Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Fifth Wednesday in Lent (March 21, 2018)

Isaiah 12

In Mark 12, when Jesus answers the scribe who asks, “What is the greatest commandment?” and repeats the words of the she-ma to his followers, he concludes with the command to “love the Lord with all your strength…..”

Remembering how Jacob wrestled at Peniel with an angel of the Lord, or how Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers or even how Jesus himself carried the weight of the cross to his own crucifixion, we might wonder how literally we should take his words. But as with the words from Psalm 19 that we just prayed, Jesus isn’t speaking of physical strength or even of character, but the strength – the power and resilience – given us by God and experienced in faith, and it is grounded in a witness of all of God’s might acts across history.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet recalls the character and actions of the Lord our God who has acted throughout history to save God’s people. In the first eleven chapters, the prophet has been narrating Judah’s history and in the remaining chapters there will judgment and rebuke against the people of Israel, and eventually, an offering of hope restored to returning exiles.[i] But in chapter 12, Isaiah stops and offers his own doxology or hymn
of thanksgiving and praise.

For us the prophet’s words provide us with a turning point. Throughout Lent, we have been looking back at the covenant relationship that God has given us and our ancestors of faith before us; now in the last week of Lent, we are approaching Holy Week which will begin with Sunday’s liturgy of the palms, when we will stop and enter into Jerusalem with Jesus, accompanying him with waving palm branches and shouts of Hosanna, words that means “Save us.”.

Fittingly, Isaiah’s “own name means God of salvation.”[ii] Salvation is one of those words that stirs debate but generally, most of us can agree with the definition Old Testament professor Rolf Jacobson provides: “human salvation is from something bad, for something good, and is accomplished by God.”[iii] In Lutheranism, on the matter of salvation, everything depends on God.  Salvation is God’s free and unmerited gift to us.

In these two stanzas, the prophet recognizes that God desires relationship more than judgment, saying “for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away.” And then he echoes the words of Moses and the Israelites when they were delivered from the Red Sea:

The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.[iv]
and then he describes God’s gifts of goodness and abundance as wellsprings.
In Lent we have been mirroring Jesus’ own forty days in the desert, fasting and praying. So where , like Jesus, and like the Israelites before him, do we now find our strength?
How much greater now is our own thirst for the things of God because we have fasted from impulses?
How fitting it is then that the prophet invites us to share in the joy of the unexpected and undeserved experience of God as we conclude this season where God has drawn us into closer relationship.

Let us pray.[v]
O Lord our God,
Show us your everlasting love that we may serve you from the obedience of our hearts.
Lead us in the way of your peace, that our souls may be restored.
Guide us in the way of the cross, that we might proclaim the strength of your love.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,

[i] Elizabeth Webb. Working Preacher Commentary.
[ii] Audrey West. Working Preacher Commentary.
[iii] Rolf A. Jacobson, Ed. Crazy Talk.
[iv] Exodus 15:2
[v] Adapted from Sundays and Seasons Midweek Lenten Series: You Shall Love the Lord Your God.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:20-33

All through Lent we’ve been studying covenant — witnessing how God established a divine relationship with all God’s people and how God’s promises were accompanied by signs as reminders of God’s abundant love and mercy, and our dependence on God alone.

There was the covenant with Noah, and then with Abram and then with Moses and the people of Israel. The Law was given in stone and broken; forgiveness was given and rejected, so now, after words of right judgment, now the prophet Jeremiah declares there will be a new covenant.

As before, the covenant is grounded in forgiveness but, this time, the prophet declares, it will be written on our hearts.

By grace, God writes over whatever pain or wounds we have suffered, even the ones that are self-inflicted or carry still in our sin-scarred hearts, and we are made new and whole.

For us as Christians we see this new covenant manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that we see God make people whole, restore their relationships and return them to their families and communities. It is in Jesus that we see justice – the addressing of wrong actions – enacted, and we see man-made or contrived boundaries, barriers and categories broken down.

And that is why, as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the religious authorities were plotting to kill Jesus. But in the gospel text, it is also why Greeks were coming to the disciples, and asking, “We wish to see Jesus.”

It’s most likely that these Greeks were Gentiles, outsiders to the old covenant, and yet, here they were coming to see the Messiah, the Son of God who had come into the world.

