What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness…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.
We are creatures of habit. We cling to our patterns of life sometimes for our very identity. And it is no different with our faith. Our ways of believing, our ways of worship, our ways of practicing our faith are, for most of us, virtually untouchable. (If any of you have ever tried to make any changes in a worship service, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!) We are open to change as long as WE don’t have to be the ones that change. We are open to doing things differently as long as it doesn’t affect us. Does that sound a little bit uncomfortably familiar?
The audience to whom Paul was probably writing were really no different. They had grown up with norms of what was “right” and “righteous”, what made them acceptable before God and as people of faith. For them, their revered patriarch Abraham was blessed because he followed God and did the right things (which also happened to of course be the things that they were doing or at least thought they were doing). And now here is Paul daring to write that that’s not what it meant at all, that it had nothing to do with what Abraham did or whether he lived and practiced his faith in the right way but that he had faith in a God that freely offered relationship, in a God that freely and maybe even a little haphazardly offered this relationship to everyone (whether or not it’s actually deserved–go figure!). Faith is not something that you define or check of your list of “to do’s”; faith is something that you live.
In this Season of Lent, we talk a lot about giving up old ways and taking on new patterns in life. Lent is a season of re-patterning who we are and how we live. Maybe it’s a time to let go of the things that we assume, those habits that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that they are there, things that have somehow become so much a part of our lives that they have by their nature changed who we are. Think of Lent as the season that asks us to drive on the other side of the road. I remember the first time I did that. It was in New Zealand. Now if you’ve been to New Zealand, you understand that the miles and miles of rolling hills patterned only by sheep farms is a good place to learn to drive on the other side. There is lots of room for “correction”, shall we say. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was the more heavily populated areas where we had to deal with other people’s habits and ways of being. (As in when you had to worry about other people on the road, all of whom were driving on the “wrong” side of the road!) And in the middle of every town was what they call a “round-about”. It was sort of fun to get on but getting off was a completely different story. My brain did not work that way. I couldn’t make myself turn the right way (or the wrong way) while I was driving on what was to me the “wrong” side of the road. (So, needless to say, we would just drive around that circle several times until I just took a breath and sort of went for it!) It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.
Paul was trying to get people to look at things differently, to think differently, perhaps even to drive on the other side of the road. “Leave the old patterns and the old rules and the old ways of thinking behind,” he was saying, and get on. It’s a little scary and you might have to drive around it a few times just to re-pattern your brain. But just do it. Open your eyes and look at things differently. Open your lives to faith. Oh, don’t get me wrong, our rules and our patterns can help us at times. They give us foundations, sort of a tangible guide to support us on this journey. They are necessary. They are a means of grace. But the passage reminds us that these rules and foundation are just that. They are not an end unto themselves. It takes faith to breathe life into them, to make them come alive. It takes faith to give us the ability to back away from ourselves sometimes and figure out in what ways our life needs to be re-patterned. (Otherwise, we just keep driving around in circles!) Lent calls us to look at all of our life with a critical eye, to discern what is purely habit and what is truly a way of living out our faith. Lent calls us to look at things differently, to really see rather than just assume. Lent calls us to have enough faith to drive on the other side of the road. So, just take a breath and go for it!
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)
As we continue on this Lenten journey, take a look at your habits, at those things that you just take for granted. Which ones are life-giving? Which ones hinder faith and openness?
Grace and Peace,