Year A — The Second Sunday in Lent

Commentary for March 20, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 12:1-4a

Lent is a season of journey; faithful followers of Jesus seek to walk a bit more solemnly and — hopefully — with a bit more sensitivity to the voice of God’s calling for our lives. 

Abram most likely goes down as the supreme example (other than Christ himself) of “call and response” in this area. The story as we have it is brief; we do not get the richness of detail that will come later with characters such as Jacob (who wrestled with God) or Moses (who argued with God.)

Abram, in some way which is not revealed to us, hears the call of God for his life: “Go…I will show you…and I will bless you.” That’s pretty much it. Not long on detail, this call from God.

And Abram went. Did he struggle with the implications of his decision? Did he put up a fight with God, offer any resistance, ask for more clarity or for magical signs? Again, we don’t know, and we generally assume that he did not. He simply packed up and went. 

This is an important part of our consideration of our own journey with Christ for Lent. First, how will we hear the voice of God? And, second, how will we respond? Dare we decide now…in advance…that when the voice of God calls us, we will simply go?

Psalm 121
Many of our “older” parishioners — perhaps experienced is a better term — carry the first verse of this magnificent psalm in their memories from the elegant King James Version: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Glorious language…unfortunate punctuation. It is not “the hills” that provide our source of help. It is the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth that does so. 

Lifting our eyes to the hills is a gesture of searching, of openness. Some might say that it is an act that bears a certain sense of desperation or weariness. “Oh, God, I don’t think I can take much more! Where are you? Can you help? Will you?!”

The reassuring good news is that the Lord will, indeed, bring help. God is not asleep on the job; God is there, above you, as a shade in the heat of the noonday sun (we appreciate that in Florida!)

Notice the calm, steady rhythm of the closing verses: “The Lord will keep your going out AND your coming in from this time on AND forevermore.” That pretty much covers it, I think!

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Now, we get a look at Abraham from the “flip side” — a thousand-plus years after his obedient response to God and subsequent journeys that laid the foundation for God’s work through the nation of Israel. 

Abraham is THE MAN for many nations and people of faith, just as God promised in those early days. Abraham has plenty of reason to boast, Paul reminds us. If anybody was ever righteous before God for what he had accomplished, it would be Abraham.

But, it wasn’t Abraham’s great works, or even his obedience that mattered. It was his faith. Of course, one might well argue (and other biblical writers do so, at considerable length) that Abraham’s faith was made visible by his “works.” Faith is not faith, some might say, until and unless it is demonstrated.

We won’t solve that issue in the course of this brief commentary, or in any number of sermons. However, the point remains: without faith, it is impossible to please God. Abraham had it; so should we.

John 3:1-17

John 3:16 is in the news again these days. This time, it’s not the guy with the multi-colored wig who appeared so regularly at NFL games and other major sporting events holding up his sign, or even Tim Tebow with the verse painted under his eyes as he prepares to do battle on the football gridiron.

It’s an evangelical preacher who wonders if maybe this verse actually means what it says, i.e., that God really, really, really LOVES the world…all of it! (You can check out one writer’s view of the brouhaha stirred up by Rob Bell here.)

Most people do not realize that the most-often quoted numerals in the Bible (they know the John 3:16 part, if not what it actually says!) comes from the longer discussion Jesus was having with Nicodemus. It’s a heckuva dialogue, I tell ya’, and I’ll leave you to sort out the exegetical issues associated with phrases like, “as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness,” and “you must be born again [from above.]”

But I think that no matter what your take on the “serpent/born again” language, the impact portion of this passage remains with the Big 1-6. Just what does it mean for God to love the world…all of it? (Check out your best Greek sources for kosmos; here‘s a quick reference if you’d like.)

Personally, I think Rob Bell may be on to something. Call me a big believer in the love of God.

I’ve been called worse.

Matthew 17:1-9

Please see commentary and sermon for March 6, 2011  

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Did you ever hear of a man named Harvey Pinick? A lot of golfers have. He wrote a best seller called Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. There’s an interesting story about that.

Harvey Pinick was born in 1905. He started his golf career caddying at the Austin, Texas Country Club. He pretty much stayed there his whole life, moving up to golf pro and teacher.

In the 1920’s, Harvey bought a Red spiral notebook and began jotting down teaching notes, humorous stories and homespun philosophy derived from teaching and playing golf with all sorts of people. He never intended to show the book to anyone, he was going to give it to his son, someday.