“We wish to see Jesus.”

Once upon a time, those words were carved into pulpits, that we preachers would remember our task. But I think I’d like to see the words carved into the lintel and doorposts at the entrance to the sanctuary, so that all of us, as we leave here after worship, might remember that, for some, we are the only Jesus a person may meet.

The Evangelist tells us that Philip went to Andrew and then, together, they went to tell Jesus about the Greeks who had come, but after that, the gospel account takes a turn and we never even learn whether they got to see Jesus.

Maybe they only got to meet the disciples and see Jesus by hearing their stories of why they followed Jesus and watching what their journey looked like.

On Friday I had the opportunity to gather with chaplains and clergy at Hood Theological Seminary and hear one such story from a man who is now the brigadier general who leads the Army and Air National Guard Chaplain Corps.
Chaplain Chisolm told his story of growing up in Mississippi in a town where his daddy was the school superintendent, and, as he told his story, he told us about the man he called Brother Wallace, who lived next door to the church where he grew up, which was just across the street from his own house. That meant Brother Wallace was a witness to all the mischief he and his brothers and sisters got into, but Chaplain Chisolm said that, even in those years when as a teenager he didn’t think much about God or faith, Brother Wallace remained a constant presence in his life. Not cajoling or coercing or chastising him but just staying connected and interested.

At 18 Chisolm enlisted in the Air National Guard and, a few weeks after he graduated from high school, he moved farther away from home, and from his parents, than he had ever gone before, to Texas for basic training. The chaplain told the story of how there, in the old World War 2 barracks at Lackland Air Force Base, he heard God speak to him and as he wrestled with what that meant, he wrote a letter to Brother Wallace. He didn’t know what to do next, but he knew Brother Wallace was someone he could trust with his questions, and who could help him see God more clearly.

More than thirty years later, when Chisolm returned home for his father’s funeral, he was speaking again with Brother Wallace, and the older gentleman reached into his coat pocket and pulled out that letter written by the young recruit in a complex time of uncertainty.
“We wish to see Jesus.”

It is a plea that any one of us has probably made in our lifetimes, and that our neighbors, young and old, may only have answered in our openness to accompany them and listen to their stories;

in our “healing actions or attitudes that [affirm] that all people are created in the image of a loving God and, therefore, need and merit, respect and dignity;”[i]

or in our willingness to show up and be what Chaplain Chisolm called “a visible sign of the Holy” in a volatile and unpredictable world.

Let us pray.
Covenant God,
You see us for what we are, but in mercy You do not cast us aside. In your steadfast love you forgive us our sin.
May we bear carry your love and mercy into a hurting world in such a way that they will see You in our words and actions.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,

[i] Dr. Vergel Lattimore, Hood Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fourth Wednesday in Lent

1 Kings 3:3-15

Tonight’s text is known as “Solomon’s prayer for wisdom.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story, who Solomon was or why he becomes associated with the wisdom books of the Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

Solomon was one of the sons of King David and Bathsheba, the wife of the soldier Uriah whom David sent into battle to be killed. At the end of David’s life, his two oldest sons were either dead or missing and by tradition, his eldest surviving son, Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, expected to succeed him on the throne and become Israel’s third king. But at the beginning of this book, we hear how Bathsheba intercedes on behalf of her son Solomon and then we have, essentially, an account of a turf war as Adonijah and Solomon vie for the throne.

Favored by his mother and the prophet Nathan and armed with his father’s blessing and military might, Solomon establishes his rule. And before his death, King David declares, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who today has granted one of my offspring to sit on my throne and permitted me to witness it.” (1 Kings 1:48)

When we learn more about Solomon, it becomes clear that, like his father, he too was imperfect, an example of both saint and sinner, capable of both evil and good. But here, what we see is a new king who has gone to Gibeon and offered ritual sacrifices, publicly demonstrating his obedience and loyalty to the god who has entrusted the monarchy to him.  And while he is there, God appears to Solomon in a dream.

As is often true in biblical stories, it’s helpful to remember the era where the story takes place and who its audience was. In the ancient world, dreams weren’t psychic phenomena to be interpreted by psychologists; instead they were understood as manifestations of a divine response, a Word from Yahweh. So when we hear that God spoke to Solomon in a dream, we are to recall the other dreamers we know in the Bible, like Jacob and Joseph in Genesis and Joseph and Paul in the New Testament.

