Readings for Second Sunday in Lent 4 March 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Second Sunday in Lent Textweek


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:1-9

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Where are we in our forty day Lent experience; where are you in your forty day Lent experience? Are we aware at all of an impending Easter and if we’re not sure where we are, do we have any appreciation of any movement or direction that we become aware of during Lent?

The readings during Lent have a quality of being with us as we travel through Lent. There’s an opportunity for us to discover in them some point of reference that will discover something about ourselves. Today’s readings are almost back to the basics for us. They call on the figure of Abram, the archetypal ancestor. We have an opportunity to look at his life journey and so we have an opportunity to look at our life journey alongside another archetypal life journey. The readings themselves have a sort of quality of unfolding about them, one reading leads us into the next. So as we hear ourselves resonating in the text we also have an opportunity to find ourselves and our orientation, our harmony, with the Divine and so with life. As the readings unfold, if we attend to them, we may hear something that will resonate with us and so with our unfolding.

The first reading from Genesis: ‘The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." Now the question is, what is the divine word that comes to you; what is the word you hear, or maybe do you hear the word of God as in a vision. By the time we get down to verse 6 of that reading we’ve got Abram believing in the unbelievable. So there’s a second question to give us a point of reference: what vision do we believe in? Abram hears the word of God; that word speaks something to him that is unbelievable; he believes that vision. One of the wonders of sacred text and it’s not just the Bible, it’s any sacred text, is that if we can’t hear or find what the divine is addressing to us, we can borrow the divine word that is addressed to someone else. That’s why we have these archetypal figures – God did not speak to Abram back in history; that was not a private conversation – God speaks to the archetype in each of us in every age. So if we’re not sure about this whole Lenten thing, if we’re not sure that our life is even on a journey, then we can pause and contemplate the divine word that is spoken to another and sit with that and discover if there is any hearing of that word within ourselves. ‘Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." Sit with those three lines, allow them to be spoken to you as they were spoken to the ancestor in all of us.

Now if we carry on with the readings, having heard the divine word even faintly echoed within, we’re almost invited by the psalm to give voice to that Word, to actually give voice to the word that echoes in us: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ It’s good to remember that the words that we hear, they shape us. Watch parents with their children – the words that the parents give to the children shape the lives of the children and so shape the world. Equally the words that we utter give shape to ourselves and so also shape the world. So seek the psalm that resonates from you: it too provides a reference point, a reference point for both place and for orientation. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; the Lord is the stronghold of my life; whom shall I fear?’

What we then find from the reading in Philippians is the space that is illuminated by the reference points that have just been established. It’s as if the intersecting of the divine word that I hear and the divine word that is uttered through me, it’s as if they create a place. Verse 20 says: ‘our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting the Christ.’ Paul seems to have found both place and orientation; we have the opportunity to do the same. If we don’t, well, the same truth is being made manifest in other ways and in other voices: global conflict, global warming, and global economies are already making it very clear that it is a sham, the tightly held-onto belief in nations and nationhood is a sham. Sure we all, most, many of us, will proudly wave a flag of place. We all have a sense of where we belong and yet the forces of life, the movement of creation continually point beyond such a tribal understanding of where I am: our citizenship is in heaven. It’s delightful to think that the old idea of heaven and earth is a very narrow appreciation: our citizenship is in heaven.

Let’s just move towards the Gospel. So far we’ve looked at the divine word spoken to us, the voice of God that was spoken to Abram; we’ve looked at the divine word that can be uttered from us through the voice of the psalm; we’ve looked at using those as reference points in order to find a sense of place and from that place a sense of direction. Now the Gospel seeks to bear witness to the divine word that is alive in us. We’ll just hold on to that previous text - our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting the Christ. What we’re given in the Gospel, the purpose of the Gospel is to see that Christ is located with us. It is stunningly ridiculous theology to think of Heaven up there; that whole notion has been replaced by something more wonderful, by a much deeper appreciation. If we can, in Paul’s words, transform, so that our minds are not set on earthly things, then we have an opportunity to see beyond the earthly things that fill our eyes and our hearts and our minds. Twelve days into the forty day journey of Lent and the Gospel tells us ‘unless you repent, you will perish as they did’. Unless you repent, you will perish as they did: in the modern world our watering habits, our driving habits and very soon our energy consumption habits will all have been transformed by that Gospel. Unless you repent, unless you change, you will perish as they did.

The fact that we have seen the outworking of those words so many times in our lives gives us some encouragement, an encouragement to hear those words now much deeper. It is an expression that speaks of our life; it’s not about staying alive. If our concern is to stay alive, then all we need do is to watch for earthly things and to keep our eyes open for specials. But if we want to live a life that transcends the divide between heaven and earth, then we need to seek and to find a new direction.

The parable that we get - the way the gospel’s made up, twice we are given ‘unless you repent, you will perish’, and after that it’s as if ‘this is what I’m talking about’, we then get the parable. The parable in verses 6 to 9 is the Easter story. It is a dialogue between the man and the gardener; it’s a divine conversation. This is, if you like, giving us an insight into the Word, the divine dialogue of the Trinity. We’ve already been told unless you repent you will perish, now listen to the voice of the gardener, and as we listen to the voice of the gardener be aware of the question: is this the gardener that Mary met on Easter Morning when she went to the tomb? The gardener says, ‘One more year: if it bears fruit next year well and good; but if not you can cut it down.’ It’s at this point that we all go ‘Bugger’, because the hope was that we’d at least get to this part the sermon and find that there was some easy way forward. It’s one of the hardest processes for humanity to get involved in: if it bears fruit next year well and good; but if not you can cut it down. Beware of being Anglican, Anglicans find this stunningly difficult. If it bears fruit next year well and good, is the Anglican expression, but if not we’ll give it another year. That’s not what the Gospel says. We need to make life choices, we need to be aware as much of what needs to go, as to be aware of what is to come. And probably the reason that we still hang out for the Second Coming in churches all over the globe is that we block any opportunity of that because we’ve not yet let go of anything, and so we do not have hands to welcome that which seeks to come.

If you continue to struggle finding your place and your orientation in Lent, in the wilderness, in the wilderness of the present, if it’s difficult, if you can’t hear the word of God, if you can’t speak the word of God, if you have no reference point in which to find a divine space, then contemplate the words that have been spoken to others and consider carefully the fruit that you would bear: what is the fruit that you will bear? And then give yourself time to bear it.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris