Readings for Sunday, Feb 28th, 2021
The 1st reading is from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Today’s reading occurs 13 years after the birth of Ishmael to Sarai’s maid-servant, Hagar. God reveals to Abram that Sarai will produce a son, Isaac, who will be the heir of Abram and Sarai. In previous verses we learned that Ishmael, the nonelect son, will father “a great nation by divine promise, and although he too is circumcised, Ishmael does not inherit the covenant, and while he receives “blessing” it is not in perpetuity. Our reading in the bulletin opens in verse 1 with the name of God, “I am God Almighty”. The Hebrew is “El Shaddai”. From Exodus 6:3 it is concluded that El Shaddai is an archaic name of God. “El”, by itself, is the word for God. Shaddai is associated with mountains and fertility. Abram tended his flocks in the mountains of Canaan. God is the God of fertility and can give fertility to Abram at 99 years and Sarai at 90 years. At the time of our reading Abram worshiped El Shaddai and believed that other people had different gods. Later, God revealed to Moses that there was only one God and that he should be called “The Lord”. Both the name Abram and Abraham means something like “exalted father”. The point of the name change is similar to when a prince assumes kingship, he changes his name, likewise when God blessed Abram with being a progenitor of a multitude of nations he changed his name from Abram to Abraham. Sarai and Sarah both have the connotation of princess. The blessing to Sarai\Sarah is equivalent to the blessing to Abram\Abraham, as it says in the last sentence of our reading “she shall give rise to nations”. We are still struggling to put into practice God’s equal treatment of male and female as is evident in his blessing to Sarah and Abraham.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless, and I will make my covenant between me and you and I will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor to a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the ancestor to a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”
God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, for Sarah shall be her name." I will bless her and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."
The 2nd reading is from Romans 4:13-25. Paul, a Jew, was taught that the way to righteousness before God was through fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. Paul, a Christian, realized that Abraham was declared righteous before the “law” was given to the Jews. Paul also knew that the only one to have fulfilled the Mosaic Law was Jesus Christ. Even though Jesus had fulfilled the Mosaic Law, as he was dying on the cross, he did not in his prayers to God tell God that he deserved salvation because he had fulfilled the law but instead threw himself on the mercy of God and asked for forgiveness of God and salvation. In this Jesus taught us that the way to salvation is not the law but faith in Jesus Christ. Why was Abraham declared righteous? It was because Abraham had absolute faith in the promises of God including the promise to have a son even though Sarah was 90 and he was 99. Paul teaches us that the way to salvation is through faith in God and his promises to us. We are strengthened in our faith because Jesus Christ has promised us grace from the Holy Spirit to bolster our faith. We are included in the promises of God to Abraham and his descendents, because we are included in his descendents. It is not that the law has no value. When Jesus said, follow me, that includes trying to fulfill the law as modified by the new covenant instituted by Jesus. For Christians, the law is the new covenant instituted by Jesus. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us in how to follow Jesus and the grace of God to give us the strength to follow Jesus.
The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") – in the presence of the of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations" according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be," He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.