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Second Sunday in Lent February 24, 2013

I have a friend who works in the defense industry. She is likely to be hit by the sequestration move if it occurs, and it seems more likely it will with every passing day. She is worried about her job and rightly so. Jobs will obviously be tight in her industry, so she thinks she should prepare to go back to a career she had before. However, time marches on, and she is now no longer qualified to get most jobs because she is not technically up-to-date in that field.

When she first heard about the cuts, she was full of anxiety. She looked madly for computer courses she could take and began to attend a church program on job hunting. She got on linkedin, even though she didn't understand it very well, and put her name and resume up on a job board. But she still has a full-time job, and it takes up much of her time. The computer courses seemed unmanageable. So she prayed about the problem. “What do I do God?” she asked. “How can I be ready? Give me the energy to take the computer courses.” But to her surprise, after much reflection, she discerned that God was telling her not to take the courses.” But how can I be sure of getting a full-time job if I am not prepared, she wondered. God told her to stop worrying. God would be there for her no matter what happened. This discernment has been a difficult pill to swallow. Every time she hears about the sequestration in her office, she feels panicky and wants to do something – anything – to control the situation. But she prays through her anxiety and tries to trust God with the outcome. She is trying to live out a faithful relationship with God.

Abram is trying to live out a faithful relationship with God too. God promised him heirs and land when they first met, but he is concerned because he has seen no promises fulfilled. God tells him that God will be his shield, and his reward will be great, so not to be afraid. But Abram expresses concern about his continued childless state. And still God says not to worry, that Abram and Sarai will have a child and that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. He reassures Abram that he is doing the right thing to wait. He should not try to make plans of his own to control his situation, but rather wait on God to fulfill God’s promises. Abram takes a deep breath, considers for a moment the power of God and believes God. God gives credit to Abram for being righteous, for trusting God.

Abram believing God is not about intellectual assent. It is about active trust (David G. Buttrick) that is a way of life. It is about waiting for God’s promises to come true. It is not about Abram never becoming anxious – we see his anxiety take over with the birth of Ishmael – nor is it about Abram never asking a question as he did here. Faithfulness and trust is a hard won attitude, and it is usually practiced with anxiety and questioning. Each time the doubts come up, God reassures. A righteous relationship with God can include fears and concerns, and our God comes to us to promise again that God will be with us.

Abram is also to be given some land. He wants to know about this too. So God reasserts God’s covenant with Abram by using a covenanting ceremony. Traditionally a covenant between two people meant that both would walk between the killed animals as a sign of their intent, but this covenant is initiated by God, and God passes through the animals as a smoking firepot and a flaming torch while Abram lies asleep. God requires nothing from Abram – no tit for tat. God will do what God has said, and Abram has no “to do” list. But Abram does have a calling. He must respond to God’s covenant in trust (Gene M. Tucker), so that God may fulfill God’s promises. Abram’s relationship with God was a model of faithfulness for the Israelites and serves as a model for us as well.

In Philippi, Paul is comparing and contrasting a model of faithful relationship with God and a model of unfaithful relationship with God. He urges the Philippians to imitate him, which is imitating Christ. Philippi is a Roman colony, and Romans prized their citizenship and the privileges it offered (Elizabeth Shively), but Paul calls them to hold another citizenship as higher and better – their citizenship in heaven. They are to set their minds on heavenly things and live as Christ lived – serving others in a self-sacrificing love. They will be countercultural, and they may experience suffering, but they will be saved by Jesus who is coming from heaven.

In contrast, there are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction because their god is their belly. Scholars do not know if Paul is talking about those who are self-indulgent and think of no one else’s needs but their own or if he is talking about the Judaizers, the party in the Christian movement that held that everyone should still follow the strict dietary laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul believed that Christ’s death and resurrection and his bringing the kingdom of God to all people negated the need for following the dietary laws and the circumcision law even though they were biblical. The Philippians bodies belonged to Christ, as did their minds and hearts and souls, and again they should look to Christ who would transform their bodies of humiliation (the bodies that committed sin) to the body of his glory by the power that makes things subject to him. There is that control business again. To be a Christian one must walk the way of Christ and be subject to him. When one is subject to Christ, one waits for God’s promises in hope, even if the waiting is very long, and one lets go of control.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when Pharisees warn him that Herod wants to kill him and he should leave the country. But Jesus is not to be deterred, either by Herod or the Pharisees. He knows what his mission is, and he must be obedient to it, which is to continue his deeds of power (O.C. Edwards, Jr.) to show the coming kingdom of God before he dies in Jerusalem. Jesus lets God have control of his life and shows his faithfulness to God’s will even when he is asked to give his life for the world.

In contrast, there is the city of Jerusalem, a city that has rejected God and God’s prophets so many times. God has always wanted to gather the Israelites together as a hen gathers her brood, but Jerusalem is having none of that. The city and its people are not in faithful relationship with God. They want to do what they want to do. They do not want to be sheltered because it would mean God had control over them, and they want control for themselves. So Jesus leaves the city to itself. It has lost the protection of God. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and Luke’s readers would have known about this event.

Abram and Paul and Jesus serve as examples to us of faithful relationships with God. They believe God’s promises and are willing for God to be in control of their lives, not without worry or questioning, but with prayer and a decision made over and over again to be God’s person. That is what God calls us to do as individuals and as congregations. My friend is doing her best to follow God’s word to her and not be so afraid of what might come that she spends all her time worrying about what will happen to her. Concern and whatever preparation God calls for is certainly permissible, but worry will keep her from living in the present moment and enjoying the life she has been given as a gift. The same is true for us. Whether we are worried about a job, a relationship or something else important to us, God has promised to be with us, though we do not know what form that will take. When we try to take matters into our own hands and exercise control without seeking God’s will, we are not living faithfully. As a congregation, we are plagued by worries about money and numbers. These are valid concerns, but they are not the chief reason we are here. We are here to do God’s will and to serve others as we carry on the work of spreading the reign of God on earth. We have God’s promise to be with us in the power of the Holy Spirit and to guide us into what is true for us and for our mission. As we continue through Lent, let us be mindful of where we want to take control, ask for God’s forgiveness and trust God with the outcome of our lives.

AMEN.

  - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited:
David G. Buttrick, “Genesis 15:1-18, Interpretation, vol. 42, no. 4 (Oct 1988):396
Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year C, p. 142
Elizabeth Shively, in Working Preacher, Lectionary for Feb. 24, 2013
O.C. Edwards, Jr., Tuesday Morning, vol. 15, no. 1, p. 21