March 1, Second Sunday in Lent:
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Draft copy of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
You know the old line: if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.
The reverse is also true.
When God wants to make us laugh, God tells us God’s plans.
At least that’s one possible reaction.
It’s what Abraham does.
God says, “I will bless Sarah, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’”
And the very next line is: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.”
Sarah laughs too when she hears about it.
Peter has a very different reaction.
“Great suffering? Rejection? Killed and risen on the third day? That can’t be right!”
What’s your reaction to encountering the divine?
What’s your reaction to Jesus’ requirement that if any want to follow him, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow”?
One of my Lenten disciplines this year has been a to spend some time each day walking the stations of the cross.
What I’ve been really fascinated by, and what I’ve been meditating on this past week, are the people in the scenes with Jesus, and their reactions to him and what’s going on.
In the beautiful woodcuts that hang in our nave during Lent, Jesus is alone in only four of them.
When he takes up his cross, and each of the three times he falls.
And I’ve been thinking that maybe taking up a cross is a solitary—and very particular act—unique to each individual.
So is falling.
I know every time I stumble and fall it does feel very lonely.
Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.
That might be a bit exaggerated, but it often feels like that.
When you’re down—in the depths—in the dark—too often it certainly feels like it’s just you there.
Of course, it’s not.
Through Jesus, God is down there with you.
In the other stations, Jesus is interacting with others.
Or rather, he’s quite passive, the others are reacting with him, or to him.
In the one where he is being nailed to the cross, the person doing the nailing isn’t even looking at him.
He’s too intent on the horrible, evil work he’s been pressed into doing.
Or maybe he enjoys it—he doesn’t appear to be taking any pleasure in it—he’s just doing his job—but it’s hard to know.
Certainly one of the reactions to meeting the divine is to ignore it.
I wonder about all those who met Jesus, who were there and saw what was going on and thought “meh.”
How many today experience the divine in some small (or even significant way) and respond by ignoring or dismissing it.
Attempting to rationally explain it away.
Even seek to eliminate or destroy it.
The principalities of worldly power very often seek to destroy the divine.
The all-encompassing and overwhelming self-sacrificing love that is God is too much for those bent on seizing and holding onto worldly power.
That’s largely what the narrative of Holy Week and the Passion is about.
The power of this world seeking to eliminate anything that it perceives as a threat.
And that over-whelming love of God is certainly a threat to the divisive and reductive forms of power in this world.
So he began to explain to them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed and then triumph.
There’s a whole range of reactions to this particular encounter with the divine.
In our Lenten series this year, we’re looking at some of the more difficult of our human responses to the divine—the ways in which our own interpretation (or misinterpretation) of scripture, or our own response to the perceived actions of God in our lives and in our history can elicit a variety of responses from us.
Everything from compassion, to indifference, to protest, to acts of violence.
Similar reactions to what I see in these figures of the stations of the cross.
One possible human reaction that we’ll consider this coming Thursday night is our desire to cling to worldly power rather than trust in the power of God.
To act as if weapons of mass destruction and the human power of coercion are actually more effective and reliable—more powerful—than the creative love of God.
I’m sure you can think of any number of examples of this reaction.
Another reaction we’ll think about next week is how we try to keep God out of certain parts of our life. Reducing religion to private morality or personal piety. We’ll think about the violence of living an essentially divided life.
We’ll ponder the response of creating idols, focusing on lesser goods rather than turning to the true source of all.
And finally, as we near Holy Week, we’ll think about how we might begin to repent—reconcile some of this—without doing more violence to ourselves or others.
I invite you to come and be part of this discussion.
I also invite you to think about your own responses to however you encounter God.
Whether it’s here, or elsewhere.
How do you react when God meets you in the ways you find most comforting?
Through the Eucharist, or nature, or music.
How do you react when God comes to you in ways that you don’t expect. In ways that are challenging, or just incomprehensible?
Lent is a time to ask these questions. To go deep.
Taking up your own cross is never easy, but it almost always starts with becoming aware of our own varied responses to how we perceive God acting (or maybe not acting) in our lives.
What’s amazing is that no matter what our reaction is, God continues to come to us, to reach out, and try to meet us.
No matter where we are, no matter how close or distant we may feel towards God, God is always seeking us.
Our reaction should be one of also seeking God.
What Paul says resonates as well. Paul in recounting the story of Abraham encourages us to continue seeking. To proceed as if the promise is true, even (and maybe especially when) it doesn’t look like it could be.
He doesn’t exactly say “fake it ’til you make it,” but that’s close.
It’s true that faith is something that becomes more real the more you engage it.
More real as you begin living “as if” God really is “all in all”.
“As if” God wasn’t something that meets you just in church but is accessible and approachable everywhere, all the time.
Living “as if” you really are doing your best to follow Christ.
I think that’s why it’s called “practicing our faith.”
Because we need the practice.
Of hoping against hope. Of living a full and undivided life.
None of us live those “as ifs” as fully as we ought…and we are too often reacting to God coming to us in unhelpful and often destructive ways. That’s why we have repentance, and reconciliation…and we need to practice those too.
This Lent I invite you to become more aware of how you respond to the divine in your life and to practice living “as if” God makes even more of a difference in your life.