First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”
15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Psalm: Psalm 22:23-31
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the Lord‘s face hidden from them;
but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations.
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the Lord.
30Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”
Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
13The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
31[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
A favorite childhood tale that originated in the 10th century in Europe and which has several versions is “Little Red Riding Hood.” A young girl with a red cape dances through the woods to carry goodies to her grandmother who is sick in bed. She is not aware that the wolf has arrived first and eaten the grandmother. The girl is anticipating and expecting her grandmother. To her surprise the grandmother looks strange for the wolf has put on the grandmother’s gown and is lying in bed.
“Oh, grandmother, what big your eyes you have!” The wolf answers, “All the better to see you with, my dear.”….
“Oh, grandmother, what big your ears you have!” The wolf answers, “All the better to hear you with, my dear.”….
“Oh, grandmother, what big your teeth you have!” The wolf answers, “All the better to eat you with!” He grabs her and eats her in one swallow.
The woodsman arrives and kills the wolf with his ax, cuts him open and out come grandmother and Red Riding Hood whole and happy.
Today we are like the girl wanting to have tea and a good visit. The wolf is Satan. We become confused when we do not experience what we anticipated and expected. The woodsman is Jesus who rescues us from death. Let us pray.
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart honor you, my rock and redeemer.
Do you ever make a “to do” list? Perhaps you don’t write it down but somewhere in the back of your mind, there is a general idea of your plan, your hopes, your expectations for the day, for the season, before any event. We anticipate and that anticipation affects to a degree how we celebrate the outcome at the end of the day. My friend went to a care-center to celebrate the 94th birthday of her friend last week. She went prepared with all the trappings for a birthday party including cupcakes. Yup, covid crushed her anticipation as none of the trappings were allowed. All her work and expense was for nothing. She could not express her love as she had wanted and felt very frustrated and disappointed.
Jesus gave the disciples his “to-do” list of what to expect when they get to Jerusalem. The problem is that it does not make sense then – or now. Jesus’ words clash with the disciple’s anticipations – and expectations. They were expecting a king and deliverer. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The disciples are expecting Jesus to chase the Romans away and they are expecting Jesus to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant from our first text and to make Israel great again. They did not expect suffering, rejection and death.
Abraham in the Old Testament reading today was 99 years old. When he was 75 years old God came to him and promised to bless him and that he would have children like the stars in the sky. Read Genesis 12 for the prelude to today’s reading. Now 24 years later, Abraham has to be reminded of God’s promise. I doubt Abraham has forgotten that first God encounter and the promise for we see him trying to hasten the promise with Hagar, resulting in Ismael. We see Abraham telling the people of Egypt that Sarah is his sister and God protecting her as the designated carrier of the promised child. He heard the promise and we hear the promises but we don’t understand the “to-do” list to get to the promised blessing. As my mother always said, “There is often a slip between the cup and the lip.” At age of 99 God again reminded Abraham of the covenant to bless him and that Abraham would be a blessing. God’s plan is blessing. Remember.
The disciples too hear Jesus’ words about the future suffering and death on the cross but the promise of blessing and resurrection is only remembered afterwards. They too do not understand. Suffering, rejection, and death on our “to-do” list come before the resurrection. We too forget the “to-do” that precedes blessing and we are often surprised by trials. We think faith is about happy-ever-after and we confuse God with Santa Clause. Lent helps us remember.
I love the song, “This World is Not My Home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” This world is not our home and so it should not be a surprise that we feel dissonance and suffer. James admonishes the early Christians scattered around the known world to “count it all joy when ever you experience trials.” Suffering develops perseverance and perseverance leads to maturity. It is fine for a baby to be a baby but when an adult acts like a baby, we look for a doctor. Life implies growth and learning means mistakes, bruised knees and scars. God’s goal is growth not pleasure. Remember.
Suffering also grows in us compassion and empathy so that we can encourage others who are going through trials. As a committed sociologist who believes that we are creatures of community and our God is triune, a sociological concept, I believe that when you hurt, I hurt, and we are drawn together to help each other. Hospitals, schools, social services are examples. Suffering builds community. Remember.
Suffering also drives us to God to seek wisdom, James continues. It is in times of need that we remember we are dust and that we need the wisdom and help of God. It is in the “dark nights of the soul” that we often grow. We grow in our ability to persevere, our empathy for others in pain, and in our thirst for a deeper walk with God – we grow in prayer.
