25th Feb. - 2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16 (page 11 in our pew Bibles) God's covenant with Abram is marked by a name change. Abram means "exulted father" and Abraham means "father of many"
Romans 4:13-end (page 941 in our pew Bibles) Abraham's covenant with God is used by Paul to show that faith exceeded works in the economy of salvation
Mark 8: 31-end (page 844 in our pew Bibles ) Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to thwart the will of God despite being done for good intentions.
A sign of the divine initiative and grace that accompanies the new covenant is the granting of new names.
Abram- exalted Father becomes Abraham – Father of many
Sarai – which means mockery – becomes Sarah – which means princess.
But more important than the meanings of the names is the simple fact of the change that is important.
Kings adopted new names on their accession to the throne (as traditionally British monarchs have done so as well)
Their new names denote a new status and a new set of responsibilities.
Abraham and Sarah as the progenitors of “many nations” and their faith being “reckoned to them as righteousness “ by God happened way before Moses and the giving of the law.
As having faith in God led Abraham to be made righteous in God’s eyes preceded the Jews being made righteous by following the laws given through Moses, this is the basis of Paul’s argument that Christians are saved by faith in God’s Grace.
It was the re-discovery of this doctrine in the middle ages that faith is sufficient for salvation that led to the massive upheaval in the Catholic church that led to schism in the West and the start of the Protestant church, the greater emphasis on the centrality of scripture (to keep the church institution and priests in check and true to God) and of course through a series of ups and downs to the Church of England.
We believe that it is by Grace that we are saved, made effective by faith. We are not saved by being loyal to the rules of the church or doing good works to earn our salvation.
It is God alone that can save us.
And of course it is common to all Christians that God is incarnate in Jesus Christ.
So we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
We are made righteous by believing that all our sins are forgiven and we are made one with God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
So the cross is put centre stage.
Jesus began to teach his disciples that this suffering and death was necessary but Peter out of compassion for his friend and mentor began to remonstrate with Jesus to try and persuade him out of it.
It is laudable that Peter wanted to save Jesus from this awful fate but misguided.
This was the will of God, and to stand in the way of the will of God is the work of the devil.
Jesus says to Peter “Get thee behind me satan”
And this was directly after Peter had been the only one perceptive enough to recognise Jesus as he really was when he proclaimed “You are the Christ”
This is very human of course. Able to have great insight and perception one minute and be able to get things completely wrong in the next.
How we are made one with God is a massive and complex subject. I am greatly influenced by Easter Christianity and they place a much greater emphasis on the incarnation when atonement happens. When you think about it at Christmas we celebrate the joining together of God and man in one person so in the word made flesh we see atonement (at-one-ment) there, but even while accepting that; in the picture of the cross we have something much more potent and necessary.
The clash of kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, the potent symbolism of a sacrifice for sin taken from the Temple cult. The validation of everything Jesus was and embodied, the victory of Good over evil, was given us on the third day, when the illusion of a victory on behalf of evil was decisively overturned for ever and the gates of heaven were flung open to all who had faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
Ultimately, salvation is not something that any of us has to reach up for or is forever just out of reach.
Salvation is the very ground we stand on and can confidently build our lives upon this rock.