Year B — The Second Sunday in Lent

Commentary for March 4, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
The idea of “covenant” continues from last week; God’s covenant with Noah symbolized life and hope — cessation from destruction. Now, God Almighty asks Abraham to walk before him and to exercise faith (“be blameless.”) Not to be perfect, really, because Abraham (like Noah before him and countless others after him) certainly has his moments of weakness. 

But it’s the intention that matters; Abram’s submission to God is shown as he “falls on his face” (recognizing the superiority of the other.) The covenant is one of blessing, of multiplied goodwill and prosperity. Abram is promised many descendants — and he knew as well as anyone that that is some promise to a 99-year old man!


This God is a God of awesome promises and spectacular fulfillment. Can God really be trusted to do what God says?


Psalm 22:23-31
God’s work is multi-generational. Always has been, always will be. God’s promises are to Jacob and his offspring, but God’s work is intended for the benefit of all nations (I love the phrase “all the families of the nations shall worship before him” in v.27.)

Notice that we are included in the psalmist’s invocation: “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.” (vv. 30-31) Pretty cool, huh?

Romans 4:13-25
The apostle goes right to the heart of the matter, recognizing that it must have been something of a struggle for Abram to believe that two old people like Sarai and himself could become parents — indeed, that he would truly become “the father of many nations.” But, Abram found a way to believe.

Abram “faithed” it out. It was definitely a process, as Paul notes that he “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” (v.20)  Nobody automatically starts strong in their faith. It has to grow on you. Or maybe in you, or all around you.

What ways can we “give glory to God” as we continue to grow stronger in our faith?

Mark 8:31-38
Nobody likes negative talk; Johnny Mercer knew that when he penned the lyrics to his hit song, “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative” in 1944. (It’s a catchy tune, and was purportedly based on a sermon he heard his priest preach in Savannah, Georgia. Listen to Mercer’s original version here.)

Peter tries to give Jesus some similar advice, but the Christ will have none of it. “Get behind me, Satan…” are not the words you hope to hear when you have a one-on-one conversation with Jesus.

The kingdom happens through denial and cross-bearing; it wasn’t a particularly popular message then, nor is it now. One finds one’s life by losing it. We still have a long way to go in figuring that one out, don’t we?

For Mark 9:2-9, see previous post for The Transfiguration of our Lord here.

Sermon
By the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In an old Reader’s Digest at the doctor’s office, I ran across this little story. A woman writes:

When my sister-in-law Ginny cooks she likes to substitute ingredients for those in the recipe. 
One time I gave her the recipe for a chicken-and-walnut dish that her husband, my brother, likes, and she served it one night when I was over.

In place of walnuts, she used raw peanuts. And for chicken, she substituted beef. In fact, every major ingredient had been replaced.

“This is terrible!” my brother said after one bite. Ginny glared across the table at me and said, “Don’t blame me! It’s your sister’s recipe!”

In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus tries to explain to his disciples what it means for him to be the Messiah and for them to be his followers. But Peter doesn’t like it. He wants to change the recipe, the formula, the instructions. All this suffering and dying business doesn’t fit his understanding of what a Messiah is, and it REALLY doesn’t fit his understanding of what he wants to do with his life in God’s service and Jesus’ footsteps.

Starting our Gospel lesson with verse 31 is a bit jarring; we begin in the middle of the story. It’s like walking into a party just as everyone gets deadly silent and a woman screams at her husband “That’s what you think!” and stomps off upstairs and locks herself in the bedroom. You’re left looking around at everyone asking, “What? What was that about?”

In order to understand this text, you really have to know what went before. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus asked his disciples: Who do people say that I am? And the disciples offered up John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the Prophets. Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers for them all when he says, “You are the Christ, the Messiah!”

This is where we come in; Jesus is explaining what it means for him to be the Christ, the Messiah. ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed . . .” Jesus went on to talk about being raised after three days, but Peter quit listening at the part about being killed. 

Peter’s brain screamed NOOOO! NOT Jesus, NOT the Messiah, NOT the Christ. That’s not the way the story goes; that’s not right; that’s not the formula for success, we’ve got to change that!

