Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lectionary: 2/24/2013- 2nd Sunday in Lent (C)

Prayer of the Day
God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

As reflected in the prayer for the day, the themes for this week's readings center around God's promises to us, especially to remain present with us.  All of the stories in the Bible center around this one covenant, that we will not be abandoned.  In the journey of Lent, while we walk with Jesus towards the cross, that is the promise that we cling to in the darkness.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.  When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates...."

This is the great covenant (promise) that God made to Abraham.  This is one of the great beginnings in the Bible.  The Creation stories are one, God's covenant with Noah not to destroy the Earth again was another, and of course each of the Gospels start with one.  This is the beginning of God's special relationship with the Jewish people, which is a theme found all over the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  When Esther saves her people, it's a demonstration of this covenant.  When Jesus speaks to the Syro-Phoenician woman, it's a surprise because she is not party to this covenant.

God's promises to Abraham here are fairly simple- many descendants and a land for them.  The promises we will see implied in the other readings for this Sunday are a little more complex.

Psalm 27
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?

When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; 

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. 

Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

I hope that I will never have to fear what the author of this Psalm apparently had to fear.  But I certainly have fears nonetheless.  And the author is seeking safety and refuge with the Lord- a theme we've seen before, and something I've certainly done myself.  But what kind of safety?  People who trust in God die every day.  Tragic things happen to both good and bad people.  The author of this Psalm can't possibly be saying that if you trust in God, nothing bad will happen to you- right?

Which brings us back to God's covenants with us, and here we see what the author seems to be seeking.  The kind of safety the author's hoping for is certainly physical safety, but that doesn't mean it's the kind that's expected.  What's sought after here is not physical but spiritual safety- to be with God, to be acknowledged by and loved by God, to be surrounded by God.  There are some requests of protection, certainly, but the requests that are most emphatic and emphasized are those that have nothing to do with physical safety.

As Abraham and his descendants eventually found out, the covenants that God has made with us do not always mean prosperity or safety- but they do mean we're not alone.  They do mean God is always with us.  We are not and will not be abandoned.

Philippians 3:17--4:1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Occasionally Paul gets on my nerves- besides some of the things he's said about women, I'm just not too fond of people who say that others should imitate them.  Someone who's an authentically good example to live by doesn't usually have to tell others that.  But here he's reinforcing what's been talked about in the previous two readings.  We certainly have promises and covenants with others, and of course we honor them, but we also remember that "our citizenship is in heaven".  That is where our true allegiance lies, with God.  All else may fail us, everyone else may betray us, but God remains with us no matter what.

There is some troubling language in this passage that I would like to address, but to be honest I don't believe I currently have time to do it justice at the moment.  I'm sure it'll come around again, though, so I'll ask for your patience on that.

Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

This is one of the passages that I wish people would read more often, because it comforts me, somewhat, to know that Jesus had a temper.  If Jesus did, then perhaps God understands my own as well.

And yet, even in the midst of this temper, in the midst of sparring (verbally) with the Pharisees, Jesus will not abandon his ministry.  Jesus will not abandon his journey to the cross.  Jesus would gather us as though under wings, which I think is one of the loveliest images we're given of God's love.  Jesus does not abandon us, and though it's not phrased in a very cheerful manner, at the end he also gives us the promise that we will see him again.  The covenant, again spelled out that God does not leave us alone, we are not abandoned, come what may.

Love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God.


  1. I wish the lectionary would have included the previous verses of Paul, starting and v12: "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;* but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own..." I think it makes the rest of the passage make more sense.

  2. Yeah, I wanted to include something commenting on how it came after the Christ hymn as well, I think we skip into step 14 of 30 or so that Paul's going through with this reading, but I ran out of time. Oh, well, there's always next Year C!