After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." And Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Sermon for The First Sunday After Trinity 6/11/23
How To Be Righteous
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Abram had a problem. He had no heir. In the ancient world, that was a big problem. Someone had to inherit. Governments had not yet learned to be confiscatory. It was the duty of the head of the house to select an heir and make his selection known before he died. Abram had been promised an heir, but so far, no such luck.
God knew what was on his mind. God came to visit with Abram, and greeted him in a vision with the promise and the word of their relationship. Abram's response was something less than cordial. He said, in effect, "Oh sure! How am I going to get all of these blessings? I have no heir, and I am getting old. It looks like I am going to have to leave my stuff to my servant Eliezer of Damascus. So how am I going to get all of this reward?" Abram was looking for family, and offspring. Having no sons was a considered a sign of the curse of God. The last thing on the mind of Abram was how to be "righteous." But that is our theme this morning. I invite you to consider our Old Testament lesson, this morning, and see what it reveals to us about How To Be Righteous.
Abram was a man of faith. Like any one of us, his faith was not always as firm as it might have been. He had moments when the plan of God simply did not make sense to him. He had left home and father and traveled to the promised land. He was patiently waiting for the promise, but it had been ten or twelve years. He was now in his late eighties. Sarai was getting no younger either. It was becoming less likely that God would do what He had promised, in the mind of Abram. It was certainly seeming to be less possible.
God knew the weakness of Abram and saw that he needed to be encouraged, so God spoke to Abram in a vision, repeating the promise and inviting Abram to speak and ask and hear and believe. Abram responded to hearing the familiar promise with his doubts and confusion over how things were progressing – over the timetable of the Lord.
And God corrected Abram. He repeated the promise and told Abram that it would not merely be one born in his house, but one born of his seed – he would be the father of the one who would receive the promise. He God took Abram outside, in the vision, and pointed his attention to the stars – all more clearly visible from that place and that time than they frequently are with all of our artificial lighting today. Then God promised the childless man that not only would his own son inherit what God had promised, but that the line of Abraham would be too many to count, just like the stars! And how fantastic and incredible the promise must have sounded to this old man who had never successfully fathered even one child, male or female! But Abram believed the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Now, we know from our place in history, that Abram did not understand fully the promise of God, yet. He later thought that he could fulfill the promise with just any child he might father, which is where Hagar and Ishmael come into the story. But Abram heard the Word of God, and he trusted God to accomplish what God promised – even though the wait was long, and nothing about his situation suggested to him that it was even possible. And God reckoned it to Abram as righteousness, that is, God counted it or credited the trust as if Abram were a righteous man, which, on the basis of his own conduct, he was not.
Now, you have all known this story. We have heard it over and over again. But what does it mean for us?
It means that we can trust God to fulfill His promises to us, even when it doesn't seem very likely – or even when it doesn't seem possible.
People worry about their lives. God knows what is happening, and worry is wasted. It doesn't change reality. Why worry when we can take it to the Lord, and simply trust God to be our God?
What does it mean to have a God? It means to look to Him for good, all the good that we expect, and every good that we need, and look only to Him for good. So, when we trust God – that is a name we use for Him – to be our God – as in "what does it mean to have a God?", we are to expect God to be good and do good and take care of us, just as He has promised over and over again.
Some people, for example, express the fear that our congregation will fail, that we will not have enough money to pay the bills and support the pastor and do the things congregations are supposed to do. They are either afraid of the future or angry with the pastor, but either way, they don't trust that we will survive. But we can trust God to fulfill every promise He has made to us.
Now, has God made any promise to us that Immanuel will be large and strong as a congregation? Has He promised success and survival for the congregation? No. There is no such promise. This text tells us nothing about the survival of our congregation.
It tells us how to be righteous. The way to be righteous is to trust God. Abram believed the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. God has made many promises to us, but the promise that says life will be fun, or being a Christian will be easy, or that all of our endeavors will meet with success is simply not there. He just promises us that if we trust in Him, He will bring us through whatever we will face, and finally take us to heaven with Him for everlasting life.
We see from the example of Abram that God keeps His promises. We see in Jesus Christ, particularly on the cross, that God has taken sin out of the way. Your sins are forgiven. When you trust in God, you are righteous – but with a righteousness that comes to you from outside of yourself. Your righteousness is Christ's righteousness, because He took your sins on Himself and nailed them to the cross in His body. When He died, you died the death that you deserve to die for your sins – you just did your dying through Him. Now, when you live, you live His life – He just does His living through you!
The principle here is salvation by grace through faith. Your faith is the means God has appointed to receive forgiveness and, therefore, perfect righteousness. So, if you want to be righteous, you need to trust God – trust His promises, made about Jesus and about forgiveness in connection with the cross and with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
You need to believe that Jesus was without sin, and that He was and is true God.
You need to understand and believe that He died for your sins, and paid the penalty, and that the resurrection of Jesus was God's declaration to the world that Jesus had satisfied the justice of God for all sin.
You need to trust the promise that because of these truths, He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
And you need to trust that this applies to you, to your sins, and to your salvation.
And when it comes to question like "will this congregation endure?", the answer is, "If God wills." Everything we can do is to care for one another, love each other, and live in faith, trusting God to do what we need and to be our God, giving us all the good we need, and working through us that which is pleasing to Him. I suspect this congregation will survive because we have what everyone in the neighborhood needs, the Gospel. But our concern is first faith, and then faithfulness – "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
And Abram believed the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. It wasn't earned by faith – Abram wasn't even looking for righteousness. He was looking for an heir, and asking God how He was going to fulfill the promises He had made to Abram. When Abram took God at His Word, and trusted God to do what He promised, God counted that confidence as righteousness.
He will count your confidence in Him as righteousness, too. When you take to heart the absolution you hear in the service, then God does for you what you trust in Him for – not because of your faith, but through it you receive forgiveness. When you believe, God reckons you righteous with the righteousness of Christ. You don't possess that gift because you believe, but through your faith. You have it because Jesus won it for you, and because God is pleased to pour out His grace on us, and because God has chosen to reckon faith to us as righteousness.
People come to church for a lot of reasons. Some come for nostalgia; the music is familiar, the setting is like when they were young. Some come to church for a quiet place. Some come to church for the social fellowship. Some people come out of habit, and others are searching for something. They may not be sure what they are searching for, but they have come here in their search. But, no matter why you have come, or how often, God reckons trust in Him and in His promises as righteousness. He forgives every sin for Christ's sake. He pours out grace and life and salvation upon you, and calls you His own child.
Abram was the pattern – the fancy word is "paradigm." He believed and it was accounted to Him as righteousness. God promises the same thing to us – John at the end of his Gospel writes, "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Faith in God and His promises and His love – that's how to be righteous.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, June 11, 2023
How to be Righteous