Sunday, February 18th, 2024

The Mountain of the Lord’s Choosing

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. There are certain places in history, certain locations that have been witness to multiple significant events. Take, for example, the dueling grounds in Weehawken, NJ. Now it’s long been well known that founding father Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr and it’s more widely known recently due to the success of a Broadway musical, Hamilton, that Hamilton’s own son, was also killed in a pistol duel. But what might not be well known is that the location for both of those duels was the same, the dueling grounds near Weehawken, NJ. Maybe it’s because in those days there weren’t a lot of dueling grounds to choose from. Maybe it’s because Alexander decided that if he was going to die in a duel, it was going to happen at the same place that his son experienced the same fate. Whatever the case, by chance or by design, the dueling grounds in Weehawken, NJ were home to the death of two Hamilton men, a mere 3 years apart. There might be room for discussion about the motivation behind two Hamiltons dying in the same spot, but there is no room for doubt when it comes to the train car where WWI officially came to an end. Maybe you’ve heard this story before. On November 11th, 1918 allied forces met with Germany in a train car to sign the Armistice that ended WWI, but about 20 years later, when Nazi forces captured France on their conquest for Europe, during WWII, Hitler made the French representatives sign their surrender in the exact same train car, and that was no accident. That was not coincidence. That was revenge for what had happened there in the past. Significant events happening at the same spot. There’s also a spot significant location mentioned in today’s Old Testament reading, one where multiple important events happen throughout the scriptures, one where multiple deaths occur, one chosen on the purpose of the future events, based on what happened there in the past, and that location is Mount Moriah. Genesis 22 opens with God’s words to Abraham. “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 of which I shall tell you.” Now certainly there’s much that could be said about this whole story. Much in this narrative foreshadows the work of Jesus. There’s the fact that God calls Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son. Words which are echoed by the Father himself in the baptism of Jesus, there’s the way that Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice much like Jesus carries the wood of his own cross up his hill of execution, but today I want to focus on something else. I want to notice something else. I want to spend a few minutes considering the place where this happens, the place where God sends Abraham. See God didn’t tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in the backyard, didn’t tell him to go to the beach, or choose any old place that was convenient for Abraham, someplace that was on the way. No, he sent the patriarch to a specific place, the mountain which the Lord chose and that mountain eventually gets the name, “the Lord will provide”. Location is important to our Lord. In the book of Deuteronomy, he tells the Israelites that they shouldn’t just offer sacrifices wherever they feel like it, but only in the place where he causes his name to be remembered. Jesus himself says in the gospel of Luke that a prophet should not die apart from or away from Jerusalem, speaking of course, of himself. Now perhaps in our day we’ve lost sight of this a little bit. I mean we can stream TV shows or movies or podcasts from wherever we want, anywhere that we have signal. We can call anyone from almost anywhere with our cell phones. We can work remotely. I had a friend in Houston whose dad lived in Austin, and working for CPA firm in Baltimore. We can join meetings virtually. They even hold certain courtroom proceedings or other legal proceedings on zoom these days, and so in our daily experience, one place is oftentimes no more significant than the next, and yet we still seek out those places where something significant happened. We still take trips to our nation’s capital, we still want to go visit the historic battlegrounds, we still take friends and family up to Los Alamos to see where the Manhattan Project happened, and so in some way, yes, location is still very much important to us, still matters, definitely matters to our Lord. God sent Abraham to a specific mountain. He did it for a reason, and when Abraham got there, when Isaac got there, God provided for them on that mountain. That’s what I want you to notice about the story today. That’s the language that Moses uses as he writes the story in the book of Genesis. It might not be the only thing we’re supposed to get from the story, but it is certainly one of the main things. And yes, the book of Hebrews holds up Abraham as an example of great faith, as one who trusts in God’s promise, the promise that through Isaac all nations will be blessed. That’s certainly true. But that’s why Abraham’s name comes up in the book of Hebrews. There’s something else going on, or being emphasized here in Genesis. In the New Testament in Hebrews, those words are written to early Christians who were beginning to wonder whether or not Jesus would ever return, wonder whether or not they should go back to the sacrifices in the temple, and to those people in that context, the author offers a word of perseverance, of endurance, of faith, setting up people like Abraham as examples. But in Genesis, Moses is doing something a little different. The main point is this: God himself provided and he did so when and where he said he would. That’s why Moses tells us the name of the mountain was called, “the Lord will provide”, and Moses even adds in the comment for his readers that it was still in that day called, “the Lord will provide”.  “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” This text continuously points us back to the Lord providing. The Lord provided for Abraham and for Isaac on that mountain. After the Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham’s hand, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket and Abraham took the ram and offered it in place of Isaac. God sent Abraham to the place where he, God, would provide a substitute. God provided on that mountain, provided something else to die so that Isaac could live. But that wasn’t the only time God provided the substitute on that mountain. 1000 years later, King David found himself once again on Mount Moriah. You can read the story in 1 Chronicles 21. Israel was being punished for David’s hubris. He had taken a census, against the Lord’s command, and so the Lord sent a pestilence into Israel, and David watched as the population of his mighty Kingdom began to decline rapidly. The Lord sent a prophet to David and told him to build an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which just so happened to be on Mount Moriah. So, David bought Ornan’s threshing floor and his oxen for 600 shekels of gold, and presented the Lord burnt offerings and peace offerings on Mount Moriah. The Lord relented of the disaster set to befall Israel. The Lord once again provided a substitute on Mount Moriah, this time not a ram for Isaac, but this time oxen for all of Israel. The Lord was not done with Mount Moriah. The mountain comes up again in 2 Chronicles, chapter 3, and actually has a role in the history of the world to this day. We get to see one generation later, David’s son Solomon set out to build the temple of Israel. What better place than Mount Moriah, the place where the Lord had appeared to his father David, the place that David had appointed on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So once again the Lord provided a substitute on Mount Moriah, this time by way of the whole sacrificial system, through which God forgave the sins of Israel, and sanctified them to be his own. God would continue to provide for his people on Mount Moriah, even after Solomon’s temple was destroyed. The exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, rebuilt the Lord’s temple on Mount Moriah, reinstituted the practice of sacrifice there, on the mountain of the Lord choosing, the mountain where the Lord said he would provide for his people. All of this happened on Mount  Moriah, the place where God provided for Abraham. All of this recalls the way the Lord provided on that mountain in the past, but more  importantly all of that foreshadowed what would happen on that mountain when the son of God himself visited Mount  Moriah in the flesh. Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, gave his life as a sacrifice on Mount Mariah, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, not too far from the altar in the temple, not too far from the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, not too far from the place where the ram, caught in the thicket, was sacrificed for Isaac. The Lord did indeed provide on Mount  Moriah, provided the sacrifice that makes us whole. The Father’s beloved son sacrificed for the sin of the world. On the mountain of the Lord, it was provided. That’s what continues even to this day. Maybe not on the literal Mount Moriah, but through the means our Lord has used there, in the past. The temple once built on Mount Moriah as a place where God would provide for his people. The temple is no longer a building of stone and mortar, it is made of living stones, the people of God, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. It’s here. It’s here in our Lord’s church that he continues to provide for our deliverance. He ensures the proclamation of his word, law and gospel, law to condemn us in our sin, gospel to heal us with the promise of forgiveness. He provides for us gifts from this very altar, the fruit of his cross, the life-giving tree for all who believe, the body and blood of Jesus himself to forgive our sins, to enliven us in faith toward him and fervent love toward one another. Here in his church is where the Lord is found today, wherever the word of God is taught in his truth and purity, wherever his sacraments are given out according to his institution. Here is where the Lord provides for us today. It’s the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is the season of repentance. To repent is to return to the Lord, to turn around from walking in our sin and to face the other direction. So, in repentance we return to the Lord, but we do so thankful that he has not left us to search blindly for him. Location matters to our Lord, and so we seek him where he may be found, where he’s told us that he is. Here in his church, on this holy mountain of our Lord, we received the gifts he wants to give us. The proclamation of his forgiveness, the body and blood of his son. Here is the mountain of the Lord’s choosing. So here we are gathered in the name, and the remembrance of Jesus, where he continues to provide for us, because ultimately, that’s who he is. He is the God who provides. Provides for Abraham, for Isaac, for Israel through David and Solomon and the temple, provides for us today. Thanks be to God for that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.