In this dream, God says to Solomon, “Ask what I should give you." (1 Kings 3:5)

Can you imagine? How would you answer if you were offered anything you wanted? Would it be safety or security, esteem or affection, power or control? Or something material?

Offered the opportunity to ask for anything, Solomon doesn’t answer immediately, but his reticence isn’t indecision. First, he offers praise for God’s actions, and then he expresses humility and acknowledges his own ill-preparedness for the responsibilities of the throne. He doesn’t puff up with pride or make a show of his power and authority. He doesn’t pretend that he doesn’t need or want anything.

When he does answer, Solomon simply asks God to give him an “understanding mind.”

The word in Hebrew there is the word for “mind” or “will” or heart, and in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, the word is καρδία so some translations say he requested a “listening” or “discerning” heart.

Solomon isn’t focused on outward expressions of his kingship; he wants to be aligned with God’s guidance and purpose.

Teacher and author Ruth Haley Barton describes discernment as “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God — both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.”[i] Solomon doesn’t desire an academic or intellectual, post-Enlightenment wisdom; instead he is asking God for the knowledge of “What would you have me do?”

In Mark 12, when Jesus answers the scribe who asks, “What is the greatest commandment?” he repeats the words of the she-ma, telling his followers to “love the Lord with all your mind…..” He isn’t asking, as atheists charge, that we leave our minds at the door. Instead, he is asking that we align ourselves with God’s purposes, that we orient ourselves to God instead of allowing our egos to edge God out.

In the Lord’s Prayer when we petition, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” we are surrendering to God, confessing that we are dependent on God and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about wise action and help  us embody God’s love in the world.

We are asking God to work through us as we are called into a life of discernment where we follow the wisdom of Solomon expressed in Proverbs 9: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)

Equipped with holy wisdom, we are called to go out into the world like Solomon and ask, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

Let us pray.[ii]
O Lord our God,
Show us your everlasting love that we may serve you from the obedience of our hearts.
Lead us in the way of your peace, that our souls may be restored.
Guide us in the way of the cross, that we might proclaim the strength of your love.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,

[i] “Discernment: The Heart of Spiritual Leadership,” Ruth Haley Barton. , accessed 3/14/2018.
[ii] Adapted from Sundays and Seasons Midweek Lenten Series: You Shall Love the Lord Your God.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Have you ever overheard part of a conversation, and realized you didn’t know what people were talking about or what had already been said?

Today’s gospel text is like that. The lectionary reading begins in the middle of a conversation. If you didn’t read the preceding verses in chapter 3, you don’t know who’s speaking. And if you haven’t read Numbers recently – and that probably describes most of us here today – you may not remember what was happening when “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.”

So, let’s begin with the story in Numbers. “The [fourth] book [in the Torah, or Pentateuch] tells the story of how Israel's exodus generation entered the desert where most of them died away in faithlessness and disobedience, and how the next generation emerged, prepared to claim the promise of a new land.”[i]

After Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, they wandered in the wilderness for many years. The story that is referenced in John’s gospel happened after the deaths of both Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother who had accompanied him out of Egypt.

Remember how the people of Israel began grumbling and complaining, and God answered their complaint by giving them manna to eat?

Well, now here they are, grumbling and complaining again.
The text says they “became impatient” and “spoke against God and against Moses.”  Old Testament scholar Dennis Olson describes them as “drag[ging] out the same laundry list of complaints about dying in the wilderness, yearning to go back to Egypt, the lack of food and water, and the monotony of the manna.” It’s like a video clip that gets caught buffering and cannot play to the end, or an audio track that plays endlessly on repeat.
Nothing could satisfy them.

What happens next is surprising. The text says, “The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many…died.”

It’s surprising because what is described is God’s judgment falling upon a people.

We like to think of judgment as something that happens to “other people” but in Numbers, it’s clear God delivers judgment upon God’s own people.

Facing the reality of God’s judgment, the people offer a confession, but simultaneously, they ask Moses to pray that God would remove the serpents from their midst.

Instead, God tells Moses to make a serpent and place it on a pole and instructs him that anyone who gets bitten will be able to look up at the serpent on the pole and live.  From that time forward until King Hezekiah destroyed it during his temple reform in the eighth century BCE because it had become a false idol, the serpent on the stick was called Nehushtan and the people of Israel kept it with them as a sign of God’s life-giving covenant.