So Peter grabs Jesus and takes him aside for a little private conversation. Actually the Bible says Peter rebuked him; that’s a strong word. It means he fussed at Jesus for not being Holy enough, for not staying up there on the pedestal where Peter and the rest had put him and wanted him.

When Jesus yells “Get behind me Satan,” he is not yelling at Peter; he is yelling at Satan. This business of avoiding the cross is a real and terrifying and lifelong temptation for Jesus. This was Jesus’ lifelong spiritual battle.

In Luke’s version of this story, he says that Satan left Jesus alone until a more opportune time. Well this is it. This is a good time to get under Jesus’ skin with the temptation to power and privilege

Here Jesus is; surrounded by an adoring crowd that has begun to call him the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. He has struggled to maintain his humility by referring to himself as the Son of Man and by talking about suffering and rejection and death.

But Peter, his main man, tries to talk him out of it. Jesus recognizes the voice of Satan when he hears it. This is a moment of genuine temptation which must be resisted firmly: 
“GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!”

This battle continues all the way to the cross. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, how Jesus prays and drops of blood form on his brow and he cries out, “Not my will, but thine be done?”  That’s the moment Jesus finally puts Satan away, the moment he completely replaces his own will and desires with the will and desires of God the Father.

After pushing Satan away, Jesus gathers the whole crowd together to teach them, and us, what it means to be disciples of Christ, followers of Jesus.

One thing’s for sure; no one can accuse Jesus of false advertizing, of luring followers with hip music and entertaining video displays and cool, helpful sermonettes on 

Three Tips for a Happy Marriage or Ten Biblical Investment Strategies.

Jesus lays it out straight and unmistakable: “If any want to become ,y followers let them deny themselves, take up a cross and follow me.” Now, many of us, when we hear that recipe for being a Christian; that set of instructions for building a Christian life, we rebel. 

Not like Peter, with a straight out rebuke and argument with Jesus.  That, I think, would be more honorable than what we do. No, we’re more like “Ginny,” changing the recipe. 

Well, he couldn’t have meant for us to deny ourselves, not really. That’s just, well, that’s just un-American. We’re supposed to have the things we want because God loves us and will bless us. He must of meant that we should read the Bible carefully for all those wonderful promises about how we can be happier and richer and a more well-rounded and well-liked person.

And take up a cross? Surely not! Surely, he didn’t mean that we show give away our heard-earned money; that we should actually suffer for the good of others. Probably he meant that we should give a reasonable percentage of what we have, like the Lutherans, say 2 or 3 %. That’s probably what he meant. He was just exaggerating to get his point across, like my old gym teacher.

And follow him? Gee, I don’t think so. After all, Jesus ended up dead. I think he meant we should admire him, and worship him, and expect good things from him, especially when we’re in trouble; but follow him? I don’t know.

Yes, the change the recipe and then wonder why the Christian life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. GK Chesterton said that Christianity has NOT been tried and found wanting; Christianity has been tried and found difficult and then abandoned by most. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ; Jesus meant what he said. On March 20, 2000 PEOPLE magazine ran a story about Bennett Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Center, Texas. One day the pastor’s wife was praying and asking God “Why is my life so empty?” 

Soon thereafter she and her husband began taking the state classes to be foster parents, and soon the idea spread throughout the church. Bennett Chapel is a tiny church, made up of working class people making a living as loggers or down at the chicken plant or at the hardwood flooring company. 

They didn’t have much to start with. But they decided to use what they had to make a difference in the lives of hurt, abused and unwanted children. As of the year 2000, 17 families in the church had become foster parents to 43 children in just two years.

As I think about that story, I am always struck by two things;

First, these were just ordinary people, with ordinary incomes and ordinary lives who basically did not need another child around to feed and clothe and worry about. Yet, in response to the tug of God’s will, they laid aside their own wants and needs for the sake of another.

Second, a quote from the social worker that echoes our Gospel lesson’s conclusion.

Social worker: “They don’t view themselves as a blessing for the child. They view the child as their blessing.” 

Jesus: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.

Our calling today is to lose our lives into the life of Christ, to lose our wills in the will of God to give ourselves up totally and completely to the one who gave himself up for us upon the cross.

Amen and amen.

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