If You Could Choose …?

If You Could Choose …?

Pentecost 17 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 September 19, 2021


It was back during my days in seminary ... decades ago now ... I had this friend named Margot. Margot Wright.

Margot was a fellow student ... and Margot was probably the bubbliest ... the most effusive ... person I’ve ever met.

Anyhow ... Margot had this game she’d love to play.

She’d walk up to you ... for no apparent reason ... and ... with her infectious smile ... say something like:

If you could choose ... would you have ...

a) Interpretations of Matthew with Doctor Hultgren ...
b) Turkey Tetrazzini at Food Service tonight ... or
c) Me as a friend???

Trust me ....

FEW people wanted “Interpretations of Matthew” with Doctor Hultgren ... and

NOBODY wanted Turkey Tetrazzini at Food Service ...

Which left you with “c) ... having Margot as a friend”.

Now ... the options in Margot’s “If You Could Choose” game were all over the map ... depending on the news of the day or the season of the year or what was being served at Food Service that evening ...

But options A and B were inevitably bad ...

While option C was always “having Margot as a friend” ...

And so the choice was no choice at all ..... “go with C” ... have Margot as your friend!

+ + + + +

It would be nice if all our choices in life were as easy as Margot’s “If You Could Choose” game ... would it not?

If all of our choices involved deciding ...

Between things that are pleasant and things that are painful ...

Between things that are plainly right and things which are clearly wrong ...

Between things that are good for everyone and things which are good for no one???

Now ... there ARE times when we get to choose between options like that ... but not very often.

No ... usually our choices involve trade-offs between things that have this going for them ... and things that have that going for them ...

Nicer car ... higher price point.

Less amenities ... lower price point.

Then again ... sometimes we get to choose between two good things ... say ...

Two really attractive options on the menu.

But then again ... sometimes the options that we’re faced with are both bad ... such that neither one of them is something that we aspire to ... or would want to face even on our worst days ... but sometimes our choices are like that ... are they not???

Sometimes our choices are

Between things like cancer and chemo ...

Between things like vaccinations and mask-wearing ...

Between trying to stand with someone who is making bad choices and allowing them to fall on their own ...

Between things that hurt bad and things that hurt worse.

+ + + + +

I think I’ve told you before that ... back when I was a pastor in the High Desert ... I knew a woman named Margaret who was faced with a choice ... a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ like that.

Margaret lived in a little town in eastern Germany near the end of World War II.

And she ... along with everybody else apparently ... was trying to head west ... so as to avoid the Russian troops that were coming from the east.

And she was offered a ride on a westbound train ... but with the stipulation that she could only bring one of her two boys.

And so the choice she faced was ...

a) Get on the train with her older son ... the six-year-old ... and leave her three-year-old with family members ...

b) Get on the train with her three-year-old ... and leave the six-year-old with family members ... or

c) Don’t get on the train at all ... and stay with her boys together ... to face the anticipated horrors of the Soviet occupation.

There was no Option D ... none of the above.

It was A or B or C. She HAD to make a choice. None of which were pleasant.

Turns out ... Margaret opted for A.

She got on the train with her six-year-old son and left her three-year-old with family members ...

Reasoning that the six-year-old would be better able to endure the chaos of the journey and get by on his own if he had to ...

But it was a choice which haunted her daily for the next dozen years until they were reunited in the States ... and actually ... by her own admission ... it haunted her LONG after that ... for the rest of her eighty-seven years.

The choices we make between things that are both so patently wrong are the sorts of choices that define our lives forever ... are they not??

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This morning’s Bible story ... the story of Abraham’s life-defining decision regarding the sacrifice of Isaac ... is nothing if not a story about struggling between two hard choices.

I mean ... here we have Abraham ... who ... with his wife Sarah ... has been promised this amazing promise by God ... to have a place to call his own ... and a family to call his own ... and a heritage that will be remembered by God’s people for like ever!

Abraham and Sarah ... back in Genesis 12 ... are literally promised that the WHOLE WORLD is going to be blessed through them and their posterity.

