Reading Ramblings – February 28, 2021

Date: Second Sunday in Lent ~ February 28, 2021

Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38

Context: Lent emphasizes repentance as a result of self-examination. Our awareness of our sinfulness drives us to repentance and reliance on the grace of God in Jesus Christ rather than our own assessment of ourselves as somehow worthy or deserving of God’s good graces. The readings emphasize the unilateral movement of God towards us, rather than what is often described in certain Christian circles as a bilateral movement – if we do this, God will do that. Scripture makes it clear we bring nothing to the arrangement. We can only respond to what God does for us.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – Another reading from Genesis grounds our human condition and God’s solution to our sinful rebellion in the oldest stories of God’s interactions with his people. Abram is 99 years old and still does not have the heir God promised him. It should be clear that, literally, Abram does not have it in him, and neither does his wife. Nor would anyone expect them to! The emphasis is that God will do what God has promised. This comes directly after Abram and Sarai attempting to fulfill God’s promises by their own mechanisms (Genesis 16). What looks nominally as success is not the same as God fulfilling his promise to them. Rather than chastising or punishing Abram and Sarai, God renews his pledge to them, signifying this by renaming them, something only the head of a family or clan could do. God is to be the head of Abraham and Sarah and they are to trust and obey him as they would their earthly father. In return God does for them what no earthly father could do – provide them a family despite their advanced ages.

Psalm 22:23-31 – Jesus quotes from the opening of this psalm as He hangs near death on the cross on Good Friday. But the portion we read this morning is profoundly different. The speaker is no longer afflicted, forsaken, and seemingly beyond all rescue. All the pressures of time and space in the opening 2/3 of the psalm are now gone. The speaker now praises God at leisure, enjoining the congregation of the faithful to join him (v.25). He testifies to the goodness of God, standing on the other side of his tribulations and trials. This transition began in v.21b, but comes to fullness through the end of the psalm. Assurance is made that all of creation will one day witness what the speaker now affirms. All will one day worship God, ascribing to him his proper due as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all the faithful. This we are called to remember and proclaim in Lent as well as at all times. Our suffering and sinfulness are not the final words in our lives. We anticipate life and victory! We anticipate perfection and the end of all suffering! It is our duty and opportunity to proclaim this here and now, when the victory is far from obvious to so many. Our faithfulness will act as a pointer to the presence and goodness of our victorious God until the day He is revealed in fullness.

Romans 5:1-11 – Our culture deems suffering of any kind to be an evil avoided at all cost, whether through terminating unwanted life on either end of the age spectrum, or by attempting to prevent any word that could conceivably hurt or offend someone. This is testimony to the reality that suffering shouldn’t exist in creation but does. Good efforts to completely eliminate suffering inevitably result in other forms of suffering sometimes far greater than the initial suffering addressed. Christians might seek to avoid or inflict suffering but it is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable – or intuitive – is the Biblical principle that even in suffering God is at work. Therefore Christians suffer as no other people on earth. With hope – not just for the end of suffering, but that even in the midst of suffering God the Holy Spirit is present and active. Our suffering can have meaning and purpose because of the work of God the Father through God the Son, Jesus the Christ, who suffered and died and rose from death in victory, assuring us that suffering and death are not the last words in our lives, and that hope is therefore always present and will not disappoint us!

Mark 8:27-38 – Peter has the right answer but the wrong understanding. He knows the words to say but doesn’t understand what those words mean. His faith is real despite it being misguided. Peter is rebuked but not excommunicated. Knowledge can be increased. Wisdom can be received. Error can be corrected. Jesus’ rebuke is intended to bring Peter back into line and his proper place as disciple rather than lord.

Jesus outlines a path by which He offers himself for the life of the world. This makes no sense and Peter recognizes this. But the glory of God the Son is made most manifest in his willngness to divest himself of his glory that He might offer himself in our place to suffering and death. It is by refusing to do things the expected way, the simpler way, that He accomplishes the greatest and most lasting of things – victory over our enemy Satan and the sin that riddles our life and leads us towards death. We are saved, but that saving is entirely due to the actions of God the Father through God the Son on our behalf, which we are brought to faith and trust in by God the Holy Spirit. We are passive recipients of the eternal goodness and mercy of God. It as though we are plucked unconscious from the ocean and saved from certain drowning. Even if we come to our senses in the midst of our rescue, our well-being depends entirely on trusting to the efforts already underway on our behalf rather than rejecting them in denial of our situation or in preference for another rescue plan.

Lent drives us to consider our helplessness to save ourselves, and more importantly to give thanks and praise to the God who refused to allow us to simply drown in our sin. The reality of Good Friday is truly horrific, and yet through this most unlikely of means, all creation is extended the forgiving grace of God.

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