Genesis 22:114; Mark 8:3138
I am one of those fortunate people who had an honest to goodness grandfather. My dad was in the military and was often gone for months. Grandpa filled a lot of that time. He taught me things. He took time with me, shared himself with me. Next to my dad, my grandfather remains one of the singular male influences in my life.
Since his death in 1985, I have frequently taken stock of the things he taught me. He taught me the value of hard work. He taught me the importance of family. He taught me about caring for your tools, and loving the earth that grows our food. Those lessons are a rich legacy for me, more valuable than money.
Unfortunately, not everything Grandpa taught me was helpful. Grandpa smoked cigarettes. He taught me how to roll my own and I can still remember my first one which ended up being the first of many. It took me a long time to break free from that particular legacy.
It also turned out that Grandpa was not too keen on religion. In fact, he was a bit hostile toward preachers. He never explained to me why he felt this way; I just know he had very little use for the clergy. When he found out I was to become a minister he sent for me. He practically begged me to change my mind.
“Can’t you find honest work to do?”
And so his legacy to me was a mixed bag. But isn’t that always the way? We receive values and traditions from our forbears, some of which we gladly keep, while the rest we lay aside in order to be faithful to our own sense of what is right.
In Alabama we are beneficiaries of such a legacy. We have inherited from our forbears important values and traditions. For instance, in Alabama we value work. We believe that a person’s life is often defined by where and how they invest themselves in a chosen vocation.
We also value faith. According to one study something like 93 percent of the people of Alabama embrace some form of Christianity or Judaism. We believe that a relationship with God makes all the difference.
We also value family life, especially as it relates to children. We recognize that children need and deserve our nurture and our protection.
But like with my Grandpa, the legacy we have received from our forbears is a mixed bag. While there is much that is good, there are also some things we need to put aside.
For instance, during a time of political and economic transition in our state, leaders got together and re-wrote the state constitution. I am talking about the 1901 constitution that still serves as the primary governing document of our state. The men that wrote that constitution were good men, but some of the things they put in that document were not good. For reasons that are apparent to anyone who reads history, blacks and poor whites were practically disenfranchised by that constitution. Our constitution also concentrated inordinate power in the state legislature while allowing almost no local control to cities and counties. The constitution also created significant hedges to protect wealthy landowners.
Today our state is suffering precisely because of the legacy of that constitution. Our schools are woefully under funded. We also struggle to provide other basic services for the citizens of our state. As we search for revenue to improve this situation, we find that our hands are often tied by the tangled cords of our outdated state constitution.
I commend Governor Riley for his efforts so far. His first act as Governor was to establish a commission to recommend changes in the constitution in several designated areas. And while his plan doesn’t go as far as I would like for it to go, at least he is making the effort to get this albatross off the necks of the people of our state.
We should pray for the Governor that God will give him the courage to make all the changes that need to be made. That God will guide him to embrace all that is good from our forbears, and reject those things that work against justice and community.
On this point, we find that we are heirs of a legacy from a different set of ancestors—the heroes of our faith. The story of Abraham and his son Isaac offers us such a legacy.
Abraham was obviously happy to at last have a son. God had provided the old man with an heir. But then God tells him he has to give the boy up. The thing Abraham wants most in life God wants him to give away. Talk about a conflict of interest.
And you see it doesn’t make any sense. How can God make Abraham’s descendents a blessing for future generations unless Abraham has an heir? It just doesn’t make any sense—that is until we hear the words of Jesus: If any seek to save their life, they will lose it. Those who lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel will find life.
Abraham could have refused the test, grabbed his son and headed back home. In doing that he would have saved his chance to have an heir. But what would he leave that heir: A legacy of disobedience, of faithlessness, of cowardice.
But in accepting the challenge to give up the one thing he wanted most of all, Abraham gained something greater than he had ever dreamed. He gained an heir, but more importantly, he gained a worthy legacy to leave that heir: a legacy of faithfulness, of courage, of integrity.
We face a similar test. With economic uncertainty and fear in the air, our temptation is to pull back from any substantive change. Our gut instinct is to do whatever is necessary to keep what we’ve got.
But as we strive to save what we’ve got because we are afraid, there is a real danger that we will lose what we really care about: a solid future for our children, adequate care for our elderly, and an economic environment that will allow the poor in our state the chance to work their way out of poverty.
Jesus is our teacher here, and Abraham is our model. In order to achieve the kind of environment we want in our state, we must climb that lonely mountain and let go of our vested interests. The more we try to save ourselves, our economic advantage, our place of privilege, the more of our soul we will lose.
But if we have the courage to risk losing what we have, and pursue instead what we know is right and true, I am convinced we will lose nothing at all, but will in fact save those very values we cherish.
And more than that—by taking the risk and being faithful to the truth, we leave not only an economic legacy for our children, but a spiritual heritage of courage and integrity. We can show the future leaders of our state what real leadership looks like.
Can you imagine the conversation between Abraham and Isaac as they came down the mountain together?
Isaac says, “What was all that on the mountain about Dad?”
“It was about doing what God asks us to do,” Abraham replies, “even when it seems not to serve our own interests.”