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1 Sunday, March 4, 2012 Second Sunday of Lent Pastor Dena Williams Denver, Colorado Genesis 17:2-7, 15-16 Psalm 22:23-31 Romans 4:13-25 Mark

8:31-38 A reading from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 17 God speaks to Abraham: “And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." Here ends the lesson.

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A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome, Chapter 4 Paul explains the faith of Abraham and Sarah: For 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. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 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. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him,"

3 were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. Here ends the Lesson The Holy Gospel according to the community of St. Mark in the 8th Chapter Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

4 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." The Gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Covenant of Faith Well, hmm . . . what about the Jews? Several of you have asked me that question of late. The Spirit has worked! Today’s lessons from the Hebrew Bible and from Romans answer that very question: What about the Jews? There is a common understanding regarding Jews among Christians. It is an understanding with which many of us grew up. It is an understanding that we have inherited from our Christian culture. It goes like this: We Christians are not saved by the law. We are not saved by good works. We are saved by faith. This thread of understanding continues: The Jews, until Christ came, were saved by the law. Now that Christ has come, everyone is saved by faith in Christ. Faith in Jesus “replaces” the law for us and for the Jews. The conclusion of this understanding is this: If the Jews would only accept our Messiah, by faith, they could join us, they, too, could be saved by God’s covenant. “Those poor Jews, still relying on the law,

5 still rejecting faith.” What does the Book of Genesis say to us today about the Jews? God comes to Abram, the Hebrew, the Jew. God tells Abram, I will make my covenant between me and you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. Now it was many years later, that a Jewish writer had some things to say about the law, about faith. That Jewish writer was the Apostle Paul. This is what Paul had to say in his letter to the Christ believers at Rome: “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Abraham’s righteousness, Abraham’s salvation, comes not through the law but through faith. Paul writes more: “For this reason righteousness depends on faith, not only to those who keep the law, but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all.” It was Abraham’s faith in God’s promises that saved him and his descendants. Abraham is the father of us all.

6 It is our faith, the faith of the descendants of Abraham, it is our faith that saves us. But, what about the Jews? How will they be saved without faith in Jesus Christ? Paul goes on in his letter to the Romans: He expresses his concern for his Jewish brothers and sisters who have not come to the faith of Christ. He tells how he would sacrifice his own faith, his own salvation, if it would mean that the Jews would come to the faith of Christ. Then Paul provides hope for his people. He does not know exactly how God will keep the Jews in the covenant of faith. He offers no explanation. But, once again, he offers faith. Paul does not know how the Jews will be saved, he simply believes that his merciful, graceful God will manage to do so before the end of time. I have taken you on a rather long journey in the last few minutes. It has been a journey that moves us from a long and broadly held misconception regarding the Jewish people. The journey, I hope, has led you to an understanding that all God’s people, Jewish and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, that all God’s people are saved through faith in God’s promise. It is, unfortunately, a journey that our ancestor, the ancestor of our tradition, Martin Luther was unable to make. Just as Luther believed that the Roman Church of his time would recognize the error of their ways

7 and reform the Christian tradition, so he believed that Jews would come to faith in Jesus, once they heard the gospel. When it became clear that this was not to be the case, Luther carried his view of the necessity of faith in Jesus for the Jews to unnecessary, ultimately deadly conclusions. Luther’s writings against the Jews vilified, called evil all who did not believe in Jesus. Luther’s writings against the Jews were condemned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1992. These actions were too little, and much too late, for those who suffered and died as a result of the invasion into German culture of a murderous ideology, an ideology, growing, in part, from Luther’s writings. There came those days, the days when Hitler’s Nazis were coming to power in Germany. It was in those days, when innocent German citizens: men, women, and children, Jews, the mentally impaired and ill, gay and lesbian people, were being snatched from their homes in the middle of the night, loaded into box cars, taken away to indescribable suffering and death. It was in those days, that some pastors in the church in Germany, the Lutheran church, took a stand against the regime. These pastors of the confessing church included Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his colleague, Pastor Martin Niemoller. It was in those days that Pastor Martin wrote these words: “First they came for the Communists,

8 and I did not speak out— because I was not a Communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak out for me.” Did the Jews kill Jesus? Well, some of their ancestors in faith certainly helped instigate his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. A question for us: Did we kill millions of people in the Holocaust? Well, our ancestor in faith certainly helped instigate the deaths of millions at the hands of the Nazis. Are the Jews responsible for Jesus’ death? Are we responsible for the Holocaust? These are not questions with easy answers. We will not resolve them today. There is, however, something we can resolve. We can resolve to work for the day when never again will those who are different be persecuted for being different. We can resolve that we will believe, and teach, and live as though all people, are sinners saved by God’s grace. We can resolve to speak out on behalf of justice for all people. First, they came for the immigrants, documented and undocumented,

9 and I did not speak out— because I was not an immigrant. Then they came for those who lead an alternative life style, and I did not speak out— because I did not lead an alternative life style. Then they came for those of Arabic origins, those of the Islamic faith, and I did not speak out— because I was not Arabic or Islamic. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for those who speak and act on behalf of the oppressed, and I did not speak out— because I was not likely to be caught helping the oppressed. Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak out for me. Amen