“The call of God upon Abraham was an unreasonable call. If God called you to kill your son, would you do it?” said the Rev. Isaac J. Canales at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service. “I would say no, but when my sons were growing up, I might have thought about it.”
His sermon title was “Mijo, The Lord Will Provide,” and the Scripture reading was Genesis 22:8.
“Mijo” is a term of endearment in Spanish, a conflation of “mi hijo,” my son.
Canales continued with the story of Abraham. God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac on a mountain that God would show Abraham.
“He did not have Google or a map, but Abraham had complete trust in the word of God,” Canales said.
He said that God made the same unreasonable call on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Genesis, to take action and trust God.
If Abraham sacrificed Isaac, it would be homicide, murder in the first degree, Canales said. But Abraham obeyed God and took with him a donkey and wood, but no lamb for the sacrifice. As they were going up the mountain that God had chosen, Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham replied, “God will provide the lamb.”
“I don’t know which was the biggest miracle,” Canales said, “that an angel stayed Abraham’s hand as he was about to kill Isaac or that there was a ram caught in a thicket.”
Many years later, Isaac was living in Gerar and there was a famine. Isaac was thinking of going to Egypt, but an angel told him to stay and dig for water in wells that his father had dug but had been stopped up by the Philistines. They dug four wells and finally found one with water at Beersheba.
Jacob, too, had an unreasonable call from God to go back and make peace with his brother Esau. The night before he met Esau, Jacob wrestled with an angel to get a blessing.
Jacob put the angel in a full nelson and would not let go until he got a blessing, Canales said. The angel put Jacob’s thigh out of joint but gave him a blessing and changed his name from Jacob to Israel.
“When we face troubles, we have to get hold of those troubles in God’s name and don’t let go until you receive blessings,” Canales said.
The same unreasonable call came to Jesus, “and he went to the cross, and because of him we are free of guilt and shame and free to be ourselves by grace and faith.”
“I have been saturated with miracles throughout my life,” Canales said. “God is everywhere and will reveal himself in others if we pay attention.”
Canales shared a story about Thanksgiving when he was 11. Even though his family ate typical Mexican foods, “on Thanksgiving we were as American as anybody.” His family lived in a housing project, and the Key Club from the local high school was going to bring Thanksgiving dinners to families who had submitted their names.
“My mother refused to put our name in, and she refused welfare,” Canales said. “She told us to trust in the Lord even though we were living on my father’s disability check from his time in the service and the offerings in our little church.”
Rent cost them about $26 a month, and his father would take the children dumpster-diving at a local grocery to look for eggs, vegetables and other food they could take home, clean up and eat.
“Whenever I asked about Thanksgiving, my mother would say ‘Mijo, the Lord will provide. Has he ever let us down?’ ” he said. “Things always seemed to arrive just when we needed them.”
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the congregation gathered for worship. Canales was still worried about Thanksgiving dinner and again his mother told him, “Mijo, the Lord will provide.” He thought God should have done something by then.
Canales was asked to take up the offering in a tambourine. He mumbled a prayer and began to collect the offering when a shiny, black car pulled up.
“It was the longest, newest car I had ever seen, and the man who got out of it looked like Clark Gable,” Canales said. “He sat down and we all wondered who he was and hoped his car would not be up on blocks by the time the service was over.”
Finally, Canales stood in front of the man and held out the tambourine. The man smiled a little and pulled out a cloth napkin and put 20 silver dollars into the offering.
“The tambourine was almost too heavy to hold,” Canales said. “I turned to Mama at the organ and mouthed ‘turkey.’ She smiled and started to play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ The stranger left and no one knew who sent him.”
Since then, his mother’s teaching has stayed with him, Canales said.
“Sometimes my wife and I still worry about how our needs will be met, and I hear Mama’s voice saying, ‘Mijo, the Lord will provide,’ ” he said. “Amen.”
The Rev. John Morgan presided. Kathy Blezard, a Chautauqua County native who has been coming to Chautauqua Institution all her life, read the Scripture. A retired early education teacher, she is currently a co-hostess at the UCC Reformed Church House and is music coordinator for the Monday evening Taizé service. Blezard has reached the CLSC Centurion level and is a knitter for Knitting4Peace. The Motet Choir sang “Ubi Caritas (Where Affection and Love Abide),” by Dan Locklair. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund provided support for this week’s services.