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A Covenant of Faith

Old Mystic, March 8, 2009

Romans 4:13-25 

Summary 

God offers a covenant to all those who want to be God’s righteous children. It is a pledge and a promise that implies deliverance, a future of hope, and a creative role now and in that future. We can only receive the opportunity of that covenant by faith; unconditional faith in God who becomes human, goes to the cross, and is raised from the dead the third day because of his gracious love. 

Sermon 

Who has not heard the admonition, “You ought to play by the rules.” Indeed, a very good piece of advice. Rules provide a structure, direction, a process and a number of procedures to fulfill a task, or comply with the norms of society, and make life easier for everyone. A simplistic approach to life-in-community would be to repeat to each other, “Follow the rules.” Needless to say, we live in a world that needs law and order and we have a sort of “social contract” that compels us to abide by the law—whether carefully crafted or inherent to our nature, as it is often accepted as “given” by many. And anyone, who faithfully and reasonably stays within the constraints of the laws of the land, can and will be considered a law-abiding citizen. Now rules, as they are often subject to human creation and interpretation, within the limitations of our humanity, very often fail to accomplish what they are supposed to achieve. For that reason, perhaps, we have a Congress and we elect our representatives to that congress, in order to revise, re-formulate, and update the rules. Simply because after some time rules may change or they need to change; they are imperfect for the pursuit of life; for the building of community; for shaping the future. 

I love playing games and when I do, I try to carefully follow the rules. One of my favorite board games is Monopoly and I must confess with a mixture of pride and shame that I have earned a reputation of being good at it to the point of disgusting anyone who dares to oppose me in playing this game. As you may know, the game consists in buying land, building property, and charging outrageous rents to any unfortunate player who happens to land on any piece of the board that I own. Who wins? Whoever takes everything, owns everything, and leaves the other players with nothing. My grandchildren Sakari and Jose became my latest victims this past summer. What could I do? The kids wanted to play a game with grandpa! Why am I so good at this game besides of the fact that I have been quite lucky at rolling the dice? The secret is perhaps that rules can be pushed to the extreme for our own benefit. So I become a sort of wheeler-dealer, as the game allows it, to get what I want without breaking the rules. I get what I want, I win, but everybody else loses. Unfortunately, so it happens very often in the game of life when the rules fail to those who lose.  

Paul wants to convey the message of the gospel to the Romans and his argument is that the law does not bring us home. Rules, though helpful, are just a rudiment; elementary means to a greater end. The apostle writes to the Christians in Rome: “The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” In other words, the greater end of conquering the world—for lack of a better term—will only be reached by means of righteousness and righteousness that comes by faith not by the law or, as I put it before, by following the rules. Needless to say, with God’s righteousness the rules make sense! Once again, faith is at the center. Faith as it was exemplified by Abraham for who “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” God had promised Abraham that he would inherit the world and Abraham believed God. So God established a covenant; a gracious pledge; a glorious promise. Not only to Abraham and his descendants—whether they stubbornly pledged allegiance to the most insignificant detail of the Law of Moses or not—but to all those who exercise, who employ, who use their faith to seize God’s promise.

God offers a covenant for us to take that promise. From our human perspective, it is a covenant of faith and faith in Him who raised Jesus from the dead and who handed him to death for our trespasses and raised him for our justification. Let me share with you three aspects of this faith.  

I.       FAITH IS OPPORTUNITY

 

 Freedom is one of the most precious gifts that God gave us to accompany our faith. God wants us to make choices, fruitful creative choices, the right choices, but choices nevertheless. God does not want to constrain us with laws and rules and principles to keep us on track. In fact, Paul himself, when referring to the Mosaic Law in his letter to the Galatians, said: “The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came… But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” The law was like a nanny for small children; with some basic rules to keep us on track. By faith, now, we have come to the freedom of the children of God! Therefore, faith is the opportunity God gives us to join Him in what he is doing and what He wants to do in the world.

 

Faith is opportunity also because we have been made to live by faith. Faith is built in our lives. We can call it a gift, a very basic gift we have been endowed with. It is the ability to believe; the strength to keep on going; the drive to move in a particular direction even when we may not know whether it is the right direction. So when we are called by God to have faith, when we are challenged by Jesus to believe, it our opportunity to become what God want us to be; to go where he wants us to go; to do what he wants us to do. And we better believe it: that is good because God makes it good. Abraham believed God and, as he seized the opportunity he saw his faith grow as he gave glory to God. Let us now move on to the second aspect of Faith.

 

II.    FAITH IS RIGHTEOUSNESS

 Righteousness is a very powerful word. Who possesses the wisdom, the discernment, or even the “right” to make a call about what is the righteous way, especially when we deal with conflicting views about moral issues? It become even more challenging when we want to argue with the Bible as our foundation and most of us know that there are different and quite often conflicting interpretations of the meaning of the Scriptures. In fact most of us can become very good in showing the “narrow way” when it comes to “Biblical prescription.” But God’s revelation is something to be experienced not to be prescribed. The Bible is not a “recipe book” where we can discover some sort of a secret formula or a code for a happy or successful life and therefore by following some steps we will win. Please, do not misunderstand me; it does provide us with a moral and theological framework. But the root of righteousness is in our faith in God, and his Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Through the message of the Bible we encounter the Living God and in our personal experience of communion with Him we find His love and begin to have a grasp of His righteousness. By faith we believe that things need to be right, that can be right, and that will definitely be right one day. By faith we believe that we will find our own way to righteousness, even if we are not sure about what is right, especially in these days when many traditional views are being challenged. Can we affirm that love is never wrong? Can we believe that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things?” This is the high road; the road to righteousness. Love is God’s way to righteousness! Because of God’s great love, Jesus went to the cross so we can have redemption and forgiveness. By faith we believe in the possibility of righteousness because it is part of God’s covenant. 

III. FAITH CONQUERS THE WORLD

 

 It is interesting that Paul, when speaking of God’s promise to Abraham, speaks of inheriting the world, which is a very inclusive word if we think of how that promise was framed in the Old Testament; a pledge to give him land and descendants. It can be interpreted that for Paul the world is an encompassing reality. It means life, creation; the heavens and the earth; the natural and the supernatural; all things created—much more that land and descendants.

The world is ours and by faith we are inheriting it; by faith we are called to conquer it. This conquest, however, is not a conquest by force or by the exercise of human power. The world needs love; the kind of love that brings righteousness. And the world is crying out for help. Paul himself said in the same letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now...” and it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

The children of God need to emerge and with loving, creative, and transforming power claim back God’s creation.  It is by faith that we, folks from OMBC, can begin to make a difference in a world that needs love. We have the faith and it will grow if give glory to God as Abraham did.We are in Lent and very soon Holy Week and Easter will be here. The season is always a good reminder that God, in His great mercy, has offered us a covenant. It is a pledge to save us: to restore us; to re-create us; it is a promise of life in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  We can embrace that covenant by faith and become co-workers with God. It is a covenant of faith.  

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