How’s your Lent going? If you’ve fallen down on your resolutions, I have great news… today is a new day… you can start again. Why do we give up stuff for Lent, anyway? You ever wonder that? Hopefully today’s readings homily will give you a new perspective on that.
Y’all know the story of Abraham, right? Today we’ll hear about when God asked him to sacrifice his only Son Isaac. <pause> If that doesn’t bug us, then we’re not listening… GOD ASKED ABRAHAM TO SACRIFICE HIS ONLY SON! What kind of God would ask a father to give up his only son? Doesn’t seem like a very loving God, does it?
I have some ideas – maybe not THE answer, but something to consider which may make more sense. So as you listen think about why WOULD God ask Abraham to do that? And what does that have to do with me?
I need a volunteer – somebody who likes to play with playdough. Come on up here.
I need this playdough made into the shape of a heart for my homily… Can you make it? (Ella agrees)… OK – go ahead (but I don’t give her the playdough). Go ahead – make a heart… (Ella will say something like – I can’t if you don’t give it to me). Oh – can I trust you with it? You won’t keep it? I kind of like my playdough, you know… I don’t want you to ruin it. (finally give it and she makes a heart). Awesome, thanks – that’s exactly what I needed. I’ll set it right here, because I’ll use it in a few minutes.
OK – back to that story of Abraham… we gotta go back just a bit in the story to make my point.
Abraham had his life all planned out and HE was going to make it happen… then if you remember, God stepped in and told him to Go out to a land I will show you… leave your country, your land, your relatives, your friends, your livelihood, your entire sphere of influence and go somewhere where you will be a nobody. If you can surrender all of that to me, I will make great things happen through you. Amazingly, Abraham did as God asked… he went wherever God told him to go… but that’s not the end of the story. Abraham wanted a son more than anything, and when he finally GOT that son, once again he thought he had his life under control once again. This is where our story comes in today... Abraham had surrendered everything to God – except one thing – his son – his only beloved Son. Like any good father, his world revolved around his son… his future depended on that son.
Because Abraham was holding on so tightly, God was not able to do great things through him. He had to be able and willing to let go of the thing most precious to him – once again amazingly, Abraham did as God asked… fortunately he didn’t have to go through with it, but his actions proved that he was willing to surrender everything, including his own most precious possession – his son… and now he is considered the spiritual father of more than half of the world’s population. I’d say God upheld his end of the bargain… and he’s not done yet! Did Abraham EARN that? It might look like it… he did what God told him to do so God blessed him, right?
That’s not how God works. We don’t EARN anything. It was because Abraham surrendered everything to God that God was able to work miracles and bless the world through him.
But – there’s another story here… what was Isaac thinking during this traumatic event? We usually think of Isaac as a little boy looking up to daddy asking, ‘Daddy, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’… but if we look closer and do the math… It appears that Isaac was actually in his 30’s…let that sink in – a man in his 30’s, carrying the wood for the sacrifice up mount Moriah. Sound familiar? Isaac was like Jesus – a man in his 30’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice up Calvary… which is a mountain in the Moriah range… the same mountains that Isaac was climbing… possible even the same exact mountain.
What would a man in his 30’s think about being sacrificed by his own father? Other than fear, I can say he must have had a lot of faith that God would raise him from the dead. Isaac’s show of faith was maybe even more incredible than Abraham’s, as he was willing to surrender his MOST PRECIOUS thing… his very life … the ultimate sacrifice.
Just like Ella couldn’t make a heart out of the playdough until I gave it up – until I surrendered it – you and I are called to put everything into God’s hands and let Him mold us into who HE needs us to be.
That’s what Lent is about… practicing surrendering to God. We train our wills by finding by something in our lives that we’re attached to – and we surrender it to God. Maybe you’ve never really been taught that before... Lent is a training ground for Holiness. It’s a time to make intentional sacrifices.
There’s something in our psyche that we know sacrifice is a good thing… it seems to be a universal truth in all cultures… if I give up something good, then something good can come out of it. If I give up something better, then something better can come out of it. So likewise, if I make the ultimate sacrifice, God can bring about the ultimate good. Again…It’s not that we EARN anything… don’t fall into a performance mentality that makes us think we are in control or God owes us something. Sacrifice is about seeing what God can do with whatever we put into his hands.
Don’t just give up chocolate… unless that is the most precious thing in your life. Give up something hard… For many of us, maybe time is our most precious thing…. I’m really busy, got a lot going on, my plate is full…. We never seem to have enough time, so it is precious. Consider giving some of your time to spend more time with your kids or wife – or volunteering – or prayer – or adoration – or stations of the cross… things you know you should do anyway, but – well – life is busy and those things just never reach the top of the list. Give serious thought to what is most precious in your life and whether you could surrender it to God. Eventually, every one of us will have to surrender our lives to God… either now or at the end of our lives. But if we want God to transform us, why not start today? Find something precious to give up in order to train our wills to be ready to surrender anything/everything if God asked.
I was listening to a podcast and this nun was talking about how in their monastery, they all give up the same things. which makes a lot of sense in a community like that… you don’t want to start any competition of who can be holiest…might end up with nobody eating anything for 40 days J But she was thinking in her prayer how she was SOOOO glad they didn’t give up coffee in the monastery, because she could never live without coffee! Then she hung her head…. She knew exactly what God was calling her to give up this Lent – so she asked her superior for permission to give up coffee.
Likewise, our men doing Exodus and women doing Fiat are making a lot of sacrifices and doing a lot of extra reading and prayers during these 90 days leading up to Easter… not because we’re holier than anybody else, but because we WANT to be holy… we want to train our wills to be able to surrender everything to God, knowing that we will be freed from all of our earthly attachments.
God wants to Transfigure every one of his beloved sons and daughters to look like Jesus in the Transfiguration… He wants to make you and me into images of His love in the world…to show His glory to the world. But just like Ella couldn’t make a heart until I surrendered the playdough to her, God cannot transfigure us / mold us to look like Jesus, until we open up put our lives into His hands.