But then Abraham and Sarah have trouble getting pregnant ... a LOT of trouble getting pregnant ... such that they don’t think they’re ever going to have a child.

And then ... now that they do ... finally .... after all those years ... it seems as though God is asking them to sacrifice their son as a burnt offering.

I mean here we have God ... the One who is described again and again as being “the Provider” ...

• The One who provides blessings ...
• The One who provides abundance ...
• The One who provides protection ...
• The One who provides for a future when it seems like no future is possible ...
• The One who provides for life when it seems no life is possible ...

We have this same God making a demand that seems and sounds impossible ... that contradicts everything we thought we knew about God.

“Take this son ... this only son you have ... this very son that I have provided you ... and go up on the mountain ... and give him back to me.”

I think that there’s this profound point of resonance with kind of the core of human existence at this point in the story ... isn’t there?

Abraham has two options ... both of which are clearly wrong.

If I go up the mountain and sacrifice my son .... it’s wrong ... patently wrong.

If I disobey God and don’t go up the mountain .... it’s wrong ... patently wrong.

This isn’t my seminary friend Margot playing ... “If You Could Choose” ... it’s that haunted German woman Margaret’s choice.

+ + + + +

I don’t know about you ... but there is something about this story that speaks to me deep down.

What DO you do when there doesn’t seem to be a right way forward??

What DO we do when none of the options ... none of the options ... seem right??

Here’s Abraham ... muddling along ... trying to do the right thing ... and he finds himself utterly stuck..

He knows that he can’t do this ... because this is wrong ...

But he also knows that he can’t do that ... because that is wrong.

And so Abraham is left with only one option ... one hope ... one avenue ... one guiding light.

And that is TRUSTING GOD ... and trusting that God will provide.

If we were able to interview Abraham right here in the story and ask him “What is God doing?” .... I think Abraham’s answer would be “I’m NOT sure.”

If we were able to ask him “Where is God leading?” ... I’m pretty sure his answer would be “I’m NOT sure.”

If we were able to ask him “What does this have to do with God keeping God’s promise?” ... I think Abraham would confess “I haven’t got a clue!”

But pay close attention to what Abraham DOES say in the midst of that story ... when Isaac himself asks “Where is the Lamb?”

Abraham says “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

And the reason that he is able to say that is because his experiences of God to this point have all been about God being the One who provides.

That’s FAITH ... folks.

Trusting that God has options when there don’t seem to be any options.

Trusting that God will provide when everything seems hopeless.

Trusting that God is working for life when we only see signs of death.

Because ... ultimately ... there are times when only God can make a way

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If you think about it ... Martin Luther found himself faced with a dilemma not unlike Abraham’s.

Luther was a monk ... who loved the Church and the things of faith ... and had taken monastic vows to obey his superiors in the Church in all things.

But ... at the same time ... he was a student of Scripture ... and he sought to be faithful to the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible.

And the whole Reformation thing happened not because Luther wanted to rebel against authority ...

But because he wanted to remain faithful to authority ...

And because he couldn’t reconcile what he understood to be teachings of the Bible with what he knew to be the teachings of the Church.

Luther was caught in Abraham’s dilemma ... with no good options.

And it was precisely in knowing that God’s Word was calling him to teach one way ...

And the Church was calling him to teach another way ...

It was precisely with an awareness that he was signing his own death warrant that he said “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. So help me God. Amen.”

That’s FAITH ... folks.

Trusting that God has options when there don’t seem to be any options.

Trusting that God will provide when everything seems hopeless.

Trusting that God is working for life when we only see signs of death.

Because ... ultimately ... there are times when only God can make a way.

“If You Could Chose?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship experience on Sunday, September 19, 2021 — the 17th Sunday after Pentecost.  The text upon which it is based is the story of the sacrifice of Abraham/ Issac, as recorded in Genesis 21:1-3 and 22:1-14.  If you would like to access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Bulletin 20210919