The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Sermon: Abraham’s faith, and our own
Today, we read in Romans 4,
Paul’s unique interpretation of the Faith of Abraham. He goes to the 15th
chapter of Genesis and considers a timeline of Abraham’s faith…
he notes that the father of the faith, Abraham, lived centuries before
the time of Moses and the giving of the Law.
More than that, Abraham is
made right with God, before he is even circumcised.
In fact, Paul points out, Abraham
receives the promise of God, on account of his trust in that promise. That he
believed in God who gives life to the dead—that is, God gives a child to one
who is impotent and one who is barren.
And there Paul pivots.
Paul then points to us and points out that we Christians too receive the
promises of God,
are made right with God,
because of our belief in God, who gives life to the dead.
That is our connection-point to Abraham—that is what makes us children of
Abraham—Justification by Faith, apart
from the Law or any work of our own,
is what connects us to Abraham’s faith.
Now, as a rule I don’t read
Hebrew Scriptures the way Paul does here in Romans—it often disrupts the
integrity of the text—it doesn’t let Genesis be Genesis, or Jews be Jews.
But, today, I’d like us to
try on Abraham’s faith for size, and compare it to our own. Not to dismiss the
Jewish tradition, or do any permanent damage to Genesis (not that it is within my paltry mortal powers to do so), but to
hear the faith anew, to see Abraham’s faith, and our own, again.
To hear the ways in which:
God claims Abraham,
and stays in relationship with Abraham.
To hear as well, of God’s
claiming us, answering us, and staying in relationship with us.
Let us pray
God calls Abraham out of
Ur. He takes him out of the East and brings him to a new land in the West.
Abraham leaves all that he knows—it’s stripped away from him… and as anyone who
has moved a time or two knows, a new
location calls for a new identity.
You get to recreate yourself when you move—people only know you from the
time they lay eyes on you, you are something of a blank slate, a new person…
or as happens in Abraham’s case, God recreates him, presents him in a new
place, a blank slate for God to write God’s blessings upon, that he might be a
blessing to others.
Abraham can tell others, “Hi, I’m Abraham, and God sent me here.”… and
that’s who he is.
And then later, as we read
in today’s lesson, God even erases Abraham’s name and writes him a new one
—he replaces the name Abram with Abraham—“You will be the father of a
multitude of nations.” And Sarai, became, Sara, Princess—for from her will come
nations and kings.
See, their origin and their identity, are from God—that is part of the
Faith of Abraham.
We will also find Abraham
bargaining with God, hoping to save a city, doomed for destruction. He is
willing to call upon God again and again, pleading to God with prayers of
We will also find Abraham
unable to believe, and so will ask for a sign that God’s audacious promises are
And God responds, by cutting a covenant with him.
He takes some critters and cuts them up, and walks between them. In the
ancient world such a thing would be done by both parties—signifying the
consequences if this promise is broken
—but in this case God alone walks the bloody line—God alone agrees to pay
the price if the promise is broken. God gives to Abraham this gracious sign of
his promise to him.
risky requests, pleading and proof of the promise—they too are part of the
Faith of Abraham.
Now, this whole
relationship between God and Abraham gets started with a promise of Land in a particular place, Children by a particular woman, and Blessings… and with the noticeable
exceptions that I have already outlined, the majority of the Abraham Story is
Abraham endangering these promises…
Abraham doing seemingly everything in his power
to lose his land,
to be childless,
and to thwart any blessings that might come his way.
God promises Land, and Abraham leaves the land
promised to him and lays low in Egypt and refuses to take land when offered to
God promises Children, and
Abraham gives his wife away to another man for marriage, not once, but twice.
He tries to make his
Servant, his Nephew, and his son by another mother, into his heirs
—instead of waiting for the promised son.
He sends that first son off
to die, not once, but twice. Then, when Sarah bears him a son after such a long
wait, he takes the kid up a mountain to sacrifice him to the God who provided
the child, who offered him the son.
God promises blessing, and
Abraham’s son Isaac was tricked out of it, and then Abraham’s one grandson
gives it away twice, and the other steals it and leaves the land.
In short, nothing.
Not one thing Abraham does secures the promises of God.
It’s only God’s constant faithfulness to His word
—only God keeping the relationship going
—only God protects the promise, and bears the brunt of its weight.
God’s ongoing faithfulness—that too is part of the Faith of Abraham.
