2nd Sunday in Lent – B LSB #566
Text – Genesis 17:1-2
When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram & said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, & be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me & you, & may multiply you greatly.”
WALK BEFORE ME – BLAMELESS
Doesn’t that just sound like a deal! Blameless! Just walk before me blameless. By the time a person is 99 years old they probably got it figured out. It’s not going to happen! But that is the Word Abram receives from God Almighty, or in Hebrew – from El Shaddai. It’s a strong word; the kind of word that should make a man or woman of little faith – cringe!
We are in the church’s historic season of Lent, a time of repentance & a time where we should be sorrowing over our sins. Not that we shouldn’t always grieve over them, but that is as impossible as walking blameless before El Shaddai. So church leaders, already by 400 AD, realized that it’s helpful if people have a focused time of the year to spend in repentance.
Otherwise, we won’t do it! Isn’t that right? When is the last time, like Peter, you literally wept over your sin? I’m going to be generous & guess that maybe 1 in 20 of us can remember such a time & describe the circumstances surrounding it. Sin is our nature. We’re born with it. We’ve never known a time without it. King David wrote:
“For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5 NLT) And those are words from a man after God’s own heart, as Luke recorded of God in the book of Acts: “…He raised up David to be their king, of whom He testified & said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’” (Acts 13:22 ESV)
If you believe in Jesus as your Savior from sin, then you are a child of God & a descendant of Abraham. You are part of the covenant. You are part of the family, & along with being in the family come certain expectations: “Walk before Me – blameless,” says El Shaddai! Even the man after God’s own heart committed adultery & murder & then hardened his heart against His almighty Creator, so he would not feel the need to repent of his sin. Are you feeling the need for the season of Lent, in your life, right now, to turn back to God?
I didn’t expect you to answer that, because it’s a rhetorical question. I’m afraid not all of us would be able to answer it honestly, & the last thing I want to do is lead you into sin during a sermon. I only asked that question to make a point. Martin Luther put it as clearly as it can be said, when he wrote:
“[Baptizing with water] indicates that the Old Adam in us [the sinner King David spoke of in Psalm 51], the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition & repentance be drowned & die with all sins & evil desires, & that daily a new man should emerge & arise to live before God in righteousness & purity forever.”
“I am El Shaddai; walk before me, & be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me & you…” Each Sunday we come before our heavenly Father we confess our sins so He can remove them from us as far as the east is from the west. Each morning when we arise & every night before we sleep, we should confess our sins so our Lord can erase them.
In this way we drown the sinful nature in us that it may die. Through the work of His Holy Spirit, our heavenly Father has created in all believers, a repentant heart. It is one of the gifts of faith, but our sinful nature hates it, & deceives us into ignoring it.
As churches go, 50 years is a pretty short history. When Jan & I were in Germany two summers ago, we were able to see the church that my Dad’s ancestors worshipped in before they came to America. I got to stand in its pulpit & we heard its bells ring. That building is still in use & it’s been there since about the year 1140 AD.
But whether a church is young or old, whether it has bells to ring or not, what is
important for all eternity is that people are called to turn their hearts back to their heavenly Father in repentance. Then, just as importantly, they’re called to believe the good news:
“Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you & for His sake forgives you all your sins.” It is that Gospel message that, “…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16 ESV)
As the season of Lent gives us a special opportunity to focus on turning away from our sins & turning back to Jesus, so an anniversary gives us a special opportunity as well. At anniversaries we stop to reflect & take inventory. We stop to count our blessings, & then we thank our heavenly Father for them. Otherwise, we’re not likely to do it. Isn’t that right?
The last time you said a prayer, what was the main focus? Were you asking, or thanking? The odds are you were seeking something. Granted, it may have been a prayer for someone else, but in that prayer did you thank our Lord for anything? You see, thankfulness is not a natural part of who we are. It’s a gift we received along with faith in Jesus.
In his letter to the church at Colossae, St. Paul wrote: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (4:2 ESV) As you looked at the pictures last evening, what memories were brought back to be thankful for? As you spoke with people you may not have seen in 20 or 30 years what blessings were rediscovered to be grateful for?
How far back would you be able to look & uncover the mysterious ways in which our Creator brings blessing & joy to our existence? Do we look back 30 years or 50? In faith, we are more blessed if we look all the way back to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Gethsemane & Calvary. It was then that the Lord made it possible for St. Matthew to begin its services 50 years ago.
