2nd Sunday in Lent (A)
March 5, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from the book of Genesis.
I regularly get flyers about taking a trip that follows the steps of Saint Paul. The travelers visit cities like Ephesus and Corinth, and they learn about the Bible and history along the way. The trips are probably interesting but they’re not high up on my list of things to do. A tour that follows in the footsteps of Abraham would be far less interesting, although it would be nerve-racking. From southern Iraq north to Syria, and then south through Syria into Israel, the tour would go through some less than desirable areas. It’s a tour that would best be avoided. The Iraq that Abraham travelled was a far cry from what it is now, and he had the added blessing of God leading the way. Abraham was heading to Canaan, and since his story is similar to yours, you can journey with him, a journey that ends in the Promised Land.
A hymn from the 1770’s asserted that God works in mysterious ways, and the call of Abraham certainly fits the bill. From Genesis 12 through 16, Abraham’s name was Abram and Sarah was known as Sarai. I’m going to refer to him as Abraham because he’s best known by that name. The Bible doesn’t tell us too much about Abraham’s life before God called him, except for three things: He was born in Ur (the southern part of modern-day Iraq), He was married to Sarah, and he an unbeliever, an idolater. Joshua said in a speech: “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Why in the world would God choose some pagan who didn’t believe in Him to be the recipient of God’s promises? Here was a man who worshipped the moon god but not the creator of the moon. Surely there had to be at least one person who still believed in the God of Adam and Noah. God works in mysterious ways, but no matter who He chose to receive His promises, the answer to the “why Abraham” is pretty simple.
God called Abraham out of mercy. That’s it. There was nothing extraordinary about Abraham. He wasn’t chosen because God knew he had a heart of gold underneath his sin and idolatry. He wasn’t chosen because one day he would be a true believer. Rather, in His wisdom, and according to His divine plan, God spared Abraham damnation, and even more, made great promises to him. Abraham would have more descendants than stars in the sky and he would be a blessing to all the world. Abraham didn’t know it at the time, if he ever did, but he was a blessing to the world because it was through his line that the Savior would come. Abraham didn’t deserve this honor, nor did he earn it. It was all because God is compassionate and merciful.
The doctrine that you’re saved by God’s grace out of His infinite mercy because of Jesus, is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” You were dead in your sins, but our merciful God gave you life! You weren’t called to follow God because He knew that one day you would believe. You weren’t called because you’re a better person than your neighbor. You weren’t called because God saw that you had potential. You had nothing to do with it! As Paul told his fellow pastor Timothy, “God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:8-9). He chose you for the same reason He chose Abraham – He has mercy on you. God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So, then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:15-16). I hope, I pray, that you hearing this brings you a lot of comfort! You don’t have to work for God’s love; He already loves you. You don’t have to earn the forgiveness of your sins; Jesus did that for you! That’s the greatest news in the history of ever!
I wonder how Abraham felt about God’s call. Was he afraid? Was he excited because God spoke to him? What I do know is that God called Abraham to do something hard. The Lord said to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Leave everything behind and follow God into the unknown. He was going be a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by those who were different, and possibly hostile. Abraham had no clue what awaited him, and that’s why Abraham’s journey was one of faith.
How do you feel about being called by God? Are you excited? Afraid? Apathetic? Ambivalent? I certainly hope that you’re not apathetic about it, because being called is the greatest honor and blessing that you will every receive. It means that God looked at you and said, “I’m going to choose him or her to follow me.”
It’s understandable if you’re a little anxious. To be a disciple of Jesus and to follow wherever He may lead is to follow Him into the unknown. You don’t know what following God will mean for your life. I mean your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. But how does this impact your earthly life in the future? What will you experience because of your faith? We have no idea! Except that it is challenging to follow God’s call. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Following Jesus is a call to change your life. It means leaving your sin behind. As Abraham was told to leave those idolaters who lived around him, so are you. Thousands of years after Abraham, Saint John would hear a voice in heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4–5). You are living in this world and you will have a multitude of experiences with it, but you are not of this world. You don’t belong to it. You’re not a citizen of it. You’re a stranger is a strange land. This means separating ourselves from those who try to lead us to reject God. Abraham couldn’t worship multiple gods and follow God at the same time. And neither can you!
Abraham’s journey began when God promised that his name would be great because he would be a blessing to the world. So Abraham left not knowing where he was going, but trusting God who made him great promises and called him to leave his homeland. Paul tells us: “[Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:19-22).
Now does this mean that Abraham never sinned or doubted? Of course he did. If you doubt me, just read the book of Genesis. When Sarah wasn’t conceiving, she convinced Abraham to have a child with her servant Hagar. As you would expect, this didn’t work out well for anybody. Abraham tried to make God’s promises come true by his own efforts, but God promised, that no matter how old Abraham and Sarah were, they would have a child. It would happen when Abraham was a hundred and Sarah was ninety!
It’s not that Abraham didn’t believe God, he just couldn’t see how the promises of God could come true. His sinful doubt also didn’t mean that God’s promises would be taken away! The promises were still good, even if he couldn’t see how. God kept His promises and Abraham was forgiven because his descendant would be the Savior who would die for his sins too! That’s why Abraham was called righteous – he was saved by God’s grace, just like you!
Abraham lived by the promise of the Savior to come. You live by the promise that the Savior came. And He came for you! This is what it means to live by faith. With Abraham you can trust that God will keep His promises to you even when you don’t know what He has planned. The author Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Abraham didn’t know his destination, you do! You’re going to the Promised Land of Heaven. You can follow the Lord who is guiding you and preserving you. Even if you can’t see Him.
Doubting God led Abraham to make some poor decisions, but he was still chosen by God. You doubt sometimes; maybe you doubt a lot of the time. That’s human. Even King David struggled: “I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse” (Psalm 39:2). Faith struggles because sometimes the promises of God seem impossible or very slow in coming. When you struggle in your faith. When you doubt the presence and promises of God, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your faith. It means that you’re struggling. But you know, God kept Abraham secure in the faith and He’ll do the same thing for you.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Doubt in God’s promises is a sin. But where Abraham didn’t know what it means that all nations would be blessed through him, you can! You are blessed by Abraham’s descendant! The one who would bless this world blesses you! The Savior died for your sins! I forgive you all your sins in the name of Jesus. He died for you and that’s why God calls you by mercy. Your sins don’t negate the promises of God! He is faithful beyond measure, and whether you call upon Him with a strong faith or a struggling faith, He hears your prayers and answers them! As Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”
From the outside, Abraham was a pretty poor choice to follow God, but God is merciful, so He called Abraham to follow Him away from damnation and towards salvation. You weren’t anything special, in fact you’re a sinner, but because God is merciful, He has likewise set you on a journey. It’s a journey of the unknown, a journey as a stranger in a strange land. It’s a journey that’s undertaken by faith and trusting in the Lord’s promises. It’s also a journey where you know your destination – the Promised Land of Heaven. Which, I guarantee you is a much better tour than anything here.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen