Dear congregation, my sermon today refers to the text from the Letter to the Romans. And this surprised me myself, because at first I actually found this text quite simple. Abraham is considered righteous by God because he believed in him. Thus Abraham is the great example in faith. All right, so far so good. Often heard - nothing new.
Since Abraham is the great example, I also re-read the entire Abraham story in the book of Genesis and studied it carefully. In the process, this insanely dazzling, shining picture that Paul draws of Abraham here in Romans has been called into question by me. It has become flawed. But that should not be the main topic today.
In fact, I don't really know if you can call this preaching today. It is not so much a sermon as a basis for discussion and thought. I would like to take a closer look at three passages in today's text from the Letter to the Romans and ask a few questions about them. And after the service you can let me know whether you also noticed them and what conclusions you draw from what you have heard or what you will think about further.
The first passage is:
If the inheritance were promised to those to whom the law is given, faith would be superfluous. Moreover, the promise would then be invalid, because the law incurs the wrath of God because it is transgressed. Transgressions only do not exist where there is no law.
That is already an insanely steep statement, isn't it? The law entails the wrath of God. Then God would have done a disservice to his chosen people.
What does such a statement mean for those who want to keep it?
Is it not unfair that the children of the Mosaic Covenant - the Jews - have 613 commandments and prohibitions, while all other people are children of the Noachide Covenant and thus only have to keep 7 commandments? And can we as Christians so easily set ourselves apart and say we trust in the grace of Jesus, whose resurrection brings us acquittal, as it says in verse 25?
So for me it remains a challenging statement even if I can follow the explanations of Paul, which he presents in the 4th chapter of the letter to the Romans to some extent. There Paul describes the connection to the law as a question about what you hope for. If you want to become righteous according to the law, you don't need grace, because then you simply get the reward for what is due to you. Paul contrasts this with the image of someone who trusts in the grace of God without his own performance, and that this faith is counted to him as righteousness. Martin Luther would later call this sola fide: By faith alone.
The law incurs the wrath of God because it is transgressed. What does this mean for our Christian-Jewish dialogue? That is what I ask myself. Especially when it is said so absolutely, that is, without nuances and without grace.
Let us come to the second passage. Abraham is made the father of many nations and it is about believing as Abraham believed. And in addition:
For he - meaning Abraham - trusted in him, the God who brings the dead to life and calls into existence that which is not.
Once again in all clarity:
God pronounces Abraham righteous because he trusted God. Because he believed in God.
And what distinguishes God:
That he makes the dead alive and calls into existence that which is not.
What does this statement mean for the third major monotheistic religion, that is, the religion that believes in one God? Islam, with about 1.9 billion believers, which corresponds to about a quarter of the world's population?
Do we then still have to convert Muslims to Jesus, when according to this statement they have already been justified? On the basis of their faith in God?
I mean, Muslims believe in the resurrection of the dead and that Allah created the universe is hopefully beyond doubt here in this room. And I personally have been of the opinion for some time that as a Christian, I want to take that belief in God seriously. I've met some Muslims in my life that I really believe the sincere effort to love God and love their fellow man. Christianly speaking, who adhere to the double commandment of love, just as Jesus tells us. And that's why I find this passage in today's text really worth thinking about.
Now I am coming to the third and last passage which I would like to introduce and that is verse 20:
Instead of questioning God's promise, as unbelief would, he honored God by trusting Him and was strengthened in his faith as a result.
When you hear it like this, everything is wonderful and all right. Instead of questioning the promise of God, Abraham believes. He believes and everything will be all right.
First of all, I would like to make a small remark about this, which strengthens this faith of Abraham and where I myself feel high esteem. When I read the story of Abraham more closely, it became clear to me once again what an immense period of time this spans. Abraham receives God's promise, which is connected with leaving his homeland, at the age of 75. He becomes the father of Isaac at the age of 100. This means that Abraham waits 25 years for the fulfillment of this promise of God.
This makes me see one or the other prayer for healing in a completely different light. What patience Abraham shows with this. What faithfulness. What faith.
When we pray for healing we would like God to respond immediately. Or within days... Months? 25 years?!?
But today I still ask - perhaps a little challenging for one or the other:
What then about Hagar?
Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah, that is, Abraham's wife. In Genesis 15 we learn that Abraham's faith may not have been as rock solid as Paul makes it out to be. For there Abraham says to God, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, so my household slave will inherit me. (Gen 15:3) Doesn't sound like a sober statement to me, but more like a reproach. But you can look at it either way.
Anyway, the whole chapter 16 in the book of Genesis is about a strange story when we are presented this faith of Abraham. Sarah realizes that she will not have children. And decides to give her slave Hagar to her husband Abraham so that she can have children through her. And Abraham does as he is told and begets Ishmael. So Ishmael is the firstborn son of Abraham with the slave of his wife Hagar.
And for what, may I ask?
If he is so firmly convinced that God has the power to do what He has promised, as it says in today's verse 21?
I'm sorry to say it this way now, but that to me is the human security version. The back up we would say today. If it doesn't work out with the promise of the descendant, then I take precautions now. So that not my house slave inherits me, but my own son.
That the history with Hagar and Ismael gets then ugly features I leave out today once. But I would like to hold on to the question: Is this the unshakable faith? The son with the slave girl?
As I said at the beginning, today I just wanted to draw your attention to a few passages of the text we heard today and the issues related to them.
The question of the meaning of the law, the question of the Christianization of Muslims, and the question of faith creating facts.
Abbreviated, I know.
But I do want to encourage you to think for yourselves and stay in conversation with you.
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
17 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.
18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
19 He 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.
20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,
24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,
25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.