1st Scripture Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16 & Psalm 22 (VU p.746, 3&4)
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: walk before me and be blameless.’” How many of us here this morning think we are too old to be useful to God? We aren’t what we used to be, many of us, and we have health issues, and we have little energy. Yet we are here. Yes, we are here.
Ever ask yourself WHY you are here? You who are so faithful in the small things like turning up here on Sunday mornings – something fewer and fewer people are likely to do in our culture – what gets you out of bed on Sunday morning to be here for 10:30 – to pay your tithe or offering to support the work – nay, the very existence of this church and to hear once again that God needs you and loves you and knows your name.
And God asked the impossible of Abram, or so it seemed. At ninety nine years old he was to become the father of many great nations. His wife, a woman of the same vintage, and childless to boot, was to bear the child to Abram who would secure this possibility!
And then God did something very important. God gave to Abram a new name: Abraham. And to Sarai a new name also: Sarah. God established a new covenant for the Jewish people thru Abraham and Sarah. God gave them a big job to do. God gave the nearly dead new life, and being reborn they needed new names.
Names are very important in our scriptures. As people are transformed, they require new names, for they are now different, and are known differently to God. I think of Simon who became Peter, of Saul who became Paul. Our names have spiritual resonance. Like baptism, a name change reminds us that we are undergoing transformation. To some of us our family names are very important. To others not so much. But if they are, then there is some resonance there spiritually that may be of great significance – or none at all.
It seems a bit of a paradox to me that in our scriptures, particularly the Hebrew ones, lineage is very important. Jesus, however, understood family differently from bloodlines. He was somehow free of them, and we might reflect on that.
It is clear from the reading in Psalm 22 that God’s great saving deeds are not reserved for those from good families. “I too shall live for you” sings the psalmist. We do not live to serve our ancestors, but to serve the living God – to love the world that God so loves that God sent us Jesus to show us how better to live in love with all creation. He tore apart tribal affiliations and family loyalties. God’s work is more important, he told us, than family ties. Can we hear that? Do we understand what it might mean? When we are called, can we leave our nets, abandon our careers, give up our comforts?
“I too shall live for you”. Even in my old age, I too shall live to be of service. I am listening Lord. If you call my name I am here.
Hymn #161 MV “I have called you by your name”
2nd Scripture Reading: Romans 4: 13-25 & Mark 8: 31-38
“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.”
Well, this is huge, isn’t it? Can we wrap our heads around this? Can we see how the law brings wrath? Beheadings and stoning, torture and imprisonment, revenge and retaliation? Where you have laws, you must have enforcement: officers with guns, courts and prisons to back them up, punishment to act as deterrent to others.
“Where there is no law, neither is there violation.” Mmmm. Can we imagine a society where the only law is the law of Love? If that is the full extent of the law, then there can be no violation, because if we recognize ourselves as children of God, then the application of love is the only appropriate response, and there can be no thought of punishment. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus said.
As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called to this way of life. We are called to imagine how this might be, and to create ways of living as Jesus calls us to live – as we co-create with him the kingdom of God on earth. We the faithful, following in the way of Jesus, are the heirs to the kingdom. There is no other way that I know of.
In the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus clearly makes the distinction that I’m sure many of you are already making, as we puzzle over the reading from Romans. When Peter rebukes him for talking openly about his death and resurrection – something the disciples are very uncomfortable with – then Jesus says, “Get thee behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
We look around our world and what do we see? Violence and bloodshed, abuses of women and children, and of men and boys. We see sexual impropriety, infidelity and betrayal. We see addictions and self-destructive behavior. So where would we be without laws? What do we do with the pedophiles, the serial rapists, the psychopathic murderers?
It is a spiritual law that the only person we can change is ourselves. And we can only do that with God’s help. So the world is still with us – but we are called to follow Jesus. We must follow Jesus to realize in our world the promise of God’s kingdom. In other words, we can change the world only one person at a time: myself and yourself. We must set our minds on divine things, on living our own lives as Christians, and knowing that as we grow in faith we are radiating God’s Light and Love into a very broken and hurting world, and God will provide us with opportunities to serve.
“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus told us. His own example shows us that the world may not like what we do and who we are, but our suffering may be the catalyst to move humanity forward, ever closer to God’s plan for us – the kingdom of God right here on earth.s
Hymn # 120 VU “O Jesus I have Promised”