Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (February 17, 2008)

[Each week, in anticipation of worship on the following Sunday, I present these "passes," looks at the Bible lessons appointed for the week. I write these pieces to help the people who worship with us at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to prepare for worship. But I hope that, because we use the lessons appointed for the Church Year, that others will get some benefit from them as well.]

The Bible Lessons:
Genesis 12:1-4a (through "as the Lord had told him")
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

The Prayer of the Day:
O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

General Comments:
1. Last Sunday's lesson from Genesis told us that humanity fell into sin by its failure to obey God or resist temptation. This Sunday's lesson from Genesis moves us to the beginning of God's project of restoring fallen humanity to a relationship with Him. In the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, John 3:1-17, the culmination of God's salvation "project," Jesus Christ tells Nicodemus and us that freedom from sin and its chief consequence, death, belong to those who believe (literally trust) Jesus Christ.

2. The great theme of the texts from Genesis, Romans, and John for this Sunday is FAITH. We are saved from sin and death not because of what we do, but because we trust the God Who first gave the promise of salvation to Abram (later renamed Abram) some four-thousand years ago. We believe in the God Who, in Christ, has done everything necessary for us to be acceptable to God.

3. This Sunday marks the first of four consecutive weeks in this Lenten season in which our Gospel lessons will be from the Gospel of John.

4. Genesis 12:1-4a: This marks the beginning of the second of two great sections of Genesis.

The first section, chapters 1 to 11 provided an account of the beginnings of the entire human race, its fall into sin, and its inability to break free of its bondage to sin.

In this second section, comprised of chapters 12 to 50, we read how God began the project of saving the whole human race through one family, starting with Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah), moving through their descendants. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and his wives are the patriarchs and matriarchs of God's people, Israel. That people, meant to be a light to all the nations of the world, will, in turn become the cradle of the Savior "from above": Jesus.

Verse-by-Verse Comments on Genesis 12:1-4a
1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
(1) This section of Genesis, as was true of Genesis 1:1, begins with God speaking. Abram, the nomadic son of Terah, is told by God to leave his nomadic ways and settle in a place that God will show him.

(2) Could Abram have ignored this instruction from God. Of course. But his "yes" to God's command is an act of faith. Faith, in the Biblical sense, entails more than mere intellectual assent. As we saw from the Genesis and Matthew lessons of last week, even the serpent/devil, agrees that God exists. (James says that even the demons believe in God's existence and His essence.) But, do we trust God?

In last Sunday's two temptation accounts, first Adam and Eve and then Jesus, were challenged to trust God even when it would be easier not to, even when the tempter twisted God's words to make it seem that an act of self-willed non-trust would be an act of trust.

Here, Abram, a man who could have comfortably stayed with his extended family and the life he'd always known, trusted God.

We can't really take any credit for our faith and neither could Abram. Faith is a gift from God which only belongs to those who let God into their wills. In a sense, faith is putting our dukes down and letting God be God. It's ceasing to pretend that we are in control or know best. And, as a reading of Abram's life story presented in Genesis demonstrates, to trust in God through all the ups and downs of life is a struggle. God's gifts are free. But, as Abram, who left his comfortable past behind, shows us, it will, in many ways, cost us our lives.

2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
(1) God is making a covenant with Abram. In ancient Near Eastern cultures, it was common for a conquering king to make covenants with conquered peoples or other kings. "I will provide you protection," they might say, "In return, you will provide me with tax monies, soldiers, agricultural goods."

Here, God is declaring Himself to be Abram's Deity. But notice that unlike the covenants of earthly kings, God provides blessings. He promises that Abram, who, along with is wife Sarai, is childless, will become "a great nation" and that he "will be a blessing," which, through Jesus he clearly is. God exacts no price from Abram. God's blessings are free gifts that cannot be earned. All Abram needs to do is trust in God and God's promises.

3I 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.”
(1) The third segment of this verse seems to parallel the last promise of the preceding verse. Abraham is, above all, to be a blessing to others. The same is true of we Christians. In his first letter, the apostle Peter writes:
...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
God saves us because He loves us. But He doesn't save us just for us. He also saves us so that we can throw out the lifeline--faith in Jesus Christ--to others.

4aSo Abram went, as the Lord had told him...
(1) It's difficult to imagine a simpler, more matter-of-fact way of describing what was a momentous move, momentous for Abram and his wife and momentous for the history of the world. Think of it; Salvation's story began when God told one man to go and that one man, along with his wife, trusted in God enough to move. Every great movement of God begins when one person trusts God when God beckons her or him to move out of their comfort zones.

[More tomorrow, I hope.]

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