A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2018
(Genesis 17:1-16; Psalm 22:24-32; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38)
In our Genesis reading God changes the destiny of Abram and Sarai. To be sure, this elderly couple have each other. They are very rich. They have lived a full life.
Yet Abram and Sarai have no children of their own. Theirs is a lifetime of heartache and wonder. Why us? What did we do wrong? Perhaps at their age they have finally come to acceptance. Theirs is a fruitless marriage. Soon they will be forgotten.
Yet as God renames this couple God also re-destines them. Abram is asked to think of himself differently: ‘Abraham’ means ‘the father of nations’. Sarai too is to hear her name anew: the meaning is the same as Sarai but it sounds very different. ‘Sarai’ and ‘Sarah’ both mean ‘princess’.
I wonder what happens to this broken couple as they – both in their nineties – begin to refer to each other by these new names? Perhaps initially it just feels silly. Maybe it evolves to merely rub salt into the wound of a lifetime. Perhaps it is only after Sarah’s belly begins to expand that it stirs hope.
Yet even before this prophetic re-naming, Abraham responds by bowing before this God and listening. In our passage it is his act of trust. God has spoken. Abraham and Sarah’s story has changed. Their destiny is different. Perhaps they will be remembered and know the illusive joy of new life. All they can do is trust and affirm these God-words every time they refer to one another.
Israel came to believe – surely in part because of this promise fulfilled in the birth of Isaac – that their God seeks out the ‘lowly and despised’ and is worthy of our ‘praise’, ‘honour’, and ‘worship’. God is worthy of our trust.
Paul reminds us in our Romans reading that trust in God – this faith – is the very foundation of our salvation and insists that this is no new development. From the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus the call to the world was always the same: Have faith in God. Trust this one. It is through this trust – not through legalism, works, or morality – that the sinner is credited with ‘righteousness’.
We are saved by nothing but a trusting, honest, open, and obedient relationship with God.
I love Paul’s assessment of Abraham’s faith: ‘he did not waver’. Anyone who knows the story of Abraham knows that this cannot translate into a faith that did not wonder how God was going to pull this promise off. Abraham had a son with Sarai’s maid. He suggested to God that Ishmael was a more realistic heir. He and Sarai laughed at the prospect of a newborn in their tent. Abraham certainly doubted. He certainly questioned. He certainly reasoned. He certainly struggled.
Yet Paul insists that Abraham’s faith ‘did not waver’. I can only make sense of this if true faith in God includes doubt, reasoning, struggle, and questioning. And it does. Such wondering and wrestling is surely a part of any relationship. Abraham is an example of faith because he stayed in the God-wrestle and kept listening, wondering, and trusting. Abraham – in all his doubt – remained in conversation with God. This ‘staying-in-relationship is the essence of faith.
And this is exactly what the disciples are doing as they – like us – make their way with Jesus to the events of Easter. They don’t understand all this talk of suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter represents the rest of the disciples as he voices his rebuke of Jesus’ apparently defeatist plan.
Yet even as they wonder, ask, rebuke, and doubt, they continue to listen, learn, trust, and follow. Theirs is a vulnerable and honest trust. It is faith.
And it will take even more faith if they are to hear that the very path they reject for Jesus is the path Jesus opens for them. There is a cross to bare for each disciple. Just like Jesus’ death and resurrection it will defy our earth-limited logic. All who attempt to avoid death will lose their life. The wonder: that in losing ourselves in following this crucified God we will find life.
Jesus is re-naming them: Cross-Carriers.
Jesus question to them is wonderfully perceptive: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ The ultimate answer: there is no profit. No gain. No, to use Paul’s language, ‘credit’.
Jesus speaks from a heart of love when he insists that it is the fool that gives his soul to anything but the God revealed in the crucified one.
Wonderfully, Jesus came into the world that we would be wise. As we learn from the humble creator of all we become wise and can let go of all that is passing and cling to that which is eternal. Jesus teaches us what matters and walks beside us as we learn the art of seeing and taking the wise path revealed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
And once again we are reminded that even as Jesus points to the path that leads through death to life he is taking it. The cross is not an abstract idea that Jesus imagined. It is the path of trust. It is the path of faith.
Once more Jesus is asking you to trust and follow – even as you struggle to understand.
May you find the courage to tread in his footsteps this Easter.