Becoming more righteous for Lent? A lesson from Abraham…

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Sermon for St Mary’s Whitkirk on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

Lent…anybody given something up, or taken something up?…hopefully not just to lose weight, or help others, but for how the experience might change you in some way. How are you hoping to be changed this Lent?

I wonder if anyone is hoping to become more righteous?

I know from one Pilgrim group, that righteousness is quite a tricky idea. But here it is in our Old Testament reading – ‘and God reckoned Abraham righteous’. One definition I found whilst reading this week…’to be righteous is to be faithful to the relationships in which one stands.’

With this in mind, I want to explore two things.

First – what does it mean to be faithful to our relationship with God?

Second – what about our relationships with others?

We first meet Abraham, aged 75, when God tells him to leave his land and family. He’s to go where God leads him – and promised he will become the father of a great nation. God, often a remote figure in the Old Testament, begins a relationship with Abraham. He asks Abraham to trust, and offers him great things.

And Abraham is faithful to that relationship. At an age when most of are winding down he sets off into the unknown. But by today’s reading, he’s beginning to wonder how faithful God is. He’s followed God to Canaan, and left because of famine…he’s now even older and still has no son.

So when God appears saying ‘Don’t be afraid…your reward will be great’, it’s rather too much. What’s the point of a reward, he asks God, if I’ve no son to inherit it?

And God shows him the stars – and gives a famous promise – look at the number of the stars – that’s how many descendants you’ll have.

We’re told Abraham ‘believes’, and God reckons him righteous. I wonder what exactly Abraham believed…that there were lots of stars?…that he would have a son?…that God can be trusted? He’s certainly not confident enough to stop asking questions…God counts him righteous…and immediately he demands proof that he will indeed possess the Promised Land.

So, righteousness, not blind trust that never wavers…not trust that has no doubts…but a willingness to try to live based on God’s promises.

Abraham’s is a questioning faithfulness that’s a good model for us. He doesn’t demand, “when will I get what I want and be happy?” He doesn’t complain. His questions don’t deny God’s presence and power in his life.

He’s open to God’s word, to God’s transforming influence on his life, because he believes God can do something – but he also knows the limits of his own faith. He asks for more information so he can find the courage to remain faithful.

As we consider our own discipleship, it’s good to remember Abraham who also struggled to live in response to God’s call. Like Abraham, we have questions that just won’t go away as we try to stay faithful to God. But Abraham shows us that bringing those questions to God is part of our faithfulness and trust.

Being faithful in our relationship with God is not, I think, about being certain. It’s about trying to trust whilst bringing our uncertainties to God. It’s about trusting that God will keep faith…even if we’re not sure how. It’s about trusting that he desires the best for us…that he holds us in his hands.

’To be righteous is to be faithful to the relationships in which one stands.’

As Christians we don’t only stand in relationship with God. Through him we are called to many other relationships – with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours…with those we find easy, and those we don’t.

What does it mean to be faithful to these? I think this is also to do with trust. There are some relationships we can’t trust – with good reason – but for most, trust is vital.

At work for example… As a teacher, I made mistakes, and sometimes got complaints from parents. The only ones that really hurt me, were the parents who assumed I was trying to upset their child. Of course I tried things that didn’t work…sometimes the parent did know better…but the home school relationship only worked when there was trust that we all wanted the best for the child.

We’re approaching the time when we elect churchwardens and PCC members. They in turn invite others onto subcommittees to take responsibility for all aspects of our church life. We elect them because we trust they desire the best for St Mary’s.

I think the faithfulness of Abraham is a good model for these relationships too. We won’t always understand their decisions, we won’t always agree. We will need to question – but as Christians I think we are called to question not in a spirit of accusation, but from a basis of trust. Then perhaps our questions will not be complaints – but a search for how together we can follow God’s call.

And if this sounds a bit churchy…and divorced from the real world…recent events in New Zealand have shown what happens when mistrust and fear invade our relationships. Terror attacks are the fault of the attackers, but they grow out of poor relationships between communities. They grow when there is a lack of trust between people of different faiths that we all desire the common good.

As Christians we’re called to build relationships of trust with each other…so we have an example to offer to the world.

Perhaps becoming more righteous is a good goal for Lent…an increase in faithfulness to our relationships. Righteousness that’s not afraid to question, but that frames these questions on a background of trust…trust in God that we are held in his love…trust in others that our shared humanity can lead to a shared future.

 

Faithful God, we offer you our fears and questions, in trust that our lives are held in your hands, and that you will never abandon us. Help us to be faithful to our relationships with one another and with you. Amen.

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