Gen. 12:1-4a • Ps. 121 • Rom. 4:1-5, 13-17 • John 3:1-17
The Living Lord of all heaven appears to Abram not because he is a righteous and just man. Indeed, Abram has no claim upon the visitation, and it is hardly the message an old man would want. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Notwithstanding the promise of blessing and a great name and a nation for the life of the world, the command to “go” is haunting and difficult, even strange. And yet “Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (12:4). “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). “The promise rests on grace” (Rom. 4:16). The response “depends on faith.” And what is faith but the work of grace in disposing (not forcing) the will to go “as the Lord had told him”? “My faith, Oh Lord, which you have given to me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son and through the ministry of your preacher, invokes you” (Augustine, Confessio, Ii). Taking his first step toward a new and unknown life, Abram thinks, “Let it be to me according to your word” (cf. Luke 1:38).
Thus the old man went out toward “the land of unlikeness.” He went to “see rare beasts and have unique adventures.” He followed the truth in “the kingdom of anxiety.” He left his home, but journeyed to a land that strangely “expected his return for years.” He followed the providential path of Life itself, walking lovingly in the world of the flesh, hoping “that at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy” (Hymnal 463, 464; W.H. Auden [1907-73]). Abram did this because the Lord addressed him.
Some things are common to us all. All we go down to the dust. All we who bear the name Christian and are grafted by baptism and faith into the grace-filled life of Christ are brought into a completely new life. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). The “Amen, Amen” affixed to the beginning of these statements should not be ignored. Translated in the NRSV as “very truly,” the repetition has the real force of a superlative. Jesus means for us to listen deeply. There is no entering the kingdom without this birth. And this birth signifies a New Humanity.
In a sense, Jesus is saying today what he said as the Word of the Father to Abram. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Our response is that of your ancient father: we go as the Lord has told us. Imagine, and while imagining believe, that baptism is a new birth, a womb, a mother, water, and spirit. Lifted from the water, held up in view of all the people, a beautiful baby is more beautiful still. Does a draft blow through the nave? “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A new life floats by the light pressure of providential freedom. But just as there is mystery and much that we cannot understand in this land of unlikeness, we do know that this new life requires that we see the Son of Man lifted up and believe in him. There we fix our eyes on Life Itself.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 121:8. A security system.
Think About It
Ever ancient, ever new (Augustine).