Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Fisherman's Net for Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
The Lessons for Sunday:
Genesis: Of promises and darkness, Abram receives the greater share. This passage from Genesis is a major nexus in the life of the man who will be called the Father of Nations. He is an old, dispossessed wanderer who is childless. All he has, and any name he makes for himself, will pass with him when he dies. The only person he can call "heir" is his senior servant, Eliezar. They are not even of the same people. And yet, God promises Abram that he will be great. He tells him to look to the sky, to count the stars in their constellations. Abram's children, and their children's children will outnumber those stars. Moreover, God is going to forge a Covenant with Abram. They will be linked to each other. Abram's fate is now and forever bound up in God's will and purpose.
The interesting thing is that this Covenant is forged in blood, and fire. It is cast and set in the night watches. It happens on a night that Abram recalls as being dark and terrifying. Why? Because more often than not, the great and holy does not come to us as a pleasant thing, a beautiful moment set in soft focus. The holy takes us to the edge of ourselves, and shows us how God is always actively forging God's purpose in, and with, our lives. Getting caught up in God SHOULD be awesome, and sometimes awe-full; and that's OK. The challenge is to embrace it as Abram did, with courage and a faith that God will reckon as righteousness.
Paul tells the Philippians that they should be imitators of in the practice he and his party of apostles are attempting to model on their missionary journeys. There is a "sweet spot" wherein the follower of Jesus finds him, and thus finds his life in the glory of the Cross of Christ. The challenge is when we forget to hold that Cross up before us, when we forget that the victory of God was not forged by human will or desire, but through the transformation of ravaging defeat into resurrection. There is no such thing as a "Gospel of Success." We are not, and never will be, superior to anyone else because we express faith in Jesus. There is no club membership that lets us in while keeping the unwashed out. Our place is where Jesus lived, among those who have been rejected by the membership committee. Our challenge is to frame every earthly victory and success as another, grace-filled moment to rejoice in the Cross, the redemption of the Christ.
God in Christ loves to remind us that when all seems lost, when defeat looms large around us is the very moment when we are reminded that it is not in our time that God's will and purpose are accomplished. We are on God's clock. Herod wants to kill Jesus. Herod was very, very good at getting rid of his enemies. Herod's power was founded on the good will of Rome and his skill at undoing anyone who challenged his claim to authority. Jesus, in this passage, not only reminds us that his authority is not of this world (and thus offering Herod a worthy and assailable opponent); but instead his call is for the restoration of a just kingdom that is from eternity, has been broken since time began and is God's primary focus with the intent to redeem. Jerusalem! She kills the prophets and rejects the anointed, and yet is beloved of God!
Fear is a terrible thing, and it inspires people to do terrible things to each other. The Psalmist knows this only too well, and knows the part played by every human being in the tragedies and dramas the flow from intrigue, guile and fear. Who is to save? God is the deliverer. There is no higher authority. For that, we give thanks...and for that we also strive to offer repentance and recompense for when we or others fall short of that glory. Which happens to be always.
How It All Links Up:
God is less concerned, I am convinced, with our abilities and success as God is focused on our redemption and deliverance from alienation from our Creator. God's abject desire that we should turn and be saved has been from everlasting, and for just as long we have stumbled along trying to find our way "home" to God. The funny thing is that we ARE home in God. The promise to Abram bears witness to that covenant securing God's steadfastness in our lives. The command of Paul challenges us to deepen our life in Christ with a practice of imitation: "Be like us, as we strive to follow Jesus." Jesus himself reminds us that we are not lost, even when we REALLY screw it all up.
Lent is a season wherein we take stock of how our walk with God is going. For some, it is a moment of perspective that they should "keep on doing" those things that foster a close walk with God. For some, it means finding a real bottom, that point where life without God is no longer bearable or sustainable. For most of us, it means pausing to reset and re-prioritize our practice. We let go of the distractions and embrace a deeper clarity of vision.
Just be ready, and understand that when God does indeed (inevitably) show up, it often begins the struggle, the dark night of the soul...and from that dark place we eventually emerge into a new life in relationship to our risen Lord.