February 28, 2021

Second Sunday in Lent

Scripture Reading: Romans 4:13-25

God’s Promise Realized through Faith

13 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. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 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, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in 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. 18 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.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already[a] as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith[b] “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.



Safety Nets

If your house was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d do? For
starters, you’d call the fire department. Then you would pray earnestly to
God that these guys aren’t the ones who show up. (Three Stooges)
Even with the fire department called, though, you’d still have some
decisions to make. What things are so precious that you’d take the time to
grab them before leaving?
That’s the question posed by a survey the Association of British
Insurers carried out in 2016, on the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of
London. The survey assumed that no one else was in the house, so there’d
be no need to rescue spouse, kids, or pets. Given that, what would you
grab first? Here’s what the folks in Great Britain said:

  1. Credit cards, cash 43%
  2. Photographs 35%
  3. Cell phone 33%
  4. Laptop/ tablet 30%
  5. Jewelry, valuables 16%
    From there, we drop to single digits, starting with clothes at 6%,
    followed by books, children’s toys, cameras, shoes, electronics, and
    finishing up with “luxury food and drink.” Page 2 of 6
    That list would have been different fifty or even ten years ago.
    Priorities change. For example, COVID has helped us see the value in
    things we took for granted in pre-pandemic days.
    I want to thank everyone who took the time to fill out the little survey
    I sent Friday. It asked, “If you could have it your way today, what three
    things would you change back to pre-COVID normal?” Eight choices
    followed. Here’s how folks rated them.
    Coming in at number one was getting back to church and church events,
    at 24%. Socializing with family and friends came in a close second, at 21%.
    Those two choices were by far the most popular.
    From there, we move to not having to wear a mask at number three,
    with 12%, and a tie at number four between school and school events and
    better mental health/less worry and anxiety, both at 10%.
    Traveling and vacationing came in fifth at 9%, with another tie at sixth
    place, and at 6%, between eating out at a restaurant worry free and big
    community gatherings.
    Bringing up the rear were not having to stay home so much at a measly
    1.5%, and no swabs shoved up my nose, which flatlined at 0.Page 3 of 6
    Look at those top two choices: getting back to church and church
    events and socializing with friends and family. Two years ago, did we give
    either of them a second thought? We took them for granted. Truth be told,
    sometimes we decided not go to church or get together with family and
    Now, they’re top of the charts. Despite all the pain, sorrow, misery,
    and disruption it caused, COVID has at least helped us sort out what’s
    important in life.
    That’s what Paul was trying to do, spiritually speaking, in our
    scripture reading. Though he didn’t put it in so many words, what he
    really asked the Christians in Rome was, “What things do you value most
    in your life and faith?”
    Jewish background Christians saw the law as their guide to staying
    on the path God wanted them to walk. Gentile background, non-Jewish,
    Christians wanted nothing to do with the law. That was especially the case
    for circumcision and keeping a kosher table. How could Paul bring these
    two groups together and build a united church?Page 4 of 6
    He looked to Abraham for help. “My Jewish brothers and sisters,”
    Paul wrote, “look at how Abraham did exactly what God wanted him to
    do.” Yet, in the end, Paul said, none of what Abraham did ended up
    mattering at all.
    Paul leans on Genesis 15:6 here. “Abraham believed the LORD, and
    the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
    “See?” Paul asked. “It was Abraham’s faith, not his deeds, that made
    him and his spiritual children heirs to God’s promises. It didn’t start with
    circumcision. That was a sign marking something that had already happened,
    God reckoning Abraham’s faith, not his deeds, as righteousness.”
    Let’s get real, here. Abraham wasn’t the picture of holiness Paul
    made him out to be. Paul conveniently left out the times Abraham lied,
    doubted, and even laughed at God’s plans for his life. When the Lord
    declared to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child, Scripture says,
    Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a
    man who was 100 years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child? And
    Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!”
    Ishmael, you might remember, was the son that Abraham had with
    his wife Sarah’s servant Hagar, believing that it was the only way God’s
    promise would ever come true. God, it turns out, had other ideas.Page 5 of 6
    In fact, Abraham’s spotty spiritual resume makes Paul’s point even
    stronger. Abraham might not have been perfect, but, in the end, he was
    faithful. It was what Abraham believed, not what he did, that mattered in
    God’s sight, Paul wrote.
    Let’s get back to that burning spiritual house. What should we grab
    to show God?
    Don’t bother with good works, Paul said, or religious laws. Forget
    about the Christian legacy of your family, the denomination you belong to,
    the doctrines you believe in, or even a lifetime of prayer and study of
    Scripture. The only thing we need bring before God, Paul said, is faith, faith
    in Jesus Christ.
    Martin Luther, in his commentary on Romans, said, “Faith grasps
    hold of Christ.” Faith doesn’t claim special privileges. Faith doesn’t puff
    itself up with good works. For Luther, our reaching out to Jesus is really Jesus
    reaching out to us.
    It’s as if we’re the ones trapped in that burning fire station and Jesus
    is below us with the net. If we trust him enough to make the leap of faith,
    he won’t let us go crashing to the ground. We’ll escape the flames of our
    sin-singed lives and find a new way of living with him.Page 6 of 6
    Remember how Paul built up Abraham’s spiritual resume? The key
    to it all, whatever Abraham did or didn’t do, was that, as The Message puts
    it, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.”
    Whenever our spiritual house is on fire with doubt or despair,
    whenever the flames of hard times, illness, or depression send us running
    to God, we need take only one thing with us, our faith in Jesus Christ.
    We can’t be perfect, but we can be faithful, trusting that the One
    holding nets of grace and love won’t let us fall, not now, not ever..