Abraham and Sarah: The effort of calling
The distance between the call and the fruition of the call is measured in great effort. The calling is given freely, but it takes everything we have to live into the calling.
When God called Abram and Sarai, He called them from a life of comfort, away from the urbane center of civilization, its running water, indoor plumbing and social prestige. He called them to cross a barren desert, to live in caravan of animals, frail tents on burning sand, following the stars until He showed them a land.
“What is this Lord, a game of divine hide and seek?” “You call us and then hide the map?”
The call cost them everything of their comfortable life, but in the effort God called them His own. God gave them new covenant names. Not only did God call them from former Ur-bane life, God called them from former selves to new selves, from false selves to true selves: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah.
Step by step in the calling, faith called from ‘deep to deep.’ The Lord showed up on their doorstep and promised them a son – a whole new level in the call. The first level took everything they had, this level took more than they had…and Sarah just had to laugh.
“Lord, have you lost your mind? Does a woman bear a child when her body is incapable of bearing?”
“How can you promise something that is impossible to accept…and then call us to accept that impossibility?”
Living into the calling took everything they had: body, soul and spirit.
Yet, the great call wasn’t through. After the miracle, after the promised son, God asked for that son. “Now that I’ve given you the son, sacrifice him to Me on the Mountain.”
“But God! His name is Laughter! We called him Laughter because you called us to the impossible! And now you ask him in sacrifice?”
How can God be so cruel, so demanding in the calling?
As one rabbi said, “G-d, you treat your friends this way -- it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”
But by now, Abraham knows God well enough to know that this is a God who calls to the impossible: This is a God, who when He deigns to call a person, calls that person not to the possible, but to the impossible. As Kierkegaard put it, “Abraham believed God by virtue of the absurd.” Only God could call to something like this…
Whatever else could have been said, Abraham saddled the donkey with firewood, sharpened his knife and headed up the Mountain of God. “Abba, where is the sacrifice?” asked Isaac.
“God will provide, my son!” replied Abraham. “God will provide!” “He always does.”
Abraham couldn’t tell Isaac of the years of knowing the God, this God who always called to the impossible and then provided. Abraham couldn’t tell Isaac that the holy calling always took effort that went beyond human ability. But Abraham could show him.
And he did. The rope. The wood. The descended knife…and Yhwh fulfilled the calling.
In that moment Isaac learned more of calling than mountains of books or money could have brought him.
Living into the calling takes everything we call our own. But it makes us children of promise in the process.