After graduating college, I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years as a missionary with the ELCA. I got to live in a huge, exciting city, experience the culture, and teach conversational English classes to adults in a Japanese Lutheran church near Tokyo University. All of my students were so much smarter than me, sometimes they would ask me to proofread the English-language abstracts of their research papers and I could check the grammar but I had little idea what the topic was about.
Part of the job as a missionary is the ministry of presence. I attended worship every Sunday, got involved with church events, and also built relationships among students. It was expected that part of my monthly stipend would cover costs to go out to restaurants—a popular way for groups to socialize in a city where living spaces were tiny. It took a while for me to learn that my apartment, the smallest space I’d ever lived in, was actually huge in comparison to where my students lived. So I would host dinner parties and invite people over. It’s simply good stewardship.
One evening after a church event, I was talking with a few other young people whom I didn’t know very well. We were having a great time, so I suggested they come to my home for dinner later that week. I gave them my address, we agreed on a time, and I walked away feeling great.
Somewhere on the walk back to my apartment, I realized I didn’t have anything at home to serve as a meal for even a few people. I’d been experimenting with making my own tomato sauce, but I tried to remember, do I have anything serve that with, even some spaghetti? Also it was the end of the month and my bank account was running low, and I didn’t have a credit card at the time, and this meal was scheduled to happen before I would get paid again. I didn’t have contact information for these new friends, wasn’t even sure how I could contact them if I wanted to, but I was certain they would show up—culturally, the shame of ditching someone would be too humiliating to the person who didn’t show up. What could I do? Ask another friend for food, or money?
I was still mulling my options as I walked up to my apartment building. My landlord was there, unloading his truck, having just arrived back from his farm outside the city. He owned the building and lived on the ground floor, and he was friendly and kind. Konbanwa, good evening, I said, and he turned to me with two hands full of eggplants—he asked, could I use these? He explained they’re perfectly fine, but they weren’t pretty enough to be sold in the market. I was amazed, my prayer already answered: actually yeah, I can definitely use this. Eggplant would be awesome right now. Arigato gozaimasu. Thank you so much.
When those friends did show up for dinner, we had eggplant parmesan with my homemade tomato sauce. That was twenty years ago, and I don’t even remember anymore who those friends were or what we talked about over our meal, but I haven’t forgotten the gift of eggplants from my landlord, Horiuchi-san, the unsuspecting angel who saved my dinner party.
You tend to remember the times you were saved, whether you’re saved from embarrassment or saved from death.
And you tend to remember whoever was there to save you. The stranger who stopped and took you to a service station when your car ran out of gas. The nurse who came in the middle of the night to help you get comfortable and rest in your hospital bed. The teacher who recalculated your test score to give you just enough points to pass the class. The friend who helped you pay your rent to keep you from losing your home. The kind shop owner who didn’t have to help but gave you directions when you were lost in an unfamiliar city. The coach who shut down the bullying conversation and spoke up for what’s right.
Jesus promises his disciples that anyone who helps them in their mission, those people will be rewarded too. Anyone who welcomes the message, who knows what you’re about and helps you with even a cup of cold water, a farmer with eggplant—Jesus hasn’t forgotten the gift of Mr. Horiuchi, my landlord in Tokyo, or the many others who helped me along the way. God notices all of these people and their gifts of kindness.
Furthermore, even if you cannot see clearly how to get from the place God calls you from to the place God calls you to, God will provide. Whatever is needed. I was a missionary, obedient to that call from God, and yes it was a privilege to be able to answer a call from God in that way, and I had a lot of support around me, and yeah I complained about my loneliness in a foreign country, and all the fun events I was missing back home, and God heard all of it, and God still took care of me and made it possible to continue in mission. I obeyed the call to offer hospitality, without knowing exactly how I would provide a meal, and God made it possible and gave me eggplants. God will provide.
God will provide. That’s the name Abraham gave to the mountain where he almost sacrificed his son, Isaac—God will provide. It’s an unsettling story that we’d rather skip over, because the purpose of the story isn’t immediately clear. Christians often call this story the “sacrifice of Isaac,” even though Isaac did not die. Jewish tradition refers to this story as “the Akedah,” the binding of Isaac.
And what is this story even about? Is it really about God testing a human being? Does God really approve of child sacrifice? (The answer to that is no—there’s evidence that child sacrifice happened in some cultures of the Ancient Near East, the time and place when Abraham lived, but there’s not evidence that God approved of child sacrifice, and later on Israel’s own prophets spoke emphatically against the practice.) Is God abusive? Is this an extreme way for Abraham to prove his faithfulness?
Lutherans love questions, so we don’t shy away from the parts of Scripture that are difficult to understand—we read and research and discuss them even more. Jewish scholars do this, too, and over the many centuries, there have been many many attempts to discuss and explain the significance of the binding of Isaac.
Kathryn Schifferdecker, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, summarizes some of these arguments among Jewish scholars in this way:
“The rabbis imagine the scene:
God said, “Take your son.” And Abraham said, “I have two sons.”
He answered him, “Your only son.”
He said to him, “Each is the only son of his mother.”
God said, “The one whom you love.”
Abraham replied, “Is there any limit to a father’s love?”
God answered, “Isaac.””
In the past few weeks, we’ve heard the ongoing story of Abraham’s call from God, to move to a new land, the promise of descendants, the childlessness in his marriage with Sarah and the attempt to produce an heir with Sarah’s servant Hagar, the birth of Ishmael to Hagar and then the promise of a son to be born to Sarah, and then Isaac is born, and Sarah is jealous and gets Hagar and Ishmael kicked out of the house, and folks, these are just some of the highlights of the whole saga, there’s a lot more we haven’t even read.
So, by the time of today’s story, Abraham is over one hundred years old, and how, after all this time and all this struggle and all these reminders of God’s promise to provide an heir, how can Abraham even consider the idea of sacrificing his beloved son, Isaac?
Would you give up what you most love and treasure, just because God told you to do it? And what if it wasn’t really God who told you this? When discerning a call from God, Lutherans talk a lot about discernment, taking time to consider the consequences, weigh the cost, talk to a few trusted mentors, for cryin’ out loud. Abraham doesn’t check out this call with anybody else. I bet Sarah would have had some opinions about this particular call from God.
And that’s one thing about this story: it’s a call from God, a call to action. There’s a Hebrew phrase, “get yourself going,” that shows up here in this story when God tells Abraham “get yourself going to the land of Moriah,” and only one other time. It’s the first time God ever speaks to Abraham, “get yourself going from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Abraham was faithful that other time in the past, when God hadn’t even really done anything yet. But God has been faithful all this time, why not one more time, even if it doesn’t make any sense? Even if the call is “go to the place I will show you”—in other words, you haven’t even seen anything yet.
Get yourself going, even if it doesn’t make logical sense! God will provide, over and over again. God has provided for you, stepped in to save you so many times in the past. Tell your stories, bring them back to memory and let that faithful moment come alive all over again. We worship a God who saves, a God who heals, a God in Jesus Christ who can bring life out of death.
How is God calling you to life? How is God calling you to action, to get yourself going? How is God going to provide this time? God has provided, and God will provide: living water to quench your thirst, and abundant life now and forever.
 Kathryn Schifferdecker in a commentary on Working Preacher dated July 2, 2017: accessed on July 1, 2023 at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13/commentary-on-genesis-221-14-4
 Footnote in Kathryn Schifferdecker’s article: “The Hebrew phrase lek-lekah (get yourself going) occurs only here and in Gen 12:1, linking the two stories and marking this one as being as momentous as the initial call to Abraham.”