‘Children at the heart of Good News’ – 28th June 2020 – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 22.1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said ,'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.' 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.' Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, 'Father!' And he said , 'Here I am, my son.' He said, 'The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' Abraham said, 'God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.' And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. 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.'

Matthew 10.40-42

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright (c) 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's Ranmoor

I’m rather glad that we didn’t have our first reading on last Sunday on Fathers’ Day. The sacrifice of Isaac is in many ways a horrific story and one which today would result in a call to social services. Its main point of course is to underline the faithfulness of Abraham. Over many years God had told him that he would be the father of a great nation and Abraham had trusted God even though he and his wife Sarah showed no signs of having children. And then finally, in their old age, they had had a son, Isaac, a miraculous baby, and it seemed that at last all the promises, all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams were coming true. And then extraordinarily, God told him to kill Isaac. To sacrifice this precious child. And Abraham was obedient. It’s an incredible story and it reminds us of the need to put God first. It reminds us too that nothing we have, not even our children, belong to us. However much we love them, we sometimes have to let them go.

As Christians, we read this story in the light of Jesus. It is often read on Good Friday as it has strong parallels with the crucifixion of Jesus. God so loved the world that he allowed his son to be the sacrifice for our sin. He is the ram caught in the thicket, the ultimate sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world. Despite this, too often, we somehow manage to sacrifice our children for the sins of our world.

Too often, institutions like the church have put their own survival ahead of the need to protect children from abuse. We have been slow to address climate change, blighting the future for generations to come. We have saddled our children with debt rather than address fundamental problems in our economy. And now with the coronavirus pandemic, many of children are missing out on education. Many do not have access to the internet and are lacking food and exercise. We don’t really know what effects this will have on their mental health and future prospects.

It has been heartening to see young people questioning these things. Like Isaac, they have asked what is going on. And unlike Isaac they have not been prepared to go like lambs to the slaughter. They have demanded real change. Young people like Greta Thunberg who has played a leading role in Extinction Rebellion. Young people in the Black Lives Matter movement who will no longer put up with institutional racism. Who question things that we have grown too used to and refuse to accept more George Floyds in the future. We have seen young people questioning old attitudes to gender and sexuality. They are no longer willing to put up with past hypocrisies and prejudice. As it says in the Books of Joel and Acts, our sons and daughters are prophesying and seeing visions of a better world. And the time for those visions to be fulfilled is now. They want change.

As we look back at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac through the lens of the crucifixion, we are reminded that we don’t have to sacrifice our children. The whole point of Jesus dying on a cross once for all was so that we don’t have to do it again. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He set us free from that cycle of sin and sacrifice and his resurrection pointed to the fact that there is always another way. A better way. A more life-giving way. We just need to have the faith and imagination to see it.

Jesus put the poor and the marginalised first in the kingdom of God. And with them he put children. If we want to enter the kingdom of heaven we need to become like a child, he said. In our Gospel, Jesus says that whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a little one will not lose their reward. Children are at the heart of the good news. They are not things to be sacrificed but those who are closest to God’s heart. Not objects but subjects of God’s kingdom. Often, they know the secrets of the kingdom and we need to listen to them more.

The Prayers 
Prepared by Veronica

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

We bring before You Father the needs of our world at this troubled time, when many thousands in countries all over the world are becoming ill or dying from coronavirus, and millions face great economic hardship. There is also much political tension and uncertainty as many national leaders jostle for power and influence rather than working for peace, justice and the alleviation of suffering. We pray for all in positions of responsibility at national or international level, that they may heed the cries of those suffering disease, the hungry and the refugees. We give you thanks for the work of charities and international organisations working to bring help to all in need, and ask Your blessing on them.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, and all those of other faiths, also unable to come together for worship in their own building to prevent further spread of corona virus. Help us to work together to show your love to humankind by our support to those in need, whether by providing food or a friendly voice on the telephone. We give you thanks for modern technology which enables us to link in with our partner churches, St John’s and St Mark’s, and join with them in worship from home. Bless all their clergy and the Wardens and Readers at St Mary’s who are maintaining regular worship materials for St Mary’s congregation and beyond. When this crisis is over, may we meet together strengthened in our faith in you, and appreciating even more strongly the fellowship we share.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all key workers, in our Health Service, Care Homes, those keeping gas, water and electricity on tap, transport workers, shop workers and school staff, giving thanks that their dedication has enabled life to continue, even when their own lives have been at risk. We ask your blessing on children and young people uncertain about their future, particularly those for whom isolation has been very difficult, often in very cramped accommodation, and their teachers who will have the task of rebuilding their confidence.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, including all those unable to get the treatment they need because of the pressure on hospitals and fear of spreading corona virus further. We ask that you be with them all and strengthen them as they recover from their illness. Bless also all doctors, nurses, other hospital staff, care workers and family members as they support people through these difficult days.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for all who have died, remembering those we have known and loved, and all others whose lives have been cut short. We ask your blessing on all who mourn, and they may know their loved ones are in your tender care. We hope that soon it will again be possible to come together at funerals and hug our relatives and friends as we say our final farewells.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our Prayer

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all creation to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of Your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in this service, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000.