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the sermon for

the Second Sunday in Lent

25 February 2018

Genesis 17:1-7 , Genesis 17:15-16
Start to finish, salvation is god!

02252018It's been a few years, since I found the leaflet under my wiper blade. Four pages . A little bigger than a business card. Texas flag on the cover. A red– not yellow - rose. And a Winchester rifle. The title: How to Get to Heaven from Texas! At the time, I figured I, already, knew what was in it. But, I saved that handout, anyway, to look at it later. That Fall, that little leaflet became the focus of another round of FaithTalks. Not because it was so unique, but because it was so stereotypically, so unimaginatively American. This little leaflet describes popular American religion, going back to the revivals that swept across the colonies before we were a nation.

Four spiritual laws so simple, so plain, anyone will get it...

1) realize you're a sinner,
2) realize there's a penalty for sin,
3) realize Jesus paid the penalty,
and 4) repent of your sin and receive Jesus as your Savior!

Realize! Realize! Realize! Repent! Receive! One command after another after another! From be3ginning to end, from start to finish, faith, believing, here in the United States, is a matter of obeying! Doing what god commands!

That's why so many groups across America disagree with or don't understand when we baptize babies. Because faith, for them, is about commandments and obedience, not about promise and trusting that promise. For us, salvation is something that god begins and it's something that god – and god alone – completes! How to Get to Heaven in four easy steps. For us, god doesn't do only so much, god doesn't go only so far, and the rest god leaves up to us. God does it all!

The reason I dragged out that leaflet, this week, was because when I first read the passage from Genesis, about god's covenant with Abraham, with Sarah, I was struck by the contrast, by the contradiction. Listen, again, to that First Reading.. I'll use only subjects and verbs to simplify it.

The LORD appeared... The LORD said...

I will make... and I will make... and I will make...

and, again, I will make... and I will establish...

I will bless... and I will give... and I will bless...

It's god! It's god alone who does anything! Not Abram or Abraham! Not Sarah, not Sarai! The covenant is, simply, one promise after another after another! All made by god! God speaks! Abraham and Sarah say not one word!

There's no deal made! No bargain struck! No compromises! In fact, there's no middle ground, at all! God is the only one doing or saying anything! In the entire nine verses, Abraham does only one thing. He falls on his face! Overwhelmed! Overcome! Overawed! That little booklet, on the other hand – How to Get to Heaven – is all about us! We do everything! God does nothing! We realize and we realize and we realize! And then, we repent and pray and receive!

According to th8is p8iece of scripture, though, it's all god and nothing's left up to us! No coöperating! No lending a hand! That's how, why, we baptize babies! It's all god and they have to do, nothing they can do! There's only one commitment, only one promise, one vow, that matters. And that's the one god makes! The one god makes to each! The one god makes to every!

Faith just isn't obeying god's commands. It's believing in god's promises! Trusting them! Taking god at god's word! Staking our life on that word, not just once... or twice... but again and again, over and over! Like I said, no bargains! Not deals! No handshakes! Not signing on the bottom line! There's only the promise! The promise spoken by god! And all we can do is fall on our faces.

The LORD appeared... The LORD said...

I will make... and I will make... and I will make...

and, again, I will make... and I will establish...

I will bless... and I will give... and I will bless...

And I'll do it simply because I said I will! Because I promised!

But then, that's what love does. Love doesn't hesitate. Love doesn't hold back. But love denies itself and picks up its cross! Love suffers and breaks and bleeds! Love is crucified and dies. Love is buried and descends! Love does for us what we were unable, unwilling, to do for ourselves! God did it! God does it, still! Because that's what love does! God isn't the spectator in this drama! God isn't the audience! We are! We're the ones sitting and waiting and watching as god acts! It's always god! God and god alone!

Popular religious, though, continually makes it all about us. But, of course, that's how it's always been. God says, "I" and we say, "me". In the garden. On the ark. Across the wilderness. Into the promised land. Across the generations. Throughout the generations. And each time, every time, god has raised up a person, a people, to speak gospel, one more time! Calling the church, calling creation, back to it's roots. A person like Luther! A people... well, a people like us!

We believe we are captive, in bondage, and cannot free ourselves. We believe that by our own understanding, by our own strength, we believe in or come to Christ. And so, Je3sus comes to us! Comes to us and sets us free! Free to believe! And free to love! To love just like him!

The LORD appeared... That's how the story began. And the LORD continues to come! Even here! Even now! Come in a handful of water! Come in a pinch, in a touch, of bread! Come in a thimble of wine! Come even in those sitting around us! Comes to them in us! Come to us in them! How do you get to heaven from Texas. Bottom line, my friends, is that you don't. You can't. Heaven comes to us! The word became flesh and the word still becomes flesh and dwells among us! That's what love does. It dwells among us and it never leaves! No ifs! No ands! No buts!

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