Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 25, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 2

Lent 2, 2024
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Psalm 22:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, you’ve heard me preach before.  You know that I am not a fan of bumper sticker theology.  As Will Durst once said, if it fits on the back of a Volkswagen, it’s probably not going to turn the world around.  For the most part, you should ignore what you see on people’s cars.  But there is one exception I think, and it’s the bumper sticker that says, “Let go and let God.”  That’s a good one for us as Christians.  Let go and let God.  I mean, not always of course; it doesn’t apply if you’re hanging by a rope over a canyon.  But when it comes to trusting in God, surrendering to God, letting God do what God does, it is the right approach.

And the reason I bring that up is because I think it kind of fits with the overall theme of today’s lessons.  We’ve got four absolute banger readings here this morning.  Each one could be a sermon in itself.  But let’s start with an interesting thing I learned this week . . .

In the first reading, from Genesis, God visits Abram for the fifth time.  God makes a covenant with Abram to be the father of many nations.  And as a sign of that covenant, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham.  This is the first time in scripture someone gets a new name.  But it’s not just any name.  Adding this “ha” sound to Abram’s name changes everything.  Because God is putting part of God’s own name into Abram’s name.  They are now fused into one.  And when you say the two names together (Abram and Abra-ham) you can see that it is the breath of God that gets added to his name.  This new name not only contains part of God’s name, but it now contains the literal breath of God.  And if Abraham is the father of many nations, then God’s breath—God’s spirit—is also spread out to many nations.  God is enlarging the circle.

And then the Psalm we read together continues this idea.  God “does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.”  No one is left behind, you see?  Enlarging the circle to include the ones we forget or ignore.

And there’s more: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.”  That’s everyone living now.  And, “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  That’s everyone who has died.  And,  "They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.”  That’s everyone who has not yet lived.  The biggest circle imaginable, those who were, those who are, and those who are not yet.  It’s literally everybody!

And then we come to Paul and his letter to the Romans.  I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Paul is doing a little reputational whitewashing when it comes to Abraham’s faithfulness.  Remember how Sarah and Abraham doubted God would provide, and so we got Ishmael, from Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar?  And both Sarah and Abraham laughed when God said she would conceive and bear a son.  Paul makes it sound like Abraham never doubted, never wavered, but that’s not true.  More importantly, even though Abraham doubted, God still came through.  God did as promised, and Sarah bore a son.  They let go and let God.

And that’s part of what bugs me about Paul’s reputational whitewashing.  Because by way of making his argument for faithfulness leading to righteousness, Paul gives all the credit to Abraham, when in fact all credit should go to God.  I get why he does it, but it undermines the more important point of surrendering to God.  Of letting go and letting God.

Anyway, the other point Paul makes here brings us back to the ever-widening circle.  He says that God’s promise rests on grace and is “guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”  By “adherents to the law,” he means his fellow Jews.  So Paul is saying, God’s promise extends beyond the chosen people, beyond just the Jews.  We’re back to the ever-widening circle of God’s grace to include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  One way to view it is, the only thing that keeps us from seeing this widening circle is our refusal to let go and let God.

And then we come to our fourth reading this morning, from the gospel of Mark.  This story comes up in Matthew as well as in Mark.  Jesus explains that he must suffer and die and be raised again from the dead.  And Peter tells him this must not happen.  And then Jesus says something like, Get behind me Satan, you are focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  So what does that mean?  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things?

It means different things for different people, I think.  But at it’s core, it is doing the opposite of the one bumper sticker I like.  You could say it is like saying, “Let go God, and let me.”  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  Jesus tells the disciples what must happen.  Tells them the only way that will lead to salvation for all humankind.  Explains that the circle can only include everyone if Jesus dies and rises from the dead.  And Peter says . . . no.  This must never happen.

The way things have to be is not acceptable to Peter, because he has a different plan.  And that plan is that Jesus will destroy the people outside the circle, not rescue them!  In Peter’s mind, Jesus has the wrong script you see?  To Peter, God has enemies.  And far be it from Jesus to save those people!  But the ever-widening circle of God’s grace will include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  And the only way to rescue the dead is for Jesus to go and get them.

If Peter had been in church last Sunday, he would have heard his own words in the Epistle reading when he says, Jesus “was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey . . .” 

In religious terms, this is called the “harrowing of hell,” . . . which would be a great name for a band.  The harrowing of hell is what Jesus was doing between Good Friday and Easter morning.  There are fantastic depictions of this scene in the Orthodox tradition, where Jesus is pulling Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah and everybody else up from their graves.  In order to go and rescue those people, in order to widen the circle to include everybody, Jesus has to die.

But Peter says, no.  This must never happen Jesus.  You need to stay here with us!  You can’t die, just to save those other people.  And Jesus says, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  You want to stay here and be comfortable.  You want me to write off those who have gone before.  Peter wants Jesus to ignore what we heard in today’s Psalm:  “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  Those who have died are included in this widening circle, and Jesus has to go down and get them.  To say no to that . . . well, that’s satan talking.

And maybe that right there is the lesson for us.  Over and over, the disciples are presented with the option to stay where things are comfortable, like on the mountain at the Transfiguration.  Wouldn’t it be great to just stay right here where we are Jesus?  Just you and us, being comfortable and secure and not having to think about those other people?  And over and over Jesus says, no.  This circle needs to be bigger!  Who else can I find?  Who else can I save?  How can I make this the day where everybody lives?!?

And that’s where you and I can think in practical terms, bring it down to how we live in this world that God loves so much.  When we find ourselves thinking something like that, where we hear a voice in our head saying God has redeemed enough people already, set enough captives free, made the circle big enough already . . . well, that’s the voice of satan talking.  The voice of smallness.  The voice that refuses to let go and let God.  Let God do everything God has planned to do from the beginning of time.  Redeem it all!  Redeem them all!  Save every single person that God loves and treasures and calls beloved.

There is room for everybody.  Don’t let satan tell you there isn’t room.  Because God has drawn an infinite circle of salvation, which includes you and me, and everyone who was, and is, and is yet to come.  This circle is meant for everybody.  The circle includes everybody.  Thanks be to God!


No comments:

Post a Comment