God and … Us

Scriptures: Genesis 17:1-16; Mark 8:31-38; Romans 4:13-17

Let us pray:

May the meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths be acceptable in your sight O Lord our Rock and Redeemer, Amen.

Reader 1 Today is a little different. I’ve invited my sister Kristin Anderson to share today’s leadership with me. We hope to give you two voices in dialog, working with difficult texts.   Our hope is to discover something together about scripture, about ourselves, and about our lives of faith and gives us a new refreshing understanding of our lives in this Lenten journey.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a premise and a discussion. In his first chapter, he writes, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” He develops this in chapter three, with the summary that righteousness is known through “faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” In Chapter 4, Paul demonstrates that faith can be credited to all people as righteousness by using Abraham as the premier example of a faithful person; someone in trusting, active relationship with God. As Paul quotes Genesis, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Reader 2 Why all this talk of righteousness, anyway? How is that related to faith? The commentary Paul offers is steeped in terminology about the law. Isn’t the law Paul is talking about only for those who follow the old (Jewish Laws)? Why do we even need to pay attention to that in our western, non-Jewish culture and society?

Reader 1 In our society, we have been conditioned to accept that every penny gained is a penny worked for. We have been conditioned that all things we have received are earned: be it by the deeds of our hands, the work that we were contracted for, or even an award for participation. It’s all based on merit.

Reader 2 So, you are saying that built in to our very understanding of “life as it is supposed to be” we have a pre-conditioned tendency to think all things are earned, so by extension we end up thinking we have to earn our way into God’s righteousness. Or, basically, at the most fundamental, we end up thinking we have to earn our way into heaven, right?

Reader 1 Yes, but that is exactly what Paul is arguing against. In a sense, Paul is using his own Jewish ancestry and training as a Pharisee to interpret ethnic stories within his faith tradition but at the same time helping those of us not within the Jewish ancestral society understand how God is in relationship with us. Paul uses an ancient story, that of Abraham, as an example and model of faith. Because the time of the Abraham story is before any of Paul’s contemporary Jewish Laws, Abraham couldn’t officially be considered righteous; after all, he couldn’t follow non-existent laws. Yet Paul is telling us, because Abraham was full of faith, because Abraham trusted God, he was considered righteous. We can’t earn righteousness; instead, if we trust God and have faith, it will be reckoned to us as righteousness as well.

Reader 2 So, really, Paul is saying Abraham is an archetype of faithfulness, therefore the father of us all. What does that mean? How do we translate that into real life? I mean, it feels good to talk about being saved by faith alone; even Calvin wrote about it in his Institutes. The problem is, we really don’t believe that faith is enough. Aren’t we too deeply engrained into our ‘earn your way’ value system to accept it? “I believe in God, so that is all I need,” feels like there is still something missing. The reality is, don’t we feel compelled to get back to work to ensure that, well, I don’t know, that whatever “it” is, doesn’t slip through our fingers?

Reader 1 An excellent question. We may FEEL as if we have to keep on working at it. That is a product of the blessing and the curse of the Protestant Work Ethic we were raised in. The challenge for ME is to figure out how that plays out, once again, in the “real life” of my life, my journey, my family, my work, and my calling. In that respect, I completely fit the description: I am always wondering if my work is enough, and I almost always feel as if I am a little behind what I could be doing…not that my work is a pre-requisite for righteousness, (or getting into heaven), but am I living up to my fullest potential?

Reader 2 Can any of us live up to our fullest potential? I wonder, if what we really need is a way to challenge ourselves to live out our faith as fully as we can knowing that we are finite human beings, graced by God to be exactly what we are: imperfect, sometimes broken, sometimes more whole, yet given gifts that are enough for the day, enough that we in turn may be a blessing to others. Isn’t that what Abraham was? A blessing to all the families of the earth?

Reader 1 Wait a minute, if we are Abraham’s descendants in the faith, then are we also a blessing to all the families of the earth?

Reader 2 That does like what is being implied in the Genesis story which Paul talks about. Look, Paul says, “it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] descendants…who share [Abraham’s] faith, in the presence of the God in whom he believed…”

Reader 1 But how could I be a blessing to other families of the earth? There are times I don’t even feel like I’m a blessing to my own family, let alone anyone else!

Reader 2 That is where the grace of God reaches out and covers us. By the grace of God, we who have faith are full members of the household of God. We are one of the families of earth created by God, graced by God, and given all manner of gifts and tools that we might be a blessing to others. Yes, we are imperfect beings; that is built into our very ancestry as human kind. Yes, we may stumble as we search our hearts and lives discerning our call to one another and to our neighbors, whoever those neighbors may be. Yes, we make mistakes. But we are forgiven our mistakes, we are given neighbors to love, we are given one another to uphold, we are given all that is required, enough for each day.

Reader 1 To which I can only say, Praise God that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, incomplete as I am, imperfect as I may be, but an instrument none-the-less, like the cracked pot that dribbled water on the side of the path, I can still be a blessing for others in my incompleteness. Commentator Laird J. Stuart reminds us,

“the wellspring of doxology is discovered when we realize we stand before God incapable of earning God’s grace and are instead worthy of that grace simply by God’s blessed choice … we are inspired to say that the Christian life does not consist of doing good works to earn God’s love; rather, and wonderfully, it consists of doing good works because of God’s love.”

Reader 2 Yes, we can be blessings to others with our actions. We respond to God’s love and grace with faith, and faith informs how we live our daily lives. We can give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, heal the sick. Or, simply by the way we treat others, show that love is an outcome of faith. Treating others with love, kindness, and respect, or to use the cracked pot metaphor, planting flowers along the path where the water dribbles out, are things we can do as a response to our faith in God, and as a response to our knowledge of the grace we are freely given.

Let us pray:

O Lord, guide us as we seek and learn to be your instruments, thankfully knowing that even if we are made imperfect, we are still your tools, your hands and feet in the world.  Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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