St Peter's Church, Carlton Colville with St Andrew's Church, Mutford

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Romans 4:1-5,13-17

Romans 4:1-5,13-17
Last Sunday, we were looking at the first and second Adam, what they had in common from both being born of God, both being tempted, and the difference in their action to that temptation and the results for us.
The set of Lectionary readings this Lent offers us the chance to look at some of the heroes of at the roots of our faith.  This Sunday, Abraham.
And Paul brings the Romans back to the root of the faith. Last week being born of the flesh, a physical birth of humanity. This week the birth of our faith, again back in Genesis.
When God comes to Abram he makes this promise (Slide 1)
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12 vv 2:3
And it’s that last statement that fires Paul – ALL peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  For the Jews of the day, Paul thinks that has been forgotten, that they consider themselves as the only chosen people of God, but they are not the ONLY people of God.  That’s good news for you and me.
Abraham had been born, but it was God’s calling that gave him a second birth (Slide 2)
But over time things got embellished (Slide 3), rituals, laws, actions got in the way of the simple truth.  You had to be circumcised. It was through obedience to the law, that you became a good Jew.  It was through your actions that you became a good Jew.
So, Paul says woo there, hold on, let’s go back to the root of YOUR faith, and everyone’s faith, and take a look at Abraham.
When God showed his favour to Abraham, he wasn’t circumcised and yet God blessed him.  When God showed his favour to Abraham there were no laws, they came with Moses so you cannot say he was abiding by the laws.  When God showed his favour to Abraham, Abram was… well in fact we don’t know what he was doing at the time – that’s how God works, unexpectedly, whatever it was it wasn’t anything that the Pharisee’s understood as finding God’s favour.
Abram was Seventy five years old when he was called by God.  So for the seventy five years previous what was he to be considered, a gentile, a non-believer, then how did he find favour with God?
Paul says that Abraham found God’s favour through faith alone, because the other understood ways at the time to find that favour did not exist.  Paul says ‘go back to those basics’, the scriptures alone prove that God’s love is for everyone, through faith alone.
So not surprisingly then that those clever lectionary people should tie the readings today together in that famous passage of John 3:16 ‘For God so LOVED THE WORLD.’
So in our second reading, our gospel reading, we find a Pharisee, and a member of the Jewish ruling council, who believes in circumcision, who believes that following every dot in the, by now, very complex law, who believes in action, is the way to God, is coming to Jesus AT NIGHT.  I would suspect that being out at night was against the law, visiting Jesus was against the law.  John’s night though is both a physical fact and a metaphorical allusion to the state of Nicodemus’ faith.  It was in the dark, and he was in the dark, spiritually, even if perhaps he didn’t know it.
And yet, he says “we know you are a teacher who HAS COME from God”.  I like the use of “we”, he’s come alone and yet he uses a “we”.  Might be true of course, that in thinking he was not alone.  Interestingly despite using the name Rabbi or teacher, it is Jesus’ actions that he then refers to “For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God with not with him.”
Jesus then answers the visual-ness of miracles with a cryptic “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.  In my training we were taught very early one that anywhere we see “I tell you the truth” that something crucial to our faith is about to be said. – No-one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are in a relationship with God, they have been born physically as Abraham, and they have been born again, through a living relationship with God.
And if Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council then he would know the story of Abraham, the father of Judaism.  But as we reflected earlier, there has been so much embellishment of those rituals and laws that Nicodemus remains in the dark, he cannot see that Abraham himself was re-born at God’s calling.
Jesus goes on in v5 to refer to baptism by water and of the spirit.  Readings from not so long ago.  John refers v1:26 to baptising with water but then his eyewitness at v1:32 I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.”
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would be aware of the prophesies given to Ezekiel, including this passage from chapter 36 (Slide 4)
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you.
But Nicodemus was in the dark. As Jesus finally gets round to saying at v10 “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things?” (Slide 5)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Abraham had the faith to believe alone.  No circumcision, no adherence to minute pieces of Mosaic law, but through faith alone Abraham was he credited righteousness.  Before the Jewish faith was born there was Abraham living through faith.
And now we have Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, given for the whole world, as promised to Abraham.  
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified FREELY by this grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(Slide 6) To become the children of Abraham, children of God
Is for everyone
Is to believe
Is to come to God in faith alone
Happens at any age
Is to be ‘born again’
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