A sermon by the Revd Camellia Flanagan at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton on Sunday, 25 February 2018.
Lent 2 Genesis 17:1–7,15–16 Psalm 22:24–32 Romans 4:13–25 Mark 8:31–38
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
God told Abraham, If you will be my people, I will be your God. Today’s readings speak of a relationship and a challenging call and response. When God initiated a covenant with the Children of Israel, we find a glimpse of his loving relationship and creativity with his created world.
Twice before God had told Abraham about a covenant or agreement but this time God was being specific about the promise and was preparing to carry it out. The specific parts were, that God would give Abraham many descendants, many nations would descend from him, and the covenant would also be maintained with these descendants. All this was being told to an old man, with an old wife who looked as though this type of promise was not possible. But in the story there is the matter of Abram’s faith. We are told that he believed God.
God changed Abram’s name to Abraham meaning the father of many, before the promised son was conceived and from this point on Abram became known as Abraham.
Does Abraham really believe, or doubt God? It seemed incredible that he and Sarah in their advanced years would have a child. Abraham, the man God considered righteous because of his faith did have trouble believing Gods promise. Despite his doubts, he followed God’s commands. Even people of great faith may have doubts. When God seems to want the impossible and we begin to doubt his leading, can we be like Abraham and focus on God’s commitment to fulfil his promises and then continue to obey.
Most agreements, contracts and covenants have a time limit.
This covenant formed in relationship between Abraham, Sarah and God, is an everlasting covenant and we are also part of this covenant which invites us to share in God’s eternity in an ever-changing world. That the covenant is with Sarah as well as with Abraham is understood because she also received a new name. Sarah, the mother of nations, has seen God create a way where there was no way before.
For Abraham and Sarah the covenant was about family immortality. They lived on in their children and in the children to come and their faithfulness also lived on in the generations of the future and in the impact of the decisions they made.
In large families there are siblings and the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are descendants of Abraham and Sarah and were intended to live in harmony and share in God’s peace and rest in the kingdom to come.
Psalm 22 reminds us that unborn generations are depending on our faithfulness today. As we teach our children about the Lord, so they will teach their children and their children’s children. If we fail to tell our children about the Lord we may be breaking the chain of God’s influence in the generations to come. Can we view our children and all the young people we meet as God’s future leaders? If we are faithful in opportunities today, we may well be affecting the future.
If we want our children to serve the Lord, they need to hear about him from us. It is not enough to rely on the church or those with more knowledge to provide all their Christian education. Can we ensure that we are reinforcing the lessons of faithfulness, obedience and trust we have learned from the bible stories; by the way we live our lives, in our homes and in the wider community? Can we know and understand fully that God’s loving relationship and creativity with his created world, means that he hears the cries of the poor and he cares for the forgotten and oppressed. That same loving relationship enables us to have hope in responding to the evils of our time, whether they are gun violence, or political ineptitude and immorality.
Paul explains that Abraham had pleased God through Abraham’s faith alone, before he had ever heard about the rituals that would become so important to the Jewish people.
We too are saved by faith. It is not by loving God and doing good works that we are saved; neither is it by faith plus love or by faith plus good deeds we are saved. We are saved through faith in Christ, trusting him to forgive all our sins, and taking his Holy Spirit as our guide. Out of the abundance of God’s love for us, when we say ‘yes’ to God’s grace and salvation, we find the new energy that transforms people and communities.
The promise or covenant God gave Abraham, said he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17: 2-4) and that the entire world would be blessed through him. (Gen 12:3) This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus was from Abraham’s line and truly the whole world was blessed through him. Abraham did not doubt that God would fulfil his promise. Abraham’s life was marked by mistakes, sins, and failures as well as by wisdom and goodness. But he consistently trusted God. His faith was strengthened by the obstacles he faced, and his life was an example of faith in action. If he had looked only at his own resources for founding a nation, he would have given up in despair. But Abraham looked to God, obeyed him and waited for God to fulfil his word. He continued to believe God’s promise.
When we believe, an exchange takes place. We give Christ our sins, and he gives us his righteousness and forgiveness.
There is nothing we can do to earn this. Only through Christ can we receive God’s righteousness. What an incredible bargain this is for us, but many sadly refuse to accept the incredible gift and do not make the effort to turn their lives around and live in the way of Jesus Christ, As Fr Greg said last week this is what repentance is. It is turning around and changing direction to the way of Christ.
The Christian life is not a paved way to wealth and ease. It often involves hard work, and over the centuries, persecution, deprivation and deep suffering. When Jesus was speaking about his death for the first time, the disciples and especially Peter, only saw part of the picture. Can we learn from this and can we see and focus on the good that God can bring out of apparent disaster. We need to remember that resurrection follows crucifixion.
Can we hear Jesus’ comment about losing our lives and realize, that sacrifice is part of life and is often essential? Loving parents, partners and friends deny self as part of loving, and self-denial is an essential part of the unconditional love of God. The self we lose is the self-interested, narrow and defensive self that wants to be in charge, and the self we gain is the Christ centered self within us which provides a deeper and more abundant life of compassion and love.
Covenant is not about us or our selfish goals, but about what we do today to ensure the well-being of the generations of the future. When we are truly God’s people, turn around to his way, and respond positively to God’s challenging call on our lives, we find ourselves in the covenantal love of the kingdom of God now, and new possibilities emerge for us and our community. Amen.