Hmmmm, it is a little hard to give a loud “amen” to suffering. Let’s skip that part of our “to-do” list and go to the next task. Ooops, it is rejection. This world is not my home and so not only will I feel tension and suffer but often there will be conflict of values and I will feel rejection. The trip to the cross was the result of the religious authorities rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. The crowds that hail Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday will be yelling, “Crucify him,” by Friday. The news interviews last night, pondering the future gave examples of how “popular” programs were hailed during campaign speeches but don’t bring the results often resulted in the popularity polls dropping very quickly. We are shocked when Olympic trainers abuse children who do not have the power or voice to reject their actions. It’s wrong. It’s sin! The saying is, “You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.”
Rejection is a values clarification experience. What do we believe strong enough that we are willing to risk rejection? Isaiah says that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” The sheep I have seen follow the leader, head down and will walk right in front of a bus. They are considered a bit dumb. Not following the leader, not following the values of this world, not following the crowd will result in rejection. It is as we wrestle with this tendency of ours to follow the crowd that we define ourselves and discover what we truly value and believe.
Thus rejection often involves a “public stance.” It implies that not only am I not believing as another believes but I am also not engaging with them or they with me. Have you noticed how often when someone gives a “testimony” it involves a values clarification experience whose outcome is rejection but transforms the person? I made a decision that going out drinking with my fellow teachers as a young adult was not getting me where I wanted to go and I came to a point of rejecting, not joining Friday nights at the bar. I’m sure as a young adult some of that was realizing I was not meeting young men and often the conversation was a rehash of the grumps of the week – and financially draining. But more importantly, I was not going where I wanted to go. I was not having the sort of life I saw promised in Scripture. Rejection is taking a stand.
Oh my, suffering is not fun to think about and rejection takes more courage than I think I have. Let’s keep moving. Jesus says we must undergo suffering, rejection and death. What! Truly this world is not my home and I am just passing through. We in the United States lead a pretty sheltered life, insulated in our wealth and materialism. Death is something we think we have within our power to avoid whether that be with a vaccine, or going to the right doctor, eating the right diet, exercising, or living in the right part of town. Death is something for tomorrow that we don’t want to talk about. Lent is uncomfortable because we face the darker side of ourselves, of others, and of life. We don’t want to die and we certainly don’t want our loved ones to die. Death is for those older than us and usually for some other day.
We see death as the punishment for sin. “Whoever eats of this fruit of the tree in the center of the garden will die.” Yet – we note that the good and the bad die, the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Death and life seem to go together, not as reward and punishment but more like the half full, half empty glass. Are we focusing on the pains of aging or on the blessings? But our knee-jerk response to Jesus’ “to-do” list is that death is not so welcome. We will all die and it is not “if” but “when.” That is a serious forecast.
Suffering, rejection and death await us. All of these we know. Jesus does not stop there, though. BUT… But what? But on the third day Jesus will rise – and we will rise too. That is unimaginable and often forgotten. It feels like pie in the sky and we are accused of skipping the meat to get to the dessert. The disciples heard but did not understand. We hear and try to trust and believe. We know we are dust and the future is hard to imagine. The to-do list ends with resurrection, not death. Remember!
Jesus continues, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I read “take up your cross” as an invitation to embrace life. Followers of Jesus are free to embrace life. We know that suffering has purpose to grow us and develop us and draw us to others we can help. Suffering draws us closer to our God. We do not need to fear suffering for Jesus himself has suffered. He knows our weakness and travels with us. As followers of Jesus we can step into rejection. As we learn to stand for something, we are less likely to fall for everything. As we go public about our beliefs and values, hospitals are created, educational systems are developed, orphanages are built and the needy of the world are cared for. We do not need to be afraid of being people of principle. Unlike the disciples, we know that death was indeed followed by resurrection. We know that death does not have the last say. We know that dust does return to dust, not to be recycled but to arise in a resurrection body. We do not need to avoid visiting granma because her eyes are too big, her nose too long, and her teeth too sharp. We can embrace the journey because the woodsman is our friend!
Jesus closes with a question,
- “36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” What does it profit us to journey through Lent? We are adjusting our anticipation and expectations and remembering. Suffering, rejection and death do not mean God has abandon us. We will rise. As we remember, we will not be so easily confused by the wolf that is waiting to gobble us up. We will rest in the reality that the woodsman is there to rescue us from death. And perhaps we can be more patient waiting for God to fulfill his promises to bless.
- “What can we give in return”, Christ asks. I think of the song, What can I render to the Lord for all he’s done for me? I will offer up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
As we travel the Lenten journey we remember that our lives are important. God had a plan to bless nations through Abraham and Sarah. God had a plan to bless the nations as the disciples follow God’s
“to-do” list of suffering, rejection and death. God blesses the nations through us. But…but may we remember today that on the third day Christ resurrected and THAT is the end of our journey also. Remember.