Collect and Reading for Pentecost 9

Proper 14 Year C                                                                              8/7/2022

Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Rev. Mark A. Lafler

One of the popular ideas floating around religion in general and also in circles of Christianity is the idea of works righteousness.

We probably have heard it said like this:

I hope I have been good enough to go to heaven.

Or perhaps in this way:

He is in a better place.  He was a good person.

 

These phrases point toward a person’s good works leading to a right relationship with God.

That is, it is up to us to find and cure ourselves from the curse of sin.

That somehow, we are powerful enough to save ourselves.

 

Of course, the idea of being good enough,

efficient enough,

powerful enough to become right before God…

is not an idea that exists in the revelation of God…

It is not an idea that exists in the Old Testament.

It is not an idea that exists in the New Testament.

 

The idea of works righteousness has more to do with our pride…

It has to do with our strong desire that we can do it.

That if we try hard enough, we can save ourselves.

The original sin was to do things our way and not God’s way.

Works righteousness is a continuation of that original sin.

 

As humans, we want so much to prove ourselves worthy…

We want to rise above all the evils of this world…

It is in the hearts and souls of mankind to try to rise above evil on our own… apart from God.

 

Yet, the scriptures declare that this goal is an impossible task.

St. David in Psalm 14 (vv. 1-3) wrote:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;

    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,

    to see if there are any who understand,

    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;

    there is none who does good,

    not even one.

It was Jesus our Lord who said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

(John 15.5)

 

So, from the revelation of scripture, we understand that we cannot save ourselves…

We need help.

We need a savior.

 

And the gospel… the good news…

The Christian religion declares that this savior is Jesus Christ.

That Jesus is the mediator between God and people.

The scriptures proclaim:

…there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind,

the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

(I Timothy 2.5-6)

 

Only in Jesus Christ are we provided with a way of salvation.

That is our confession as Christians.

 

 

Our collect…

the opening prayer for the lectionary declares this same theme:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you,

may by you be enabled to live according to your will…

 

It is through the grace of God that we can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

Salvation does not come by being good.

Salvation is not achieved by works.

 

As St. Paul famously wrote to the church in Ephesus:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works,

so that no one can boast.

(Ephesians 2.8-9)

 

So if we aren’t saved by works, how are we saved?

It is by grace through faith.

 

And this is not just a New Testament idea.

 

Our first reading today from Genesis chapter 15 is important.

You see Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland…

The place of his father.

In this calling God makes a covenant with Abraham to bless the world through his descendants.

Promising that his children will be so many that they will be unable to be counted.

Yet, there was just one problem.

Abraham and his wife were childless, and they were past the age people normally have children.

God said to Abraham:

Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.

So shall your descendants be.

Then the scriptures powerfully say:

And he believed the Lord;

and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

You see belief…

Trust…

Faith…

It is faith that is credited as righteousness.

(Romans 4.5)

Jesus our Lord also pointed toward belief leading to righteousness…

to eternal life.

It was when he met with the pharisee Nicodemus.

Jesus said:

… the Son of Man must be lifted up (referring to the cross),

that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(John 3.14-16)

 

St. Paul wrote:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”

and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,

you will be saved.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,

and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

(Romans 10.9-11; cf. Isaiah 28.16)

 

This is what we practice theologically as well.

In our baptismal liturgy…

Baptism is the means of grace giving birth into God’s family that is the Church…

it is also the means of grace to new life in the Holy Spirit.

 

Before the sacrament of baptism, we proclaim our Baptismal Covenant.

It is here where we confess with our mouth our belief in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

It is in our Baptismal Covenant that we declare our faith with the words of the Apostle’s Creed.

 

This is of course all before the actual sacrament of baptism.

 

So the evidence is clear…

We are not saved by works.

We are not saved by trying hard to get into heaven.

We are not saved by being a good person.

 

We are saved by God’s grace through faith.

We are saved by belief in what God has given us.

 

What then about works?

Do they not matter?

St. James, the half-brother of our Lord certainly cared about works.

James wrote in his epistle:

Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

You see that his faith and his actions were working together,

and his faith was made complete by what he did.

And the scripture was fulfilled that says,

“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”

 and he was called God’s friend.

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

(James 2.21-24)

 

At first glance, it sounds like James is contradicting Jesus and Paul here.

But James is not contradicting Jesus and Paul.

 

Good works are intimately connected with faith.

We show our faith by works…

Not that we are saved by works.

Our faith and belief produce good works.

 

 

John Calvin wrote:

…Paul contends that we are justified apart from the help of works,

James does not allow those who lack good works to be reckoned righteous.[1]

They are intimately connected.

We are saved by God’s grace through faith and works come through this belief.

 

And it is this message…

why we are called to declare the good news of Jesus in this world.

A world where people want to believe in themselves,

believe that they can live good enough…

 

But God has entrusted us to share the good news in this world.

That Jesus has done what is necessary for our salvation.

One must believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

 

We as children of God declare this good news of God in this world.

 

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

 

St. Paul wrote:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?

And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?

And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?

As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

(Romans 10.14-15)

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news…

Beautiful news.

 

Jesus has made the way for all to be made righteous…

To receive eternal life.

 

May we not keep that news to ourselves.

May we share this good news in the world.

Amen.

[1] Calvin, Institutes, 3.27.2

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