Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you
from the one who goes to great lengths to keep promises. Amen
The theme running through our readings for today
is that God keeps the promises God makes.
We know this,
we affirm it,
but sometimes, especially in the middle of hardship
it’s hard to trust this,
it’s hard to see anything other than what is right in front of us
and our prayers start to sound like our psalm for the day.
In the face of forces working actively against the psalmist they pray,
and their prayer alternates between statements of trust
almost as if making those statements will help the psalmist
believe that they are true
and acknowledging the reality of the present.
The psalmist starts off
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”
but behind these words we sense a reason to fear
and sure enough in the very next verse
the psalmist says “when evildoers close in against me”
and goes on to describe bad things that happen in life.
Back and forth the psalm goes,
calling on the Lord’s promises
and seeking reassurance
in the midst of times of trouble
I think we’ve all prayed something like this
where we alternate between
“I know you’re great God and have made these promises”
and in the next breath crying out
“help! Bad things are happening, right now!”
and both are true at the same time.
We need reassurance when the way gets tough,
we need to vent our frustrations and fears
after all of the emotions have been expressed
the psalmist settles on the last two verses
“This I believe--that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!”
And it’s true,
we do believe we will see the goodness of God,
and we catch glimpses of it
but that second part,
is oh so hard,
we’ve experienced that this past week
as we’ve waited and watched the waters rise
not knowing what the future will look like
for communities and families around the state,
and as much as we’ve wanted to do something,
at a certain point all that’s left to do is wait
we’re still waiting.
And the longer the wait the more assurance we need.
God keeps the promises God makes
but our time line and God’s don’t always line up
and so sometimes we question God,
and God responds with reassurance.
We see this in our first reading from Genesis
in the conversation between God and Abram
This scene is actually not the first conversation between the two
earlier when God led Abram from his home
God promised him land and descendants as numerous as grains of sand,
Abram has been faithful in his following of God thus far
but he’s getting older
and he’s not seeing the fruit of those promises,
So Abram questions God
yah you made those promises but what have you done for me lately?
looking for more details
in how this seemingly impossible promise will come true,
and God reassures him
pointing to the night sky and saying
“look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”
Then the pattern repeats itself.
God repeats the promise of land to Abram
and Abram questions God
“O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
and what follows
is possibly one of the stranger passages
that we hear on a regular basis,
specific animals being cut in two,
a smoking fire pot and flaming torch
passing through the animal pieces…
What are we to make of such a scene?
We know from research scholars have done on the ancient middle-east
that though it may have been terrifying for Abram
the actual ritual would have been familiar to him
for this was the ritual of covenant or contract making.
Minus the presence of lawyers and paper and pen
this was how contracts were made,
the ritual of walking through the dismembered animals
signified an important promise.
essentially saying, “if I fail to keep my promise, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals.”
God’s promise to Abram is so important
that God “considers an experience of suffering and death” (NIB 449)
in order to convey the seriousness of the promise.
God keeps the promises God makes
we have cause to know just how far God will go to keep a promise.
In our gospel reading for today
Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem
some Pharisees come
and tell him that he shouldn’t go
because it’s dangerous.
Jesus already knows that,
Jesus already knows what is going to happen
and Jesus knows what lengths God is willing to go to keep promises
all the way to death and back again.
Jesus is the promised messiah
the one the people have longed for, for so long
but true to God’s form
the fulfillment of the promise
is beyond human conception of what it will look like.
Jesus uses the image
of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings,
that is what he longs to do
and in a way will do in his outstretched arms on the cross
but the people,
expecting a hawk or an eagle
have not been willing to come under Jesus
the mother hen’s wings,
in fact like a hawk or eagle
they will attack the mother hen
as they have attacked previous prophets.
the city of God,
is a risky place to go if you are a messenger from God
but Jesus is willing to take those risks in order to keep the promises of God.
God made a promise to Abram,
Abram questioned God
and God reassured Abram
and Abram believed the Lord.
Abram’s faith was possible
because of God’s word and previous actions,
which had all been true and faithful.
At our baptisms
God made a promise to us
that we would always be God’s,
as Paul said in our second reading,
our citizenship would be in heaven.
And some days we question that promise,
we turn to God and say
‘you promised that your kingdom would come on earth as in heaven,
Jesus said the kingdom of God has come near
and yet there are still people who are hungry
and countries at war,
And terrorists who shoot people in their place of worship
and loved ones who die,
And rising flood waters
how can your promise come true God?’
and God comes to us,
at the table
Jesus comes to us
reassuring us with his own body and blood
the new covenant shed for us
for the forgiveness of sins
Any time we gather together,
break the bread, drink the wine
Jesus is present,
renewing the promise of abundant life everlasting,
strengthening us in the midst of the waiting
Reminding us that God has kept all of God’s promises
even to the point of dying on a cross
and rising on the third day.
The life of faith is risky.
Risky because though the promises are always kept
we don’t know the particulars,
risky because people expect hawks instead of mother hens to change the world.
Yet The life of faith is secure
because it is founded in the one who keeps their promises
and no matter how often we question
No matter what life throws at us,
God is reaching out
gathering us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks
To safely in the shadow of her wings. Amen
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God who is revealed in Jesus. Amen
I am one who loves words
I believe in the power of language
but I also realize that there are times
when actions speak louder than words,
despite the ability of words
to convey thoughts and feelings, intentions and regrets
so when I want to know about the character of a person,
I look at how they’ve acted
because actions reveal the un-nuanced truth of our lives,
they show just what we’re willing to do,
our priorities and yes even our weaknesses,
they reveal who we are.
The same goes for God.
Over the years,
God spoke a lot to the people,
God made promises,
entered into covenant agreements
and these were the foundation of the relationship
between the people and God,
but what built the relationship
was how God kept the promises,
giving Abraham and Sarah a son,
preserving the people through famine and sibling rivalry
and leading the people from slavery in Egypt into freedom
and eventually to the promised land.
And of course this relationship was a two way street,
sometimes the people kept up their end of the covenant
and sometimes, a lot of times they broke it
and in response
there were consequences
because that is what God promised would happen,
but there was also always a way forward in the relationship,
when the people repented,
realized the error of their ways,
said they were sorry and promised to do better in the future
God forgave them and the relationship continued.
Given a choice
God will always accept repentance and renewal of relationships
over punishment for a transgression,
and just how willing God is to do this
is born out in our human reaction to God’s willingness to forgive
“that’s not fair” we’ve cried throughout the ages
when God has forgiven the repentant
(and of course it’s always not fair when it is someone else, someone we don’t particularly like that God forgives, we tend not to protest God’s forgiveness of ourselves).
We hear this protest in our first reading from Ezekiel,
God is set on forgiving the people who broke the law
but now have turned away from their wickedness
and the other people cry “that’s not fair”
“What is fair?” God responds
“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God, Turn, then, and live”
Again and again throughout history
God chooses forgiveness,
God chooses life,
even when it doesn’t seem fair,
this is who God is, in both word and deed.
Is this how you think of God?
So often when we think of God
we get distracted by big words and ideas
that frankly originated with humans,
omnipotent- all powerful,
omnicient- all knowing,
and when we focus so much on these things
that other people have said about God
and we compare it with what is going on in our lives
it all seems so unfair,
we say with Mary at the tomb of her brother Lazarus,
‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died”
all the while overlooking the fact
that God is right in front of us,
in the form of God’s ultimate action and revelation, Jesus.
If we really want to know God,
what God wants for and from the world and us,
we look to Jesus.
God’s Word turned into action.
In his letter to the Philippians
Paul writes to build up the community
and encourage them to live out their faith,
as part of his encouragement
he quotes an ancient hymn,
describing the actions of God in Jesus,
actions that speak to the truth of who God is
far better than those big words that get thrown around
or any post that you’re supposed to forward on email or facebook.
The hymn goes:
“Christ Jesus. who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
are marked by solidarity and presence
in and with creation through
becoming one of us,
and humility- living in service to others
even to the point of death on the cross.
Our God is not one who is far removed from us
who dictates that future at whim,
our God is alongside us
suffers with us,
forgives us and finds a way forward
even when the future looks bleak
even as bleak as a cross and a tomb.
This is the God that Paul has shared with the Philippians,
and having reminded them of this
he turns their attention to their own lives,
their own actions which reveal their nature
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” he says
this is not to say that Paul expects the Philippians
to earn salvation through their actions,
rather the grace of God demands a response in kind,
inspired by the awe of being in the presence of God,
“for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
And that is awe inspiring,
God is at work in and through you and me,
what we do reveals who God is to other people,
people for whom it is not too late
because with God it is never too late for repentance,
for actions oriented toward God,
actions that are louder than the words we speak.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.