“The Reckoning”

“The Reckoning”

I don’t know
if any of you are familiar
with the reality show “Survivor”
but it is one that my family has started
to watch recently.

It takes place in a different location every season, usually a deserted tropical island of some type. Typically they are
some of the most remote and beautiful locals
on the planet.

Each season starts with about 20 people,
who are split up into two tribes,
and they compete against each other
in different physical and mental challenges
all while trying to survive
without any modern conveniences.

They have to figure out how to make fire
so they can boil water
and cook whatever food they can find or cultivate.

They form smaller alliances within their tribes.
And if their team loses a challenge,
they have to hold a tribal council:
think of ad council but with torches
and a million dollars on the line,
and at the end of the meeting
we vote someone out.

The game goes on for 39 days.
At the end, there are just two or three survivors left,
and a jury of the most recent people voted out
who will vote to decide which one wins
the million dollar grand prize.

This really has become a family affair for us. Everybody has they favorite aspect.

Michaela picks out her favorite tribe
and favorite people and watches,
desperately hoping they make it to the end. Braeleigh cheers
for whichever contestant
is wearing her favorite color, or is a girl.

And Bri and I,
we love to discuss the strategy to it all.

We love to try and guess
which alliances are going to hold
and who is going to swap sides
when the time is right.

As each challenge is explained
we like to try and determine
which tribe has the advantage
based on who is on that tribe.

We enjoy watching the underdogs
pull out huge upset victories.

And it is a social game
as much as it’s a physical game;
it’s a game where your future in the game
depends on trusting,
or not trusting the right people at the right time.

To be honest,
I never really got into this show
when it began nearly 20 years ago now.

But these days
I find it gives some interesting insight
into how we relate to one another
as human beings.

Our desire to be connected to a group.
Our ability to rise above adversity.
Our need to trust,
and the difficulty that comes
when the trust is broken.

“You can believe me.
You can trust me.
I swear on my kids, or on my family.”

These are phrases you hear a lot on “Survivor”.
They are used to try
and convince another person that they are safe,
that their alliance will hold,
that they will not be getting voted off the island
anytime soon.

Except in “Survivor”,
when you hear those words
it is likely that you are about to be betrayed,
blindsided at the tribal council,
your torch extinguished,
and you find yourself on a long walk
out into the darkness.

At the end,
when the final three are questioned by the jury,
inevitably, there are people
with whom the finalists broke trust.
People they lied to.
They made promises that were not kept.
And those broken promises
could cost them votes
and make it so that they don’t win the grand prize.

Survivor is just a game,
an observed experiment
that changes people just by the virtue
of it being observed.

Time after time,
those considered to be villains,
the ones who lie and break trust
in the worst possible ways,
will tell everyone that it is only for the game
that they behave that way.
That in real life, they are extremely loyal
and very trustworthy.
Maybe. Maybe not.
What I do know is that in real life,
where most of us live,
trust and belief in a person or idea, are important.

We have to extend trust
in order to function in society.
Which is probably why,
when we look around at our society lately,
we see a whole lot of dysfunction.

There are lies and half-truths all over the place.
People bound and determined
to earn your trust and loyalty
by any means necessary.

We have so-called “News Stations”,
dedicated not to reporting the facts of the day
but to reporting their particular slant
on those facts,
shaping and twisting
or even inventing the facts
so that they fit the narrative,
or the ideology they are in support of.

And it happens on all sides.
So that, if I, regular guy in the world,
want to know about something
that happened in the world,
I have to go and do the research myself,
the work we used to TRUST journalists to do,
just to make sure I am not being scammed
or manipulated by people with an agenda.

In many ways,
we are living an actual reality version of “Survivor”. Who do we believe?
Are they telling us the truth
or manipulating us with well-crafted lies?
Do we need to rise up and take action?
Or do we wait and see
if what we are begin told is true or not?

Trust is a tricky thing.
I happen to be one of those people
who automatically assumes the best in others.

In other words,
I assume that you are trustworthy
until you give me a reason not to
and even then, for the most part,
I am quick to forgive.
For others, trust has to be earned
through time and trial
and when that trust is lost, it is gone for good.

When we place our trust in someone or something,
we are believing in their reliability,
that they are able to do what they say
on our behalf, for good effect.

The question being dealt with
in Romans Chapter 4 is all about trust
and reliability.
What and who we believe,
and why, and what effect it has.

