Our readings this morning are woven around the theme of how God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah emerge through the community of faith, and through the journey of faith.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 is our Hebrew scripture reading today. You can see how important this chapter of Genesis is, because St Paul refers to this incident in the lives of Abraham and Sarah. St Paul refers to it not only once, but twice – in both the Epistle to the Galatians and that to the Romans. Those two Epistles, Galatians and Romans are cornerstones in the thought of St. Paul. St Paul says this covenant that God made with Abraham and Sarah came 400 years before the Ten Commandments. So, for the journey of faith, this covenant God made with Abraham so much earlier is therefore far more radically important than the Ten Commandments.
God’s promise to Abraham was that his offspring would be as the stars of the sky; to Sarah God’s promise was that rulers would come from her. And Abraham believed God’s promise.
That divine promise to Abraham did indeed come true
That divine promise continues to come true. Also, it unfurled layer by layer through Jesus, through Paul, and through Mark’s persecuted, frightened community in Rome.
You can often see the key themes of a book of the Bible at the start, middle and end of the book. Our Gospel passage today, from Mk 8:31-38 comes in the middle of the Gospel. It is a fulcrum and a turning point. All the way up to here we have been reading of Jesus works of divine power, for example in healing, in the feeding of the five thousand, the miraculous catch of fish. But here, the very moment after Peter recognizes and acclaims Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus immediately speaks about going to Jerusalem and crucifixion. It’s the turning point. Now that they begin to understand, the Passion can unfold. Our Psalm 22 this morning begins “My God why have you forsaken me”, and it is part of the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday readings. Through the crucifixion Jesus will become “the ransom for the many”, echoing Isa 53.
Those who follow Jesus will do so freely; and they will have the following three characteristics: (1) setting aside themselves; (2) accepting the consequences of discipleship (crucifixion), and (3) follow God’s call in Jesus.
Those three characteristics apply to Abraham, to Jesus and to St Paul. Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone volunteer for such a hard journey? It is because, like Abraham, Jesus, and St Paul, the one who follows believes God’s promises.
Gods promise did not only begin with Abraham, and then unfurl through Jesus and Paul. God’s promise continued to spread through the first century martyr Polycarp we remembered last Monday; and exemplary holy women and men through history.
God brings out more stars of faith still, unfolding today through you and me and this congregation. We all have our doubts, ambiguities and even depression, including Abraham and Sarah who laughed, Jesus in Gethsemane, St Paul in Ephesus, and St Mark’s persecuted, fearful, and doubting congregation (Mk 16:8)… but God keeps the divine promises anyway. Read the psalm again!
So let us cry out for and claim God’s promises for ourselves, because God keeps the divine promises even though other people do not.
Let us willingly follow on behind Christ, turning away from selfishness and follow him to the cross and to the resurrection. From the prefaces BCP p. 379: Lord Jesus Christ you were tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin. By your grace we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer for ourselves alone, but for you who died for us and rose again.
You bid your faithful people to cleanse our hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast; that, fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, we may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.” Amen.