Second Sunday in Lent Lectionary Reflection
February 24, 2013
Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.–Philippians 3.20-21
We live in fearful times. Television, print media, and electronic news sources report grim reminders that our world is a dangerous and unpredictable place. Natural disaster, systemic violence, domestic abuse, war, famine, and all manner of atrocities take place each day. Tales of economic and social woe fueled by pundits on both sides of the political fence raise anxiety levels. Finally, marketers incite fear and insecurity to encourage us to spend and buy material possessions which we really do not need and which cannot possibly heal our emotional wounds.
Fear is a perfectly natural emotion designed to help us recognize danger and respond appropriately, but this healthy emotion can turn into an unhealthy or even pathological response that leads to aggressive and inappropriate behaviors. According to James F. Mattil, managing editor of Flashpoints: Guide to World Conflict, “Whenever we ask why people hate, or why they are willing to kill or die for a cause, the answer is invariably fear.”
The antidote to fear is faith. For followers of Christ, faith is much more powerful than fear because, as Paul reminds the church at Philippi, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Yes, we live in this world, but this world does not have the final say over our lives and ultimate end. We do not, or at least we should not, find our meaning in material cravings, petty excesses, or worldly gain and fame. Because of Jesus the Christ and the never-ceasing love and grace of God, we have a future no one can rip away from or deprive us of (read Romans 8 if you need reminding again).
This same faith, because of its elusive character (Hebrews 11:1), can be hard to hold onto when the wiles and worries of the world surge in around us. For this very reason, we need to be reminded of our heritage, of our hope, and of the source of our help; reminders that are found readily in our faith communities and in our faith practices of prayer, worship, study, service, relationship, and generosity. We need to gather together for mutual edification and strength. We need to strengthen our faith muscles and practice sharing that which means so much to us. We are wired to gather and praise God together, to share Christ’s supper, and to find meaning and mission in our particular contexts.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Pharisees come to warn Jesus of Herod’s intent to kill him. Motivated by fear, these good people desired to help Jesus, yet the Son of God is focused on his mission and on God’s timetable rather than humankind’s illusion of mastery and control. Even though it may have been difficult for him to bear the rejection of so many beloved people, Jesus is on a mission and will not be deterred by any earthly forces.
So maybe, just maybe, this week is a time to address fear head on. You know the fears and pains that bind the people you serve. Perhaps they are political or economic, personal financial woes or health concerns. Perhaps folks are fearful about the state of Christianity–the decline of the Mainline and the rise of that new buzzword demographic the “nones.” Whatever the issue(s) on the table or lurking elephantine in the corner, you can be sure fear is pervasive, as well.
The good news is that we belong to God. We are citizens of various earthly nations, but our real home is found in the reign of God. Best of all, we don’t have to wait for that reign and look for some pie-in-the-sky rapture rupture of this earth and its principalities because the reign of God is happening right now before our eyes. We are called to be part of ushering in this reign, to put aside our fears, to turn our faces toward whatever Jerusalem lies ahead, and get on with mission and ministry as people of faith and disciples of Christ. Blessings on your fearless journey!
What hymns this week might echo a theme of fearless belonging to the reign of God? One of my favorites is “My Life Flow on in Endless Song” by Robert Lowry. Other possibilities are “Thy Holy Wings” or “Day by Day” by Carolina “Lina” Sandell Berg. Lina Berg’s own life story is a strong witness to faith in light personal adversity. You can read more about her here or here.
How about inviting youth to “rewrite” Psalm 27 for today? Encourage them and assist them in thinking through how these timeless words can be updated for their situation and context. How might they set their psalm to music? Who are the modern evildoers? What sorts of “armies” encamp against teenagers today? Pay particular attention to the “credo” in verse 13 and the admonition in verse 14. If the youth are willing, find a way to share the results of this creative writing activity.
Imitate to Grow in Faith
Use the simple game of Simon Says to talk about imitation. Even though the game is fun and silly, imitation can be an important learning tool. Poets, writer, musicians, and artists learn by imitating the style of artists they admire. We learn to dance by imitating steps that others show us. We learn to knit or crochet by watching others. In Philippians, Paul invites the followers of Christ in Philippi to imitate him to learn how to walk as a disciple of Christ.
Who can we imitate to grow as Christians? Children may mention parents, grandparents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, saints, etc. This is a good time to introduce basic discipleship principles (prayer, worship, study, service, relationship, and generosity) and challenge the children to find people to imitate in each of these five areas. You might even consider lifting up willing examples from the congregation. “If you really want to serve, follow Mrs. Jones’ example of knitting prayer shawls, or Mr. Baker’s example of coordinating work days at church.” Find one or more persons to fit each of the five discipleship principles if you can. This might also be a good time to have children “shadow” faithful servants as they help usher, prepare the altar, or carry the gifts forward.