This is the fourth sermon in ERC’s Lenten series, CO▽EN△NT, on God’s relationship with Abraham.

Recommended readings: Genesis 16, Genesis 21:1-21, Galatians 4:21-31, Galatians 5-6.
(Sorry for the abrupt ending on this audio file: the communion liturgy followed immediately afterward.)

God’s story with Abraham intersects with the stories of others in Abraham’s life: Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael. We’ve focused narrowly on God’s story with Abraham, and now Isaac; but we shouldn’t forget that Sarah, and Hagar, are part of God’s story, too. After our Advent series on the women in Jesus’ genealogy, we should not overlook the women in Abraham’s story, or any of the women in Scripture.

And this particular chapter of Abraham and Sarah’s story — “A Tale of Two Sons,” it could be called — could be about families, how jealousy and envy and bitterness tear apart even our closest relationships. Or we could learn about interfaith reconciliation between Jews and Muslims, and apply what we learn to the perennial conflicts in Israel-Palestine and across the Middle East.

In God’s story of Abraham’s two sons, Paul looks more to our relationship with God, seeing here two paradigms for covenant (Genesis 4:24). Either we meet with God through the Law, which is a cruel master that keeps us enslaved to rules; or we meet with God through faith in Christ Jesus, which means our freedom.

Freedom in Christ is freedom from sin and from perfectionism or legalism or Pharisaical obedience. And freedom in Christ is freedom for love of neighbor, for caring for our spiritual brothers and sisters, for loving obedience as a gratitude response.

The church, as a covenant community, may sometimes look more like the first covenant — a cell full of slaves bound to law and hollow obedience — rather than the second — a party full of free people bound to each other in love. But we are committed to growing into what we are in Christ together. And we’re working out what our salvation means together, forgiving each other when we fail. That’s what covenant community means: committing and re-committing to each other over and over again. That’s what we do.

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