FEB 21, 2016, SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

PERSEVERANCE IN THE WAY OF JESUS

A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin

Lections: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Ps 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13: 31-35

 

We are strengthened in Lent, by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to persevere in the way of Jesus, and we are called to enlarge our hearts by expanding our sense of community and fellowship. Let me begin today by offering a help for one way we can answer this call, through almsgiving.

When we want to expand our giving in the world, we immediately come up against a problem: we are in unfamiliar territory.  Last week I did some research on the internet, deciding what organizations I wanted to donate to.  Charity Navigator is very helpful:  this organization has a website that guides you through the process of comparing different charities and identifying which ones you think are worthy of support: https://www.charitynavigator.org.  I was able to find and make donations to three charities on the website: American Refugee Committee, United Methodist Committee on Relief, and World Relief. Another helpful organization I found is JustGivinghttps://home.justgiving.com.  I was able to make a donation to a fourth charity on this website: The Emergency Appeal for Iraqi Refugees, which I wasn’t able to find on Charity Navigator. I pray that my contribution to these efforts on all our behalf will help reduce pain and suffering in human lives.

Let us, then, begin our reflection on this Second Sunday of Lent by considering how the Collect we prayed this morning gathers the thought running through today’s worship: 

Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

First, we confess, “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves;” that is, our strength is limited, we cannot rely on ourselves alone, we are dependent on God’s grace for all we need. More so, we are assured of God’s grace, because of the covenants he has established with us.  In the Gen reading from Chapter 15, we hear about the covenant God makes with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” God establishes a covenant with Abram to make him a “father of many nations.” This covenant, and all the other covenants God makes in Biblical history, extends to us today:  as members of his church, we bear the promise and obligations of God’s covenants with Israel.

Second, we petition God to “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls;” because God himself has said, “I am your shield.” John Wesley comments, “The consideration of this, that God himself is, a shield to his people, to secure them from all destructive evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing fears.”

Third, we acknowledge our need, “that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”  In our example of Abram, adversity happens first to the body: he remains childless, with no one who is his own flesh and blood to inherit his estate. God answers by saying, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – So shall your offspring be.” Abram is then faced with the adversity of “evil thoughts” which would hurt the soul through disbelief, that is, not trusting the word of God. But “Abram believed the Lord” and God “credited it to him as righteousness,” even as Abram understood the righteousness of God. In this vision from Genesis, we have an abiding example of how to trust God for those things which we dare not hope for of ourselves.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” sings the Psalmist, “whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

In moments of vision, boundaries dissolve.  Our prayer for defense against “evil thoughts” that “hurt the soul” reminds us that the road to Jerusalem will lead us into a new reality. The sense of Lent will leave us displaced, for as the Psalmist goes on to say, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.”  The reading from Luke gives us to understand that this is not to be the temple in Jerusalem.  Rather, we anticipate a New Jerusalem, where God tabernacles in the hearts of his people.

The immediate cause of our displacement is the killing of Jesus, in the Jerusalem of old, where all the prophets have been killed.  Our Lord is urged to flee, and save his life, but he is resolute.  Jesus laments over the people who he has longed to gather, “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” and he resigns himself to their unwillingness to follow in the way of righteousness.  The consequences are grievous unto him, and Jesus utters his great sadness: “Look,” he says, “your house is left to you desolate.”  For, as Paul will later write to the Philippians, “Many live as enemies of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame.  Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.”

We draw today this lesson from perseverance in the way of Jesus:  we are not to regard a person’s worldly citizenship of any account, for our hearts are to be conformed with the belief that God credits to us as righteousness.   When we live righteously, our righteousness is evident to the whole world, but the world will give us nothing for it.  The Bishop of Rome can visit the most impoverished neighborhoods on our continent.  The Bishop of Rome can weep over the border dividing the poorest and richest people of the world, and as a prophet he can call to mind the words of the Apostle Paul: “By their fruits, you shall know them.”  And the godless will retort, “How dare you.”

Brothers and sisters, the gift of grace Christ gives us comes with the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. When we walk with Jesus, in the shadow of the cross, we are on the way of what Tolkien called the long defeat.  Our resistance does not overcome the principalities and powers of evil, but this does not mean we give up.  God will grant us the strength of perseverance, for the Lord is our “very great reward.” And as his death tramples down death by death, so will his glory turn the long defeat into everlasting victory.

The final statement Jesus makes this Sunday is striking: “I tell you,” he says, to the people of Jerusalem, “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” This quote from Psalm 118 reminds us that the promise of Easter is eschatological.  Luke leaves us today with a foreshadowing of the Second Coming, when Jesus returns to earth, and when he will be recognized as the Messiah. Here is the practical implication: in all that we do, we should trust in the Lord, and we will be heirs of his Kingdom.

In the antiphon of the Introit for this day, which comes from Psalm 25, the church lays claim to this reward:

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not let my enemies exult over me. God of Israel, deliver us out of all our troubles.”

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame.”

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, world without end.  Amen.”

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have  been from of old. Do not let my enemies exult over me. God of Israel, deliver us out of all our troubles.”

May God continue to add his blessing to our Lent.  Amen.

 

 

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