2nd Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
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When has your faith been tested beyond what you thought it could bear? Or maybe the question should be when has your faith been the only thing that sustained you when you thought you couldn’t bear what was happening in your life? No matter how blessed we have been in our family, our work, our relationships, we have all experienced brokenness and pain. I’m not just talking about doing the right thing, I am talking about how the world can hurt us. And sometimes the difference between what we expect because we are faithful and do the right things and how events happen in our lives and in our world is what hurts the most.
Consider Abram, our forefather in the faith. God had promised him that his descendants would be more than the stars in the sky, more than the grains of sand under his feet, but here he is at 99 and still childless. Sarai, his wife is way past the time of childbearing. But, the storyteller of Genesis tells us, “Abram believed the Lord, who credited to him as righteousness.” God goes so far as to give Abram and Sarai new names, as a sign of God’s promise. Abraham means father of many nations.
We know that Abraham and Sarah did have a child – at the ridiculous age of 100. It didn’t seem like much, but it was enough to start a whole line of Children of Israel, Abraham’s grandson, who did take over the land and populate it with believers in the Living God, the Most High. It was Abraham’s trust that God could make a way when there seemed to be no way that made him our ancestor in the faith.
So too with Jesus. We can argue forever about what Jesus knew or didn’t know about where his ministry was going when he started out. But it becomes clear early on that preaching about God’s mercy and inclusion flew in the face of the Church of his time. The religious authorities were all about the rules and who was in and who was out; who you could eat with and who had to be shunned if you were faithful to your faith. The Church that awaited the Messiah was looking for a power player to free them from the Roman occupation and rule like David had in the good old days. Jesus is quite clear that his ministry will take a different turn, but that his death will not be the end of the story. Jesus prediction is more than Peter can bear. But Jesus makes it clear that true followers of God’s love will always be striving against the world around them.
This is the way that the Gospel is political. We see Jesus feeding thousands of people at a time, rich or poor, he doesn’t care, he feeds them because they are hungry. We see Jesus dispense free health care to people who are deranged, dangerously diseased, untouchable, just because they want to be healed. We see Jesus call out village men who have a right to stone a prostitute, and lift up a poor widow’s contribution to the temple because she is more faithful than those who gave much more. We see Jesus accuse the Church of heartlessness when it makes life harder for those who need the most compassion. Jesus’ way is not the world’s way of deciding who is worthwhile. Jesus’ way of using power is not the world’s way of exercising power.
It all comes down to trust. Faith is not just believing the right things and repeating them back when we are put on the spot. It is not opening our brains and letting ‘proper theology’ flow into them. Faith is trust that God’s way is the way that will carry us through the darkest times of our life and bring us out again into the light of life. Faith is trust that we are never alone in our suffering or our fear, but that God is present with us in our hearts and in the faith community that surrounds us. It is trust that God’s promises to us are real and true, evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus, the final proof that God’s love is stronger than death.
I am not always sure what it means to take up your cross. Maybe it is not meant to be so specific that we cannot each find in it hope for our own heartbreaks and collapses. Abram became Abraham because he trusted that God’s promise was enough to change everything he knew about how life works. Jesus became the Christ, the Messiah, because he trusted that God’s promise was enough even in the face of the brutal death that awaited him. I have never felt that God has given me a name beyond the name my parents gave me – maybe I haven’t faced a big enough crisis yet. But I’ll tell you what – every time I have faced heartbreak or disaster or suffering with trust that God is still at work to bring about beautiful in my life, I have become more certain that God’s promises to me are the truest thing about me. I have come to trust God’s promise that I will never be alone, and that I am living into the name given to me in God’s covenant with me: Beloved Child. Amen.