king and the people of Israel that they must submit to the rule of the Babylonians. Now comes along Hananiah who challenges Jeremiah, basically saying, “Don’t worry; in two year this will all be over.” Jeremiah calls him out as a false prophet, a tricky distinction even now. Who wouldn’t rather believe in the one with the more optimistic message? Do we fall prey to false prophets in our day? How do we know what to believe? How do we stay faithful to God and God’s will?

Our NT reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.Israel Kamudzandu over at WorkingPreacher notes that,”Theoretically, the apostle Paul makes readers ponder on the differences between religion and spirituality… Theologically, Paul teaches that believers must at some point grow from being religious to becoming spiritual for that is the work of grace and sanctification.” In this age of “spiritual but not religious” how does that notion work out? What is the difference between being religious and being spiritual? Are they necessarily related?

The pericope from Matthew’s gospel, on first reading, seems to be a simple and straightforward message on the importance of welcoming others into our midst, one that is certainly timely in our context. Both

Albertinelli, Mariotto, 1474-1515. Sacrifice of Isaac, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Albertinelli, Mariotto, 1474-1515. Sacrifice of Isaac, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

power and deep compassion are conveyed when Jesus says, “…and whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” To take it one step farther, one might ponder what it means to welcome a prophet , and what a prophet’s reward might be. Is there a hint there about not just welcoming the prophet but also the prophet’s message? Hmm……This passage might also challenge us to consider just how welcoming we are to those who are not like us, and how others perceive our attempts to be welcoming. There is a great deal to chew on in those few short verses!

Where are you headed this week preachers? Are you up for the binding of Isaac? Perhaps hospitality is on your mind, or you are doing a summer sermon series. Wherever you are headed; even if (perhaps especially if) you’re not sure, join the conversation. It’s always fruitful.



14 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary~~”How long, O Lord?” edition

  1. Thank you for these reflections. The bulletin says I’m preaching on Romans, but I’m not feeling it today. Or maybe I’m feeling it too personally and not really a proclaiming way. It’s church yard sale time around here so sermonizing will be taking a back seat to sorting clothing and knick knacks that nobody wants, and my kids suddenly can’t live without!


  2. The binding of Isaac was the text on the second sunday of year four of the NL, last fall. There was great conversation, as I recall. I really liked my sermon on it, actually.

    Also, when I talked with my local rabbi about the text, she gave me a book to read. (how very Rabbi of her.) I can’t remember the title offhand but when I get home tonight I’ll leave it in a comment…


      1. The book the rabbi recommended is “The Last Trial: on the legends and lore of the command to abraham to offer isaac as a sacrifice: The Akedah” by Shalom Spiegel, translated by Judah Goldin.
        It was super helpful.


    1. Thanks for the link to your sermon Teri! Very helpful as I approach the Binding of Isaac story. I especially like your pointing out that in other situations Abraham argues with God, and here he doesn’t—perhaps he’s mistakenly listening to another voice, and that our God is the one who says, “Stop!” Good food for thought there…what other voices do we listen to, and what gods do we sacrifice our children to.


    2. thank you Teri, very helpful. I am looking at both the Ishmael and Isaac stories this week.
      will use the idea of which god do we listen to, and who do we sacrifice.


  3. Anyone remember the Arch Books bible stories for kids, all done in rhyme? I have quite a collection thanks to my godmother giving me many of them 40-50 years ago. I went looking thorough them and along with Zaccheus and the widow’s mite and other nice stories, I found the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jeremiah and the fall of Jerusalem, and Stephen the martyr. But even Arch Books didn’t touch Abraham and Isaac!

    That’s where I’m starting, acknowledging the many horrors and great difficulty of this story, and from there I will go on to mine some truth, though I’m not sure yet just what. Really good material on Working Preacher, not just from this year but the last two cycles as well. And Teri, thanks for your link; I will go take a look!


  4. Nah, no binding over this side of the Pond… using Ps 89 and the Mat reading… looking at welcome.
    Psalm gives us context of who we worship/ who we’re praising… I’ll move to the God who welcomes us to be his own…link with the God who, in Christ, came into the world and was welcomed and unwelcome…who saw those who were on the edges who were invisible/ unwelcome…link with us…as Christ’s body, who do we see/ not see…and to welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ – seeing Christ in the stranger’s guise…possibly even going along how hospitality and welcome in the Mat. text deemed so important that they follow immediately after taking up one’s cross/ losing life and gaining life… is welcome/hospitality a matter of life and death? Pertinent question if we think of the cup of cold water in places where water is scarce…but also pertinent when thinking of declining numbers in mainline churches – how can we, at the most basic, be places of warmth and welcome?
    Vaguely wondering also about a comment from Feasting on the Word about how, even when we welcome folk in, how often the power dynamic is in play – in essence: come in, but it’s our turf, and on our terms…


  5. I am preaching on the ways of welcome/Matthew text. I agree that as Letty Russell writes in Just Hospitality, we need to pay attention to the “power quotient” always in play… By the way, am looking forward to the RevGals event in July with Mary Luti!


  6. I am also going to look at the binding of Isaac…but also sacrifice and how some sacrifices are ignored/of little account in the bible…like jephthah’s daughter in the book of Judges. I’m thinking of juxtaposing the two stories…or maybe contrasting the “sacrifice” idea… it is still early.


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