Abraham’s faith involves:
Being claimed completely by God,
Calling on God,
Receiving a sign,
And ultimately it rests on God’s unwavering commitment.
So too it is with us
—all these things point to our own faith as well.
We are claimed completely by God
…Hopefully we see clearly that our origin is from God, and hopefully we
cling to the name we have received from God—that in Baptism we are made to be
For that matter, one of the
things we do when we take up the Cross, is we give over our multitude of
identities and become identified with the crucified one.
We call on God
…Hopefully we can follow Luther’s advice, and call upon God in every
need, rubbing God’s promises in God’s ears, and interceding on behalf of our
sisters and brothers, and the whole hurting world.
We receive a sign
…Hopefully we are regularly fed with the bread of life
—a sign of God’s promise made solid for our sake
—a sign of God’s covenant with us
—of Christ broken to mend our break with God and with one another.
Our faith ultimately rests on God’s unwavering commitment
… Especially in this Lenten season, we recognize and
repent of our threats to God’s promise. We trust not in our own merit, but
instead in the merciful works of God.
In so far, as we are claimed by God
In so far, as we call upon Him.
In so far, as we receive a sign of promise from God.
In so far, as God’s ongoing faithfulness it our center.
Insofar as all that is true, we may say ours too is the faith of Abraham.
light of the recent beheading of 21 Coptic Christians and the rumors of organ
harvesting coming out of the region controlled by Daesh, commonly called ISIS here in the states.
light of the attacks on cartoonists and Jews now in two different countries,
France and Denmark.
light of Daesh burning a Jordanian
light of the thousands slaughtered in Iraq and Syria.
light of the attempted Genocide of the Yazidi.
light of the beheading of Journalists and other foreigners.
light of the kidnapping of the two Bishops from Aleppo, now nearly 2 years ago.
In light of all that, it’s worth considering
again how these kind of things can be done in the name of God.
I first was reading the Bible on my own as a young kid, before I was firmly
connected with a Church community or tradition, at night when I was supposed to
be asleep, I would just randomly open up the Bible and read—this is how I rebelled against my parents as
a 8 year old.
times I ran into cool stories, Jesus getting the best of some Religious stick in the mud, or I ran
into a cool proverbs that really made me think—it was great fun…
but sometimes I ran into some totally
creepy stuff—The Book of Revelation, rules about menstrual blood, descriptions
of situations when it is advisable to stone a person to death
—and the one that gave me nightmares
for a good long time, was about the practice of Haram, the act of sacred
destruction. When you conquer a village, take everything in it, both things and
people, and put them to the flame.
Now, I would have read right past it,
except it goes on and gives an example of when a soldier took some things and
didn’t utterly destroy them. God gets mad at the people until the soldier is
punished by joining the objects in the flames.
if we get past the cute children’s story version of events we have about
Noah—you know all those children’s arks with cute little Giraffes and Elephants
and smiling Noah and family
—if you get past all that, the flood
story is another one of those stories that could give a kid nightmares.
are boinking humans, humans are killing one another left, right, and center, so
God flushes the whole experiment down the toilet.
must be stated that the first 12 chapters of Genesis are written as
pre-history—essentially, “you’ve heard all these explanations of the world from
other peoples, here’s a faithful reading
of them, in light of the God we know.”
So, for example, “you’ve heard it
said the god Marduke created earth by tearing apart a chaos dragon, well I say to youGod isn’t a fighting God, God creates
simply with his words.”
Likewise, as in today’s reading, “You’ve
heard it said in the Epic of Gilgemesh, and elsewhere, that the gods were
grumpy because humans are loud, so they tried to drown us all, and it was only because
a human seduced a goddess that humans survived, but I say to you, the
wickedness of humans brought about a just response, yet God was merciful and
started again with a new covenant, a new relationship, with humans and the
earth—God doesn’t give up on us.”
when you read vast swaths of scripture it’s worth noting what they’re being
written in response to… None the less, it’s gruesome, “all flesh cut off,”
the deadly bow of God.
as you all know there are plenty of times when the faithful have not put down
I believe it might be a useful analogy to help us understand what’s currently
going on in the Middle East, I would like us to think back for a few
moments to the period during, and immediately after, Luther’s Reformation.
Luther, Jan Hus was burnt at the stake for offering his parishioners both bread
and wine at communion.
Luther hadn’t been taken into hiding after his famous declaration at his trial,
“Here, I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen,” that would have been his
fate as well. Some early Lutherans were in fact killed in just such a fashion.
Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, burnt Michael Servetus alive for not
believing in the Trinity or in child baptism.
carried out the persecution of Mennonites.
general, Christians of all sorts took up the Sacred Bow against one another,
The Faithful were used by secular governments to further
and likewise, the
religious used secular governments
to further their religious ends.
1555, when the Peace of Augsburg claimed to settle the question of religious persecution,
until 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia, almost 100 years—inter-religious war depopulated
Germany, and killed, by some estimates, 12 million Europeans.
All in the name of God.
that matter, it wasn’t for another 200 years that, at the 1st
Vatican Council in 1870, the Pope gave up his claim to secular power.
Now this is just me talking, but it
seems like one of the big questions for “The West” and all those governing
authorities in our country, since the Iranian Revolution in ‘79, or perhaps the
Lockerbie Bombing ‘88, or maybe the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, is this:
“How do you navigate, and/or contain,
the Islamic equivalent of the European Wars of Religion, in an Era of
Globalization, Mass Immigration, the Internet, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
I do not have a set of answers for you all, it’s way above my pay grade…
This is why we pray for those who govern nations, especially our own;
they have an unenviable job.
of these acts of violence and destruction in the name of God, ought to be
Anathema—denounced, condemned, and cursed.
God puts down the bow. God binds God’s-self with a vow, that never again will
God destroy the world, never again will God take up that bow.
Think of that, God limiting God’s self!
is the true story of the faith, it is the hope always on the lips of those who
preach the Gospel
—that God favors mercy over justice.
God limit’s God’s self, for our sake.
the season of Lent we’ll see this again and again in the readings from the Hebrew
Scriptures. God will say:
“Okay, I renewed all of creation
after the flood… and that didn’t work for you all, so I’ll work through Abraham
and his family.”
“Okay, you guys screwed that up too…
I’ll lay down 10 basic rules for you all.”
“Okay, you’re still complaining in
the wilderness… I’ll create a batch of miracles to save you from yourselves.”
“Okay, this still isn’t working… I’ll
jam my covenant into your hearts, so you can’t find it to break it.”
And even then, it continues, until
God sends Jesus, his son, who continually forgives us.
Even then, we kill him.
And even then, God provides for us,
taking the death of Jesus as payment for all of our sins!
surely that would be enough, but God continues this trajectory of mercy over
justice, as we read in that weird bit in 1st Peter.
descends to hell, preaching even to the Spirits bound in chains there! Jesus
ripping apart hell itself! That’s the power of the Word of God.
of it. If God tries to convert Djinns and Demons in the depths of hell, surely
we can pray for the redemption of Daesh.
fact, a good place to start, might be to remind them, and us, of Noah’s words,
as recorded in the Quran, the 71st chapter: “Ask forgiveness of your
LORD. Indeed, He is ever a Perpetual Forgiver.”
there is much violence done in the name of God.
Violence committed because God’s
mercy is being ignored.
Yet truly, for the faithful, this is an impossible thing they do—to ignore God’s mercy,
Because God’s merciful acts are the
linchpin of the entire story of Scripture.
God, merciful to Noah, Abraham,
Moses, and Jeremiah.
God’s mercy shown in total, in Jesus’
righteous actions and words.
Jesus’ death, the ultimate act of
self-limiting on God’s part.
Jesus’ descent to the dead to Harrow
Hell and pull from the pit a people imprisoned.
And of course, that amazing act of
God we prepare for, this Lenten season
—the Resurrection, which is God’s
ultimate promise of mercy to us. Amen.
together psalms and songs of sorrow, dear people.
upon the LORD God, cling to Christ the Savior of the World.
your sins, known and unknown.
marked with the dust of your very nature.
here, you lonely and abandoned ones.
quiet, you reflective.
like David, who have been confronted
with your sin, pinned down by a clarifying moment—struck dumb by your Sin
revealed, confessing “I’ve seen the enemy and it is me.”
like Joel, overwhelmed by the events
of the world and your own helplessness in the face of it all. Found powerless, you do the only thing you can, you
kneel in prayer, you search out the warmth of other people, so that sorrow
might be shared, and overcome by community, carrying one another and bearing
come together in worship and fellowship, gathered together as the body
of Christ as we prepare for the coming
of resurrected Christ.
