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The Second Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2012
The Epistle: Romans 4:13-25
Sermon: "The Father of Faith"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
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, 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. 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." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
The Father of Faith
Do you remember Abraham? His name may conjure up no more than an impression of a far distant ancient figure; some dusty Biblical person who was important for something or other. Thatís really all he would have been too, if it hadnít been for something he had in him. Abraham had faith, a profound faith. His faith was such that he has come to be revered as the father of faith by all three of the worldís great monotheistic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. If it hadnít been for that faith, no one would have known his name today, or much less have had reason to speak of him as we are this morning.
Abrahamís story begins right at the point that most peopleís lives begin to wind down. He was already seventy-five years old when God called him to leave his home and strike out for a land that God would show him. He was unsure of what would happen to him or where exactly he would go, but he went placing his trust in God. Abraham would, as a result, not only become the father of a great nation as God had promised him, but he would also become the father of faith.
In our Epistle reading this morning to the Romans, The Apostle Paul suddenly starts to focus on Abraham; the very subject of this morningís First Testament lesson. But why does Paul do this? Well, letís fill in the background a bit. Paul was in some hot water with the church in Rome. When Paul penned this letter to the Romans, he had not yet visited the Roman church. They really didnít know him, but word had reached them of some of Paulís teachings. These teachings struck a raw nerve among those Christians of Jewish descent. It seemed as though Paul was teaching against the law. Remember the importance of the law for the Jewish people. Even though these Jews were now Christians, they still followed the letter of the law. Paul, they had heard, was teaching the Gentile believers to disregard the law. This upset them a great deal. Paul writes to the Romans hoping to quell their fears and to enlarge their faith.
The Jewish people had always looked to Moses, the great law giver, as their hero and model of faith. Paul now suggests a new hero. Abraham is to be the example for Christian faith. Abraham, Paul argues, lived his life by faith, believing in Godís promise even though it seemed impossible. Thus Abraham was saved by faith and not by the law. Now, since Abrahamís faith is held up to us as a right example, letís take a look at it for ourselves. Several qualities of his faith become immediately apparent as we look at his story; three of which that could transform your faith and mine if we employ them.
A first quality of Abrahamís faith to examine this morning is this: It has the quality of simple trust. In his first encounter with God, God promises Abraham, ďI will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.Ē What a promise; Abraham would be famous. Not only that, he would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Now this was a little sticky. After all, Abraham and Sarah were well past child-bearing age. Abraham had every reason to doubt God. But Abraham believed Godís impossible promise, and in time the impossible became a reality. He and Sarah had a son, Isaac. Their faith had simple trust.
It reminds me of a daughter who was recounting her sixty-nine year old motherís life. Her mother had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930ís. It had left its mark on her. She was never extravagant with her spending. What had occasioned this recounting was the fact that the mother was now in the hospital diagnosed with cancer and given very little hope of survival. The daughter feared the moment when she would have to tell her mother that she was dying. In her struggles the daughter thought to herself, ďShould I tell my mother? Did she already know? If not, did she suspect? Could I give her any hope?Ē
Her motherís birthday was approaching. She gave her a new especially nice nightgown. Her mother looked at the nightgown for the longest time. ďWould you mind returning it to the store?Ē her mother asked, ďI donít really want it.Ē The daughter was surprised, but asked her what she would like for her birthday. Her mother pointed to an advertisement for some very expensive designer summer purses.
The daughter admitted later that her reaction was one of disbelief. Why would her mother, so careful about extravagances, want an expensive summer purse in January, one that she could not possibly use until June, and would in all likelihood not live to use? Suddenly she realized that what her mother really wanted was to know how long her daughter believed she had to live. The daughter went and bought the expensive summer purse.
That was many years ago. The purse is worn out and long gone, as are at least half a dozen others since. The gift of the purse gave her mother a new sense of trust and hope. Her mother just recently celebrated her ninety-sixth birthday. The daughter bought her mother, you guessed it, the most expensive designer purse she could find. ďSheíll use it well,Ē the daughter says. There is power in trust. Thatís where faith begins. Abrahamís faith had the quality of simple trust.
Hereís a second quality to Abrahamís faith: It has the Ability to accept Godís grace. Abraham was not the great father of faith because he kept the letter of the law, but because he lived his life believing in and accepting Godís grace. Abraham was a very imperfect man, as the Bible makes abundantly clear. If he had depended on his own righteousness to save him, he would have been doomed as all of us are doomed if we seek to live without grace. ďHis faith,Ē Paul tells us, ďwas reckoned to him as righteousness.Ē
Among the Mennonite people with whose lives mine became entwined during my college days, was the Gaede clan. One of them and I were the best men at each otherís weddings. One night after supper Stan Gaede asked his sixteen year old cousin, Paul, to go for a drive with him. As they drove through some road construction, they collided head-on with another car. Stan suffered a crushed ankle, a broken leg, and a shattered jaw in addition to extensive lacerations. He spent most of that night in emergency surgery. Stan spent days in critical condition. They did not tell him for several days that his cousin Paul was dead. That news came as a sharp blow to Stan. He kept asking God why he was the one who lived.
He was lying in a hospital bed, leg in traction and head swollen beyond recognition, when his aunt and uncle, Paulís parents, entered his room. In physical pain from his jaw wired shut and his tongue swollen so that he could not talk, and in even greater emotional pain, he could only watch them as they came to his bedside. They took and held both of his hands, then smiled and whispered in his ear, ďYouíre our son now, too, you know.Ē ďThose are words I will never forget,Ē Stan says, ďfor they were neither words I deserved nor expected. They were words of grace.Ē
Have you ever experienced real grace; truly undeserved favor? You have, if Christ is real in your life. You may not always fully sense that grace. But consider this: Godís own son was killed because of the sinfulness of humanity; a sinfulness in which you and I share. God comes to you and me now and says, ďYou are my daughter, my son now.Ē You are beloved by the creator of all that is, and that is incredible grace indeed. That love is not dependent upon our intrinsic goodness. It is dependent rather upon the acceptance of grace. We are people of faith. By faith we have invested our trust in God and have been given his grace. That acceptance of that grace is a second quality in Abrahamís faith.
Hereís a third quality of Abrahamís faith: A willingness to change and to be changed. Abraham was willing to change in order to answer Godís call. That willingness to change allowed God to change Abrahamís life circumstances. Abraham had lived a long good life just as he was already. Why change or be changed? Yet, his faith made him willing to trust Godís call to risk change. That change transformed his life, and it changed the world.
This is the message Paul is delivering to the Roman Christians of his day and to us this day. New life awaits all who believe in Christ. Itís simply a matter of faith; a faith with the qualities of Abrahamís faith: a simple trust, an acceptance of Godís grace, and a willingness to change and to be changed. Consider how these qualities could make a difference in your life. Is God calling you to take some new step in life: perhaps itís clearly before you, or maybe itís just at the back of your thoughts? It could be completely new, or maybe itís something God has been speaking about for a long time. Perhaps youíve pushed it down for fear of its seeming impossibility. Let it up and into your mind. Consider what actions it calls for. Trust and step into Godís direction. That is the faith of the Father of Faith. That is the Christian faith. Make it your faith.