2nd Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2000
See Also: 

Lenten Candle Liturgy
John Cobb on redemption
Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus (Cobb)

Reading 1: 
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16
Reading 2: 
Psalm 22:23-31
Reading 3: 
Romans 4:13-25
Reading 4: 
Mark 8:31-38
By Tari Lennon

From celestial climes and arcing colors splashing across the sky we move to the land fecund with promise and full of possibility as the next location in the continuing drama of God's attempts to get human being to become partners in the work of creation and recreation.

God moves from Noah and family to Abram and Sarai, (still) looking for beings to participate in the divine need for companionship and cooperation in the work of renewal and rebirth Divine desire has moved from expressions of anger and punishment, i.e., the Flood, to bargains and contracts, i.e., the Covenant. Eagerness now characterizes the divine initiative. So enthusiastic is God for this new set of relationships that God renames the participants. It is not simply that Abram=Abraham and Sarai=Sarah are going to enjoy a new beginning,-- God gets to start over as well.

The Covenant has taken on new and different meanings from the understandings that Noah and his family had. What God offers now in addition to the promise never to flood, i.e., overwhelm, humans again and to be in a protecting relationship with them as symbolized in the arc, i.e., the Rainbow, is an on-going and trustworthy relationship that will be known through productivity, i.e., heirs, and creativity, i.e., possession of the land.

The Covenant is what it is operationally while at the same time conveying at the spiritual level something important to know and understand about God: God is dynamic, ever-developing, and growing. That dynamic God continually reaches out to human beings, inviting them to join in the divine unfolding.

The movement of the Psalm from a sense of having been abandoned by God, to self-doubt and criticism, to memory of God's promise, to assurance and affirmation of God's continuing and protecting Presence is truly moving. In the course of a lifetime it is not uncommon to go through times of feeling utterly alone, down on oneself, unsure of friends as well as foes, and devoid of hope.

In deeply personal ways the psalmist shows us how the spiritual path unfolds. To maintain spiritual devotion and discipline will not provide the traveler with an escape route from life, but will provide roads-sometimes poorly lighted, sometimes rutted, sometimes dangerously narrow, sometimes difficult to access-for the journey through life.

To stay the course is to experience all that life delivers and to discover that the same God our ancestors knew in the past is with us in the present, being faithful to the same promise given to our forebears and accompanying us into the future.

2. Paul gives voice to one of the more exciting aspects of the spiritual journey. When we willingly enter into a relationship with the Divine-God, and commit to those processes that keep that relationship at the forefront of our awareness and the center of our lives, we discover that God is trustworthy and that we are conduits for the past to the future. We keep our ancestors incarnate in every moment of on-going commitment to God. God raises not just Jesus but will raise all that trust Jesus' God and honor what is important to that God.

A tough-minded Jesus attempts to get through to his friends and followers on the subject of suffering, and not just any suffering, but suffering that leads to death. In this case, suffering he believes will lead to his death.

Jesus talks about himself in quite personal ways in an effort to get people to understand that suffering and death are not abstractions and should not be reduced to philosophical speculations. Nor are suffering and death made easier by virtue of one's enlightened status.

To imagine Jesus in that situation is to be touched by Jesus' anguish in that moment. Here he is disclosing his deepest awareness of what is going on and what most likely he is facing, discussing his own immanent demise and,--his best friend doesn't get it.

Not only does Peter not "get it" but also he adds insult to injury by pulling Jesus aside to fault him for saying what he said. Now Jesus is in a confrontation as well as anguish! True to himself, however, he collects himself and uses the incident to make some comments about holding on and letting go; finding one's life and losing one's life-which is what he was trying to do in the first place.

To fear death, to put energy into avoiding suffering, is to use energy for the work of resistance,--resistance that obviates awareness of God's trustworthy Presence. To walk the walk Jesus walks is to understand that conventional wisdom is not wise and self-protection is not productive. Life is a gift, we have it for a short time, and the best way to honor that gift is to give it rather than hold on to it.

In this era of feel good spirituality, paperback self-help and instant psychobabbled analysis, it is almost refreshing to return to the challenging and difficult demands of our shared faith. What better time than Lent to encourage those who gather week-by-week to inquire of, experience and express the gospel, to review and reflect on their understanding of Jesus, and the history from which Jesus emerges.

Jesus knew the Psalms. Consider one of the insistences of Psalm 22: "God does not despise or hate the affliction of the afflicted and does not turn away from those who cry out." To meditate on that phrase can give new meaning to the exchange between Peter and Jesus.

3. At the very moment Jesus was addressing his own afflictions. It can bring a new dimension of meaning to the notion of covenant itself. Consider the affliction of Sarah and Abraham in their barrenness and what God's Covenant with them implied. And is not Paul's exaltation in the triumph of faith over the law an existential sigh of relief from his own afflictions?

In a recent newsletter from Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. the question is asked: are you more concerned with believing in Jesus or acting like Jesus? What an incredibly important question to ponder during Lent. Given the lections for this week, it will not be adequate to equate that question to some latter day social activism or New Age sentimentality. The Gospel our spiritual ancestors articulated is hard edged and penetrating in its radical understanding of what is required to act like Jesus: to be willing to do whatever is required to maintain an uninterrupted relationship with God, the same God who struck a covenant with our spiritual ancestors, blinded Paul with new vision, and celebrated Jesus' brave new insights by lifting the heaviest affliction any of us ever has to bear-death.

The Rev. Dr. Tari Lennon is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds degrees in theology, ministry and psychology. She retired from parish ministry after 43 years and now convenes Open Gatherings which draws people together from all faiths and nonfaiths to explore topics of spirituality, relationships, and personal ethics.