A sermon given on February 28, 2021 by the Rev. Teri Daily…
The boundaries of a family can be porous and blurred. If you’ve ever been in pictures after a wedding, then you know what I’m talking about. There’s the nuclear family, which of course brings into play the question of whether to include in-laws. the extended family – grandparents, aunts and uncles, adopted cousins. There are those friends who have been a part of celebrations and family reunions for so long that most people can’t remember whether there’s a blood connection or not. And truth be told, it doesn’t seem to matter. There are fiancés of people in the family – adding them to a photo that’s likely to define the family for years to come can be a little bit risky, at least it was before the age of photo-shopping. Membership in families can be an ambiguous thing.
Church families aren’t immune to the blurred lines of membership any more than o other families. The passage we read today from the letter of Paul to the Romans is really all about what it is that makes one part of the family of God. Is the early Church family going to be defined as those Christians who follow the Law, or those who have faith? Now it’s important to realize that, in truth, following the Law and having faith are NOT mutually exclusive things – and both are a means of grace. In this context, though, Paul does seem to paint them as two separate paths of religious devotion.
Paul was in a precarious spot with respect to the Church in Rome. It was a church community composed of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – of those who had been practicing Jews and observant of Jewish law before their conversion to Christianity, and of those who had not. There was some tension between the two groups. So in his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul finds himself in the position of having to defend one group to the other – he’s kind of like the middle child who steps in to preserve peace. To the Jewish Christians, he defends the Gentile Christians, saying basically: “Even though these people don’t observe Jewish Law, they can still be faithful Christians.” And to the Gentile Christians, Paul defends the Jewish Christians, saying in effect: “There is still a special place for Israel in God’s plan for the world.” But one important question still seems to hang in the air: if Gentile Christians don’t follow the Law, how is it that they can claim the promises of God originally made to the nation of Israel? Paul’s answer: Gentile Christians are also the descendents of Abraham, not biologically or ethnically of course, but because they share the faith of Abraham. They are heirs through faith.
What made Abraham blameless or righteous before God, Paul argues, was not his obedience to the Law. The command to circumcise all the family members and descendents of Abraham doesn’t even come until after the passage we read today from Genesis. And, of course, the call of Abraham happened long before Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. God’s promise of land and progeny wasn’t based on Abraham’s obedience to the Law, but on his faith. And so Abraham is now the ancestor of all those who believe – the Jews and the Gentiles, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, those to whom the Law belongs in written form and those for whom it exists only in their hearts. Gentile Christians have been grafted onto the nation of Israel through faith, not through the Law.
What exactly is this faith of Abraham in which all Christians share? It’s the trust that God is the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17). Paul spells out what this faith looked like in the life of Abraham – it was belief in God’s promise that Abraham would have descendants greater in number than the stars, and that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham was almost a hundred years old, and Sarah was barren. Yet Paul paints an image of Abraham as unwavering in his faith and trust. To be honest, it’s an image based on selective memory. Paul seems to have forgotten that when Abraham starts to doubt the he will have children with his wife Sarah, he has a son Ishmael with Sarah’s maid Hagar. If Abraham is painted as a model of faith, there’s hope for the rest of us. But the point in this passage from Romans is that Abraham receives the promises of God through faith, and so do we.
So what does faith look like in our lives? We, like Abraham, trust that God is the one who can bring life out of death. Jesus was raised from the dead, and we expect to be, too. But that’s not all that I’m talking about. Resurrection is not just something that happens after we die – it happens in the here and now. We practice resurrection and live as people of faith each and every time we don’t just give up and succumb to the way things are in the world around us.
Statistics tell us that more than 500,000 people in Arkansas struggle with hunger – that’s one in 6 people. The number is even higher for children – it’s one in 4.  We live as people of faith when we don’t let those numbers paralyze us and prevent us from taking action. We live as people of faith every Saturday when Neighbors Table opens, giving food to those who need it.
We look around us and see lots of division – in our government, within Christianity, among people of different colors of skin, and in our own families. It often seems that there is no meeting-place or common ground. We live as people of faith when we don’t give up on unity, but continue to strive for it – trusting that God may open a way forward even when we’ve looked at all the possibilities and can’t seem to find one. That’s living as people of faith.
We live as people of faith when we come before God, both acknowledging that our lives are not what they should be, and yet also knowing that God can transform us. Each and every time we look at the world through resurrection eyes, trusting that God can do something absolutely new, trusting that God can bring life in places where the world sees hopelessness, that’s living as people of faith.
So today I’d like to leave you with one question: What would it look like this week to live as someone who has faith?
 Feeding America website, Arkansas | Feeding America.