Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
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Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
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The Sacrifice

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March 4, 2012:

The Descendants
March 4, 2012
Call:   Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Text:   Romans 4: 13-25
Read:   W&S #82

                                The Descendants

I believe that I may owe this congregation an apology.

I owe you that apology not because of an intentional wrong
        But rather because of my negligence
                In keeping myself aware of the world around us.

And because of that negligence,
        I fear that I have misled some of you by my sermon title.

In a week in which the Oscars were handed out
        And in which stores have big posters and large placards proclaiming that
        "The Descendants" is about to be released on DVD,

I am concerned that you
- particularly those of you not yet fully conscious of my eccentricities -
may have thought that instead of a sermon,
I would be showing this highly acclaimed Oscar nominated movie
And that you would get to               watch George Clooney
                        Instead of              listening to Jim Barnes.

I can understand your disappointment.
But             today's date tells us that - despite disappointment -
We have to "March forth!"

And so, disappointed as you may be to get stuck with me
        When you would rather spend the morning with George,
You and I must march forth
        Further into Lent       and             Closer to God
**
Today as we attempt to march forth
we turn to Paul and the letter he wrote to the church at Rome

We turn to Paul because he is
the great NT interpreter of who and what Christ was and is.
We turn to this letter because of its impact
        It was the turning point for            both Augustine and Luther

And thus had a huge impact
on both Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings
of Christ and of our relationship with God.

Paul's theme throughout this letter is that we are justified
        By grace through faith
        Not by good works and the law

But, if Paul, his writings and his theology are to help us to march forth this Lent
        We need to dig waaaay back into the OT to look at Abraham
        For without understanding Abraham, we will never understand Paul.

We know Abraham's story
        God told him to go      to leave home and kindred
                Abraham had faith in God - so he went
        God made a covenant with him, promising him
That he would be given the land of the Canaanites
that he would be the father to many nations
                that his offspring would be as numerous as the dust
                        and as the stars in the sky
                that he and his wife Sarah would have a son
even though they were 99 and 89 at the time of the promise

A part of that covenant called us to worship today

We know that Abraham had faith that God would keep God's promises
We know that God did keep the promises

Abraham had faith and Abraham trusted God
And that's important

But     what is also important for us
is how Abraham fits into the chronology of the OT

Abraham comes after
        Creation and the eviction from the garden
        Cain killing Abel and the people constantly misbehaving
        God punishing them with the flood, but preserving Noah
 God promising not to do that again and the rainbow reminder

Now in Abraham God begins again.
God marches forth to and from a new beginning
in God's relationship with human beings.

And Abraham came before
        Isaac and Jacob and Joseph
        Slavery in Egypt and Moses
Who led Abraham's descendants out of Egypt
                Who received the law which the people agreed to obey

Abraham came before
the kings, the prophets, and the exile
the promises of a messiah and a new covenant

After the exile the Jewish leaders attributed that punishment
to their failure to live the letter of the law
and thus became more narrowly legalistic

They reached a stage where law - rather than faith - dominated
How well they obeyed the law - not how strong their faith was
became the litmus test
They defined their relationship with God by the law and not by faith.

And Paul in explaining and sharing Jesus Christ
        Reminded the people that God's relationship with human beings
                Began long, long before the law
                And was based on Abraham's faith

Paul made it clear that it was
Because of his faith    that Abraham had received God's grace
Not because of slavish obedience to the letter of the law.
        He couldn't have!       He couldn't have!
Abraham lived many generations before Moses
        And thus centuries before the law

If we are to have any hope of understanding Christ through Paul
        We have to remember that!

For the key, the lynch pin, the sine qua non of Paul's theology
        Is that Abraham came before Moses

With that in mind, we turn to a part of what Paul wrote to the Romans
        [Romans 4: 13-25]

Paul saw the law as something that instructed us and helped us
        Not as the concept that defined our relationship with God
We worship God - we do not worship the law

The defining concepts are God's grace and our faith and trust in God.
        Faith and trust like Abraham's which Paul sums up in two verses

        "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."

Abraham was the father of many nations
        As such Paul insisted the gentiles were Abraham's descendants in the faith
        And Paul also, therefore, insists that you and I are Abraham's descendants in the faith.

As his descendants
we have to ask ourselves whether you and I
are fully convinced that God is able to do what God promises?

As we ponder that question
        And as we struggle to answer it with a powerful "Yes!"
Let us recall
that we have even more reason to trust God than Abraham had

For you and I, like Paul, know the story of Jesus Christ
        The promised Messiah
        Whom God sent to the unfaithful                 instead of sending a flood
                Because God wanted to bring us closer
                Rather than destroy us.

You and I know the meaning of Jesus Christ
        The one whose life, death, and resurrection sealed the new covenant
                A covenant made and promised long after Abraham
                And made and promised despite
- and maybe even because of -
continued human disobedience to the law

And, not only do you and I know His story and His meaning
we have still another advantage over Abraham
We have felt the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives.

As I take Paul's words and Abraham's example to heart
        I know that I would rather be a descendant of Abraham
        Than an actor in the movie with George Clooney.

For being with Clooney might be fun and exciting
        It might get me some attention

But would not be as exciting as marching forth
        Arm and arm with Christ
        Trusting God as Abraham did.

And after all, it's God's attention that we want.

If you feel like I do
        I don't owe you an apology after all
Even though I do still understand
        That you would rather look at George than at me.