Rev. Kurt Lantz 2 Lent B Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
February 28, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people named and promised,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was with water and the Word that God promised you forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. At your baptism as the water was applied and your name was spoken along with the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God made His covenant with you to be your God and bless your life and save you from every enemy and grant you an eternal inheritance. For most of us that happened when we were about 9 days, 9 weeks, or 9 months old.
Abraham was 99 years old when the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty... I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:1, 7). He did it through His word of promise and by connecting Abraham’s name to His own name.
The LORD called Himself “God Almighty.” He did not mean that just as a way of describing Himself, but as a name by which Abraham could know Him. He is the All-Powerful. He is able to do anything. He created the world and He destroyed it with a flood. When it looked like nothing could survive, He saved Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9). This is the God who called Abram to leave his family and his homeland to go to an unknown place (Genesis 12). This is the God who promised to bless Abram and make a whole nation out of him, and through Abram and his offspring to bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 15).
Abram was 75 years old when God first made that promise to him. That’s pretty old for having children. Sarai hadn’t been able to have any up to that point. It may have been somewhat out of desperation that Abram placed his trust in God’s promise. Nothing else seemed to work. But for years God led Abram to wander through the land of Canaan without having any permanent home, and no children. Abram waited about 10 years before he tried to help God along in keeping His promises. He had a child, not with his wife Sarai, but with her maid Hagar. But the LORD appeared to Abram and said that was not how the promises would be kept. God’s promises would not come through the illegitimate child, Ishmael, but through a child between Abram and Sarai.
It was about 13 years after that, 24 years in total since God first made the promise to Abram, that He spoke to Abram again and connected His promise to His name, God Almighty. The God who is all-powerful was the one who made this promise; the God who could rid the world of all human life, save one family, and fill the earth again. This God, God-Almighty, could surely keep His promise to give children to Abram and Sarai, to make an entire nation from them, to bless all the nations of the earth through their offspring, to give them an eternal place under His care. He can give children to a man as good as dead. He can bring forth life out of the dead womb of a ninety-year old woman. The name of God Almighty stands behind His promise to Abram.
But God-Almighty is not the only name that the LORD connected to His promise. He connected Abram’s name to the promise also, so that Abram would know that the promise was specifically for him. There could be no mistake. God took Abram’s name and made it Abraham to connect the man to the promise. God made Abraham the father of a multitude of nations and promised, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you...” (Genesis 17:5-7).
Furthermore, the LORD connected His name God-Almighty to the name of Abraham’s wife so that she would know the promise was hers. There could be no mistaking it to be for anyone else. God took Sarai’s name and made it Sarah to connect this woman to the promise. God made her royalty and promised, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of people shall come from her” (Genesis 17:16).
There is a covenant between God-Almighty and Abraham and Sarah. He gave them a son, Isaac, of whom we heard last Sunday. He made of their descendants the nation of Israel, the Jews. He brought forth from their offspring kings like David and Ahaz and Josiah, and even the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. Through Him, through His suffering, death, and resurrection (Mark 8:31), all nations of the world are blessed. For all who look to Him in faith, as Abraham trusted in the promise of God-Almighty, have peace with God and stand in His grace, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2). The LORD made promises to Abraham and Sarah when He connected His name to theirs and He saw those promises to their fulfilment.
Now think about what He did at your baptism. When the water was poured and the Word was spoken, He connected His own name to yours. “Kurt Andrew, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” His promises are mine through Holy Baptism. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:19). And in fulfilment to the promise that God-Almighty made to Abraham, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Abraham has become the father of a multitude of nations, and that includes you through your Baptism. The promises that God-Almighty made to the offspring of Abraham include you. “I will bless your offspring after you. I will be their God. Kings and nations and peoples shall come from you. All the nations of the earth will be blessed.” That means you.
How do you know? Because God attached both His name and your name to the promise when you were baptized. His name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is all powerful and holds all authority in heaven and on earth. It accomplishes what He promises even when it seems contrary to nature. He promised two sisters, “Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Then He raised their brother from the dead and gave him back to them.
When we have a funeral service for someone who dies, we include a lot of stuff to remind us of the promises God made when He attached His name to theirs in Holy Baptism. We need to remember His name and His promises when death is staring us in the face and when it seems that His promises can’t possibly be true because they go contrary to nature. We need to remember how He saved Noah through the flood; how He gave children to Abraham and Sarah when they were as good as dead; how Jesus suffered, died, and rose again on the third day. Contrary to all nature, the promises that God makes in His name cannot be stopped. “... whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35b).
And so contrary to all nature, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It goes against nature that someone would die for an evil man, and yet that is exactly what God’s promises to Abraham accomplished. He promised blessing to all nations, to all sinners, through the offspring of Abraham who is Christ. In Him all nations are blessed with forgiveness and grace through the salvation that He gives in Holy Baptism. And those promises have been attached to your name when you were baptized.
In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us that this comes into play for us when we have to undergo all kinds of suffering, because it is precisely then that all of God’s promises seem to be contrary to nature. They go against our experience. It doesn’t seem like there is any possible way that He could be keeping His promises to us. We feel old and tired like Abraham at 99 years of age. We feel dried up and empty like Sarah’s womb. And yet the promises of God have His Almighty power backing them.
Especially when it seems impossible, when it is contrary to nature and everything that makes sense to us, when we feel that there is no possible way that He is going to do what He said, then we see His promise gloriously fulfilled, fulfilled for us, named to us in such a real and complete way that we can even rejoice in our sufferings (Rom 5:3), deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34b).
In Holy Baptism the name of God-Almighty (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was placed upon you. The cross of Jesus was traced upon you. The victory and triumph and glory and life of Christ was imparted to you. It is when the promises of God seem most impossible, most unlikely, when it seems that you’ve done the most horrible thing to disqualify yourself, remember that God overcomes it all in order to keep His promises. God-Almighty has attached His name to yours with the promise that the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus has been given to you in your Baptism.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus