A Lesson from Abraham
at Christ Church, Denmark
The Second Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014
A Lesson from Abraham
Today’s readings are some of the most familiar - and most important - in the Bible. It really is remarkable to have these lessons all read on the same day. Each one deserves to be focused on, by itself, but this morning I want to try to deal with parts of all three.
The reading from Genesis describes an encounter between God and Abram, who later is called “Abraham”, the name by which he is better known. At this point, God gives a certain direction to Abraham … and that direction is “Go.” The consequence of following God’s direction is that Abraham will uproot his family and leave their familiar homeland behind. Further, God’s direction is only to leave that one place, without specifying the eventual destination of their journey. “Go … to the land that I will show you” (12:1), God says, but God does not identify which land that will be.
What is required of Abraham, therefore, is quite demanding. He is to be obedient, and he is to trust God. We could speculate that he might also have some family issues as a result of his decision - but the Bible does not tell us about those. Rather, what we do have is the call to exercise obedience in trusting God.
Therefore, God gives Abraham his direction to “Go.” Then God offers some words of assurance and of promise to Abraham. Finally, we read the result of this encounter: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (12:4).
Thus, in this very early story in our Biblical heritage, Abraham does indeed exercise obedience in trusting God. As our forefather in the faith, Abraham becomes a significant model for us - particularly as he believed and trusted in God.
Next, in the reading from Romans, we have a kind of commentary on that earlier encounter between God and Abraham. And the doctrine presented here provides us with a basic reason for our hope for salvation.
In this passage, St. Paul contrasts the ideas of earning something - like a wage - with being given a gift, without earning it. St. Paul addresses this contrast within a religious culture that believed you had to earn everything you got. And, this is much like our own culture, we need to admit. St. Paul refers to that earlier encounter between God and Abraham in these words: “Abraham believed God” (Rom 4:3). That is, “Abraham trusted in God”, and that trust “was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).
Now, this is the important point, so follow me here. The term “reckon” there means to put something on someone’s account - on someone’s balance sheet. That is, we are talking about debits and credits here. So, Abraham’s belief and trust were counted as righteousness on his account. And, in the religious culture of that day, a person had to be righteous to be able to expect salvation. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).
What comes next in that reading indicates what happens as a result of being righteous … or being counted as righteous. And that result is justification - being made just, so that one might anticipate eternal life. Therefore, in this reading, we have the core doctrine for Christians of justification by faith. That is, we are justified - called just and counted as righteous - not because of what we have done or because we actually are righteous. Rather, we are justified by faith in the One who gives us a gift - the gift of grace - and who reckons our faith to be the same thing as righteousness.
Now, I said at the outset that each reading today deserves a sermon on its own. And that reading from Romans certainly deserves more attention. However, I will push on because the Gospel sums up the other readings in a wonderful way.
Of course, that reading from St. John’s Gospel deals with the lovely encounter of Nicodemus and Jesus - again, deserving of our complete attention. However, I want to remind us only of a concluding verse there - indeed, probably the most familiar verse in the Bible for Christians. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Perhaps as you listen to those words again, you will hear echoes of themes we have considered today. We read that “everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life.” The words do not say that “everyone who is righteous or who is perfect may have eternal life.” Rather, “everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Remember our earlier readings today. Remember that “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go’ … so Abram went” (Gen 12:1,4). And, remember, too that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3). Abraham acted on his obedient faith and belief, as he trusted in the Lord. That trust was put on his account as righteousness. And, because of the love of God, Abraham’s trust and belief - counted as righteousness - led to the assurance of eternal life.
Therefore, we have before us today this example of trusting and believing in God and how that belief “was reckoned as righteousness.” We also have before us today the wonderful testimony that God loves the world so much that as we believe and trust in Him, we, too, may have eternal life. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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