Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
St. Mark 8:31-38
Background: Names for God
Several names for God surface as we read through the cycles of the Pentateuch (The Five Books of Moses). Some will be familiar, while others will not be, having been translated into terms in English, that mask their meaning or original usage. The most common is YHWH, which forms an unpronounceable word that is now transliterated as Yahweh. Since it was not to be pronounced, the reader would substitute Adonai (Lord) instead. Other forms and names are: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, (I will be what I will be) spoken to Moses at the Burning Bush. We see another name for God, Yah, especially in proper names that end in God’s name, such as Elijah, or Adonijah, or in the ending of the phrase Hallelujah (Praise be to God.) Elohim (translated as “God” although it is actually a plural) is often joined with the word Tzevaot – of hosts. We know this name from the old translation of the Sanctus, the holiness of God, was located in Lord God of Sabaoth (of Hosts). Go to a synagogue and you will hear the name HaShem (the Name) used in conversation about God, whereas in prayer to God the term Adonai is used. El is an ancient near eastern term for God, usually used in combination with other terms that further describe God, such as elohe Yisrael (the God of Israel), Elyon (Most High God), Shaddai (God Almighty?) this is an Ugaritic term, around which there is no small debate. There are many other variations on this name.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."
God said to Abraham, "As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."
Several covenants are made between God and Abraham. In a previous chapter (15:18) God cuts a covenant with Abraham, reflecting the ancient practice of dividing a sacrificial animal in two, and both parties to the agreement walking through the midst of the animal. Here God gives a covenant to Abraham, promising that Abraham will be the “ancestor of a multitude”. Various commentators make a great deal of the name change (Abram – Abraham), an archaic form followed by a more modern form. What may be happening here is not so much theology as the weaving of two traditions about the patriarch and the matriarch, one tradition used archaic forms while the other used more recent forms. The changing of names was common in this period, especially among the royalty, where individuals would adopt a “throne name” to symbolize the main point of their rule. The point in the lectionary, however, is the promise given to both Abraham and Sarah, which promise is tied up in the covenant that God makes with them. This theme of the covenant will reverberate throughout the Lenten readings.
Breaking open Genesis
- What do you understand by the word “covenant”.
- What do Abraham and Sarah get out of this covenant? What does God get?
- What is the future of your family?
Psalm 22:22-30 Deus, Deus meus
Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the LORD'S for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
We will revisit the initial verses of this psalm during Holy Week, when it is sung during the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday. The final verses of the psalm, which form the response to this morning’s readings, focus on God’s deeds done for the benefit of the author. Thus it is a psalm of praise, rather than one of intercession. The horizon of the psalm extends from the past (during which God’s good deeds were experienced) extending into an unknown future, where God’s grace is expected. Key to that expectation is the saving deeds of the past that are made known to succeeding generations.
Breaking open Psalm 22
- When you praise God, do you know why you are?
- Have you ever praised God in the company of others (outside of Church?)
- Do your descendants either know or have a love of God?
The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
In this reading we see the reason that the framers of the lectionary chose the first reading for the day. Abraham is Paul’s example of the one who lives in faith. Abraham becomes the bridge between his descendants and the gentiles who are Paul’s audience, and in Abraham, Paul sees all the force of the Covenant that God gives. Paul uses the story as an example of the difference between the Law and the Promise. Paul’s view is that the Law does not provide for a future other than judgment and suffering. The Promise, however, provides for a future of faith and connection with God. The whole experience of both Abraham and Sarah become examples of the church of not only how to live, but how to be clothed in the promise – and to be reckoned as justified.
Breaking open Romans
- Paul sees Abraham as one of the prime examples of faith. Whom do you see as such an example?
- Who are “the many nations” of whom Abraham is the father?
- How does Paul compare us, as Christians, to Abraham?
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
As we hear this Gospel today, we need to hear in our mind the preceding pericope in which Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, announces his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Now in these verses, Jesus delivers up the costs of such a belief. He announces his first Passion Prediction to the disciples, and Peter objects, thus setting up a pattern in Mark of Prediction, Misunderstanding, Instruction. It is a pattern that stretches across the whole spectrum of the disciples’ experience with and of Jesus. Peter’s objections to Jesus’ “bad talk” is met with a terse, “Be gone, Satan!” which is soon followed by the rationale and teaching that is necessary to understand God’s intent. Both Sarai and Abram laugh at God’s promise of an heir. Like Peter they misunderstand God’s power and intent. Perhaps Peter stands in as Jesus’ straight man, but it is he, in all of his misunderstandings and foibles who will be the Rock of the Church.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Why does Jesus rebuke Peter so sharply?
- What is Jesus attempting to tell his followers?
- What does it mean to deny yourself? How do you understand that request?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.