When we hear the story referenced in the gospel text, it turns out that Jesus is the one speaking. The Pharisee Nicodemus has come to Jesus at night time and is asking him questions about what he is teaching and the signs that he has performed.

Recalling the sign of salvation that God had provided to the people of Israel all those centuries before, Jesus tells Nicodemus “so must the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (v. 14-15)

And then, just as God’s people suffered judgment in the Numbers passage, Jesus says in v. 19, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people have loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil.”

Both the author of Numbers and the evangelist John are speaking to the community.

Remember how Jesus answered the scribe who asked which of the commandments was greatest?

Jesus said, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31)

For the Israelites wandering in the desert, their sin wasn’t that they complained; their sin was failing to believe the God of Israel, the Lord our God, was going to deliver them. And, they were so curved in on themselves and coiled tightly like snakes themselves that they couldn’t even recognize their own sin!

In Jerusalem, Nicodemus and the other religious leaders and temple priests, likewise, didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. They studied and followed the Levitical laws meticulously, believing they could achieve righteousness by their good works if they could remain ritually pure and blameless. Their sin was failing to believe God alone was their redeemer and deliverer. (Ps. 107)

God can handle our complaints and our fears and doubts; the Psalms are full of complaints and laments, anger and fear, but the psalmists always return to what they know about who God is and what God’s character and past promises and actions tell us.

What is sinful is the certitude that the Israelites and the Pharisees display and their disregard for what God has done.

In his Lectures on Romans, Martin Luther writes about our natural impulse to “deeply curve in on [ourselves].” That is the very definition of sin: bending everything, even God’s best gifts, toward ourselves for our own elevation, enjoyment and pleasure.[ii]

And, when we are looking inward toward our bellies, we cannot look up.

We cannot look up at the life-giving sign that heals,
and we cannot look up at the cross that triumphs over death.

And when we cannot look up, we die.

It is that simple and that startling.

God breathes life into us and commands us to live, and instead, as Eugene Peterson writes in his paraphrase of today’s passage from Ephesians, we “[fill our] lungs with polluted unbelief, and then [exhale] disobedience.”

Thankfully God doesn’t leave us there. God who knows us and loves us, and has established a life-giving covenant with us, equips us to live an abundant life in the fullness of relationship in faith in Christ.

It’s ours, if only we will stop navel-gazing and look up.

Let us pray.
Lord our God,
heal our brokenness that we would see your gift of life;
God of judgment,
lift up our eyes that we would recognize Your presence in our lives in all circumstances;
Redeeming God,
Strengthen us to live as Your faithful people in a world that loves darkness.
We pray in the name of your crucified and risen Son, Jesus Christ,

[i] “Numbers.” Luther Seminary,
[ii] Lectures on Romans. Luther’s Works, Vol. 25.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Third Wednesday in Lent

Psalms 42 and 43

Tonight’s Scripture, Psalms 42 and 43 are psalms, or songs, of lament where the poet addresses God. Scholars now believe that these two psalms, which are separate in our canon, were originally one whole piece with three stanzas.

The Psalmist begins by comparing our longing for God to an insatiable desire or unquenchable thirst. (v. 1) “Just as water is necessary for life, so also is the divine presence.”[i] Or as Saint Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.”  Father Richard Rohr describes this same longing as “an inner compass” or “a homing device” drawing us toward God.

Our Lenten study of “covenant” has taught us that God’s utmost desire is to live in covenant relationship with us, to be located at the center of our lives and relationships. Contemplating this yearning, Rohr asks the question,

“Wouldn’t it make sense that God would plant in us a desire for what God has already wants for us?”

When Jesus repeats the she-ma in Mark 12 and instructs his followers to “love the Lord with all your soul…..” he knows that loving someone is easy in good times. But he also knows how important it is that we know God is our loving companion in the hard times, too. As Old Testament professor Rolf Jacobson writes,

“This psalm is a song for those moments when one doesn’t feel like singing. A poem of faith for those cold nights when one doesn’t feel the flames of faith flickering in one’s soul.”[ii]

We hear the refrain repeated at 42:5, 11 and again at 43:5:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

The psalmist’s lament reminds us that even when our souls are cast down and disquieted, or as Eugene Peterson writes, “down in the dumps and crying the blues,” the Lord still reigns and is our help. The refrain instructs us, “Hope in God,” reminding us that our hope and help come from outside our own resources.

