Summary: The Lord said to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you.” So Abram went.
Epistle: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Summary: Abram justified by faith, not works. He believed in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Wages are not a gift but a due. The promise did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. The promise is received by faith, not by works.
Gospel: John 3: 1-17
Summary: Nicodemus. Be born again. How? This is of the Spirit. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. Sent not to condemn the world but that it might be saved through Him.[/dropshadowbox]
Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
I suppose that many of us have childhood memories of things that were not fair. It is a sense that is deeply engrained in us, especially when we were at the mercy of people bigger and more powerful than us, who had both money and authority over us.
Whether justified or not, there will have been times when we were punished for what we did not do, or when we failed to receive the equal treatment that was given to brothers, sisters or classmates.
The plaintive cry that “It’s not fair” rings down the decades to us, perhaps accompanied by a satisfied smirk on one who got the better of us.
But there is another way of looking at it. These things are fine when we are dealing with people of more or less equal standing with us, but what about the weather, the seas, the changes of the earth’s crust caused by erosion or fault-lines or volcanoes? None of these are fair and they strike where they will and they are impersonal in who is blighted by their effects. They are fair only in affecting all equally, but not in that it is the most vulnerable who are often worst affected.
In this sense, nature is not fair.
So what about God? Is God fair? Looked at one way, the visiting of our rebellions and sins and faults and corruptions on Jesus was manifestly unfair, and if Jesus had had no say in the matter, then this might be so.
But while God gave His only begotten Son for each of us and for all of us, Jesus also went willingly to the cross for the sake of those who had been created through His spoken and powerfully-acting Word.
In this, God and Jesus had gone beyond fairness into love. While fairness makes a tally of what is done and what is due, and measures in unique detail the balance of effort expended and blessing merited thereby it ends up with a kind of contract. It ends up with wages paid, not gifts given or received. And that is commerce, not love.
Perhaps we approach God as if we were equal with Him and could bargain for His favour. Look Lord, I have done this and this and this for you: so You owe me.
But that would place God under a superior law or principle and in effect God would not be God. He would become a contrivance for our own self-deluding manipulation – but not God.
For it is the nature of God to love and to give. That is what God is, and love is His desire to shower us with every blessing that we can receive.
But just as you do not pour wine over the ground if you wish to drink it, but into a wine glass, so God does not throw blessing into outer space, but showers it on those who are also able to receive and to benefit from His blessings.
Some blessings are received by farming the land and fishing the seas and mining minerals, and these are blessings of creation.
But there are other blessings of life and of relationships in which we relate to God directly and personally: heart to heart and soul to soul. For God is a personal being and just as He loves so He seeks our love. And we can reject that love if we so choose.
And that is where faith comes in. God spoke to Abram who responded with obedience even as in advanced years he ventured into the unknown. And in obeying God, Abram trusted Him and that faith was treated by God as a holy and righteous response, which made Abram right with and holy before God.
The alternative is to receive the salvation that Jesus gives us.
Yet Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus, a senior rabbi for all of Israel, shows the same thing. It is not in gaining knowledge or wisdom or great learning, or by doing great works that one finds favour with God.
It is by being wholly reborn from the inside, which is possible even in old age, that peace with God and eternal life is to be found.
In this sense Jesus has already opened the door and has provided all the signage that we could possibly require to find it. All we have to do is to go through.
The works we do in ourselves will live and die with ourselves, and while we still determine to control our own lives, we and our works will be spiritually inert. These will be our own works, and not those ordained by God.
On the other hand the works that we do from a position of having already received Jesus’ gift of life will be the works that He has done within us and through us. These are works that He will claim and own, and in which He will take justifiable pride.
It has been said that in Jesus, God offers us a choice of a free pardon or a fair trial.
The fair trial will be scrupulous: every scrap of evidence from every moment of our lives will be put up for examination, and assessed against the unspeakable and unapproachable holiness of God. It will be fair but devastating.
The alternative is to receive the gift of life as Jesus gives it. Fair? Definitely not for it is Jesus who has already borne the guilt and the burden of our failures and rebellions.
But then, who said that fairness had anything to do with love?