Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Lent - Mark 8; Genesis 17; Romans 4
I wonder if you have ever promised anything and not delivered. How has that gone? Telling your kids that you are going to do something with them only to end up being too tired. Have too much work to do. Staying late at the office. An emergency comes up. Anything. It happens right. We promise but then break the promise because we can’t foresee all things, or make sure all things will work the way we want.
In the movie Finding Nemo, Marlin, a clown fish, sees his son, Nemo, taken by a diver. The movie is all about Marlin, with his new friend Dory, going out from the reef where they live to find Nemo. But Marlin makes this interesting statement - I promised nothing would ever happen to him. Dory responds - That’s a funny thing to promise. Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would happen to him. This notion that we should be able to promise certain things to our children, our grandchildren, our wives and husbands, and they will come true. Only to discover that so much happens outside of us that we can never be certain that what we promise will be fulfilled.
All of this is because our promises are finite. Our promises are temporary. They fail more often then not because we are finite. We are temporary. It’s why we sit here today and struggle with more violence in another school. More evil happening to the innocent. I can promise to my children that I will do everything in my power to protect them from harm. Yet, in a world of sinners, this can be difficult. Am I right?
Step away from school shootings and guns even. Relationships. Marriage. Take two sinners. Put them in close proximity to one another for say, 50 years. The probability of problems is rather high. Even though we make the promises for richer or poorer, better or worse, sickness or health, death do us part. We make the promise, and then sometimes try to find the loophole, or wonder how long is until death.
This is why a promising God is essential. A God who enters into the muck and mire of a sinner’s existence and speaks words of promise to you. When our promises fail, or when we try to take things in our own hands, God still remains faithful to what it is that he promises for you.
We take the time during Lent now to hear this promise given to Abram, or Abraham, as his name is changed. This is the second time we hear the promise. The first is in chapter 15 of Genesis and now this reading, after Abram and Sarai have taken the promise of a child into their own hands, through Hagar, God speaks to them again.
I know you have waited, you got impatient. You are elderly, 89 and 99, but I said you would have a son and you will. Nations will come from you, not just one. A child will be born to you and you will be a father and mother of many peoples.
This being told to a man whose name meant “Exalted Father”, who had no children. Who was approaching 100 and his wife’s birthing days were done. Yet God makes a promise, changes their names to Big daddy and princess and they eventually have their son Isaac, whose name means chuckles, who becomes the heir.
This becomes vital because there was nothing Abraham could do about it. There was no way in his power or Sarah’s that a child would come unless God would do this work. And so in the deadness of their current existence of that time, God spoke and it happened. God gave to them such a promised child that they might be able to lean on that promise as knowing this God who is beyond them.
Abraham trusted the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. This line from the story of Abraham, the story of the covenant with him and God, became the text which all of Paul’s writings turn. The idea that we read the story of Abraham and it is our story. The story of a man promised an amazing thing and trusted that God would do it.
For Paul, with faith being reckoned as righteousness, we as trust-ers in Christ then become children of Abraham. Children of faith. Children born from the impossible. Born of the spirit in order to serve the Kingdom of God rather than ourselves. Reborn from above so that we might die to ourselves daily and live in Jesus.
That is what Jesus tells us right? Even though Peter tries to use the opportunity of Christ’s pronouncement of what it is he came to do – to suffer, to die, to rise – and tell him, No way Jesus. Not you. You are the Son of God. Send some fire and lightning from heaven to burn ‘em up and lets blow this joint.
But Christ tells Peter, and speaks to you today as well – Your mind is not on the things of God, on the things of the promise, on the things above and beyond you. Your mind is on the human things. The things of the world. Of sin. Of life in yourself rather than life in God.
Jesus says this because his work is to turn us away from us, away from life as we know it and turn us to God. To Christ. To the promise, because in the promise is this work that is so much more than anything we could imagine. The promise telling us of a God to trust who, as Paul writes - the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Realizing we are part of the many nations that came from Abraham. These nations that are Abraham’s children because we trust in a God who gives life to dead and dying things. Who makes a promise to speak into being this faith that trusts in a God of promises. Whose promise is one that hinges on something else. Something more than just a baby, or a good life, or power, or prosperity. A promise that is more than making sure our loved ones are kept safe from every danger. It is this promise of a cross. Of death. Of sacrifice. Of redemption. Of life.
With Peter all concerned about Jesus doing something that seems so ungodlike, Jesus makes known this promise to him and to you - “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. And whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. A promise that says to you that this Christian life business, this following Jesus business is a promised based business. It is not based on you being nicer to one another, or living a morally good life. It is a promise from God that says – death is coming in Jesus. A death daily with your own cross. A losing of your own life for the salvation of your soul. A promise to you which can be scary. It makes this whole Jesus Way as not the best example of what we would choose for ourselves. Yes, I would like to craft a religion in which my God calls me from darkness into light, puts me to death daily on the cross by forgiving my sin, and helps me lose my life so that all that I am is wrapped up in Jesus.
I read of Abraham and Paul’s interpretation of the story and then the Gospel and I can’t help but wonder, is there any other time in the life of the church or the world that this is needed more than right now? If we are all children of Abraham based on trusting in a God who calls things into existence which don’t, how might that impact my relationship with you, with my neighbor, with my coworker, with my wife, my children, my parents? In the church? How might the Gospel based on promises of death and resurrection change the scope of human interaction in a world that seems more fragmented than ever? How might the preaching of this Gospel transform lives that might be thinking of picking up a weapon and attacking a school? How might begging God to kill me, and then to raise me in the likeness of his Son impact how I live amongst the world? What would those things look like?
I ask because I know I cannot do it. I know that every morning I wake up and I am amazed that for some reason God has called me into this journey of faith. Why me? Why not the guy down the street? Why you? Why not that neighbor whom you wish would come to church to hear this Gospel? This good news that I don’t have to do this. I can’t do it. That I must have God do this work in me. That I need the Creator of the universe, who promises life out of death, to kill me each day so I might have no strength to lean on but what he has given me by his grace. A grace-filled Jesus who has seen my frailty and said – You are mine. There will be a new birth in you. Something new at work that comes not by your own ability or strength, not by any good works that we have done, as Paul says to Timothy, but by his own purpose and grace.
The God of the promise is the God of surprises. But he is also a dangerous God. A God whose promises come to you in ways that may not fit your ideal but is what you and your soul need. What your neighbor needs. For out of the death of ourselves the Lord works in us and through us to grant salvation to all who believe. Who trust that the God of the promise is one who might put your old person, your old Adam to death, and will give life to you in his name. Living not by your own strength but by his grace and his promise. Thanks be to God. Amen