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SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

A Sermon preached by Elle Morgan, Seminarian Intern


Lord, we thank you for the gift of your Word and as we think on these things open our hearts and our minds -- Amen


Good morning, St. Philips – near and far.  It is lovely to be back with you after having gone to fulfill seminary and family obligations.  It’s hard to imagine that we are already in the Second Sunday in Lent.


I often consider myself a “Gospel-Gal,” -- usually preaching from the Gospel texts.  That said, I am intrigued by the emphasis on Abraham in this week’s lectionary and couldn't resist when the Hebrew Scriptures and the epistle for today spoke of him.  We saw this last week with Noah.


Theologians speculate about what might have happened in Rome to spark Paul's epistle.  There may have been the temptation of those in Rome to see our salvation as the result of our works, keeping the rules, and being obedient.  There may have been speculation about how Abraham was chosen in the first place, thereby sparking a chain of saving actions by God that culminated in Jesus Christ.


So, there may be an issue of controversy or a matter to be settled.   This correlation shouldn’t be a surprise; Paul was raised in the Jewish tradition – a member of the body of the Abrahamic covenant and it’s likely he understood the importance of those strong connections to his new context as a disciple of Christ. In today's epistle, Paul draws on that history to indicate that all of Abraham's descendants are blessed by God. 


But why are we reading about these passages in the Second Sunday in Lent?  Could it be about OUR journey to the cross?  A journey made in faithfulness as Abraham did?  Is it about faith more generally?  Or God’s commitment to those who trust in him?  Or, more simply, an example of the blessings that might come to those willing to align their call with God's call for them?  There were many questions for Paul and many for us.  


So -- let’s start with Genesis.  We know that Abraham, an ordinary person of some advanced age, along with his equally elderly wife Sarah, was chosen by God to be the parents of many nations, at a time that they found implausible. In Genesis, God tells Abraham to walk blamelessly before him, and he will be blessed.  Because we know this story and how it ends, we sometimes talk about it in a commonplace way, understanding but maybe not honoring its miracles.


Initially, we don't know much about Abraham – who was then called Abram – We know that he comes from a city in Mesopotamia, has a wife, and has two brothers, one of whom has died.  We know that at the time God visited Abraham, he was already on the move.  He was in his mid-seventies and traveling with his wife, nephew Lot, and other servants.  The journey is from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan, but they stop and settle in Haran.  They are traveling at the request of his father, but Genesis does not tell us why his father wanted to leave Ur, travel to Canaan, or why they stopped in Haran.  They are in Haran when Abraham's father dies. 


Abraham and Sarah’s circumstances might be a little like our own.  They have experienced a life that ostensibly has offered joys and some disappointments.  He and Sarah desire to have a child, which has proved elusive.  He leaves his home because his father asked him to and then his father could not complete the journey to Canaan.  Like us, they have faced the ebbs and flows of life  -- not so different than many of us who have changed our plans to support aging parents or wanted families that look a certain way but do not.  The vicissitudes of life that continue to challenge us.


Interestingly, God's call to Abraham to go to Canaan is the same request that his father made to him, but the purpose and meaning suddenly shift.  It is an interesting juxtaposition of human plans and God's plans.  Would we even recognize such a call or be able to differentiate it from our own if it came?


It feels important to note that while Paul focuses on the faithfulness of Abraham, like us, Abraham was not a perfect person.  Sometimes, he struggled with his concern for his own safety, in ways that put Sarah's safety at risk.  Both he and Sarah have some significant doubts about their ability to reproduce, in fact the whole idea seemed laughable to them supporting Paul's words, that their bodies were "already as good as dead." 


Abraham struggled to figure things out and understand what God intended for him.  He, too, was a work in progress but ultimately fulfilled his potential as the person God chose.

Another critical point in this account is that God remained faithful to Abraham – even when he didn't get everything right.  


In today's epistle, Paul briefly refers to the law but emphasizes that adherence to the law is not the basis for God's divine gifts.  Paul's expansion of the theme of Abraham, an older man and Sarah who had not produced children highlights the concept of trust in God -- even when doubt is present.  Evidence from a human perspective might suggest that Abraham and Sarah were unlikely to be parents, But they trusted God even in the face of this improbability.


So, in Romans, Paul makes an effort to explain this to us.  His premise comes down to this.  God's promise to save the world through Abraham and Sarah was not based on their contemporaneous performance.  So, what made them deserving of God’s favor?  God took the initiative and allowed them to believe the unbelievable, to imagine the unimaginable – that from their "as good as dead bodies" would come new life -- not just a child born to them in extreme old age, but a child who would produce descendants that would cover the earth.  


Paul urges that it is only the grace-generating ability to believe the incredible, imagine the unimaginable, and believe that salvation and new life and hope can come from death. 


Paul intends to extend God's promises to all people who trust in God and emphasizes trust as the basis on which humans must relate to God. 


As such, God extends this same promise to us.  The God of Abraham is the same God who dealt decisively with the sin that alienates us from God by the death of his son and raising Jesus from the dead.  Through the resurrection of Christ, we can live new lives in relationships restored with God and each other. 


It is a pure gift in a world that is often performance-based.  What is my return on investment?  What are my key performance indicators?  Will I get an "A" out of liturgics, or will I need to report a "B" to the bishop?  And who hasn't experienced the pain of broken promises? The world has taught us something different than what Paul shares in this epistle.  Our performance related to trust is imperative, but we can’t always rely on the promises of humankind – aren't we more than just a little skeptical when someone says, "Just trust me?"


We may also feel concerned that our trust and faith in God might not be as Paul reports that Abraham's was.  But the hope provided in today's epistle is only partly about Abraham's faith – it is also about God's character and faithfulness.   Even though Abraham wasn't perfect, God still fulfilled the promise.  Abraham ultimately showed up for God, but more importantly, God showed up for Abraham.  As we begin our Lenten journey where God will show up for us?  


For one thing, we can be encouraged that living by faith doesn’t mean we will never have doubts – but God will show up anyway. 


In Lent we may focus on the brokenness of our lives, families, and the world – but God will show up anyway. 

 

We can know in our heads and hearts that there are places in this world where people are hungry and fearful and living with tremendous uncertainty daily – but God will show up anyway.  


So let us grow into Lent – Abraham’s story may resonate with you or the challenges of our own lives.  Our lives are not so different from Abraham and Sarah's.  Today's epistle shows us that God has always been in the business of creating something out of nothing.  God brings life where there is barrenness and death.  Lenten reflections can remind us that God works where we least expect it.  God worked with Abraham and will work with us.  We can take God at God's word.  We can trust in the promises made to us through scripture and the life of Jesus Christ.

  

This knowledge points directly to the role of grace in our lives.  It's the valley of the dry bones all over again.  In his book "Dem Dry Bones," Luke Powery reminds us, "When Ezekiel prophesies to the dead, dry bones, the breath or spirit is likened to new life because whenever he mentions these terms, the following words are "you shall live.  Only God can give new life and make us alive again.”  Only God – not us – it is all grace.

Paul's significant point is that salvation could have never been left up to us.  We could never have pulled it off.  Our faith ebbs and flows and is never perfect.  This story's spotlight must stay on God's faithfulness and grace. 

 

Life comes from death for many reasons.  Not the least of which is making it clear who deserves ALL the praise and the glory… And it’s not us.


In Jesus name, Amen.

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