Even before Jesus’ incarnation, about 1850 years before, Yahweh was promising & then creating an heir for Abraham & Sarah. And through that one single heir, conceived long after their bodies were incapable of doing so, God spoke to Abram in the OT reading for today: “…your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Not even Isaac has been born, & yet, it’s as good as done – father of a multitude of nations. So Yahweh changes Abram’s name to reflect not just the promise, but the certain reality.
That takes us back to the word ‘blameless,’ which in English could be pronounced salem. It stems from the same root as the Hebrew word shalom that you may already be familiar with. At its root, blameless, or salem, has the idea of completeness, peace & safety. Yahweh is calling Abram, not so much to a life free of blame, but to a life of being connected to his Creator.
It’s the life Adam & Eve had in the Garden of Eden, before the fall! They walked with God. They were in perfect harmony with Him. Their life was complete. They knew only peace & safety. They naturally set their mind on the things of God & not on the things of men. There was no cross to take up in following their Lord because they did that without thinking.
“And God saw everything that He had made, & behold, it was very good. And there was evening & there was morning, the 6th day.” (Genesis 1:31 ESV) Yet, Adam & Eve turned their hearts away from their Creator & followed the serpent. That rebellion separated them from their Lord. They were no longer salem; no longer complete, no longer at peace, no longer in safety.
Their hearts were now turned against Yahweh. Confusion & disharmony reigned as far as their eye could see. God promised them a Savior & they thought it might be Cain, until he murdered his brother Abel. Adam & Eve died looking forward to The Promise. After The Flood, & the tower of Babel, things settle down & Yahweh renews His promise with Abram.
“When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram & said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, & be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me & you, & may multiply you greatly.’” God’s plan to restore the salem, the harmony, the completeness, is to create a covenant between Himself & Abram. A covenant is basically a device that creates family from something other than blood lines. When Yahweh makes His covenant with Abram it is to restore God’s family.
Taking a vow of marriage is to make a covenant. Adopting a child is to make a covenant, but those are covenants made by fallible, sinful human beings. Yahweh never faltered in the terms of His covenant with Abram, but Abraham’s descendants did. God made a new covenant with the people of Israel at Sinai. They failed again.
At last, our Lord made the final covenant on the cross of Calvary. Jesus was there as fully God & fully man. He fulfilled both sides of the covenant. That’s what Jesus wants the disciples to recognize when He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” In other words, Jesus is the Chosen One.
The Son of God has been chosen to fulfill the covenant – both sides of it. I suspect that every one of us here today would answer as Peter did, “You are the Christ.” That is the easy part. The far more difficult question is: “How do we live up to the expectations that come along with being in God’s family?” The answer is the focal point of Lent.
It’s highlighted in the very 1st of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis, thus beginning the Reformation: “When our Lord & Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ – Matthew 4:17, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Having a repentant heart is to be alive, for a repentant heart turns us always back to our Father in heaven.
Abraham could walk before El Shaddai & be blameless only as he remained in the right relationship to his heavenly Father, set forth in God’s covenant of grace. That covenant was kept for us by our Brother, who is also our Savior & our Lord. When we are in God’s family we are complete, whole, right & at peace. When you hear today’s sermon text, “…walk before me, & be blameless…” even a man or woman of little faith need not cringe. Yes, ‘be blameless’ is a strong word, but Jesus Christ has kept that word on our behalf. We remain in right relationship to our Creator through remaining in Jesus, & it is Yahweh Himself who has chosen us in Christ. St. Paul wrote of that in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
“Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy & blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:3–4)
El Shaddai is the One who does the choosing. Our task is simply to surrender to His choosing. This congregation has had its share of conflict over the years. It’s because we don’t surrender well. In every set of relationships, every family, every community, every congregation, regarding the need for repentance, there is plenty to go around.
Fortunately, by God’s grace, there is even more forgiveness. It was, & still is, our heavenly Father’s will that we look at the cross of Jesus, with repentant hearts, & live. 50 years of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 50 years of the need for forgiveness, & yet 50 years of life for all who have surrendered to Jesus’ name.
As St. Paul wrote in Romans 5: “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Trust that Jesus has given you life & you will walk with God – blameless. Then you will live. Amen.
By grace, I’m saved, grace free & boundless; my soul, believe & doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: By grace you too will life obtain. By grace! None dare lay claim to merit; our works & conduct have no worth. God in His love sent our Redeemer, Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth; His death did for our sins atone, & we are saved by grace alone. By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying; in Jesus’ promise I rejoice; for though I know my heart’s condition, I also know my Savior’s voice. My heart is glad, all grief has flown since I am saved by grace alone. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet