The Second Sunday in Lent* - 24 February 2013

Apologies are in order.  I inadvertently published Lent III as Lent II.  When Lent II proper is posted it will be out of order.  My apologies for any inconvenience this might have caused.  Have a blessed Lent.      - MTH

The Second Sunday in Lent - 24 February 2013
Genesis 15:1-12
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Saint Luke 13:31-35


Background:  The Psalms in Lent
Unlike the second readings, the psalms usually relate to either the first reading or the Gospel, or in some instances to both.  Lent has a diversity of relationships in this year of the Lectionary.  On Lent I, Psalm 91, “he shall give his angels charge over you” is one of the quotes that Satan uses in the Gospel attempting to persuade Jesus to follow Satan’s will.  On Lent II, Psalm 27, the relationship of God and Abraham is reflected in the psalmist’s desire to be in conversation with God.  On Lent III, Psalm 63, the images of wilderness, water, thirst, and satiation are modeled in all the readings.  On Lent IV, Psalm 32, the psalmist rejoices in those whose “sin is put away” a reflection of the prodigal nature of the land of promise (first reading) and the situation of the son in the Gospel.  Finally on Lent V, Psalm 126, the psalm, in a wonderful image, describes the reality of those who believe when they say that “we were like those who dream.” The first reading from Isaiah is replete with such dreams.

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

Most usually we see Abraham in the role as patriarch, however in this reading he is more of a prophet.  The opening phrase, “the word of the Lord came to” gives us the clue as to his role.  Like other prophets he admits to a weakness, “I am going to my end childless.”  When God does speak to Abraham’s reservations it is the language of promise full of images of hope.  The first image is of the stars and their staggering number.  So shall Abraham’s descendents be.  Then comes a wonderful scene where we witness the “cutting” of a covenant.  The word choice here is important, if we understand the ritual that is described to us.  Abraham is instructed to bring sacrificial animals, and then to cut them in two.  What happens next is intimated in the initial verses when the visit of God to Abraham is described as a vision.  So it is that Abraham goes into a deep sleep (as did Adam), dreams and sees the enactment of the cutting of a covenant as a smoking fire pot, and a flaming torch, pass through the two halves of the sacrifice.  Thus both parties of the covenant are dreamt as walking through and participating in the blood of the sacrifice, the blood that seals the covenant.  Now the promise is not only of heirs but of land as well.

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     Are you a dreamer?  Does God visit you in your dreams?
2.     What are your dreams for your family?
3.     How does God figure into these dreams?

Psalm 27 Dominus illuminatio

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the LORD is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.

Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

One thing have I asked of the LORD;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days
of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe
in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the LORD will sustain me.

Show me your way, O LORD; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.

What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the LORD *
in the land of the living!

O tarry and await the LORD'S pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the LORD.

In some respects, the images and notions that this psalm suggests are in extremis; everything seems to be a bit overblown.  It is a supplication that paints the poet’s distress in bold strokes.  Some examples:  Is the suppliant really involved in a war (see verse 3) or is this hyperbole designed to underscore the grim reality of whatever the situation is.  The “grim reality” is interrupted by a sublime reality – the sanctuary (and here I mean the protection) of the Temple.  Such protection is sweet, it conceals, and it raises up the suppliant over his enemies.  The final such example is in verse 10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord would gather me in.” (Alter).  There is interestingly a dual image of the Sanctuary, both Temple (Jerusalem) and Tent (wilderness) that the psalmist seeks in his supplication.  Finally it is a matter of waiting upon the Lord.  As the hymn says, “God will have his day.”

Breaking open Psalm 27
1.       Do you ever magnify your troubles?
2.       What would it mean to talk about them realistically?
3.       What would it mean to talk about them in the context of your faith?

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Paul is a conscious imitator of Jesus Christ, and so, without shame or embarrassment, Paul invites the reader to imitate himself.  Now to the problems: Paul describes enemies of the cross.  Who might this be?  A list of “sins” follows: destruction, greed, shame, and earthly-minded behavior.  Given these attributes, several suggestions might be made – the dietary laws of the Judaizers, or the libertine Christians against whom Paul frequently rails.  At any rate, Paul wants to move the Philippians from the community of such into the community that has its commonwealth in heaven.  It is this community and this relationship that will shape not only the body of Christ, but the individuals in that body as well.  Perhaps this is reflective of the sanctuary in the psalm.

Breaking open Philippians

1.               How do you imitate Christ?
2.               How are you like the “enemies” that Paul mentions?
3.               How are you a citizen of heaven?

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Luke’s progress of Jesus toward Jerusalem is unrelenting, both in its movement (which confounds those who follow him) and its intent, which Jesus is not reluctant to reveal.  Here Jesus is the prophet, the prophet who must be killed in Jerusalem.  Jesus isn’t interested in the politics of his situation or fate.  He is interested in its completeness.  Unlike Matthew, Luke places this scene before the Palm Sunday incident, and thus the final sentence of the pericope seems to make sense.  The wonder is, however, that the completeness comes with the next day, that is the parousia, the true coming of Jesus by means of both cross and tomb.  Each of the readings speaks about a future, a not yet.  Abraham’s involves continuation of the tribe and of the name, and of the covenant.  Paul wants his readers to be tied to the future that is the Kingdom of Heaven, and the future of Jesus is the future of the true prophet who delivers God’s final word on what will be.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why is Jesus avoiding the politics of his time?
  2. What is Jesus’ sense of his fate?
  3. How does he teach that to those that follow him?

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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