“LOOKING TO SUNDAY” Lent B2

Lectionary Readings:

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

This week we have left Noah and the Rainbows but the story of God’s covenant with us still runs through this week’s lectionary.  Covenants are not relationships ‘for a day’.  Once you are in a covenant you can’t just step conveniently out of it.  Like marriage it is ‘For better or for worse’.  Walking with God is probably the toughest assignment in the world.  It is never a journey that we take knowing ‘all the steps’.  Faithfulness to the covenant made by God with us though, will win the day.  Faithfulness is its own reward.  In these Lenten weeks when we are called to a deeper walk with God, a good motto would be “When the going gets tough the tough get going”.

  This week’s Epistle reading from Romans is a very convoluted one.  It will require very carefully reading if it is to resonate with our congregations.  The set Psalm presents some difficulties because we only read the latter portion.  This makes it appear to be just a Praise psalm, yet what goes before gives a different setting.  In the earlier verses, a  sufferer brings his need before God, remembers the ground of his confidence and anticipates his deliverance.  He then summons others to praise God.  When Jesus made the words of this Psalm his own on the Cross, he was bearing witness to the presence of his Father in the very midst of his suffering and desolation.

Genesis 17:

Abram/Abraham had a number of conversations with God.  This one Abram found hilarious.  Sarah likewise will also have a quiet chuckle.  Abram is 99 when God says to him “Come walk with me and be blameless”.  God goes on to say, “That’s not all.  I am going to give you a change of name (a heavenly deed poll?).  As if this was not enough the final revelation is staggering.  It’s a good job that Abram is by now prostrate on the ground with his face in the grass.  “You’re going to be a Father xxx  times over”.  This promise is fleshed out in detail, “You’ll have your own land.  You and your people will prosper.  You will be top of the pile.” ( Gen. 17,6) “I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you”.  A parting word from God was, “And you can tell your wife that she too is to be given a new name and is to be an active participant in my plans.”  It is later when Sari is eavesdropping on another conversation that she has her little chuckle. 

‘The Name Game’  To know and say someones name was in those days thought to give you power over them.  The Jewish people to this day do not speak the name of God for this reason.  For them it is too holy to utter.  In this passage it might be taken to imply that God knows us through and through and is in a special relationship with us. A line in the Iona hymn ‘The Summons” says ” If you will but call my name”

All these are God’s promises to Abraham, yet the subsequent story of his exploits shows that the fulfilment of them will entail Abraham being uprooted from his home and called to take a long and hazardous journey.  During that journey there will be ‘ups and downs’.  Time and time again Abraham and his descendants will have to fall back on the original promise and keep faith in it, to reach their destination.

 

Our Lenten pilgrimage will be parallel to their journey.  Tempted, tried and tested, footsore and at times low on morale, we will need to hold close to Jesus to complete the journey to what seems a daunting destination. – a cross, a symbol of shame in the world but to those who believe a place where glory breaks through and floods the world.  God’s covenants are fixed and unshakeable.  Our guarantee through faithfulness.

Mark 8

In the preceding verses (27-30) Jesus has asked the question of his disciples, “Who do people say that I am”. Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah and is told to remain silent.  We were told this in the very first verse of Mark’s gospel, but of course Peter and the rest of the disciples had not got this to read. Hindsight can make you appear very wise. What occurred at Caesarea of Phillippi was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry and the rest of his journey is along “the Way of the Cross”.

Because Peter is usually the one to speak out, it is he that Jesus singles out to rebuke. I can only think that, judging from what the other disciples are thinking and saying at this time, that they too have the same mind set  has Peter. Perhaps we too, with the whole of Jesus’ story before us, tend to read the gospels backwards. We sing, “In the Cross of Christ I glory”, yet to those of that time the Cross was a symbol of shame and crucifixion an atrocity. It is little wonder they, in their human expectations of what the Messiah would be and do,  got their thinking skewed.

Denying ourselves, cross bearing and just following, goes against our human inclinations.  The disciples at this time had plans. They saw that more and more people were joining them. Success seemed to be assured and they were already talking about their position and power in the future kingdom. Jesus’ words must have been to them a hammer blow. Our Lenten journey this week cuts our expectations down to size and we are prompt to review what is really involved in our faith journey.

Crosses come in all shapes and sizes. Denying ourselves in order to give sacrifically for the benefit of others and to further Christ work in the world comes at a price. Taking a back seat and obediently following Christ does not put us in the limelight. Yet it is it is only when we bear the pain of Christ that we truly serve Him in the world.

 
 
“When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died.
My riches gain I count but lost
and pour contempt on all my pride”
 
John R
 
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