Kenora 2nd Lent
1 March 2020
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
God of mercy,
you are full of tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in mercy, and always ready to forgive:
grant us grace to renounce all evil and to cling to Christ,
so that in every way we may prove to be your loving children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Have you ever looked at the creeds, that we as the children of God, as the followers of Christ, as believers in the Triune nature of God proclaim, and hopefully believe?
As Christians, we actually adhere to three creeds: The Apostles’ Creed the framework upon which we hang our baptismal promises. The Nicene that is our corporate statement of faith, and the Athanasian Creed that states clearly as clearly as possible the triune nature of God. Admittedly, we don’t look at the Athanasian creed often because it’s the longest and the most intricate description that has been composed.
But having said that, the creeds are interesting, aren’t they?
They’re interesting in how in just three articles, in just three parts they strive to state clearly and succinctly, what it is we believe: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
IN three articles they state what we believe, and leave the how we believe up to each of our hearts to live into and to fulfill with the actions of our lives, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, at the same time, the Creeds, are able to cross time and space. They’re not locked into the 3rd and 4th centuries.
They’re not stuck in time and antiquity, rather, they’re able to tie us to the faith of the first Christians, while at the same time, lay out it for each one of us, today.
At the same time, the creeds stand there reaching out for those who, in faith will come behind us, and continue to be the children of God, in the future.
And they’re able to do this because the Apostles’ Creed begins each petition with the words, “I believe…”. The Nicene Creed begins each petition with the words “We believe…”, and we’ll leave the perusal of the Athanasian creed to your own exploration.
They begin by appealing to our hearts and lives of faith, instead of our logic and intellect.
So, when we look at the passage from Romans for today, we see Paul look at the lives of faith of all of the children of God, all the way back to Abraham, who was the first.
We see Paul separate a law-based perspective of ‘if I do this right, then all of the dominos will fall into place, and salvation is assured,’ from a life that is actually lived out in faith.
And sure, we can try to line up all of the dominos, but the problem with that, without Christ, without a life actively lived in believing in God, in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, we’ll never amass enough dominos to reach the goal.
Paul takes great pains to explain that a life of faith isn’t just a life of following laws. He reminds us: “14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath.” (Rom 4:14-15a)
Just following the laws is like just doing one’s household chores. The list is there for us to see, and to mark our progress:
• Make your bed,
• Take out the garbage,
• Vacuum, etc.,
and at the end of the week, provided all the chores are completed, we would get our allowance, right? We’d receive a tangible marker of the completion of that round of chores.
Do you remember those days?
It didn’t matter if you just threw the covers on your bed in a fit of pique, or if you went to the lengths of straightening it out and making sure you could bounce a quarter off the completed surface, all that mattered was that it was done.
It didn’t matter if you don’t care if your bed is made or not, what mattered was that you made it, and that, in response to completing that task, you received your reward for making the bed in the first place.
By definition, this would be living the letter of the law, and according to Paul, this isn’t going to get us any closer to being the true people of God than making our own bed gets us a job with Molly Maid.
Paul points out that it’s great that we clean our homes, and our made beds look great, but if our faith isn’t in the action, then all we’ve done is fulfill the law, albeit to the letter.
And here’s where it gets a little tricky, because how are we able to explain our lives lived in faith?
After all, although there is a check list, there is a way measurement in how a life lived in faith can be quantified, but really, the one doing the quantifying isn’t God.
God is looking for the enthusiasm.
God is looking for us to open our lives, open our hearts, see beyond the surface to what it is the people of the world need. What is it that the people need to become part of the body of Christ, in their own lives?
A life of faith isn’t lived in the head, rather it’s lived in the heart.
Paul tells us: “16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Rom 4:16)
Long before the creeds existed, long before Judaism or Christianity came along, there was Abram, hearing the voice of God, taking his job security in hand, tossing prospects of societal advancement out the window he packed up his household and his wife, and set out “that way” to follow the promise of God that he will become the father of a great nation.
“12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;” (Gen 12:1-4a)
Not bad for a 75-year-old, huh?
Now, we don’t know if Abram debated this for a long time, or if this was a quick response to the prompting of God, but the point is he heard, and he responded with heartfelt action.
But long before the creeds were formulated, Abram was living out the words “I believe.”
Long before the people of Israel even existed, Abram heard the Word of God, felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and he believed.
We know this because “Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” (Gen 12:4a)
But today, how are we to follow Abram’s example? How are we able to live into the promises of God? How do we live out the faith as stated in the Creeds without getting caught up in the Law?
I believe such living out of our faith, in service to others who may not be familiar with the Word of God, is where we’re being led.
When I was a child, the churches would send missionaries to ‘foreign lands’ to bring the love of God, and our ideal of how to live out that love in service to others to remote parts of the world.
But today, that mission field is right here.
It’s in our neighbourhoods, it’s across the back fence.
This week I had the opportunity to read about the work of an Anglican priest in the Toronto area who is talking to “nones” (those who don’t adhere to a specific religious ideal or denomination) about spirituality. And after a couple of false starts, he’s been able to enter into that conversation and finding it a very rich one, indeed.
Today, as we heard from the Intergenerational Workshop, there are more people in Canada, in North America, who don’t know of the love of God.
At the same time there are more people who have expectations of being able to make the world a better place by bringing about social change, tackling issues of justice, and of equality.
And this brings us back to the words of Paul.
This brings us back to the ideal that a life of faith, yes, comes with action, but action that is prompted by the efforts of our hearts, influenced by the teachings of Jesus, the love of God, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
This brings us back to the statements of the Creeds, that begin with the words “I believe…”, and “We believe…” respectively.
Because we do believe. We do listen for and we do respond to the word of God, the love of Jesus, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, in for and through each of our lives.
At the same time, Paul reminds us today that “16 …the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Rom 4:16)