Fifty years ago, on this morning September 15th, at 10:22 in the morning, a bomb detonated A bomb placed in a church exploded and killed: 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair. They were killed as they headed to Sunday School class at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This past week congress those four black girls posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal. Lisa McNair, the younger sister of Denise McNair said to the press: “We feel that this honor given by Congress means that our great country recognizes the sacrifices made for freedom in our country.”
Those girls, like young Isaac who we just heard about this morning, did not walk, did not make their way to that place of worship intending to give their lives. No that was someone else’s demand, that was someone else’s intention.
In our story from the book of Genesis, Abraham is commanded by God to take his son Isaac, to take him from his mother, to journey to a high place, and there to sacrifice him, saying, ““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.”
Now we know from another part of the story that we read this morning, that Isaac actually had two sons. His first son, his eldest is Ishmael, who is the son of Hagar, an Egyptian slave, that Sarah gave to her husband, and this is an important part of the story because just as we believe that we are children of Abraham through his son Isaac. Muslims trace their faith in God back to Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael. But Ishmael is out of the picture. Why? Because he too, was sacrificed. Not to some god, but he and his mother are sacrificed for the peace of the family, to please Sarah. And, if you remember, while Ishmael may be abandoned by his father, God does not. In the wilderness God rescues the child and his mother, and promises to Ishmael that he too would be a father of great peoples. We learn a lot in these stories about God and God’s children. Getting back to Abraham, so this man, this father already knows what it is to lose—to give up one son, and now he is being asked to give up another.
At first we may think that this is absolutely horrific, and it is. However, it is even more troubling when we realize just how common it is to know what it is like to lose a child. Abraham was probably not completely shocked, dumbfounded, and shaken by God’s an unheard of demand. Again, child sacrifice was part of the world he lived in practiced by the people around him by his neighbors who worshipped Molech and Baal and others.
So as Abraham traveled with his servants, with wood, and knife, and his own son, heading to some high place to make the sacrifice, perhaps Abraham was simply silenced by his resignation thinking that this God he followed, this God who had promised him descendants, promised to make him a great father of peoples to bless others, perhaps this God who promised blessings, was just like all the rest.
And God took Abraham, to that last moment, to the brink of death and destruction, and then God spoke, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.” Stop, halt, cease and desist. Imagine the relief, imagine the gratitude. Abraham would not forget that moment. The people of God should not forget that moment. But, they do so over and over again God reminds the people to not sacrifice their children to Molech—to Baal, to not be like their neighbors and pass their sons and daughters through fire. We are not to sacrifice our children.
But the sad truth is, over and over again, we do. And not just four black girls fifty years ago. All the ongoing threat of military action in Syria, wasn’t because of the thousands including children who have died from bullets and bombs, but because poisonous gas killed some 1,200 some people, including hundreds of children died. As if their lives were sacrificed to uphold international conventions on warfare.
Warfare itself, if we really stop to think about it is the giving over of our sons and daughters their lives in exchange for peace and security their time with their families, their lives are sacrificed. So we too know about sacrifice.
But can we hear this morning, can we hear our God say to us no more. No more shall children suffer because of adult wants, needs, agendas. No more shall children be exploited and abused. Can we hear and really learn like father Abraham, that our God is different. Can we remember that our God declares that children are not to pay the price so that others don’t have to. Our children are not expendable; they are not here to make us feel loved; they are not possessions for us to throw away when they become inconvenient or bothersome. If God isn’t seeking the blood of our children to solve our problems, why should we? Because we don’t need altar, a big sharp knife, or rope to sacrifice a child It is done with so many budget cuts to schools, where children in our city are lucky if they get a gym class, an art class, receive no training in music. Where in some schools kids are crammed into classrooms, while others have fine new buildings, small class size, all sorts of extra curriculum activities and laptops and ipads. We’re sacrificing children for all sorts of reasons these days including politics and racism. The well-being of too many children is sacrificed to addictions, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, fancy wheels, and good looks. As if a child is a mere accessory.
Can we hear God’s call to stop, cease and desist. To use our hands not to harm those who are so vulnerable and powerless, but to value them, to invest in them, to sacrifice our wants, our pleasures, for them. To make sure that they are surrounded by love and importantly surrounded by the stories of God. So that they see and hear, and feel the love of God.
Even the on at the cross, can we hear God’s voice crying out stop, cease, and desist. That on the cross Jesus’ isn’t a sacrifice to appease an angry, or justice seeking God. Instead the cross is as some church fathers, mothers, and teachers the cross is the epitome of our sin, it shows just the height and depth of our evil that we would, people just like putting a bomb in a church, we nailed an innocent man, a faithful servant, a son of God to the cross, to hang there bleeding and gasping for breath till he dies. The cross as Luther said is the place where we see not God’s anger, but love that even when we are at our worst, sacrificing our sons and daughters to what we believe is just and right, The Lord God is there, in the pain. And that in that empty tomb on that first Easter—God declares to death, evil and sin—stop cease and desis. And that in Christ, the risen at the resurrection, God again says no more. Where you will wage death, I will bring life. God says I am the God of life, the one who brings life out of death, who gives meaning in the midst of hopelessness. Where violence tries to win, life will arise. God will make a way, God will provide.
For it is that God, it is that story that we are part of as we again, begin Sunday School, as we give of ourselves, our time, our money, our prayers, to our children, to the children of this neighborhood. This is our story, this is God’s story, to not sacrifice our children, but to sacrifice for them. Amen.