The Lord looks down
from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any
who are wise, who seek after God,
1 Chronicles 26:12-27:34
Much of Paul's writing is informed by his need to address an important concern on the Christian church of his time: Can a non-Jew become a Christian? Here, in this letter to the Romans, he reminds them that, after all, Abraham himself was not Jewish at the time that God chose him to be our great ancestor. Paul makes an explicit distinction between Abraham's faith and someone's following religious instruction.
The modern Christian church, as has the church throughout history, continues to wrestle with the question of who is eligible to be included in our faith community.
Who is to be included? "We are," Paul says to his fellows Jews, "because we are descendants of Abraham and God promised inclusion to all of his descendants."
Then Paul adds, "But, remember this: God chose Abraham before the world had even heard of Moses. Abraham couldn't follow the law of Moses before Moses brought it down from the mountain. God's choice was not made because Abraham followed the Jewish law, and it still isn't."
God's promise rests on grace.
Yes, God chooses us. Yes, God chooses a lot of unlikely people. Abraham and Sarah, for example. They were old, really old--100 and 90--when God told them that they were going to have multitudes of descendants.
But, notice that Abraham and Sarah didn't just sit idly by waiting for the future to fall on them. Because of their faith, they were able to respond rightfully.
These great ancestors of ours lived in a way that demonstrated that they really believed that God delivers on promises.
(Caveat: those of you who have read ahead know that Abraham and Sarah sometimes slipped up.)
As I read this passage, I thought about a line from Faulkner that went something like this, "He brought the old man with him every time he came." The old man in Faulkner's tale had been dead a generation or so, but his descendants had not even started to let him go. Well, by the time that Paul was writing to the Romans, Abraham had been dead a long time, but his story still was affecting those who had been told about it.
Paul reminded them, "The words--the pronouncement of acceptance of the trusting--were written not just for Abraham. They were written for all believers."
We read the stories in Scriptures not merely for glimpses into history but also to relive those encounters in our own lives, to glimpse how God continues to work in us humans.
This Sunday, look at the people around you and consider what it means for you that God's Spirit is within each of them. And it's a good time to consider what it means for your congregation that God's Spirit is dwelling within your church body. What kind of witness are you viewing? What kind of witness are you showing? (again, I'm thankful to Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Letters.)
The psalmist looks around and can't find anyone who believes in God or anyone who does good. He finds himself in a world of corrupt people, wrong-doers.
And he warns us that this is what the Lord sees, too.
No one does good, no, not one.
The sin that the psalmist specifies is economic. These people who ignore God take advantage of the poor. He says that they really ought to be afraid because God hangs out with the righteous: You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.
Do we equate a lack of concern for the poor with atheism?
Do we agree with the psalmist that God prefers the poor?
When we look around us, we also see poverty, but do we see much guilt or remorse?
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and will be repaid in full.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, we give you thanks for the help you have given us through the efforts of many people. Help us now to see how we can continue your work by helping others. And increase our will to do so. Amen.