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Second Sunday in Lent

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 12:1–4a; Romans 4:1–5, 13–17 & Matthew 17:1–9

I’d like to put the proposition to you this morning that true faith isn’t something that can be taught, but rather it’s something to be experienced. 

Now when I say ‘true faith’, I’m talking firstly about having a belief that God exists, and secondly about being able to put my complete trust in God. 

I’m not talking specifically about ‘the Christian Faith’, which I would describe as the doctrine or teaching of the church, because that IS something that can be taught. We can all go to theological school and learn about Jesus, the Bible, and how the Christian Faith came to be. But is that enough, on its own, to convince us firstly that God does exist, and secondly that we should place our complete trust in Him?

In my own case, I believe in God, and trust in God, because of my own experiences of God.

Let’s take a look at the example of Abraham, or Abram as he is known, when we first hear about him the Book of Genesis. We are told in today’s passage, that ‘the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”’ (Genesis 12:1–3 NRSV) 

We don’t HOW God spoke to Abram. Did He appear to Abram in a dream? Or did Abram have a vision of God? Or did God appear to Abram “in person” so to speak? All we know, is that God spoke to Abram. However this occurred, Abram had an experience of God. He didn’t read about God somewhere, and nobody told him about God. He experienced God. And that experience of God, was enough for Abram to fully believe and trust in God, because at the age of seventy-five, he packed up his family and everything he owned, to leave his home in Harlan, and travel far away to the land of Canaan. There was no doubt on the part of Abram, or any questioning from Abram to God regarding what he was being asked to do. As we heard in today’s reading, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” (Genesis 12:4a NRSV)

Writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul uses the example of Abraham to support his belief, which came to be known as “justification by faith”, that we are all brought into a “right relationship” with God by the grace of God. What do I mean when I talk of a “right relationship” with God? 

Well, to begin with, it comes from the belief that all of humankind had been separated, or estranged, from God as a result of the actions of Adam and Eve. However, by the grace of God, which is the gift of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are reconciled to God if we believe in Jesus. To be reconciled to God, means to be with God, both in our time here on earth during our mortal lives, and also in the eternal life to come following the death of our mortal bodies.

According to traditional Jewish belief, a person could only be in a “right relationship” with God by obeying the Torah (Jewish law) and its 613 individual commandments and statutes. Therefore, it was the actions of a person that determined whether or not they were reconciled to God. But Paul said it wasn’t a person’s actions that determined this, rather all they needed in order to be reconciled to God was to believe in Jesus; that he was the incarnation of God who revealed God to humankind.

Today’s gospel passage, the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, from the Gospel of Matthew, describes an experience that the disciples had of God. The particular disciples in this case were Peter, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. There are other similar examples recorded throughout the gospels: Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the raising of Lazarus, the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and of course the appearance of Jesus in the locked room just to name a few. In all of these examples, the disciples who were present had an experience of God.

I believe that is a major purpose of church services; to provide people with an experience of God. Sometimes people can receive that experience through the music played in the service, through the readings that are heard, through the sermon that is preached, or through the sacrament of Holy Communion that people participate in during the service.

Just as God revealed Himself to the disciples through different ways in the gospel stories, so today He reveals Himself to us in different ways, not least of which, is through the service of worship that we share in together each and every Sunday.


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