Week of Proper 23: Friday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Chipping Sparrow

Image Source = Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, University of Kentucky, 1980s

Trust in God

OCTOBER 20, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Romans 4:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

What, then, are we to say about Abraham, our ancestor by natural descent?  If Abraham was justified by anything he did, then he has grounds for pride.  But not in the eyes of God!  For what does scripture say?

Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Now if someone does a piece of work, his wages are not “counted” to be a gift; they are paid as his due.  But if someone without any work to his credit simply puts his faith in him who acquits the wrongdoer, then his faith is indeed “counted as righteousness.”  In the same sense David speaks of the happiness of the man whom God “counts” as righteous, apart from any good works:

Happy are they,

he says,

whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

whose sins are blotted out;

happy is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.

Psalm 32 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;

I will guide you with my eye.

10  Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;

who must be fitted with bit and bridel,

or else they will not stay near you.”

11  Great are the tribulations of the wicked;

but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

12  Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD;

shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Luke 12:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, packed so close that they were trampling on one another, he [Jesus] began to speak first to his disciples:

Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees–I mean their hypocrisy.  There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known.  Therefore everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops.

To you who are my friends I say:  do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do.  I will show you whom to fear:  fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Believe me, he is the one to fear.

Are not five sparrows sold for two-pence?  Yet not one of them is overlooked by God.  More than that, even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.


The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A brief note is in order first:  This is one of a series of devotions based on nearly continuous readings from Romans and Luke.  I have, especially in Romans, been dealing with some fine distinctions, notably in definitions of faith.  So, rather than repeat here everything I have written in the previous few posts, I encourage the reading of the previous few posts, especially if this is the first time you, O reader, have come across this series.

Now I begin with my discussion of the lessons for this day.

Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people.  So many observant Jews in Jesus’ and Paul’s times spoke of him with great awe and respect.  Consider this text, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:19-21, as the Revised English Bible renders it:

Abraham was the great father of a host of nations;

no one has ever been found to equal him in fame.

He kept the law of the Most High;

he entered into a covenant with him,

setting the mark of it on his body.

When put to the test he proved steadfast.

Therefore the Lord assured him on oath

that through his descendants nations should find blessing,

and that his family should be countless as the dust of the earth

and be exalted as high as the stars;

that their territories should extend from sea to sea,

from the river to the ends of the earth.

Abraham’s works, many rabbis during the time of Jesus and Paul insisted, justified him.  He kept the law even before God gave it to Moses, they said.

Yet Paul reached back to another passage Genesis 15:6, which the Revised English Bible renders:

Abram put his faith in the LORD, who reckoned it to him as righteousness….

Paul, in Romans 3, had written of the sole sufficiency of divine grace and trusting in it without clinging to any illusions that any act one commits justifies one. Keeping minute details of the Law of Moses does not justify one, Paul wrote.  Choosing not to rob a local bank or liquor store does not justify one.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating much food to a local food pantry does not justify one.  These are laudable, but they do not justify one.

The passage from Genesis is interesting.  English translations render a certain Hebrew word as either “trusted” or “believed.”  I prefer “trusted,” for it is more to the point.  Many people misunderstand the Biblical concept of belief as merely intellectual acceptance.  The true meaning, however, is trust, which leads to actions, for our attitudes lead to deeds, accidents excluded.  Another very good alternative to the “trusted” translation is “beloved.”  This fits the Abraham saga well, for he and God, according to the texts, had many conversations and were usually on friendly terms.

So, Paul wrote, Abraham beloved and trusted God and acted accordingly.  Thus Abraham had faith, which Paul understood as acceptance of one’s complete reliance on divine grace.  Thus, out of faith, which is inherently active, Abraham obeyed God.  This obedience was part and parcel of the man’s faith.  This was the faith which justified him.

This, as we say in my part of the United States, is where the rubber meets the road.  Will we trust?  Will we obey?  This can be very difficult, especially when we look at the world in which we live.  I think about the reference to sparrows in Luke 12, for example.  We humans are far more valuable than they to God, the passage says.  Yet I write just a few minutes’ drive from a tent city of homeless people.  And, elsewhere in the same town, there is a notorious, dangerous, and drugs-and-gang-ridden low-income housing project on the margin of downtown, with “First” churches and local merchants, many of them upscale.  Nevertheless, the fact that reality is what it is does not absolve us of the imperative to act as we can to create a new one.  Societies and communities are what they are because people have made them that way, so we can change them.  And active faith can help us improve them.

After all, faith in the Pauline sense is inherently active.



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