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,
Answers 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 intercession.
         We will also find Abraham unable to believe, and so will ask for a sign that God’s audacious promises are true.
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.
         See, 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 him.
         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 Christians
—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 God’s Children.
         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
—Holy Communion
—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. Amen.