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February 25, 2024

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm 22:23-31

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

 from the one who works to offer us grace.  Amen


This Lent

we are spending time with stories of wilderness wandering

 and coming home

 as we remember Jesus’ last days

 moving with him and the disciples through the story

 to the cross and the grave

 and ultimately to the new life of Easter morning.


 On Ash Wednesday

 we heard God call us home to the heart of God

through the transforming of our own hearts.


 Last week we heard about how transitions in life

 either into or out of wilderness times

are often marked by water

which reminds us of how inextricably intertwined life and death are

 and that our God is the God of the living and the dead.


Today we hear about how it is never too late to start a new journey with God

 because God is the one acting in the world

and who calls us to participate in the actions of God

through trusting in the promises of God.


We see this dynamic at work in our first reading for today

when God comes to Abram

and makes a covenant with him


- remember covenants are two way agreements-

but notice how most of the covenants made

are pretty one sided as far as action goes,


 on the one hand Abram is supposed to walk before God and be blameless,

on the other hand God promises to make Abram exceedingly numerous,

to be the ancestor to multitudes, even kings,

and to be the God of these offspring forever,


 oh and God will give Abram,

 now Abraham (his name changed as a mark of his change in relationship with God)

 a son, a son through his wife Sarai, now Sarah,

and it is through this son of Abraham and Sarah

 that God will do these things.

 And it will be all the more miraculous

and require great faith

because Abraham and Sarah are of an advanced age

 and Sarah has never had any children. 


Now this seems pretty straight forward,

especially for those of us who know what happens next,

how God keeps the promise God makes

even as both Abraham and Sarah

 laugh at the thought of their having a child,

resulting in the name of their son Isaac- which means laughter.


 But of course it’s more complicated

than what this snippet of the story suggests,

because this is not the first time that God has come to Abram

to make a covenant with him.


This whole journey started 24 years earlier

way back when Abram was seventy-five years old (a mere spring chicken)

 and God came to Abram and called him out of his established home

telling him “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation…”


 and Abram, trusting God

 left home and wandered around the land, living in tents,

 and at various places God reaffirmed the promise

 to give certain bits of land to Abram’s descendants,


and generally Abram followed where God led,

 though not without mishaps-

not once but twice he and Sarai must seek refuge

 in foreign lands because of famine

and not once but twice does Abram pretend Sarai is his sister

 because he’s afraid for his own life,

 and not once but twice

does God reveal the truth and protect them.


And after ten years

the call of God turns into a formal covenant,

 when God takes Abram out and promises him

as many descendants as stars in the sky-

 when Abram protests because he is childless-

 God reiterates that it will be Abram’s own offspring

 that the numerous descendants will come from.


And Abram believes God.

Against common sense and his own protestations

Abram trusts God’s promise

 and God sees the righteousness,

the faithfulness of Abram.


Now Abram believed God

 when God promised that it would be his own child

 who would give rise to nations,


 but God doesn’t explain

how a man and a wife who have been childless for 85 years

will produce a child.


So his wife Sarai takes matters into her own hands

 and convinces Abram to use her slave Hagar as a surrogate.

Hagar, mistreated at the hands of Abram and Sarai,

has her own story and relationship with God

 but that is for another time.

What matters for right now

 is that the result is Ishmael

 born when Abram is 86 years old.


And it is only now we finally get to the part of the story

we heard this morning,

when 14 years later, when Abram is 99 years old,

 God comes again

and revitalizes the covenant

making sure to include Sarah as well-


 we didn’t hear this part

 but Abraham does lift up his son Ishmael to God

as the one who would fulfill the promise

but God rejects Ishmael for the covenant

though does promise to bless him

 and make him a great nation in his own right.


  And then there’s one more part to the story,

one more part to Abraham’s faithfulness that we didn’t hear,


 you might have noticed that our appointed reading

 left out some verses

- in those verses are the instructions to Abraham

for the human sign of the covenant-

the circumcision of all males in the community

even servants and slaves-


and after Abraham has accepted God’s covenant in faith

 he takes his son Ishmael

 and all the men of his household including himself are circumcised

 a tradition which is passed down to this day as a sign of the covenant. 


Now this was quite a journey for Abraham and Sarah

and they started this journey late in life,

 from their example we take away the lesson

that it’s never too late to respond to the call of God,

 to start a journey of faith,

even if what God is calling and promising seems impossible.


 I also find solace in the fact

 that God is still able to accomplish what God wants

despite the very serious flaws

 in the actions of Abraham and Sarah along the way,

when even in faith they sin and cause harm to others

 God still works through them and their faith.


This is Paul’s point in Romans,

 that what is important about Abraham is his faith

rather than his actions,

 and it is through Abraham’s faith

that God was able to do the work of God

anything Abraham himself did-

 like follow the sign of the covenant through circumcision-

is incidental to the story.


 This is important to Paul

because he has been called to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the gentiles,

 to those at least according to the practice of the law

who are outside the covenant,


and there are some that argue

 that the practice of the law

 the keeping of the covenant

 must come first.


 To which Paul points to Abraham

 and says his faith came first,

circumcision and the rest of the laws that emerged

 are a way of honoring the covenant,

a way of demonstrating faithfulness in the promises of God

- promises that it is up to God to keep.


“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…”


God is the one who acts

and who out of grace

 shares the results of those actions

 with those who trust God


and nowhere is this more profound

 than in what God does in Jesus

“who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”


On our own we can never be perfect,

Jesus in grace promises to join us to his own perfection.


 This is what Jesus is on his way to do

 when Peter rebukes him,

and Jesus will not let anything stand in his way

 even earnest followers

who he knows will fall away

 when the way becomes too difficult for them,

even the ones who say they will go to the cross with him,

will fail when the time comes.


And the good news for them,

for us,

is that our salvation does not depend on what they do,

 or what we do,

 it depends on what Jesus does

 and he does what he says,

he keeps his promise,

 a promise he calls us to trust in,

on a journey of faith

where it is never too late to start. Amen

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