Lent 2A - March 5, 2023
Rev Sarah Colvin
If you consider yourself a Christian, and chances are you do since we are in a church, or if you are a seeker and have found yourself at this church, I will presume that you all probably have some idea as to what the season of Lent is all about. For many, for years Lent has been a time of denial of worldly desires--linked to giving up something, like sweets, alcohol, chocolate, or all of the above. Lent can also be a time to take on a new spiritual practice. However, Lent as a liturgical season, originally was the time that people who were going to be baptized would receive instruction before their baptism at Easter. It was and continues to be this, and also, a whole congregation would journey alongside baptismal candidates, and so Lent then also becomes a time set apart to take stock of where we all are in relationship with God. Lent’s sister season Advent has the expectant feel, waiting for God to come again and again as a fragile vulnerable baby. Lent instead has more the feel that we are to examine our relationship with God. We become acutely aware of what God through Jesus has done through his suffering—suffering completed at least in order to be in relationship with us. It is then incumbent on us to see how we are making room for God in our lives. … or how we are not.
Sometimes congregations in their Lenten penitent practices start Sunday services with a recitation of the Ten Commandments; and yet, our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us something much more basic is at stake. It is not that the law is (or commandments are) unimportant, but that what is at stake is our humanity and our relationship with God. Remember that Abraham is Paul’s example of the patriarch who precedes Moses; temporally he comes before the Law comes. Paul also uses the story of Abraham’s reliance and faith in God as a rhetorical tool to include Gentiles into the fold of those following Jesus. It’s as if Paul uses a timeline to get Gentiles in through the back door. Paul doesn’t want to dismiss the law, but he uses Abraham as a person before the law, as proof positive of his acceptance by God as a useful argument as to why Gentiles should also be included. Because God previously accepted one before the law because he believed in God, then all descendants of Abraham would, therefore, also be able to be accepted. Knowing who God is, constitutes having Faith and being in relationship with God. Paul points out that Abraham is before the law to illustrate his point that the most important thing, like it is for Abraham, is the relationship we have with God. Faith IS that relationship.
In our passage from Genesis, we have a small part of the stories of Abraham. And this passage is kind of plain and ordinary. It’s nothing flashy. There is a promise of blessings and a promise of curses. But I would draw your attention to the fact that it is not just that Abraham will receive blessings, but that those very blessings received by God allow Abraham to be a blessing to others. We are called more than anything else to be a blessing to someone else.
Of course, Jesus takes it a step further… Let’s look the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus knows that Jesus is the real deal. He calls him Rabbi and states clearly that Jesus couldn’t do these signs if he were not from God. And yet, Nicodemus comes in the night. He is a big deal Pharisee, and he doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by hanging out with the h’ oi peloi, even if it is Jesus who clearly does works from God. So, you see his conundrum.
Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Nicodemus is to be born of the Spirit. In other words, to be the type of religious person (or even leader) that sets the world on fire. Jesus could also ask him, “Why are you coming here secretly in the middle of the night? Why is your faith something that doesn’t lead you into what the world needs? Why isn’t your faith helping others connect to God?”
And so, we could rest easy with knowing we have the good news; but we are called to be a blessing, we are called to bless others. We can think of it as reciprocal. We believe in God and then God believes in us. It is God’s belief in us that then makes us a blessing to others. That is one of our jobs, to be a blessing to others. However, if this is good news, or Gospel, and we are descendants of Abraham, if we too are made righteous, Jesus then has the same questions for us. Why do we come in the dark? Why aren’t we setting the world on fire? How can our faith lead us into what the world needs? Why isn’t our faith helping others connect to God?
We are to be a blessing. When we bless each other with love, and that love becomes a blessing to others, it then turns around and blesses us. To that end, I share a poem with you from Ganga White.
What if our religion was each other?
If our practice was our life?
If prayer was our words?
What if the Temple was the Earth?
If forests were our church?
If holy water—the rivers, lakes and oceans?
What if meditation was our relationships?
If the Teacher was life?
If wisdom was self-knowledge?
If love was the center of our being
If love was the center of our being, if love was the center of our being… … if God is love, what if God were the center of our being… So make room for your life with God, by making room for the blessing, and looking for God in the very act of loving the other and being loved by the other. We are called to love, as Christ, which is not about what we get, but what we give. For God so loved the world, and how God loves the world is how we are to love the world.