Romans 4:1-12

 

            Last week in the sermon time, we discussed the idea that faith is recognizing God’s intervention in human history and in our own lives. If you recall, I said that the greatest example of intervention is God sending His own Son, Jesus Christ. And, as last week was Pentecost, that is the coming of the Holy Spirit, the second greatest intervention should be considered to be when the Spirit came down to us. We are still in the midst of that intervention by God today. The last greatest intervention would be the End of Days when Christ comes once more to earth. However, what should we count as the first greatest intervention after the Creation?

            I want to give you help in looking at all the interventions in the Good Book. The online resource “Bible Hub” has a book-by-book biblical timeline. If you ever get confused about what God had in mind when, you can quickly see that on Bible Hub.

            Hmmm, the next time we see God really show up after the Creation, and Fall thereof, is in the story of the Great Flood of Noah. If you recall that story, at the end a rainbow is given as a sign of the covenant that God will no longer attempt to wipe out humanity by flood. That is a promise NOT to do something!

            Next, in the story of Abraham, we see God promising to do something to His people, and that is a blessing. The promise in this story is of building a nation, the descendents of Abraham that will be like the stars in the sky. Today we have three great faith traditions that count Abraham as the Father of their faith: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. WE call these three the “abrahamic faiths.”

 

            It is fitting on this day that our attention is called to Abraham, the Father of our Faith. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome to remind those of the Jewish Faith that the very Father of that Faith was blessed by God and called righteous even before he carried the mark of the new covenant, which was circumcision. You see, Jewish Christians of Rome wanted to have all of the Christian men circumcised before they could take the Christian Faith.

            Today we count baptism as the entry into the covenant with God–not circumcision. Yet, back in Rome confusion was everywhere in the early church. In fact, the group that wanted all men to be circumcised we call today the “circumcision party.” It was like a political movement on its own. The gentiles were being forced to become Jewish before they could become followers of Christ.

            The interesting fact of the matter is that Abraham himself was called by God, followed God, was blessed by God long before he was circumcised. Paul reminds the church in Rome, and all of us today, that Abraham was not even from Israel or Judah and yet is considered the Father of all Jews. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans—modern-day Iraq. Paul’s point is that God can call anybody at any time. To think otherwise is to limit the power of God!

            I want us therefore to actually look at the call of Abram by God as it is found in Genesis 12. Please open your Bible to that page. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s home to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” However, it is not until Abraham himself is 99 years old that (check Genesis 17) that he is commanded to take the sign of the covenant in circumcision. Abraham dies at age 175 in chapter 25, by the way.

            The call by God of Abraham is one of blessing. Paul is equating that to the early Christian Church as well. The ministry of Jesus Christ is only supposed to be a blessing unto others, a blessing unto the world, and a blessing upon our own lives.

            The term “to bless” can mean many things. Its original Hebrew meaning from “baruch” meant to “bow the knee in order to worship God.” It is an act of humility. But, it also has come to mean to receive a good word from God over one’s life. Remember the power of God’s word. If God speaks it, then it IS! It comes into being. If God speaks a good word over your life, then your life would have to be good! That is the power of God’s Word. Therefore, I want you to think about “blessing” as bowing down before God in order to receive God’s good Word over your life.

 

            Paul in his understanding of faith, tells us today that if we live righteous lives, following Jesus’ example, then our lives will be blessed by God. This is NOT a payment of sorts for doing good works. This is the simple truth that if you have faith in God, then God’s good Word will come down over your life.

            The statistical evidence shows for sure that if you have faith in God, then you will live longer and happier lives. You will live about three years longer in fact.  In a study comparing the associations between faith and health, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physician has shown the improvements in life expectancy of those who attend religious services on a weekly basis to be comparable to those who participate in regular physical exercise! Dr. Daniel Hall compared the impact of regular exercise, statin therapy and religious attendance, and showed that each accounts for an additional two-to-five years of life. "This is not to say that religious attendance should replace primary prevention such as exercise, or a proven drug therapy, such as statin therapy, but it does suggest that regular religious attendance is associated with a substantially longer life expectancy, and this warrants further research," cautions Dr. Hall. (Washington Times, 4 June, 2012). Just remember that by God’s blessing, Abraham lived to 175!

            How is it that Christians receive this blessing of longer life? I think it is because when we leave here after worship, we go out in joy and are led forth in peace. That is a scripture from Isaiah 55:12 that is on a plaque that sits on my desk at the church office. The plaque was given to me by my own mother on the occasion of my graduation with a doctorate from Fuller Seminary. That was in June, 2004. It is hard to believe that was 20 years ago now! And, I have not learned anything since then!   You do not have to be a doctor of ministry to know the healing effects of the Word of God over people’s lives. But, if you want to consider the idea that coming to church will let you live longer, then go ahead and see those who minister to you as doctors over your life!

            Let us go ahead and read the entire piece from Isaiah: “For you shall go out in joy, and be lead back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress. Instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

            I love this imagery of all the mountains singing and the trees clapping their hands! Such are the blessings of God over one’s life when one accepts the faith of Jesus!  I cannot and will not promise you that your life will be blessed with a new Mercedes automobile and a huge new house, but I can assure you that you will see the world differently—more as God created it to be. You will see things and hear things that are surely from God that other people around you might even miss—like the mountains singing! The trees clapping!  This will give you the joy and peace of knowing Christ.

           

            When I was reading this scripture from Romans, reading the term “blessed” over and over again, I had to quickly run to the Greek version to find out the critical question of which word Paul was putting forth to the church in Rome. You see, there are two different words in the Greek that are translated regularly as “blessed” in English. One word is “eulogia,” from whence we get the English word “eulogy,” a good word spoken after someone has died. The other word in the Greek is “makarios,” which is regular translated as “happy” in many newer versions of the Bible.

            Is Paul telling the people in Rome that they are going to die and be remembered with good words? Or, is Paul telling them that the blessing from God that they receive through faith is one great and happy thought. Yes, it is “makarios.” Paul is literally telling the people of Rome that they will be happy if they accept the faith and live according to God’s Will over their lives. Amen to that!

            This is very much in accordance with the preaching of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Do you remember Matthew 5, the Beatitudes? Again and again Jesus tells the people that they are to be happy people. Shall we do a quick refresher on this? Open up to Matthew 5. “Happy are those who are poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. . . .”

           

            If we are blessed by God; If we are now happy in our own lives because we have that joy and peace; If the mountains are singing for us and the trees are clapping, then we need to share out the blessing to others. This is truly Paul’s point to the Gentiles and Jews of Rome. The two groups of early Christians were going at each other on doctrinal issues. Paul says, “Wait a minute. . . . .you are supposed to be blessing one another, sharing happiness and joy. . . .not ripping each other down constantly.

            This is a hard thing for us still today. We keep saying we just want to be a blessing on this planet, but then we fail. We cause pain and suffering instead. I think that has to do with the very practical problems of being a blessing in a corrupted world. In Bible Study one of the Tuesday morning participants shared that when she was just fourteen, she was abducted, raped, left for dead. She was carried up in a bright light to heaven where she heard the voice of God telling her that she had to live. There was a purpose, a plan for her life. She was sent back here to help others.

            The entire bible Study group was nonplussed. How are we supposed to bless? How are we supposed to bless the prostitute? How are we supposed to bless the drug addict? The alcoholic? The child-abuser? The rapist? The murderer?

            With all the faith we can muster, believing that God through Jesus and the power of the Spirit will intervene once more.

           

Amen.