3.17.2011

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

Genesis 12:1-4a • Psalm 121 • Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 • John 3:1-17

Some weeks, the lectionary selections offer a slippery slope. It's one of the reasons that really spending time with scripture and with others who spend time with scripture matters. These passages require us to be in dialogue, to keep our minds and our hearts open, to see both the good and the bad of what is written down at a point in time by a human with an agenda. This week is a slippery slope.

You see, it is way too easy to look at what is said across the selected passages and conclude that Jesus arrived on the scene and corrected some religious missteps and replaced a lot of history to become the only path to righteousness and salvation.

We're playing our theological hand here. We're not buying that interpretation. That's not how we understand God. We want to read the text carefully, respectfully, critically and in dialogue with our lived experience of God and of our fellow created humans.

Since creation, God has sought to be in relationship with the created world. God has watched rock erode, seas churn, galaxies collapse. God has watched humankind evolve through time, evolving religion, spirituality, economics, politics, sociology, medicine. The sacred stories of scripture tell the story of God's relationship across thousands of years and countless surprises, successes and disappointments.

This scripture story tells us about a covenant - a mutual promise between God and humankind - that at various times has been honored and destroyed. But what the story also tells is about God's faithful return to relationship with God's creation in myriad ways and forms.

In Genesis, the LORD addresses Abram and makes him a promise - a promise to bless him and and to make of him a great nation. Now the size of your kin was an important economic and social factor in these cultures. And Abram has yet to have any children (and it takes a while if you'll recall). God doesn't ask for much - just that Abram leave his country and his kindred and his father's house to go obediently to a land that God will show him. It's a big risk and a big promise. And Abram goes. He goes. Into the unknown. Now the rest of the story is not marked by unfailing obedience or abundant blessing...but Abram, later Abraham, keeps his promise and so does God. Abram shows faith in what God has promised.

The psalmist expresses a keen faith in the role of the LORD as protector and provider. There is assurance of protection and well-being through time. And as we read these words, it seems a little like the Psalmist might be reminding himself or talking himself in to holding up his end of the covenant relationship with God. We sometimes use this self-talk method when things are difficult: "Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord."

In the passage from John, we are introduced to the Pharisee named Nicodemus. He shows up a couple of times in John's gospel stories. Here he arrives by night to ask some clarifying questions of this rabbi, Jesus, about his teachings. Specifically, he's curious about this notion of being born of the spirit. Nicodemus can't reframe the concept of being born from his physical understanding. Jesus is trying to explain that there has to be some sort of formation/transformation/birthing process connecting one to a belief in God. If Nicodemus cannot receive their testimony, witness the work of Jesus and the disciples and be changed by it. Nicodemus is pretty sure he cannot wrap his mind around the idea of being born in a spiritual way. Now the rest of this selection includes probably one of the most oft referenced scriptures (perhaps most notably at professional sporting events). "For God so loved the world, He gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This is where the slope gets slippery for some. It's easy to read this selection from John, especially if you go beyond the selected passages through the 21st verse, and use it to beat people over the head with a "turn or burn" message about Jesus being the one way to salvation. But that's not how we've experienced God. It's not how we've seen God work in others. We think maybe it's not quite that easy.

In these selections from Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, we find Paul working hard to explain how everything fits together. Paul was the first Christian systematic theologian that we know of, and in all of his writings he makes efforts to give words to the many mysteries of the developing faith. In an effort to underscore the point that a person's salvation or righteousness is found in faith rather than in works he reaches back and uses Abraham as an example. He holds Abraham up as a prime example of salvation and sustenance through faith. He does not re-write the Hebrew story...he takes it and uses it to shine light on the faithfulness of God to the covenant.

There are many days it is hard to believe a promise that sounds too good to believe. It does not make logical sense to think that God will remain faithful to a covenant where we are almost certain to fail at holding up our end. And yet these are the examples we are given and this is what we are called to do.

God, I try so hard to impress you.
I want you to be proud.
I want to be worthy of your love.
I want you to know I am trying.
Because
I am certain there are days
it doesn't look that way.
I am certain there are days
I wonder if I am trying
to hold up my side of the
relationship.
I am grateful beyond words
for your faithfulness.
I am grateful beyond words
for your forgiveness.
I am grateful beyond words
for your generosity.
Thank you, God.
*amen

© matt & laura norvell 2011 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world;
we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words.
May Grace & Peace be with you.

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