The Lord Reckoned It To Him As Righteousness
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18;Psalm 27;Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 17, 2019 –Second Sunday in Lent
Let me give you a little bit of what I learned at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. This is basic contracts law.
In order to have a contract…a legally binding agreement…you have to have three things.
1. An offer. 2. Acceptance of that offer. 3. Some consideration passing between the parties.
By “consideration” we mean that each party gives up something…some entitlement, some property of value…some freedom to act otherwise if they had not agreed to be bound …by the terms of this agreement.
To say this is an ancient concept is to understate the fact. You cannot overstate the concept. It is the foundation upon which all civilization rests.
We stand this morning…on this second Sunday in Lent…at the dawning of the civilization that gave us the community in which we live and breathe and have our being… today.
Back in Chapter 12, God spoke to Abraham and told him to go from the place that he had called home …the only place he had thought of as home…to a place “that I will show you.”
So that is the “consideration” God asks of Abraham. He is to leave his comfort zone and go to a place where he has to be aware of all that is around him and respond to it authentically.
“We always did it this way” is the first casualty of his call. The sun has set on mindless repetition of your set ways.
So what does God offer in return? “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.”
Your life will matter. You will not die unheralded, unloved or unknown. Your days on earth will be celebrated by people you will never know, in a time that would totally blow your hair back if you ever saw it…which you won’t.
He offers him land and offspring, but most of all, he offers him 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.”
This week, we find Abraham far from home, with land and herds, but without an offspring of his own. He hears God’s voice again, and he shares his concerns about…when it is all supposed to come true.
God reassures shows him the stars in the sky and tells him that his descendants will one day be as numerous as those…if he keeps the faith.
That is all God asks, is faith, and Abraham gives it to him. And he reckons that to him as righteousness …right relationship. Ministry… doing God’s will in the world doesn’t take much…but faith.
God calls us to engage in possibility thinking. He has called Abraham to be the great patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. And who does he call? He calls Abraham, a no longer young man who has no property, no children and no great wealth…but who can hear and see the possibilities of God all around him.
The land we live in is shaped by geology and history…and the hopes we bring to it. Abraham’s story is an illustration of what impact one person can have on all that comes after the day they decide to live fully into the promises of God.
We pick up the story today after Abraham has been faithful in his promise but he doesn’t have the one thing that would make the most difference to him. He has no heir, no offspring of his love for his wife, Sarah.
St. Patrick lived in the 5th Century and he is the patron saint of Ireland. He was not Irish, but was born in Britain at a time when it was ruled by the Romans. At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish pirates and was taken to Ireland to serve as a slave tending the livestock.
This life of work and solitude gives him the opportunity to reflect on his life and see how foolish he has been with the blessings he has received up to this point.
After six years, he hears a voice telling him that he will soon go home…the opposite of our story of Abraham…so far. He escapes and travels 200 miles and finds a ship that will agree to take him away.
They land in Britain and all hands leave the ship and wander in wilderness for 28 days, growing faint from hunger. Patrick prays for nourishment and they find a herd of wild boars…and they are blessed by this blessing to the world named Patrick.
He is reunited with his family, becomes a student of Christianity, and is ordained a priest. Where shall he serve?
He has had a vision at some point. His Irish captors “and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."
They have been harsh with him and Jesus has been good to him. At some level, though, he hears their acts of cruelty as a cry for help and …putting it all together in a deeply reflecting sort of way…he knows exactly what they need…exactly who they need to meet.
He goes back to the people who brutalized him and eventually becomes the bishop of Ireland, baptizing thousands, ordaining priests, converting even the wealthy, even sons of kings.
And he found there a people who loved language and learning who celebrated the number three with belief in many triple gods. So he holds up a shamrock and discourses one day on the trinity.
You and I have different stories but it is really the same story. Let me show you the parallels. You worship gods in threes. I worship a God that is creator and redeemer and sustainer, all in one.
He was imprisoned more than once when his teaching did not please the druid kings, but he was always able to buy his freedom with gifts he had received as alms.
After 20 years of ministry to the people who had kidnapped him and enslaved him, he died on March 17, 491.
By then he had converted a significant segment of the population and had infused their love of language and storytelling ….with the story of a man who had also been sent by God…into the world…to save the last and the lost and the least.
All Patrick had to offer God was faith…and he had to leave his home to go to a place had shown him and minister to a race of people God had introduced him to…albeit by pirates.
Patrick gave him that faith. And it appears that God reckoned that to him as righteousness…and made his name famous throughout the world.
This week, too, Jesus leaves his home country in Galilee and heads to Jerusalem. Since Chapter 9, shortly after Peter had proclaimed him the Messiah, he set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem.
The Pharisees appear in a positive light here…an unusual development …to warn him to go another way because Herod is after him. But Jesus knows that all he has to offer God is his faith, too, and he dismisses them, saying, “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”
He knows the danger of a new place. He knows he will be tried and tested as harshly as he was in the Wilderness, but he moves forward.
We all face each new day, knowing that it will have surprises, but also knowing that we have been called away from the comfortable assurances of yesterday into the uncertainties of this day, this hour and this moment.
Our church…our little church that could…faces each new day, too, knowing that we have been called to a new place and a new mission… with or without cold winters, sunshine and leaking roofs…but knowing that spring will come.
And if we are faithful, great things can happen here, too. We might receive warnings from the unlikeliest of people and we might be called to minister to those we have never seen as anything but strangers to us.
But the great risk…greater than any other…is that we might miss our calling…miss the ministry for which we find ourselves mysteriously equipped…fail to see the goodness strewn along our path.
Patrick knew the Irish loved language, that they loved the mystery of life that they brought to life as the little people, that they were a people oppressed by their neighbors and their climate and the sorrow they felt deep in their souls.
He knew that they were the joyful people who had given the world limericks and an understanding of the Trinity as simple and profound as a shamrock that bears three leaves on one stem.
What better field of ministry? What more difficult a field of ministry? What richer field of ministry could he find in the world way back in the 5th Century?
And when the Dark Ages came and the conquerors began to burn all the books of civilization…who was it but the Irish that established a monastery…on a crag of rock sticking out of the Atlantic…a place so desolate that you have to have perfect weather to land a ship there today…to take the great works that were being thrown into the fire elsewhere and hide them from the great sickness that had come over the world and made it want to destroy itself?
I saw a monument to them when I was at a Municipal Attorneys meeting in Baltimore in 2014. The big thing everyone at the conference had to go to was the James Joyce Pub in the Inner Harbor District.
It had stood in Dublin at one time. They had taken it down brick by brick to build it again…exactly as it had stood in Dublin…there in Baltimore.
Now I ask you…who but the Irish …would feel a need to disassemble a building and reassemble it…on the other side of the Atlantic?
Couldn’t you get the same effect by copying the blueprints and minting your bricks in Maryland? Ah, but it wouldn’t be the same, you see…
Unless we find the faith to take our faith apart and reassemble it on a far shore we cannot call it our faith any more than the Irish can claim to be Irish.
We do not follow fortune. We do not follow opportunity. We have been called to leave the comfort of our home and venture into the world…with nothing…but faith.
It has carried us to a place we did not see a few years ago. Where will it take us in the days ahead.
We must make our way, as Jesus made his way, to the city that kills all the prophets…and we must dwell there…with faith…and hope …and love.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.