The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday in Lent – February 21, 2016
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Today’s readings join fear and faith. As I reflect on the scriptures this morning, we are on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. (By the time you have read this, the primary is over and the fear mongers have moved south for warmer weather and more heated conversations!) Living on Cape Cod, we receive our television from Boston and the Boston stations broadcast into New Hampshire as well as our community. Every few minutes as I watch the morning news, I am bombarded by commercials focusing on fear and anger. “We are in trouble,” they announce. “Terrorists are at the door. Vote for me and I will protect you.” While I appreciate the promises of these politicians and the need for strong national defense, ultimately they are selling an illusion. They cannot guarantee safety or insure that there will not be a repeat of 9/11 or San Bernardino. Still, they announce, “Be afraid. Trust me. I will protect you from the hordes of immigrants, al Qaeda, and ISIS.”
Abram is afraid that he will die without an heir. He is afraid that his line, and the memory of his life, will end at his death. Robert Jay Lifton asserts that we live by several images of immortality – forms of symbolic immortality – biological, creative, natural, theological, and experiential or mystical. The most primal image of immortality is biological. We want to leave an heir, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Abram has reached an impasse. No child has been born from his marriage to Sarah. He has parented a child from a slave, but this will not suffice in his own eyes and the eyes of his culture.
He is lost, knowing with his death, everything he loves will perish. In that moment of despair, God tells him to look at the heavens and count the stars. God counsels him to look beyond himself and his self-interest and survival to see the deeper realities of life. He is star stuff. His origins are beyond his imagination and long after he is gone, God’s world will continue. He is counseled to trust the Creative Wisdom of the Universe, rather than his own fears and mortality. God’s path is everlasting and infinite, and your life is part of this incredible journey. A child is coming to you and Sarah, prepare for it. But, first recognize the wonder of God’s universe within which this child will be born.
Abram believes and God responds. In the spirit of William James’ “Will to Believe,” our trust in God opens up new possibilities and energies. A way will be made where we see no way. New life emerges amid death and hope amid failure. This is not some easy “prosperity gospel,” but living faith born of facing the complexities of life and discovering that within our limitations new possibilities are born.
Psalm 27 emerges from the battlefield of life. This is no psalm for the faint-hearted. “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?” Evil doers abound. They are nipping at our heels and denying our God. Yet, God lives and will have the final word. We can trust God because God will outlast every enemy.
The results are not always clear. There are no guarantees that we will successful in the challenges of everyday life and the mortality rate remains 100%. We seem to fiddle while Rome burns and global climate changes. Tempted to give up hope and focus on the micro alone, trust in God places our efforts in the context of a larger story, God’s vision of Shalom. Trusting God, we know that “deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome some day.” In that spirit, we can proclaim, “we are not afraid,” despite the words of fear mongers, the obliviousness of governmental leaders to climate change, and our own personal crises.
Paul counsels the Philippians to “stand firm.” We are citizens of two worlds. We live in the day world, but we also have a heavenly perspective. If God is omnipresent and omniactive, we are already in heaven, regardless of what is going on today. We must face “necessary losses” (Judith Viorst) and threats to our safety and well-being. But, we can stand firm because this world is filled with divine wisdom and glory. Our heavenly home shapes our earthly commitments. We trust in the future and focus on today.
In the gospel reading, Jesus is warned that his life is in danger. This is no news to him. Herod is out to get him. But, Jesus continues to teach. He must follow his vocation and in following his vocation to seek salvation for humankind, he finds his strength. His life gains perspective. It is part of God’s story of salvation. In his book born of the Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Jesus’ sense of purpose, his vocational sense, enabled him to face his fear of suffering and abandonment, trusting that his life had meaning and that God’s purposes for him were more enduring that Herod’s hatred.
Let us not be afraid. But let us respond with hope and courage to the struggles of day to day life, to global uncertainty, to changing demographics and their impact on the church, to shrinking congregational budgets, and our own personal dramas. Let us count the stars in the sky, knowing that we are part of God’s story and that by our lives, we help heal the world.