The Lectionary readings for March 4, 2012 are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38.
In the Old Testament reading, 99 year old Abram gets a visit from God and much, much more. God appears with a covenant in hand: "...this will be my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you...an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you..." Then, God has a word for Sarai. She, too, gets a new name and so much more: "...[Y]ou shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her."
God comes calling and in the twinkling of an eye, Abraham and Sarah come away with new names and a new purpose that will set them on a path they could never have imagined. God's like that--always guiding us along new paths, into new territories. Sometimes we go quietly and obediently, but so often that is not the case. So often, let's be honest, we go kicking and screaming.
Thus far, how is your Lenten journey? Now, be honest. Are you going gently along the path of self-reflection and denial or is there a bit of kicking and screaming going on? Today during our pastor's Lectionary group meeting, I felt an urge to kick and scream. Allow me to explain. (I will be quick about it before you make some dreadful assumptions about the pastor:) Part of the process for us during our group time is to meditate on the gospel reading using the ancient practice of lectio divina. We read the passage through three times, and after each reading we sit quietly, listening for the Spirit to speak to us. A time of sharing follows each individual reading. Often we put ourselves in the story during the reading to imagine, "How do I hear this as a passerby?" or something along those lines. The instruction prior to the final reading of Mark 8:31-38 today was as follows: "Listen as one who is walking the path of Jesus on the Lenten journey."
I listened. Truly, I did. But I couldn't get past verse 31: "Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Later in the reading, Jesus tells his disciples and those gathered around, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Jesus invites us to follow him; follow the path he took. But when I heard verse 31, I wasn't so sure that was a good idea. Everything in me screamed, "But I don't WANT to suffer; I don't WANT to be rejected; I don't WANT to be killed EVEN if I do get to rise in three days."
Oh how readily we see the things of God through the eyes of the world. It's what Peter does. Just a couple of verses before this, Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. But, here, Jesus speaks plainly about what is to happen and Peter takes him aside to rebuke him. Peter may be able to SAY, "You are the Messiah," but LIVING that truth is a much different thing. What kind of Messiah does Peter have in mind? Surely not one that will suffer and be rejected and die, bringing shame to everyone who follows him by dying on a cross, of all things. Peter sees Jesus in such a limited way. Don't we all? How can we grasp this upside-down Jesus who won't let us journey along our comfy, cozy path? No, Jesus will always call us to a deeper life; a life that may well be dangerous and wholly "other," a life that will surely cost us something.
Here are a few questions/comments to consider as you prepare for worship:
- The Abraham and Sarah story tells of a covenant made by God. Is committing to follow Jesus in the way Jesus directs a covenant as well? What might the cost be?
- Consider the words of Martin Luther: "A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing."
- In Jesus' day, the cross was a scandal. When you think of a cross today, how do you imagine it?
I pray that you are finding time each day to reflect on Jesus' path all the way to the cross. With each step you take this Lent, I pray that you will hold this truth in your heart: the journey through Lent leads to our Resurrection Hope!
I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.