Finding a Way to Go Forward in Faith

The Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

The Venerable Ralph Leavitt, Honorary Associate Priest

Isn’t it amazing how life can change in an instant! It seems to me that this week’s readings speak loudly not only of how peoples’ lives can change dramatically, but also of how people, in spite of change, find a way to go forward in faith.

As we enter this Second Sunday in Lent, how is it going? Have you accepted the Lord’s Ash Wednesday invitation to observe a holy Lent? A holy Lent of self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Are you allowing the Lord to change you? Are you moving forward in faith?

The Lord certainly changed Abram and Sarai’s lives. Very late in their lives, God makes a unilateral covenant with Abram. He says to Abram; 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… You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. And on top of this God says; No longer shall your name by Abram, but your name shall be Abraham…I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And Sarai is not left out of this covenant as God says; Sarah shall be her name, I will bless her and she shall give rise to nations.

Actually, to back up a bit, God’s covenant with Abraham had three parts to it. In Genesis 12  we read Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

In Genesis 15 we read; On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…

And today in Genesis 17 as we heard, God tells Abram I will make you exceedingly fruitful  I will establish my covenant between me and you…an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

So God’s covenant with Abraham was about land, seed, and blessing. There will be a promised land for God’s people, Abram will become a great nation and be blessed by God, and Abram’s descendants, which will be many, will be blessed.

This Abrahamic Covenant is a foundation of our faith. God changed God’s world. It is the first covenant where God sets aside a group of people and makes them his own, as well as promising them land and blessings. We are God’s people.

We also see some mighty changes in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus has been busy healing people, feeding people, and teaching people. Jesus has his disciples around him following his lead. In the passage just before today’s Gospel Jesus asks the disciples a question; Who do people say I am? And to be even more specific, he asks; who do you says that I am?.

Peter, that impulsive disciple shots out; You are the Messiah. Wow, Peter got it right! But then, not two lines later, Jesus rebukes Peter and then says directly to Satan; Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. You see, Jesus had just told the disciples that he must die and rise again after three days. This was not the future Peter was imagining. I believe that Peter still thought that if Jesus was the Messiah, he would take over the world and rule like a human king. So Jesus rebukes him. But Jesus recognizes who is really at work here. Satan. Remember that temptation Jesus had to wrestle with in the desert? The devil offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if he would fall down and worship Satan. Jesus says; Away with you, Satan! For it is written “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Well, it seems Satan is back, tempting the disciples, and Jesus tells Satan again to get lost.

Then, to teach his disciples, and the crowd, Jesus says if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel will save it. What a teaching! What a game changer! Jesus, predicting that he must die and rise again,  shows us the way to God. And he tells us that if we take up our cross, and do things for his sake and the sake of the Gospel, we will be saved.

Taking up a cross sounds hard and negative. It reminds me of Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, and even of suffering in my own life. But here I miss the big picture. The fact is that Jesus’ suffering and death led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life with God. I must be reminded again of the response I made just after ashes were spread on my forehead only 11 days ago.

Our liturgy of Ash Wednesday says

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,

(and we reply)

That we may show forth your glory in the world

It continues;

By the Cross and passion of your Son

(and we reply)

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection

 And also I must meditate again on the Collect for today:

Almighty God, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross, give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace, we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory…

 For me, these prayers help me better understand the cross, First, by concentrating on Jesus’ cross and his passion I realize I am on a voyage that leads to Easter. And on a bigger scale, I realize that my understanding of the cross, by the grace of God, always continues to develop and deepen.

Often, in my life, it has been in times of hardship and suffering, in times of the cross, so to speak, that I have been closest to the Lord. Perhaps it was because I called out to God. And God listened. So I thank God for his cross, and ask, that by faith, I might continue to be strengthened by his grace and even changed into his likeness. Yes, so much strength and beauty can come from the cross.

But we must have faith. The way forward is with faith. In our Epistle reading we heard “It depends on faith” just as Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. And we are told that this righteousness was not for Abraham alone, and to quote “not for his sake alone, but for ours alsofor ours also, for you, for me, for right now. Faith will bring us through, shape us and grow us, strengthen us and bring us close to God.

Now that I can see the cross as a sign of God’s glory, I will deny myself, I will try to get rid of my ego, and try to put Christ first in my life. I WILL take up the cross. Now I understand how the cross can change me. And by God’s grace, change me more into his likeness.

At the beginning of this sermon I crossed myself and said “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. As I touch my forehead and breast, I hope it is a sign of love for the cross. And as I touch my two shoulders, I pray that by God’s grace I am ready to bear the cross.

And when I read the Gospel, I made the sign of the Cross on my forehead, my lips and my heart. May God indeed enlighten all our minds. May God indeed enlighten all our lips. May God indeed enlighten all our hearts. For his sake, his sake,  may we all be changed as we make our way through Lent to Easter.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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