Uncle Abraham Romans 4:13-25

I have good news for you this morning. None of you are good enough to be here. Sorry about that. I thought I saw a few of you flinch. Maybe I need to be a bit more sensitive in how I begin. Let me try again.

I have good news for you this morning: God is not impressed with a person in this room.

By the look on some of your faces, I'm not sure that was any better way to start a sermon. Give me one more opportunity to get this sermon started. Here it goes.

I have good news for you this morning: Every single one of us is a complete and utter failure.

How am I doing so far? I thought so. It is difficult to preach Paul's letter to the Romans. This document is heavy in all kinds of ways. It is a dense and demanding piece of correspondence.

Paul writes this letter to a congregation he did not start, to people whom he had never met. From the first sentence forward, he lays out chapter after chapter of his deepest theology. "The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of the world" (v. 16), he says in chapter 1. "It is possible for every creature in the creation to know God, and to love God" (v. 19). Yet this knowledge and love gets tangled up somehow. By the end of the first chapter Paul says, "All of us have a tendency to exchange the truth about God for a lie, we worship the creature rather than the Creator " (v. 25), and "we have no excuse" (v. 20).

In other words, none of you are good enough to be here. God is not impressed with a single person in this room. Every single one of us is a complete and utter failure. Or as Paul puts it, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

I will be the first to admit it: this is a lot to swallow before Lunch. It's heavy. When we hear Paul speak, this is the context for all that he has to say. If I did not know better, I would think Paul was simply going to tell us how bad we are. Yet as Paul begins his letter to the Romans, he issues a heavy indictment because that is the beginning of God's good news.

None of you are good enough to be here. Yet look around: you are here, because God has called you. God is not impressed with a single person in this room.

Yet God loves us in spite of our spotty records of achievement. Every single one of us is a complete and utter failure. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

This is what it says in Romans, and this good news is the power of God for the salvation of the world.

I don't know if you have ever personally found your way into these verses. Maybe for you, as it was in my case, you did not find the verses as much as the verses found you. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That verse struck me between the eyes, in all of its honesty. "All have sinned. All have fallen short." All of us have sinned, and no one is any better than anybody else.

All of us have fallen short - that's the truth! So we can stop punishing ourselves for not measuring up. The truth is, no matter how good we are, we will never be good enough. In an ultimate sense, that's

okay, because life is not about us ever being able to measure up. Life is about God, who moves toward us in Jesus Christ to bridge the distance. If you do nothing else this morning, just let that sink in for a minute.

If we came to church this morning thinking we were "good enough," Paul says, "Get real." Nobody has the capacity to be good enough, and the good news is that God is not bound by our limitations. God loves us because of who we are, in spite of who we are, before we even know who we are.

"There is no distinction," says the Apostle Paul, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Then in the very next breath he says, "And they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ... (made) effective through faith" (Romans 3:22-25).

We make our way through the world by responding to the free gift of God. In the church, the ten-cent word which we use for all this is "justification." It's the idea that God-in-Christ justifies us; that Christ makes us right in God's sight; that in our unacceptable state, God accepts us, because Jesus has done all the necessary work on our behalf. Can you believe it? That's the question upon which all of this pivots. Can we believe it?

If you wanted to earn your way into the pearly gates, you would never be able to make enough money. You would be so busy trying to prove yourself that you would overlook that free gift that Jesus has already won for you - before you even knew he had done it.

That, my friends, is something of what it means to be justified before God. The point is life is not about us and our long list of checkered achievements. Life is about God, and what God has accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For our part, all we need to do is trust the promise of God.

It's like old Abraham. Remember him? According to the book of Genesis, he was an amazing man. When Abraham was 75 years old, God said, "Go!" Abraham didn't ask where; he just went. You might think that God loved him because he was obedient to God. The truth is, for some reason, God said, "Abraham, I'm going to make you somebody special," before Abraham could even respond.

When Abraham was 99 years old, God sneaked up on him and said, "Abraham, I'm going to make you the father of a huge multitude.” And Abraham laughed, and said, "O God, get serious." And God said, "I am serious. You're going to become a father." Abraham did as he was told, even though it felt like his body was as good as dead. Maybe you might think God loved him because he did what God wanted him to do. The truth is, God had already said, "I'm going to make you the father of a huge multitude."

Then came that day, that very dark day, when God sneaked up on him one more time, "Abraham! Take your son, your only son Isaac, the son whom you love, and offer him on the mountain as a burnt offering." Abraham didn't say a word. He saddled the donkey, stacked the wood, and took his son up the mountain. He built the altar, put Isaac upon it, and raised the stone knife. There was a great silence, and God said, "Stop! Now I know that you fear me." You might think, "What a test that was!" Abraham passed the test, and therefore that's why God loved him. But all these events came long after the moment when God had already reckoned him righteous.

That happened late one night, many years before. God said, "Abraham! Go out and count the stars. That's how many children you're going to have." I picture the old man squinting toward the sky, and beginning to count: "One, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, one hundred, two hundred, ten thousand and one, ten thousand and two...." As he counted, for some miraculous, inexplicable reason, he believed the promise of the Lord.

That is all it took. Abraham believed that God was going to keep the promise. For the first time in all the Bible, God said, "Here is a child who is made right with me." Abraham believed, and said, "Yes," to God. That's all it took.

That is all it ever takes. All that faith requires is to trust the promises of God, you could never earn what has already done for each one of you.