2ND SUNDAY IN LENT Lessons & Mediation

2ND SUNDAY IN LENT   02-28-2021

FIRST READING:  Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Last Sunday we were reminded of the covenant God established with all living creatures, using a rainbow in the sky as a self-reminder of the promise not to ever decide to destroy the earth again with a flood. That covenant, the first in the Old Testament, was an assurance of God’s abiding love. God spoke it to Noah and his wife, to their three sons and their wives… eight chosen survivors.

This Sunday we have a second covenant, the one God made with Abraham and Sarah, two persons God chose. Here God makes an “everlasting” promise to make this old couple the ancestors of many – not just some children but enough to generate “a multitude of nations”. Note in today’s reading that the Lord changes the name of the old man and the old woman, which in the ancient world indicated the authority – even ownership – of the one changing the name. It is more than a name change; it is a change in identityThe man’s name means “father of many” and the woman’s name means “princess”… Muslims, Jews, and Christians all trace heritage back to Abraham.

Skipped from our Sunday worship are verses 8-14, which speak of: the promise of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession; and the required circumcision of all males (both family and any that become linked to the household through purchase) as a sign of the covenant, a concrete way to ratify acceptance, to show commitment. The boundaries of the ancient land of Canaan included territory on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea west of the Jordan River, which today encompasses modern Lebanon, portions of southern Syria, and Israel. The term “Promised Land” finds its source in this promise by God to Abraham and Sarah. As you reflect on Genesis 17:8, what are your thoughts about the politics in Palestine today, where terms like “ownership”, “occupation”, “outsiders”, and “oppression” are used… where confusion and chaos and violence continue to cause much suffering? A second question: If, for Christians, cutting off of the foreskin is no longer required of God’s people, what is yet required (see Galatians 5:6)?

Also omitted from our Sunday worship is verse 17, when Abraham laughs at God’s promise. Later, in Genesis 18: 9-15, Sarah will also laugh at God’s promise. Note that he was nearing 100 years, she was about 90, and they had been on this yet-to-be-fulfilled journey with God for 25 years! God’s repeated promises of more descendants than stars in the sky was incredulously funny. When Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in their old age (Genesis 21:1-7), the baby was named Isaac or “he laughs”.  When and why have you found yourself laughing at God, thinking that it was too late to happen or too incredible to believe?

Do you consider yourself “in covenant with God”, perhaps through baptism? What do you believe God has promised to you? What have you promised to God?

Making promises is easy. Keeping promises is a different story.

 

SECOND READING:  Romans 4:13-25

Paul is trying to persuade the Christians in Rome that people are made right with God through faith rather than by works of the law, i.e., strict obedience of God-linked rules and regulations; and anxious performing of good deeds. In other words, we are not required, nor are we able, to earn our salvation, to think that we deserve it. We are saved by our trust in what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul presents Abraham as the example of how a person comes into a right relationship with God not through works of the law but through faith. Though Abraham and Sarah were far too old for bearing children, Abraham trusted that God would accomplish what God had promised to accomplish. Paul says that God’s promise to Abraham of new life where there was no life is not unlike the baptismal promise of resurrection life to Christian believers.

In truth, Abraham and Sarah did not have 100% faith all the time. There was struggle, there were questions, doubt sometimes popped up. Their age and biological realities. How long they had been on this road with God, chasing an unfulfilled dream. The incredible nature of God’s promises. Faith is always connected to struggle at some time and in some ways.

Faith, like salvation itself, rests on God’s grace, not on personal effort, and certainly not on our perfect obedience. Rest in God’s grace, Trust in God’s grace. Hold on to God’s grace. In spite of being afraid. In spite of questions. Yes, in spite of moments of doubt. Keep hope alive. Believe. Have faith. 

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 8:31-38

Right before these verses, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” When Peter’s turn came, Peter confessed that Jesus is “the Christ” [Greek term] or “the Messiah” [Hebrew term]… it depends on which Bible you are reading.

Then Jesus started to teach what lies ahead for “the Christ” or “the Messiah”. Mark uses a different term, “Son of Man”, in his text as he offers Jesus’ teaching. But it does not alter the significance of what Jesus is saying. He is the Christ, but one who must be rejected and killed before entering into his glory. For Peter – and for many others over the centuries – the two ideas, kingship and humiliation, do not fit together. In this reading Peter responds by rebuking Jesus, and then Jesus rebukes Peter… he calls him “Satan!”, he considers him an adversary, a tempter, a roadblock in his journey of faithful obedience. When have you felt like “Satan” because “your way” was in conflict with “Jesus’ way”? Forgive me, Lord… have mercy!

After rebuking Peter, Jesus began to teach both his disciples and the gathered crowd. Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross. Self-fulfillment will come only through self-abandonment, i.e., surrender. Life will only come through death.

Why would anyone willingly “take up the cross”? And why would any of us follow ANYONE who calls us to do the same? But Jesus says that all this is necessary for true discipleship. 

Taking up your cross and following Jesus still challenges our hearts, still boggles our minds, still is a stumbling block in our path of discipleship. Grace is free but it is not cheap. It has a real cost – losing one’s life in Christ. And it has a trustworthy promise – receiving one’s life back newly, abundantly, and eternally. In your spiritual journey right this moment, are you so ashamed of the Gospel that you are a shame to Jesus? What must you do to really follow?

The truth of Lent is that the cross is both the heart of God’s love for the world and the heart of discipleship. 

One more thought. Sometimes you have heard someone say that something difficult or unpleasant in their life is “my cross to bear”. Do you think that the cross Jesus is talking about bearing refers to only to your individual life issues (such as economic difficulties, terrible neighbors, bad job, illness, grief etc.)? Or is Jesus referring to how we live in and live out the “kingdom of God” in the world – surrendering our own ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires, and possessions in order to follow Jesus in loving others, serving others, saving others?

How might we face the realities of everyday living as a covenant people, seeking to put God’s purposes before our own personal gain?

The cross of Christ is always before us, reminding us of the cost of discipleship.

Would you still follow Jesus if it means losing your closest friends and family ties?

Would you still follow Jesus if it means losing your reputation, your job, or your resources?

Would you still follow Jesus if it means some serving, suffering, or sacrifice toward others?

Would you still follow Jesus if it means, literally, losing your life for the sake of the gospel?   

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