Second Sunday in Lent Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Lent 2 B March 8, 2009 Textweek

Second Sunday in Lent 8th March 2009

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

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

The second Sunday in Lent – that alone gives us some indication of where we are, timewise, in relation to Easter, and it also gives an indication of how long we’ve been on our forty day wilderness journey and how long we’ve got to go. Coles, Cadbury and numerous bakers make profitable use of such reference points – they allow them to do some calculations for the determination of production outcomes. They’re very important.

The readings Sunday by Sunday provide us with the opportunity to explore other reference points, to go beyond seeing that we are second Sunday in Lent, that means we’ve got third, fourth, fifth, Palm Sunday…that’s one way of using the scriptures and the liturgical cycle and the church year. The readings give us another opportunity to find other reference points to determine where we are and perhaps also to determine where we’re going. The Sunday readings call us into question and they call us to question. They provide us with a mirror for reflection, and they give us narratives so that we can seek to clarify our own narrative. How on earth can we understand our story if we have no other story in which we can relate it to? That’s why we have relationships – the sharing of our story enables us to more fully know ourselves. Perhaps that’s the whole point of creation – made in the image of God, so that there is a relationship so that God can fully come into God’s self.

Abram and Sarai are renamed through their covenant relationship with God. Peter, who was called the Rock, is renamed and is now referred to as Satan. Lent is an opportunity for us to know and to appreciate that we do change, and also to know and appreciate that we can change. The process of Lent, the process of Jesus in the wilderness, is the process of discovery: of wrestling with the questions of 'Who am I?' and 'Who am I called to be?'

The process or the movement that’s illustrated in the Genesis reading speaks of a new relationship, a new covenant between God and humanity and hence the renaming; the change of name itself reflects a new way of being - such a change that the relationship itself is changed. Verses 2, 6 and 7 all start with ‘I will’. I just think it’s really helpful to get that the covenant relationship is made, it’s given, it’s offered by God. It is established – it’s there. We don’t have to make it or create it, only respond to it. Enter it, engage it, embrace it, turn towards it, repent, change. It’s there: I will, I will. The relationship is there and calls to us and it is then for us to respond or not.

The obligations of the covenant – and for our generation obligations are always a bit of a pain - the obligations of the covenant are with God. It’s the benefit of the covenant that’s with Abram. What that says is that as we enter into a covenant relationship with God, we receive the benefit. It’s a good question to ask, what does God get out of it? And that is where the gospel narrative is important today and complementary to the Genesis unpacking of covenant. Peter like the church, like many Christians, like us, he knew Jesus as the Christ – only got to go back a couple of verses and Jesus looks at Peter and says ‘Who do they say that I am?’ ‘You’re the Christ.’ That was pretty good – he was aware, he knew this is the one I will follow, and that made him the rock – ‘you are my rock on which I will build my church’. It’s that knowing, it’s the Peter that also gave him his name. And yet when he starts to follow and realises where this path is going, when Jesus reveals for him a new understanding, an unfolding that is contrary to that which was expected then Peter rebukes, questions, rejects. He holds onto his own expectations and that aspect is also named: ‘Get behind me Satan.’ What it suggests is, if you put the two readings together, there is a new relationship offered by God that we can respond to: if we do, it will change who we are. The thing that gets in the way is us holding onto how we want tomorrow to be, and that also will change our name.

In the wilderness Jesus is offered all that the modern world hold precious – power, status and self-satisfaction. The wilderness journey and the process of Lent is to look beyond, to come back to our name, to see ourselves in relation to the Creator and to creation. If we go back to the Genesis reading, in verse 1, only one thing is asked of Abram: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’. It’s a simple ask and it will give rise to an abundance of life. In that simple ask, the promise that goes with it - walk before me, and be blameless – the Divine says, that will bring about life. And again we should be mindful of Peter’s mistake; before we plug in our interpretation of blameless, because we’re all pretty good, let’s just acknowledge that we cannot be blameless while one child dies of starvation.

Today’s gospel provides us with a timely invitation: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.’ It’s hard to see how distorted that has become through the eyes of the church, that invitation. It’s not an invitation to a club, it’s an open invitation to the whole of creation: ‘if any’. It’s an invitation to the whole. It’s an invitation to a new way of being; it’s an invitation to a new name. If any want to become – think about it, the entrance to the church is through the rite of naming in baptism, a new name that goes with my following of.

It’s an invitation that is not about self-denial. To deny ourself is to realise ourselves as part of the whole; it’s actually to see not the ‘me’ but the me as part of the ‘us’, the ‘we’. It’s not an invitation to suffering – hard luck all you Christians that live austere lives. Hard luck, you missed it. ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ doesn’t mean that you’ve got to look dejected, that you can’t dance full of life.

Take up your cross and follow me does not ask us to crucify ourselves and become victims, the doormats of the world, but rather to give ourselves fully, to give all of ourselves in response to the divine covenant, to walk the walk with Christ, to move from Abram to Abraham, to move from Sarai to Sarah, to move from Satan to the Rock, to move from where we are to newness of life. It’s the journey of Lent it’s the invitation of Love it’s the revelation of Christ. It’s there, asking for our response.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris