Vatican artwork

Of Saints and Sinners

By Sharron R. Blezard, February 28, 2012

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent

March 4, 2012

Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. – Romans 4:23-25

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:35

“Why do Christians revere Abraham, Moses, Peter and other biblical figures so highly?” asked Donna, a faithful participant in our Bible study group. “Some of the most famous characters in the Bible don’t even seem very nice, and they did some pretty awful things.”

Donna asked a fundamental and important question, one that deserves a thoughtful answer. It is entirely too easy to accept and assume and gloss over why we do things the way we do as Christians. It is a useful practice to periodically unpack our historical, critical, and faith baggage in order to remember and understand. If we don’t do so, how can we explain the faith we hold to seekers and newcomers? Why would any rational 21st century person think it is acceptable to hold up as examples of faith a motley cast of murderers, adulterers, polygamists, tricksters, liars, and participants in systems that oppress and endanger women, children, and vulnerable elders? No wonder a lot of folks think we’re an odd lot.

In the rhythms and patterns of our discipleship walks, most of us have come to accept that this is just the way things are in this “faith thing” we claim and in which we participate to varying degrees. “Texts of terror” and unsavory stories found in scripture are sanitized for Sunday school, edited for the lectionary, or completely obscured in unturned pages of holy writ. It is, after all, much easier to ignore or gloss over those stories we do not quite understand or wish were not part of our canon.

Behind Donna’s insightful question lies the pesky, persistent human assumption that works define the person. This mighty mental struggle continues to plague our thought patterns (and even our faith walks) despite the admonitions of Paul, Luther, and even Jesus himself. It is through our faith by grace alone that salvation happens – God’s work, not our log of good deeds or pitiful penance for the wrongs we so easily commit.

The epistle lesson for this week points out that Abraham, one of the most revered and important patriarchs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, did not receive God’s promise to make him the father of many nations through the law or his own goodness and works, but rather through his faith. Father Abraham believed that God is able to accomplish that which God promises. Sure, Abraham was imperfect and sinful, but he also knew exactly where to place his faith and trust, and that made all the difference. It continues to make a difference for us today, as we look to him not as a picture of perfection but rather as an example of lived faith.

Along the same lines, Peter, in the lesson from Mark’s gospel finds himself rebuked strongly by Jesus. The problem is a variation on the “letting one’s fallen humanness get in the way” theme. Peter has all the right motivations, but still misses the point. He wants Jesus to conform to his notion of what the Messiah should look like and how he should act. Peter had great faith, but he still had trouble understanding and aligning his will to Jesus’ way. Even so, Jesus called him “rock” and used him in a powerful way to further the reign of God on earth.

Sometimes the distinction between gratitude, honor, and idolatry wears thin, yet the Decalogue makes it clear that only God deserves our complete devotion. We look to the faithful example of those who point the way to God and who illumine the grace and steadfast love of Jesus, not to the faithful themselves.

No, these saints of God were not perfect people; in fact, like Donna observed, they could be real stinkers. But then so can we. None of us are perfect. We are, as Martin Luther observed, “Simul Justus et Peccator,” or “righteous and at the same time a sinner.” That goes for all who have, do, or will draw breath and seek to follow God. It is good to give thanks for the saints who have gone before us as persevere in the present age. In their lives we catch glimpses of hope that we, too, are heirs of the promises of God.

Visual

Check out this 20/20 interview with Sister Delores Hart if you are studying or addressing the gospel in your worship and Christian education time this week. If you addressing what it means to take up one’s cross, check out this YouTube video of “Walk with Me, Lord” sung by Denny Denson on Michael Card’s The Hidden Face of God album.

With Youth

What does it mean to deny yourself in our culture? Moreover, what is taking up one’s cross? What examples might you offer. Consider the Academy-award-nominated documentary short film, God is Bigger than Elvis, that is set to air on HBO later this year. The story is about Mother Delores Hart, a former actress who chose the cloistered life over her career. Click here for a story posted on ABC’s 20/20 website and here for the video interview from 20/20.

With Children

Use the lesson from Genesis to talk about the importance of names. Many websites offer information about the origin and meaning of names. Click here or here for more information about names and their origins. Ask the children if they know how their names. If they don’t ask their parents to tell how and why they chose their names. Take them to the baptismal font and talk about their new identity given in baptism. Assure them of God’s love and promises. You will want to modify the depth of your comments to suit the ages of the children with whom you work.

Photos by Oggie Dog, Seetheholyland.net, and amandabhslater used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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