Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday in Lent, Year B
February 25, 2018
Lessons: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand that following God means letting go of preconceived notions and walking (or falling on one’s face) by faith.
Key Scripture: When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Genesis 17:1-2
Imagine that you are Abram in this Sunday’s story from Genesis. God shows up and asks you to start walking and be blameless. That’s one tall order by any account! But that’s not all: You hear God’s intention to cut a covenant between the two of you and make your offspring prolific. Remember, Abram is no spring chicken at age 99, and neither is his wife, Sarai. Abram’s response is to fall on his face before God. What would you do? I believe I’d be nose in the dirt, too – and speechless.
Not only does God announce a covenant and a prodigal future of blessing upon blessing for this barren couple, God also renames them. Big changes are a-coming for Mr. and Mrs. A. We know the rest of the story and how Abraham’s lineage did indeed contain kings and the King of kings, Jesus. It wasn’t a straight, wide, and glorious path, either. God’s people have a predictable habit of making mistakes and messing up, but God is ever faithful, even to this day. Writing in this week’s epistle lesson from Romans, Paul recounts the story of Abraham’s blessing and his faith in God’s promise and how this faith, thanks to Jesus, extends to generation after generation.
Following God is not a promise of a stroll in the park. Jesus makes that pretty clear in this week’s gospel lesson. The way of Jesus involves suffering, picking up one’s cross, and losing one’s life. Whether the losing of life means dying to all the glitz and ritz that this world offers, or to one’s own ideas about control and meaning, or the more unlikely possibility of quite literally dying for one’s faith, what we know is that following Jesus means giving it all up. The “giving up” is not for naught, however. We release our claim to the life we imagine so that Jesus can lead us into the real life that we cannot imagine—and this makes all the difference.
Jesus’ disciples couldn’t imagine a Messiah who would fail to disrupt the oppressive rule under which they were living. Peter was even bold enough to try to correct Jesus, and we know that didn’t go over very well. I have a lot of empathy for Peter. He was longing for a new rule, but he couldn’t fathom Jesus’ radical release and life-giving peace that would lead to the salvation of the world. Even today such visions can be comprehended, even partially, only in the rear-view mirror of our lives and experience.
The terrifyingly good news infused through this week’s lessons is simply that God breaks in, usually when we least expect it, and invites us to live and love and walk in ways we wouldn’t imagine or choose on our own. The proper response may be to fall on our faces before the living God of all creation, but we don’t get to remain in that posture. We are called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, blameless because of our Lord, taking up our own cross in this world for the sake of the good news and for the healing of this beautiful, broken, yet beloved world. Such loss, we are promised, leads to eternal gain. So get up, my friends, and walk with Jesus. Trust and see what God will do.
How about inviting worshipers to join you in leaving your Sunday service for a prayer walk in your community? If you have a lightweight processional cross take it with you. See your community through Jesus’ eyes of love and hope. New ministry and mission might appear right around the corner. You might also consider singing “I want Jesus to walk with me” as your sending hymn this week.
Feeling creative? Put together a team—perhaps working with your youth—to create your own Stations of the Cross walk for Holy Week. Check out this example!
Youth may want to talk about the recent school shooting in Florida. They may wonder where God is in the midst of all of this. Some youth may have even been evacuated or had school cancelled because of threats of violence this week. In fact, more than 20 copycat threats have been made and a dozen people arrested. Tensions are high, and there is disagreement about how to respond. Give students safe space to talk and process the situation. Involve other adults in the congregation if possible, especially if you have someone in law enforcement, counseling, education, or who has trauma-informed care experience. Help youth create an interactive prayer station of lament and hope that can be used by the entire congregation during the coming weeks.
Losing to Win
Invite the children to tell you whether it is better come in first place or last place, to lose or to win. Some of them will have watched the Winter Olympics and will have seen people win and lose. Then tell them that Jesus wants us to be losers—to lose our life (in other words to let go of all of the things and ideas and activities that threaten to separate us from Jesus) in order to save our life. Sounds pretty mixed up, right? We have to lose to win? But that’s the way Jesus does things—inside out, and upside down from the way the rest of the world thinks. Instead of fancy trophies and medals, Jesus tells us pick up our cross and follow him. The cross reminds us that Jesus does things in ways that the world doesn’t understand. Through the cross he saved us and made us winners for all eternity. If you are able, give each child a wooden cross necklace to remind them to be a loser for Jesus in order to win real life. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Letting go to follow Jesus is an important part of good stewardship. We learn to hold lightly to things in this life, trusting that by being willing to let go, the God of abundance will not abandon us but rather give us real and lasting life.
Stewardship at Home
This week create an interactive cross prayer board at home. You will need an inexpensive canvas board and acrylic paints of various colors. (Note: You might also choose to use good quality paper and colored ink pads.) You will also need hand wipes. Draw and outline of a cross on the canvas or paper. Then, during the week, every time you offer a prayer for any purpose, stop and make a fingerprint on the cross. You can color-code the prayers if you like (for the church, the world, creation, for health and healing, for your congregation and community, etc.). By the end of the week you should have a beautiful and colorful visual reminder of the power of prayer—of giving up moments of your life to love God and neighbor. What else might you consider giving up this week to better serve God and neighbor?
Photos: Loco Steve and Brett Streutker, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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