Second Sunday of Lent 2010
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18Who is that? Who is that who "comes in the name of the Lord"? Jesus? It doesn't have to be. It could be us. It could be you, or me. It could be anybody, or everybody.
15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
15:2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
15:3 And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir."
15:4 But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir."
15:5 He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
15:6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
15:7 Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess."
15:8 But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"
15:9 He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
15:10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
15:11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
15:18 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...."
27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall.
27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.
3:18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.
3:19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
3:21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."
13:32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'
13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
It's in Luke that Jesus sends his disciples out by twos, with nothing more than sandals, and tells them to stay where they are welcome, and to offer a blessing on every home they enter. He also tells them that blessing will stay with the family, or return to the disciples, depending on whether or not it is accepted. In any case, it will cost nothing to the disciples. Could he mean the same thing here? Could he mean quite simply those who have ears had better listen, but if they don't, there's nothing anyone else can do? Could he mean you won't see your salvation until you accept that it comes in the name of the Lord? But that's a double bind, because who is this "Lord" anyway? The Pharisees would know; even Herod would know. But would we? "We" Gentiles? And why would we know?
There are riches in these readings almost beyond description. The covenant with Abram; the assurance of Psalm 27; the call to holiness of Paul's letter to the church at Phillipi. Any one of these would be the basis for a lifetime of study, for more books and one person could read. How do we understand them in the context of a single sermon, read them into an "upbuilding discourse"? Consider, to begin with, just the story of Abraham.
The verses above present him just as God has made a promise to him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Which is great; but all Abram wants is an heir, a child of his (and Sara's) own. And when they get that child, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son on Moriah. But it's worse than that, because we know that story and how it comes out. It's worse than that, because when Abram complains that he still has no son, despite God's promises, God doesn't promise Abram as many sons as he has camels, or as many sons as he has sheep. He promises Abram as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Which is great for them, as they'll be the heirs of the covenant; but for Abram? What can such a promise mean? He just wants a kid now. But he accepts God's crazy extravagance. He accepts it as the promise God made the first time. And still, it's even worse than that! "[Abram] believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness." Now what kind of story is this? What kind of person is this? Who is this "Lord," that Abram believes this?
The Lord tells Abram that the Lord is Abram's shield, and Abram's reward will be very great; so great, in fact, Abram won't be able to live to receive it. "The LORD, says the Psalmist," one of those heirs of Abram whom Abram never knew, "is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" And still we are no closer to an answer, but this faith is clearly as near to the Psalmist as her(!) lips, as intimate as her (why not?*) own heart. The assurance is certainly as extravagant as anything God ever promised to Abram:
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall.It's an extravagance we don't usually associate with Lent; but there it is. The extravagance of God doesn't end with Abram. And it doesn't quite make sense, either. It's rather like our salvation. What does it mean to be sheltered by the Most High? What does it mean to not fear, to be confident in all situations? What does it mean, except to be able to go out into the world? What else could it mean except to "celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house"? If we aren't saved for service and celebration and sharing, what good is salvation? We can't all be Abram, after all.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
Which brings us back to Jesus. "I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" And when else would we see him, unless we already recognized him? Could this be the meaning of the journey to Emmaus? Could this be the reason we don't see Jesus among us now, because we simply withhold the blessing, the Μακάριοι, the congratulations? Could it be our salvation is as simple as that? Could it be Jesus is as close as the person on the street, or next to us on the subway, or in class, or at work, or in the pew? Could it be Jesus comes to us through a computer screen, a comment on a blog, an e-mail? If we were to say "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" to everyone we meet, wouldn't we see Jesus then? And wouldn't that be the faith of Abram, to accept what the Lord has offered us, even if it wasn't what we expected, even if it wasn't what we thought we needed? And wouldn't that be our salvation, as close to us as our breath and our lips and our own hearts? And wouldn't it be nice to pronounce a blessing, to offer congratulations to everyone, as someone who comes to us in the name of the Lord? (Yes, even to Richard Dawkins.)
Wouldn't that be a grand salvation?
*There are at least three songs in the Scriptures, spontaneous praise of God attributed to women. Why not some of the Psalms, if only as a thought experiment?
Picture from Vanderbilt University Special Collections.