Throughout scripture, we see that faith is not solitary; it is best practiced in relationship and in community. And with the psalmists’ words, we are reminded again of God’s concern for the neighbor and the ways God has ordered our lives with the commandments that we would live well together.

As the church we are called to walk together through the muck and messiness of our lives and through the hurt and heartache we inflict on each other. The promise of our despair, that we hear from the psalmist, is a promise of hope, a promise that there will be restoration.[iii]

Nan Merrill offers another interpretation of the psalmist’s refrain, recording it as, “O my soul, open the door to Love!”

Sometimes our help and our hope comes disguised as “love with skin on it.” Another of my professors at Luther tells the story of his seminary colleague whose wife died unexpectedly; when the widower finally spoke about his grief, he said, “I can’t believe in God now.” His colleagues told his friend, “We will believe until you can.”

Our hope in God is sustained in relationship with God and with each other. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our soul, with confidence that God sees our tears and hears our cries. Then as the late nineteenth century hymn writer Horatio Spafford wrote, after suffering great personal loss, we too can say, “When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, [God has] taught me to say, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Let us pray.[iv]
O Lord our God,
Show us your everlasting love that we may serve you from the obedience of our hearts.
Lead us in the way of your peace, that our souls may be restored.
Guide us in the way of the cross, that we might proclaim the strength of your love.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,

[i] W. H. Bellinger, Jr. Working Preacher Commentary on Psalm 43.
[ii] Rolf Jacobson. Working Preacher Commentary on Psalm 43.
[iii] Andy Root. The Promise of Despair.
[iv] Adapted from Sundays and Seasons Midweek Lenten Series: You Shall Love the Lord Your God.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1-17

One religion writer condenses this morning’s chapter in Exodus to:
“G’s top ten list. No gods, idols or blasphemy. Keep the Sabbath holy & love Mom. Don’t kill, cheat, steal, or look at Xmas catalogs.”[i]

And while her description covers the information contained in the commandments, it remains incomplete. The commandments are more than a heavenly top ten list, “divine finger-wagging or moral hand-slapping.”[ii] The commandments illustrate the covenant relationship God establishes with us and “show us how we should live as people who have already been freely given God’s grace in Jesus Christ.”[iii]

God doesn’t give us the law and ask us to prove ourselves to earn our salvation or God’s love. There is no performance evaluation, standardized test or entrance exam. When Paul references “God’s foolishness”, this is what he’s talking about: there is no failing or flunking out.

God’s divine priority is to be in relationship with creation, and the commandments are the instruction or direction that God gives us so that relationship doesn’t fall apart.

When we choose other idols over God, when we choose the parts of Scripture that are convenient for us, or dismiss God’s Word as irrelevant, we put our selves and our ways ahead of God’s ways. When we deny others the opportunities for rest and health, rebel against authority and neglect our elders, we forget God’s commandments. When we act selfishly, harm our neighbors by our words or actions, or deceive others, we are not following God’s ways.

Halfway through our penitential and reflective season of Lent, the good news is that the commandments, and our failure to follow them, aren’t roadblocks to life with God. Instead of avoiding them like traps and obstacles – holy Gotchas – let’s look at how they teach us to embody God’s Word and adopt God’s life-giving ways.

Just as commandment-keeping is not a prerequisite for heaven, it isn’t some kind of sacred self-help guide either. The purpose of following God’s commandments is not to make a better “me” for my own sake, but for the world.

That is why when Jesus is tested by the Pharisees in Mark 12, and the scribe asks him which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answers with the words of the she-ma, saying "The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

And then, he adds Leviticus 19:8, and continues, ‘The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[iv]

The commandments help us remember that “One cannot love God without also loving one’s neighbor.”[v]

Many of us would be a lot happier being asked to follow the non-negotiable do’s and don’ts we thought we’d been given — what Father Richard Rohr describes as “never-broken, always-applicable rules and patterns that allow us to predict and control things.” [vi]

Instead, God stands before us and invites us into the presence of God and all the wonder and mystery that beholds.

