The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on February 28, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I spoke in some detail about our gospel reading two Sundays ago. This reading details the events that occur before Jesus and a small handful of disciples climb the mountain and see Jesus transfigured.  That sermon is available online if you want to go back and look at this passage again.

Our second reading tonight comes from Romans.  Once again the lectionary drops us right into the middle of a larger argument with no context. It feels a bit like being thrown into a cold pool – shocking, confusing. We need a bit of time to adjust to these new surroundings.

Romans is a letter, written by Paul to the people in Rome. It covers a lot of ground but essentially Paul is trying to make one single point: God’s love is for everyone. No one is to be left out. No one.

Modern bibles divide the letter into 16 chapters and tonight’s text is from partway through chapter four, so, not the beginning, but fairly early in the letter.

We enter into the text partway through the letter and also partway through a thought, the first sentence is, “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  (13)

Abraham and his descendants have been promised an inheritance, one that comes not through law, but through “the righteousness of faith.”

The promised inheritance is the entire world and everyone in it.  Abraham and Sarah’s legacy will extend beyond biology and geography, everyone who wants to be included is included. Everyone.

This inheritance, this promise is not based in the law, it’s not based on a set of rules and how well you follow those rules. It’s based on the righteousness of faith.  So it’s pretty important to understand what Paul thinks the word “faith” means.

Listen again to how Paul describes Abraham: “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.”  (19-22)

Just pause for a moment with me to delight in Paul’s no-nonsense writing style. Paul say that Abraham was so old that his body was “already good as dead.”  That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?  Rather blunt? That’s Paul.

Abraham was a man of faith. Nothing could weaken his faith, not the decline in his own body as he aged, not being unable to have children with Sarah, nothing.   “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” (20) Not one.

Because of all of this, Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness.” (22)

So folks, there you have it. If you want to have faith, be like Abraham.

Are you overwhelmed yet or do you feel like this is a challenge you are able to meet? To never, ever waiver in your faith no matter what happens to you.

Because that’s what this passage seems to be saying right?  At least on the surface.

We need to dig a bit deeper.  If we stop here, if we don’t think more about what Paul is saying, if we don’t go back and remember key stories from Abraham’s life we are going to miss what Paul is really trying to say. And he is not saying Abraham was perfect, so we need to be perfect.  Not at all.

The text tells us that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (20-21)

So the first thing I want to point out here is that Abraham’s faith was not a static unchanging thing, it could grow. It became stronger.  Abraham’s faith could change and develop. The reason Paul praises him is because those changes and developments were usually in the direction of having more faith in God, not less.

Secondly, the term translated as “grew strong,” is an interesting one   (enedynamothe).  Adam Hearlson points out that this is a passive verb. Abraham’s faith didn’t grow in strength because of anything he did or didn’t do, it was made strong[1].

Abraham doesn’t do anything, doesn’t have to do anything, in order to make his faith grow. That’s God’s job not Abraham’s.

I think this is an important truth to hold onto especially during Lent when so many people decide they are going to give up something or take something new on as an act of faith.

It’s really important, especially as we move deeper into this season, to remain curious about our motives. Whenever we are engaging in a specific Lenten practice, what are we learning about ourselves and about God in the process?

Is the focus still even on God at all?

It’s easy for “isms” to slip in our Lenten practices – individualism, consumerism, idealism, workaholism.

It’s easy for pride to creep in if we feel things are going well –  “I choose a really tough practice and look at how successful I am. Look at how strong and how powerful and how disciplined I am.”

It’s also easy for shame and self-doubt to creep in.  “I am finding this hard, I am failing at Lent.  Look at what a loser I am.”

Be mindful to watch out for both tendencies in yourself. Neither are helpful, neither are what Lent is about.

Abraham can be a reminder for us of this.  His faith was described as strong and an example to be emulated not because of anything he did, but because of God.

And let’s look a little deeper into what Abraham’s faith was like and when we do, remember that Paul knew all of this and expected that his audience would also know all of this.  Paul isn’t forgetting these things, he’s assuming it’s common knowledge shared between himself and the recipients of the letter.

When I read Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith in Romans I feel overwhelmed – it feels like an impossible standard.   When I go back and read the stories of Abraham’s life – stories Paul and his original audience would all have been very familiar with, I feel a lot better.  That kind of faith begins to feel like an attainable goal.

Abraham has faith in God and also regularly questioned God’s plans. Abraham regularly asks God, “but how can this be?”

Having faith includes having questions.

Abraham has faith in God and also, not once, but twice, Abraham was so afraid he passed off his wife as his sister and gave her to another man.

Having faith includes experiencing fear and making bad choices.

Abraham has faith in God and also … do you remember when Abraham and Sarah were told they would have a child despite the fact that such a thing was impossible given their age and the fact that they’d never been able to before? Do you remember what Abraham did?

Probably not.   Do you remember what Sarah did? That’s more likely.   Sarah laughed and people have been making a big deal about it ever since. When Sarah learned she was going to be a first time mom at the age of ninety, she laughed.

But so did Abraham. We just don’t talk about it.

In Genesis, when God promises Abraham, who is 99 years ago, that God will make of him a great nation and that Sarah will have a child this is Abraham’s response:

“ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (17:17)

Abraham laughed.  Abraham wondered how all of this could be possible, just like Sarah did.

Abraham doubted, and lied, and laughed and also, Paul lifts him up as an example of faith that we should all seek to emulate. And Paul does not see this as a contradiction.

Let’s go back to Romans. Working only with the English translation we read tonight, a phrase in Paul’s writing jumped out at me this week. “No distrust made him  – made Abraham -waver concerning the promise of God.” (20)

No distrust made him waver.  It doesn’t say Abraham was so full of faith and trust that he never doubted.  It couldn’t. Paul knows that’s not true. We know that’s not true.

It says that none of the ways that Abraham experienced distrust  or doubt made him waver in his overall belief that God would keep their promise.

Paul knows all of Abraham’s story.  He knows about the times Abraham questions God, he knows about all the times Abraham lied about who Sarah was. Paul knows about the time Abraham laughed at God. Paul knows all of this and still describes Abraham as an example of faith man who we should emulate.

Could Paul be saying it’s not that Abraham never felt feelings of distrust, it’s that he didn’t let them because the overarching narrative?  It’s not that Abraham never doubted or gave up, it’s that he continued to believe despite those feelings?

I like to think so.

It reminds me of another story from Mark that occurs just after the transfiguration.

Jesus is surrounded by a crowd and a man brings his son who was possessed by spirits to Jesus and says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)  Jesus replies, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes. Immediately the father of child cried out, I believe; help my unbelief!” (23-24)

I believe, help my unbelief. This is the kind of faith I resonate with. One that says “I am certain, I believe, and simultaneously, I doubt. God help me, I can’t do this alone.”

Paul does not say Abraham never doubted God. Paul says that, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” (20)

I believe, help my unbelief.

May you continue to have a good and holy Lent, full of curiosity, release from burdens, and continual new discoveries of just how much God loves you. Not because of anything you have done or not done, but simply because you are you.

In the strong name of the triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.