03/01/15 Sermon (March 1, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:24 AM by David Hawkins

“Reckoned for the Nations”

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

New Testament Reading: Romans 4:13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Sermon: "Reckoned for the Nations"             Rev. David Hawkins

For this season of Lent, we will be looking at both the Old and New Testament Lectionary Texts each Sunday, focusing especially on  the Promises that God has made to his people throughout history, and the way those promises are kept in the person of Jesus Christ.

Last week, the Apostle Paul reminded us that the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation that we receive and celebrate in baptism is the same promise that was made to Noah after the flood. God has promised humanity that he will be with us, even when the floodwaters of this world cover us, even when we are overwhelmed by the chaos, the fear, the uncertainty in our lives, even when we feel like we are being suffocated by our own sin, our shame, our grief and anger. God has given us his assurance that he will always come to save us, and he set his bow in the heavens as a sign of that promise.

Today, Paul continues his exploration of the way that God has pledged himself to humanity by remembering God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, the promise that Abraham would be the father, not just of a nation, but of all nations That Abraham’s faith would be a blessing not just to him and his family, but to all the earth.
These scriptures have a lot of religious-sounding words. Righteousness, reckoned, covenant, justification. I wonder if before we try to dive into what Paul is trying to tell us about Abraham, it might be helpful to talk a little bit about what some these words mean, at least for Paul. Of course, as always, what they mean for you is between you and God.

We hear the word ‘righteous’ a lot when we talk about religion, but I’m not sure we are using it in the way that Paul uses it. For many of us, I think, we tend to use the word in the sense that something is ‘good’, or ‘correct’. ‘Righteous’ living means living correctly. Living right, living according to some sort of moral or ethical or religious code. In other words, living according to the rules.

But this is not what it means For Paul. For Paul the word righteous doesn’t refer to our behavior, at least, not primarily. The word righteous is not describing a code of conduct. It is, rather describing a relationship. Specifically, the word ‘righteous’ describes being in right relationship with God, And then, secondarily, it describes what being in right relationship might look like.

In other words, being righteous is both a state of being verb and an action verb. It means that we are in a relationship that honors God, and that our behaviour reflects that relationship. And Paul’s central argument is that the only way we can be in right relationship with God is if God makes it so. We do not decide if we are in right relationship. God does.

And this is a hard thing to hear for Paul’s readers. And it is still hard for us. Many of the early Christians understood that their relationship with God was based on how well they followed the law. In other words, they were in charge of their relationship with God. If they followed the law, they were fine. If they didn’t, they weren’t fine. It was pretty simple.

And some of us today still think this. I mean, face it, when we hear the words, “he is a righteous man,’ the first thing we tend to think of is someone who is living according to some kind of religious code, rather than living in relationship with God.

But Paul takes his readers back to a time before the law existed, a time when God established his relationship with humanity in a way that was completely independant of the law. For Paul, our relationship with God is not based on how we live. It is based on God’s promise to us. We are made righteous by God’s movement toward us, not by our movement toward him. We are made righteous by God’s actions, by God’s decisions, not our own.

But, that’s not all that the word righteous means. It also means that we actually live in that relationship. Abraham trusted God’s promises. Righteousness describes what it looks like when we live into the covenant that God has made to be with us, when we live in a way that reveals our trust in his promise to the world.

Righteousness is not about living according to some sort of moral code. Righteousness is about living in way that reflects our understanding of God’s relationship with all humanity.

Abraham was counted as righteous because of the promise God made to him, and the way he lived into that promise, even though Abraham doubted God, even though Abraham laughed at God’s promises, even though Abraham frequently made decisions that reflected his own desire to take things into his own hands. Abraham trusted God’s promise, even as he followed that promise in his own messy, sinful, all too human way. The point wasn’t that Abraham was a perfectly good and moral person. The point is that Abraham lived his life in response to God’s promise.

And this promise wasn’t just to Abraham. This promise is through Abraham. God pledges himself, not just to a person, but to all people. And this is what is hard about these scripture passages. When Paul extends Abraham’s line to us, he makes us heirs of Abraham’s faith. And in doing so, he reminds us that the promise to Abraham extends to the nations, even those with whom we find ourselves at war. Because Abraham had other children as well. He is the father of many nations, and they are also included in the covenant, whether we like it or not.

We don’t know how this works. And if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we are uncomfortable with the idea that God has made the same kind of covenant with Arabs and Muslims that he has made with Jews and Christians.  

But there is good news in that discomfort. Because when God’s makes promises, he keeps them. Even when we don’t think that he should, or can, or will. God keeps his promises that he makes. To me, to you, to us, to them. God keeps his promises. Even when we are not worthy of them, even when we walk away from them.

Abraham’s faith is the model for all of us. It is a faith that recognizes that God has called us into relationship with him, and invites us to live lives that reflect that call. And in that relationship our faith is also reckoned righteous to all the world.

And this righteousness is given to us today, in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, just as in baptism, the promises that God has made to his people, promises to save, to keep, to hold, to love, to forgive, are all fulfilled right here at this table. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his faith in God is reckoned to us as our own, and we are made righteous before God.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ

we bend our knees

and lift up our hearts,

giving glory to God forever. Amen.