In this morning’s gospel, John uses the temple scene to demonstrate to his audience, who have seen the temple destroyed, that God’s presence isn’t restricted to the temple anymore. Now, Jesus embodies God’s presence here on earth.

So, as Jesus’ followers, we first witness God’s presence in Jesus. and then God equips us and sends us into the world to bear witness to God,
to embody God’s Word
and be more trustworthy and more loving to our neighbor.

That means
we look at the person next to us with the eyes of God,
we listen to them with the ears of God, and
we love them with the heart of God.

It takes all of us loving God with all our hearts to open ourselves to loving each other and our neighbors and seeing the vision of a beloved community fulfilled. With the gift of the commandments, God calls us to abundant life,
lived in covenant relationship:
believing that God desires to be at the center in our lives and relationships;
believing the other person is loved by God and has value because they are created by a loving and holy God;
and, believing the other person can teach us, so instead of being jealous or callous, we celebrate the rich variety of gifts God gives us, and welcome everyone in.

Let us pray.
Holy and life-giving God,
Thank you for the gift of your commandments to order our lives and relationships, that we would live out of your abundant grace and mercy so freely given to us.
Teach us to follow your laws and write them on our hearts that the whole world would know your love.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

[i] Jana Reiss. The Twible.
[ii] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Location 2837). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 2807-2808). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[iv] Mark 12:29-31
[v] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 2798-2799). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward. 57.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Second Wednesday in Lent

Throughout Lent we are looking at Jesus’ words in Mark 12, when he repeated the she-ma to remind God’s people that a faithful life is one centered on the covenant that God first establishes with us.

We have said that, in Scripture, “covenant” is a word used to describe how God interacts with us and enters into relationship with us.[i] Each of the five covenants or promises that we’ll study in Hebrew Scripture on Sundays is accompanied by a sign.

In the flood story, God’s bow in the sky reminds God’s self and us of our covenant relationship; for Abraham and his children, circumcision is the visible sign of the covenant relationship between God and Israel.

Tonight’s Scripture is from John’s gospel at the conclusion of what is called “the book of signs.” Throughout his account of Jesus’ ministry, the Fourth Evangelist bears witness to the many miracles that Jesus performed and interprets them to us.

 “Signs are things that point beyond themselves. The miraculous actions that Jesus performs are called "signs" because they point beyond [Jesus], to the power and the presence of God (2:11) [ii]
And yet, as the text tells us, many of the people who saw these signs did not recognize – or as John says “they did not believe” – Jesus was the Son of God.

Like Monday morning quarterbacks, we may be quick to judge their disbelief but then, John continues, saying that many others did believe, but they were afraid to confess it for fear of judgment. (v. 42)

How often in our own lives do we see this same pattern repeat? We silence ourselves to avoid judgment. In the liturgy we are using during Lent, we confess:
We were silent when we should have said something.
We were still when we know we should have moved.

Our faith in Christ frees us to respond to the world around us, confident in God’s promises. Yet, too often, we allow disbelief and fear to rob us of the good that God has promised.

John’s gospel says that those who were afraid to confess Jesus as the Son of God “loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.” (v.43)

Human glory is the glory or honor that we receive from other people; it connects to our impulses for esteem, affection and approval. It is the illusion of power or control that we assert over others, instead of accompanying, or walking beside one another. It is the self-centered life, instead of the God-centered life.

When Jesus repeats the she-ma, he instructs his followers to “love the Lord with all your heart…..” but when we treasure human glory more than the glory of God, we fail to follow Jesus’ instruction. In Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus preaching to the crowds, he warns his followers, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[iii]

Jesus is calling us to “come out into the open” and confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God, recall the covenant with God, and return our focus, and our hearts, to God.

Let us pray.[iv]
O Lord our God,
Show us your everlasting love that we may serve you from the obedience of our hearts.
Lead us in the way of your peace, that our souls may be restored.
Guide us in the way of the cross, that we might proclaim the strength of your love.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,

[i] “Covenant” in Crazy Talk. Rolf Jacobson, Ed. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books. 46-47.
[ii] “John,”, Luther Seminary.
[iii] Luke 12:34, Matt. 6:21
[iv] Adapted from Sundays and Seasons Midweek Lenten Series: You Shall Love the Lord Your God.