Second Sunday in Lent, Year A   Leave a comment

Above:  Abraham (Russian Orthodox Icon)

Justification by the Righteousness of Faith

MARCH 12, 2017

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Genesis 12:1-4a (New Revised Standard Version):

The Lord said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121 (New Revised Standard Version):

I lift up my eyes to the hills–

from where where my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time on and forevermore.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say?

Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written,

I have made you the father of many nations

) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him,

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.

Jesus answered him,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

Nicodemus said to him,

How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?

Jesus answered,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus said to him,

How can these things be?

Jesus answered him,

Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Collect:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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As I begin to write I think about Psalm 121 and what composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy made of it in his oratorio Elijah.  (I own a Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus recording of this work. )  Two sopranos and a mezzo-soprano (a trio of angels) sing, their voices blending and dancing around each other:

Lift thine eyes to the mountains whence thy help cometh.  Thy help cometh from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  He hath said, “Thy foot shall not be moved; thy Keeper will never slumber.”

Then the choir sings:

He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.  Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.

The music, which I have known for decades, is transcendent.  And it helps me remember a wonderful psalm, too.  Psalm 121 makes a wonderful companion piece to the reading from Romans, from which I take my central point:  Our justification with God begins with divine initiative.

Justification is the state of being right with God, especially at the final judgment.  This justification cannot flow from good deeds, as laudable as they are.  Instead, it comes through faith in God.  This faith extends beyond mere intellectual acceptance and verbal confession of certain theological propositions.  Faith makes orthodoxy (“right belief”) and orthopraxy (“right practice”) different sides of the same coin.  Faith is lived.  Our deeds are our professions.  You shall know a tree by its fruits.  Deeds reveal creeds.

O, and just one more thing.

One need not have had a dramatic conversion experience to be a Christian.  Not to boast, but I have led a relatively sedate life, abstaining from such practices such as using illegal drugs or robbing liquor stores.  So my personal story is not as interesting as some others you, O reader, might have heard.  I have never had a dramatic conversion experience, and do not feel “regenerated,” whatever that is supposed to mean.  Yet I know that I love God as revealed in Jesus and the rest of the Trinity, and have a deepening, lived faith in the God of Christianity.  I have been a Christian for a long time, but cannot state the day or time this process began.  And that is fine.  My spiritual reality does not satisfy certain individuals, and that is just the way things will have to be.  The most important question is where I stand with God, not them.  And I report that I stand on a path of spiritual pilgrimage, and in utter dependence on grace.  I stand relative to God largely because of divine initiative.

That is my testimony, for what it is worth.

KRT

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

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