In 1991, when he was 86 years old, Harvey showed the book to a writer he knew and ask him if it was worth publishing. The man took it, read it, and told him yes. The writer called Harvey’s house one day and talked to Harvey’s wife. He left a message that Simon and Schuster had agreed to an advance of $90,000.

A week or so later the writer saw Harvey at the golf course. Harvey seemed nervous and upset. After hemming and hawing a while, Harvey spit out what was bothering him. With all his medical bills and his limited income, Harvey just couldn’t see any way he could come up with the 90 thousand to get the book published.

The writer stared at Harvey for a while and then burst out laughing. “Look Harvey, you don’t pay them, they pay YOU. You don’t give 90 thousand; you get 90 thousand.

Many of us are like Harvey Pinick. We think our relationship with God is about what we have to pay God, about what we can do to make God accept our work. 

But it’s really the other way around. God wants to give us the free gift of his Son, of his love. As our Gospel Lesson teaches us “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

We are pretty good at saying the right words about this relationship, we learned them in Sunday School or Confirmation Class, we hear them over and over in  sermons, we do know how to say the words:

Justification by Grace through Faith,
Justification by Grace through Faith.
It’s our mantra, our slogan, our holy chant, our rallying cry.

But do we believe it? Not so much with our heads and with our words, but deep in our hearts and in our souls and in our emotions? Do we know that God has saved us because God loves us? Do we know that it’s about what God has given us; not what we have given God?

It seems to me that all too often we have higher entry level standards than God. It is the basic human condition that in every area of life that time after time we seek to prove that we are good enough or smart enough or faithful enough or diligent enough or beautiful enough or holy enough to deserve the love we receive from God.

And the reality is that none of us is any of those things enough to have even earned the love of our parents or our children or our partners of our friends; much less earning and deserving the love of the Creator of the Universe.

The most important thing that can happen in any relationship is that you figure out that the other person just loves you. You didn’t earn that, it just happened, it’s a mystery. Parents love their children, children love their parents, husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends love each other just because they do.

The second most important thing that can happen in a relationship is that you figure out that love can die if it is abused or taken for granted. But, if love is embraced and nurtured, it will never die.

People do not earn each other’s love, they accept and receive and care for each other’s love and in that warm caring space, love grows stronger and more enduring.

The same is true of God’s love for us and our love for God. We do not earn God’s love. We do not merit God’s love.

We are not so lovely and good that God looks down upon the earth and says, “Oh look at that one! There’s a beautiful holy person, I’ll love her!” And none of us is so ugly and sinful that God says, “Look at that disgusting person, I’ll turn my back on him!”

God made all of us and God loves all of us. There is nothing we did to create that reality and there is nothing we can do to change it. God is love and God loves you and God loves me.

We did not create it and we cannot change it, but we can either live in God’s love or we can ignore it; we can choose to embrace God’s love or we can choose to abuse it by taking it for granted.

Our readings from Genesis and Romans refer to the story of the calling of Abram and Sarai; they were called to leave the land of their birth, Ur of the Chaldees and to go wherever God sends them.

The Bible says nothing about God seeing something special in these two people that made God pick them; God just did. We don’t know; Abram and Sarai may not have been God’s first choice. God may have been going around the Middle East calling people for years, but nobody else listened. Who knows; maybe Abram and Sarai were at the bottom of God’s list, not the top.

But, they were the ones who said yes to God’s call. They heard the promise of love and blessing and responded by placing their trust in God and following where they were led.

That’s what justification by grace through faith really means; hearing God’s call, feeling God’s love and embracing God’s grace and allowing our lives to be changed, altered by God’s very real presence in us.

I want to ask you something this morning. Have you allowed God to love you? Have you taken the time to sit quietly with your soul and look honestly at your life and then say to God, “This is me. This is who I am, this is what I’ve done and I know it’s not enough, but it is all I’ve got.”?

I’m not talking about the so-called sinner’s prayer, or “getting saved,” or any of that.

I’m talking about allowing God’s love to embrace you fully and completely.

I’m talking about putting aside any notions that you’re not good enough or complete enough or you don’t believe enough or do enough.

I’m talking about sitting still and looking at Jesus lifted up on the cross and realizing that the magnitude and completeness of God’s love for you is beyond belief or comprehension.

I’m talking about opening your heart to the love God has for you. Have you done it? Won’t you do it?

One thought on “Year A — The Second Sunday in Lent

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Second Sunday in Lent (March 16, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

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