For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He 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), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Stop it. Just stop it. Trust me, you are all good. There is nothing more you need to do. There is nothing more you can do. You are good. You are loved. You are worthy. You can’t earn it, you can’t produce it. You already have it! You are good. You are loved. You are worthy. So just stop it.
Abram and Sarai had been trying and trying and trying to have a child. I imagine they had given up, probably dreaming and wondering and grieving about what could have been. Indeed even practicing some despicable acts to try and make this happen with Hagar. But now they were well advanced in age, way past the ability to have a child. But God steps in. God makes a way when there was no way. Life where there was none. And not only life but an abundant and overflowing promise that the newly named Abraham and Sarah would be the parents of nations. Not one nation, many nations. God comes in with this promise and all they can do is laugh and trust. God tells them to stop trying to make it on their own. Stop it. And trust God.
In the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul is speaking to the Gentiles who are trying to figure out how they fit in with this Jewish God. Do they have to follow all the cultural laws of the Torah? Do the men have to be circumcised? This was an important question to have answered before converting. How much work would the Gentiles have to do to earn their spot in the beloved community? Paul comes in and says stop it. You cannot earn the grace of God. He points to the story of Abraham and how he did not earn it. All he did was trust in God’s grace. Paul tells us to stop forcing our culture on someone else before we accept them into the beloved community. Because the love that the community is built on was never something made by laws and customs, but in truth it has all been built upon the grace of our God.
Sometimes, I have to tell myself to stop it. To stop trying to earn something that has been gifted to me from God. After college, I took an internship with a local pastor who ran a speaking, teaching, and writing ministry. I wanted to make a good impression and so I thought I could cover up my true self in order to earn that care and respect. It all came to a head one day when I was visiting his house to share some recent edits I had made to a manuscript for his newest book. He invited me to have lunch with him so I happily said yes (I never turn down a meal). And it all went downhill from there. After accepting he said to me “do you like egg salad sandwiches?” And I gulped, knowing that I am not fond of egg salad but in an effort to please, I heartily said, “YES!” Scolding myself internally, he then asked if I liked extra mayonnaise. My head said no but my mouth said yes. He then asked if I like sweet pickles. I do not like them at all, but I had already set myself on this path and I found myself speaking the words , “I love sweet pickles.” What was wrong with me. And then when he had finished putting the sandwich together he asked if I would like a glass of whole milk to wash it down with. Ugh. Ask my mom. I have not had milk to drink even skim since I was a very young child. I just don’t drink milk. But here I was thinking I could somehow earn care and respect by not being myself. I said yes. Did I earn his respect from working this hard to please? From trying to be something I am not?
What is it about our world that makes us think we need to act a certain way to be worthy? What is it in this world that demands we produce and produce in order to be loved? Our capitalistic and greedy society sees us as transactions which need to prove our worth at every level. And work, of course, is a good thing but it is not the thing. It will not make us more lovable or more worthy or more good. We cannot earn salvation. We cannot force heaven to come to earth. Not by working harder. Not by producing more. Not by electing the right candidate, or the right policy. Only by God’s grace.
Our scriptures today are pushing us toward a dangerous word, trust. Trust God and follow. Seek Christ’s way. It requires that we relinquish control. It requires that we remove our trust from systems and work and capitalism and greed and political parties and anything that is not God. In a world based on career advancements and chasing better grades and producing more, it seems that everything depends on how we perform or how we stack up against others. It pits us against one another. It values the dollar over all.
But God comes in and smashes that world view. Jesus entered the world and flipped it upside down. But only by trusting God and letting ourselves be flipped do we realize that we have been upside down this whole time. In trusting God, we gain freedom and grace and peace. In trusting God, we substitute our control for the hands of a tender and loving God who has the best possible plans for us. It is God’s grace that invites us into the kindom of God and offers the opportunity to work for it.
But do not put the cart before the horse. This is God’s world and God’s grace. We get to partner with God because of this grace.
So my friends. A simple message today, “Stop it.” Stop trying to earn your worth or love. Just stop it. And trust God. Because in God’s hands anything is possible. Amen.