June 21, 2020
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.Romans 4:18-25
I do not expect anyone is thinking that in December they are going to look back on 2020 and say, “That was the best year ever!” Many of us started off the year with clever catch phrases like 20/20 vision and plans to make this a year of positive growth in our personal, profession and spiritual lives, but it seems like much of that has been derailed. Now many seem to talk about how to forget this year, but if we just dismiss everything in our lives that upsets us or that we do not have an immediate answer for, then we would miss out on a lot of our lives. So, what do we do now that we are almost halfway through the year? It must be time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and put our best minds together to solve all the problems. No, that is not going to make this year turn out any better.
It is the self-confident who want to figure everything out for themselves who do not want to remember this year. This year of chaos has the planners and the once comfortable disrupted and angry. They are like the Pharisees who questioned Jesus for disrupting their world. Jesus disrupted the Pharisees’ world because he was replacing them as the authority on the Scriptures and gathering a large following of their former followers. Worse than that in their eyes, Jesus was also gathering a large number of other followers, sinners. The Pharisees taught that God wanted righteous followers, not sinners, so they asked Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 19, 11 … “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And, 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus was a living testimony to the Pharisees about what God desired. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament prophet Hosea that God desires mercy and forgiveness to be given to those who do not deserve it, not the sacrifices of people who are willing to bring sacrifices to the temple, but show no love or kindness to their families, the hungry, thirsty, sick or poor. Jesus’ point was that he came to save sinners, not the self-righteous. He came to call those who do not trust in their paycheck, diploma, looks, friends, family, government, code of ethics, etc., but to call sinners to trust in him to save them. So, you if you are like me and you often fall into the trap of believing you’ve got life all figured out, believing that many people around you are wrong, believing you’ve got an answer for everything, believing you don’t want to remember 2020 because it did not go how you planned, believing your movement or party has it all figured out, keep listening.
Abraham and Sarah had a lot of life they wish they could have forgotten. As we hear about them in Romans 4, Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90, so they understood the fear of getting sick because it would probably mean death. Also, Abraham and Sarah had moved hundreds of miles to a new country and lived in a place where they were the minority, where they did not look like everyone else and where they did not fit in with the way those around them were living. Finally, they had no kids, which means they understood what it was like to have no memories of gathering together with family and friends for their kid’s graduation from kindergarten, junior high, high school, college, master’s program, apprenticeship, military send off, or their kid’s wedding, the birth of a child, grandchild or great-grandchild, family meals together, holidays, etc. Does any of this sound familiar? Abraham and Sarah had a lot of life they would probably have been happy to forget about because they did not have the happy memories, and in their case because they did not have children. Keeping all of this in mind, consider the obstacles to his faith Abraham faced when God told him on multiple occasions that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham had every reason to doubt God’s power to bring life from two people decades into their AARP membership, to be angry at God for getting their hopes up and impatient that God waited so long to allow them to have children. Abraham and Sarah were tempted to react as self-confident, bitter, angry, impatient and also forgotten people. They were tempted to react without faith, but God reveals in Romans 4, 19 “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Regardless of what was happening in and around Abraham and Sarah’s lives, God had spoken, so Abraham believed.
God’s promise was to give life to what was dead. The promise God gave to Abraham that he would be a father was hard enough to believe, let alone that he would be the father of nations of people out numbering the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore. Yet, in his timing, God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, who had a son name Jacob, who had twelves sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel, from which Jesus was born and now all who believe in Jesus are considered Abraham’s offspring by faith. Without faith, Abraham and Sarah would have died with no offspring and suffered in hell for their sins. With faith, Abraham and Sarah were given life in the form of a child and much more than that they received righteousness. Abraham and Sarah, just like you and me need righteousness from God in order to have life. Without righteousness, we are sinful, and sin separates us from God leading to death and hell. On the other hand, righteousness from God or being right with God means your sin has been taken away and replaced with a good record of doing what is right, kind, loving and good. This righteousness from God is given to those who believe. This righteousness is not something we choose because it makes sense, earn because we live our best life or accept because we had a feeling about it. Instead, this righteousness was earned by Jesus as we read in Romans 4, 25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus needed to die for our sins, and having paid for our sins, he was raised to tell us we are forgiven, we have life, and by faith we are given this unchanging, complete, God planned, worked and finished righteousness, and he makes us his children by faith. Like a child does not choose its parents, so God chose you to have faith. The faith of Abraham looked forward to God’s power to give life and our faith looks back on what Jesus did as the power that gives us life.
Faith then keeps you focused on the life God gives. Through faith, God fixes your eyes on heaven, eternal life and his righteousness all won through Jesus, the perfect Son of God and Son of Man, who came from heaven and gave his perfect life in death on the cross to save you, forgiving you for your sins and giving you his righteousness. When you are focused on this world, you lose sight of heaven and the life he has given you, and you end up living disappointed that God has not made everything right for you, your family, friends, society, etc. And, this kind of disappointment is like getting mad at a firefighter for rescuing you from a burning house. You are mad that he didn’t come in to fix the house and leave you in it while he was spraying water, but the firefighter knows that the house is lost, and you need to be saved. In our reading from Exodus 3, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. He told Moses that he was going to rescue Israel from Egypt through him, 11 “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” Moses wondered how the Israelites could possibly believe him if he came to them claiming God was going to save them. So, to reveal his power as the living God who is able to deliver, save and give life, 15 “God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” God had not changed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the great nation of Israel, and his power give life continued with the deliverance he worked through Moses and his deliverance has continued through Jesus to deliver you from this broken beyond repair world giving you eternal life in heaven.
Today is Father’s Day and Confirmation Sunday. Today, we are reminded that Abraham, whose name means father of nations in Hebrew, had faith that was credited to him as righteousness. So, it is appropriate to consider the role fathers are given by God regarding the next generation and faith. In Ephesians 6, Fathers are given the responsibility of instructing their children in faith as Paul writes, 4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This is what Paul means, your primary, fundament, most important job as a father is not to raise children who always do the right thing, marry, contribute to society by working and paying taxes, who stand for your political party, who are activists for non-profits, who volunteer their time, who are good at sports, music, video games, hunting, gymnastics, horseback riding, dancing, cooking, etc. Not to say those are not good things. However, your primary, fundament, most important calling as a father is to tell your children Jesus earned the righteousness they need to be right with God through Jesus’ innocent death on the cross dying for sin and rising to give us life, and by sharing that message, you trust that the Holy Spirit will work faith in your child’s heart.
Your greatest concern as a Father for 2020 is the faith of your children. And the good news is that you have readily available the tool to build the faith of your children, and it is not something in your garage or on sale at the local hardware store. You have the Word of God to use with, on, around and for your children. And, this is also true for all of you, whether father or mother, single, divorced, widowed, unable to have children, have adult children, have grandchildren, have great grandchildren, etc. Children, like all of us need to hear what God has done for us to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to give us righteousness, to make us part of God’s eternal family. And, we can all find ways to make sure children hear about Jesus like writing them a congratulations card for their Confirmation, encouraging their parents by introducing ourselves to them, learning their name and praying for them, or texting them an encouragement, or babysitting for the parents and while babysitting reading some Bible stories or singing hymns, or helping with Kingdom Kids, or bringing your children to Bible Study and church even if it means they miss a game, recital, party, etc. The faith of your children will be tested by this world and it will waiver if they are not reminded on multiple occasions what God has done for them.
You will look back on 2020 saying that was a great year because this year you were able to point your family to the promises of God. Again, though faced with old age, no children and an unbelievable promise from God Abraham 20 … did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. The Word of God had power, is powerful and will remain powerful. God’s promise gave Abraham life, God’s promised of Jesus gave you and your children life. Faith in Jesus stands in the face of whatever is going on and is confident in God, the Father who gives life. Children need a father of faith who stands in the promises of his Father in heaven. Amen.