The Second Sunday in Lent, Year A, Trinity Church, Winchester

“[God] gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17).

My family has always been interested in genealogy: a common Southern obsession that is shared by many Americans, including members of the Mayflower Society and others. My father, strangely enough, a wild branch from Brooklyn grafted onto Southern stock, has been the chief genealogist in our family, researching not only his own German ancestors but also my mother’s tribe of early settlers. “23andMe” has popularized genealogy, offering insight to many into their lineage, stretching far back beyond written records into the very beginning of the human race. We’re all curious about where we came from.

Our reading from Romans today offers us a different sort of genealogy: the genealogy of faith. Here in the fourth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul turns to Abraham, the first of the patriarchs of Israel, as his principal example of faith. Abraham is “the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16), St. Paul writes, precisely because he has faith in God. The promise of righteousness came to him and to his descendants because of the faith they had in God. Righteousness is being made right with God, being reconciled and healed. We who share his faith are members of his family and receive the same gift.

Abraham’s faith in God was “reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6), as St. Paul says, quoting Genesis. The Apostle then says, just a little later, Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also” (Rom. 4:23). For St. Paul, it is faith that leads to righteousness, to our true reckoning. “It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:23-24). We are members of the family through faith, included on account of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. This is where we come from; the beginning of our family story.

You might think that faith begins with Abraham, the father of faith, but that’s not the case. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the singular event from which Christian faith flows. This singularity, this on-off event, has such force that it reaches back to the time of Abraham and beyond, bringing to light the true significance of his story, and its meaning for faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central, irreplaceable event that re-narrates our past, and points toward our future.

Faith is always about God, who is the subject. The God Abraham believed in, Paul says, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17): recalling the story of God’s promise that Abraham would become the father of many nations, even though he and Sara were old. In those days, God brought new life into existence out of what seemed to be nothing: out of what St. Paul calls in First Corinthians, “the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:28). Abraham and Sara, two humble senior citizens, of not much account in the world, became the parents of Isaac, the child of promise, through faith. “He [Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old),” as it says in the fourth chapter.

Remember: “[God] gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). The words apply to Abraham but they also have a broader application. God made all things, after all, out of nothing. This was true in the beginning and it continues to be true: of Abraham, and of us as well. The future that opens before us, through faith, is brought into existence out of nothing, out of our nothingness, and is wholly dependent on God. Our future, opening up from this moment now, depends on the One who gives life to the dead.

In the genealogy of faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is where we come from. Faith is always about God, who in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has reconfigured all things. We place our faith in God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee