River Condition Report

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.’” Genesis 22:13b-14

Let me tell you the stuff around this portion of the scripture we read together today. Abraham is called by God to take his son up onto the mountain and to offer him as a sacrifice. We get no report of a sleepless night, or wrestling with God, or a well argued defense of the awfulness of this test. Instead, after this command from God, scripture simply says, 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.”

Isaac, sensing something isn’t quite right, points out that the fire is ready, so asks dear old dad, “uh, where’s the lamb?”

Only after Abraham has bound up his son, laid him on the altar and raised his knife does God send the sacrifice, the ram, caught in a thicket by its horns.

Our tendency is to blame this story for the bad wrap God gets in the Old Testament. We use our logical sense-making brains to try and hold God to what it is we expect. God, that’s not nice. God, that’s not fair. God, that doesn’t make sense. God, that’s asking too much.

But what if we’ve missed the point? What if the point is not to make sense of it, to make sense of God, but instead, what if the point is to acknowledge that life gets tipped upside down all the time. And sometimes, God is directly involved with the tipping over of your life. But to try and explain it away? To try and make sense of the mess, of the times you’re in deep grief or doubt, in misery, at your wits end? To try and explain that? That would just make a mockery of your pain and anguish.

Instead, what if you chose to view this story as a companion story for when your life does (as it has and as it will) get messed up again? What if this was your go-to story when your life hit the rocks? Not as contrast: well, Abraham had it worse or I have it worse but instead: Hey, look at this! The promise always is — the Lord will provide. The promise always is — the Lord will provide.

This story seems to have a dramatic ending – the ram caught in the thicket; Isaac spared – the orchestra swells, the curtain comes down. Instead, this story is a hinge. It’s a turning point, a transition. It is a shifting place for Isaac from boyhood to adulthood who, in the very next chapter, goes on to meet Rebekah and marry her. It is a turning point for Sara as she dies, and for Abraham who is now faced with Sara’s death, and then in a few more chapters, his own. It is a turning point for the on-going living of the promise of the Lord who will always provide.

This non-sense-ical pivotal story tells us that we will be asked to do hard things; that at times we will feel and be so vulnerable and shaken and yet that we will know and see and experience that the Lord will provide. God will provide. Often in surprising and mysterious ways.

We are at a hinge point today. We are at another pivotal moment in our unfolding story of living into God’s promises.

We are done trying to explain the past, of how we got here. For it makes a mockery of the pain of churches that split and your experience in it. It makes a mockery of just what the Holy Spirit has been doing with us and it ignores new stories, different stories. And it keeps our wounds wet and weeping instead of allowing them to scab over and be healed.

Our hinge now is that the River of Hope at Vineyard is shifting in a few weeks to be River of Hope at the Hutchinson Event Center. And do you know what I’ve seen as that hinge does it’s work, swinging us from one place to the next? Well, I’ve seen that River of Hope is at Main Street Sports Bar too. River of Hope is at the McLeod County Fair. River of Hope is at neighborhood parks and in front yards. River of Hope is down by the river in worship and in local restaurants talking about scripture and how to serve the community. River of Hope is climbing scaffolding and painting a house. River of Hope is on the corner, handing out free coffee.

River of Hope is wherever we gather because it is us and it sweeps up those we meet in its current. This is the beauty and freedom of not having our identity chained to bricks but to people who meet in bars, parks, front yards, and event centers.

Yet, most of us are church people. We know how to do church by the building. It’s here that we can readily identify with Isaac, can’t we? Noticing what’s there and what isn’t and saying, “hey, what gives? Do you know what’s going to happen?” Where will we “end up?” Will we lose people in this move? Can we afford it?

Taking on Abraham’s POV, I do not imagine that Abraham knew exactly what to look for. He could not have told Isaac, “keep your eyes peeled for a ram, caught in the woods by its horns. That’s gonna save your skin, kid.” No, Abraham could not draw him a picture. But Abraham acted in the certainty that the Lord will provide. He didn’t know how or when or where. But he knew who. God. God would provide all he would need.

The truth is, God asks us to do hard things.

The truth is, God provides. God equips us to do them.

We are continually being asked to do hard things. To re-think church. To be out in the community constantly, bumping into God all over the place in the form of strangers and people we know, people who question the validity of a church being in all these seemingly random places. To be a people committed to trying to love and pray for all people, not just good Christians.

We can do hard things because we are the people of Abraham. We are God’s people.

As God’s people trusting that God will provide, I can appreciate that this moment of transition for us might be a frightening moment. Which is why I want you, the people of God, River of Hope, to do what you do best. To care for each other through our fears. To name our questions and our wonderings as we strive to be the people of God trusting that God will provide in ways we cannot see yet.

You’re seated at tables today so that you can talk to each other. River of Hope is going to move from worshiping at this space to the Hutchinson Event Center. River of Hope is moving to new office space on Hwy 7. And in the midst of all of that, River of Hope is continuing to live into our purpose as people who Go Out. Put on your best Isaac and ask questions. Read the Frequently Asked Questions sheet and then ask the facilitator at your table any clarifying questions. Have some conversation. That person will also record any questions to ask the entire group.

And then channel your best Abraham, having faith together that God will provide all that we need. That’s the promise. Always.