Pray more deeply, in this season that
has a chasm’s depth to it.
Hold more loosely those things that you
wish to grasp for
—for our Lord did not consider equality
with God as something to be grasped, but humbled himself all the way to the
Give to those who ask of it, for all
has already been given to you.
listen to the words of Jesus and the Prophets—heed them well. Do these things from the heart and for the
sake of your neighbors.
Danger is we will try to practice piety in pubic in order to point to
ourselves; we get caught on showmanship instead of sorrow for sin.
This is the opposite of true religion;
it’s the opposite of a true Lenten calling. Our actions are not for
ourselves—they are to de-center
ourselves… to catch us off balance
so we are caught in God’s mercy.
the words of the Prophets—they are cries for repentance, not for public
consumption, but as an act of
—justice is not admitting a mistake
and moving on, it’s admitting the
mistake and making amends.
short, it’s not about you. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor—no big surprise there I suppose, we’re
Christians after all
pray, fast, and give alms, knowing that
you will fail at it
—and in that failure you will find
the dust of the cross upon your brow again
—you’ll find yourself at the feet of
—you’ll find that a space in your
soul has been opened, that God might sanctify you in your failure.
dear Brother Martin Luther wrote on his death bed 469 years ago today, “We are
all beggars; that is true.”
That, that is what we find in this sacred failure of Lent
—we find ourselves dying and being
brought back to life by the one who was so profoundly a beggar that:
As I stated last time, one of the reasons Andrew Sullivan’s
blog was so good, was that he commented on EVERYTHING (same reason St.
Augustine was so good, but that’s another story). One of the ways he commented
on everything was soliciting five links a day from one of his contributors. So,
I decided that on an irregular basis I’d try my hand at commenting on five
links. Without further adieu here they are!
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones mentions that Scott Walker, if he becomes the
Republican Candidate, will be the most conservative nominee since Barry
Goldwater. Then the article goes on to mention that Walker’s Midwestern nature hides
this fact. That got me thinking about how folk in New Jersey talk about Chris
Christie’s chances at becoming the Republican nominee. Essentially, they argue
he’s quite liberal, but he’s Jersey tough, maybe even Jersey mean—and meanness
can be confused with being conservative.
Think about that for a second. Walker, despite being very
conservative, could get the nod because he’s Midwestern nice. Christie, despite
being relatively liberal, could get the nod because he’s Jersey mean. Weird.
John Dickerson pointed to Vice President Joe Biden’s recent
comment that the next Democratic nominee for president will essentially be
running for President Obama’s third term. In other words, “If by third term you
mean another 59 months of continuous job growth and falling unemployment, then
yes, I’ll be a third term.”
Dickerson doesn’t think this is a good idea for Hillary, who
he assumes will be the Democratic Party Nominee. He points out that voters
almost always prefer the new to the old… just ask Al Gore about offering
America an era of peace and prosperity, a continuation of the 1990’s. I suppose
in that way Americans are just like the Athenians, we’re always chasing after
something new (Acts 17:21).
Continuing to engage with “Obama’s Niebuhr moment” Douthat
cautions conservatives from responding to the President’s non-nuanced reference
to the Crusades with even more lack of nuance. Essentially Douthat argues that
by rushing to answer the President conservatives have, “produced a lot of
arguments that effectively whitewash Christian history, minimize the harge reality
of pogroms and persecutions, and otherwise present fat targets for secular
So, LutheranCORE, a “reform” group within the ELCA that
often times tries to convince ELCA churches to leave the denomination over our
“liberal” stance on Gay folk, as well as our willingness to play nice with the
Episcopal Church, did an epic troll. That is, no one was paying attention to
what they have to say, so they said something really offensive in order to get
attention—it’s the internet version of throwing a temper tantrum.
CORE responded, by issuing their own “Open Letter” to gay
folk, in which they purposefully misread the ELCA’s statement on Human
Sexuality, and state, on behalf of the ELCA, that gay people are in fact not
welcome in the ELCA. They did so repeating key phrases and words so that their
statement will pop up first when people look up ELCA, LGBT, and open letter… in
other words, if there are gay people and their families hurt by Lutherans, who
want to search out this open letter by Bishop Rinehart, they will instead find
a letter of unwelcome.