For the ancient Jews who converted to Christianity,
there were a lot of questions.

Was Christianity an off-shoot of Judaism?
Was it a new thing altogether?
Was salvation still through the Jews?
Did Gentiles need to be circumcised
and keep the law of Moses?

All of these, and many more,
are the questions that Paul is addressing
in this letter.

We have already heard that we are all sinners,
the ground is level,
and we don’t need to pass the blame.

God’s law is present with all of us,
written on our hearts,
even if it was not given to us
in the same manner as the ancient Hebrews.
And we are, all of us,
subject to the futility of idolatry,
the original sin, that plagues us still today.

In order to answer those questions,
Paul brings us all the way back to Abraham.

While the story of Abraham is a great one,
a long and winding saga,
Paul boils it all down to one moment.
One moment that sums up
just how important this idea of trust is
in the grand scheme of things.

What happened is this:

Abraham went to war to free his nephew Lot
who had been stolen away.
After winning the war
and rescuing his nephew,
Abraham ran into a priest of the Most High God
called Melchizedek.
Abraham made an offering and a sacrifice to God
and refused to take the spoils of war.

That evening God visited him
and made a solemn promise,
that Abraham, already near 100 years old,
would have descendants enough
to rival the stars in the night sky.
And not some distant relative kind of descendant
but an actual son of his own body.

And we are told there
back in Genesis 15 and here again in Romans 4
that Abraham believed God,
believed in God’s promise,
believed that God’s word was good,
and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Not that Abraham was without sin.
Not that he was actually a righteous man,
because God knows
he did some messed up things,
but God took the faith,
the trust of Abraham
and considered him righteous,
as back in the fold as it were.
Abraham chose to trust God.
To trust in an absurd promise.
A promise that was nearly beyond belief.
And it is that same kind of trust
that God is looking for from us.

N.T. Wright
sheds a little bit of light on this
in his commentary on Romans.

[In Romans chapter 1
we are shown the consequences of idolatry. Human beings ignored God.
Human beings knew about God’s power
but didn’t worship God.
Human beings did not give God the glory due God. Human beings dishonored their own bodies
by worshiping beings that were not divine.
The opposite of that
is shown in the example of Abraham
in Romans chapter 4.

Abraham believed in God as creator and life-giver.
Abraham recognized God’s power,
and trusted God to use it.
Abraham gave God the glory.
through worshiping the God who gives new life,
found that his own body regained its power
even though he was long past the age
for fathering children.]

Adam and Eve decided not to trust God,
breaking faith, choosing idols instead.
Abraham left the idols of his youth,
chose to trust God,
even on a promise as absurd
as a 100-year-old man becoming a father.
And because of that trust,
the covenant of faith was restored.

Our connection to God
is not made by following a set of rules or laws
but by faith in the promise of God,
by faith in God’s word revealed to us
in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ.
Faith, trust, in God’s reliability
is what connects us to God.

What I find interesting
about the whole situation with Abraham
is that God asked him to do some difficult things,
things that we would think
would take a whole lot more faith.

Leaving his home country and his family
to set off for the land of Canaan,
the command to make a sacrifice of his son Isaac,
both difficult journeys to make.
Both requiring the willingness
to make tremendous sacrifice.
Both feats of faith
that we would expect
from epic tales and their heroes. 

But in the case of Abraham,
the faith that finds him righteous,
that binds his covenant with God
is not displayed by tremendous sacrifice
but simply the ability to take God at God’s word
on an issue where Abraham had no control,
no ability to prove his belief, except to believe it.

We get asked to believe a lot of things,
to trust in a lot of people.
And that can be very difficult today.

The world is full of information.
Good information, bad information,
and misinformation.
And it is often hard to decipher which is which.
It’s hard to know who to trust.

In life, and in Survivor,
a lot of times we are asked to prove our faith,
to make a show of our trust
in a person or idea
by doing some big thing they want us to do,
to vote a certain way, or to put signs in our yards,
or to make some specific sacrifice.

But when it comes to God
we don’t have to sacrifice
or make long pilgrimages or sign lengthy,
ironclad contracts in order to show our faith.

We just need to believe, to trust,
not in our own knowledge,
not in our own plans, but just in God.

To trust that God is with us,
enough to take one step at a time –
to Trust in a God who is always faithful
and who keeps promises,
often in unexpected and extraordinary ways,
a God who truly journeys with us
every step of the way. Amen? Amen.


Romans 4:1-13

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