The Second Sunday in Lent, 17 March 2019

The Second Sunday in Lent, 17 March 2019

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35
Psalm 27

Background: Cutting a Covenant
Covenants, agreements between equal parties, or a suzerain and a vassal, were common in the Ancient Near East. Some of the covenants took on the form of Hittite treaties, and others are recorded in countless cuneiform documents in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley, or parchments and clay documents from Tel el Amarna, and other sites. The verb that accompanies the making of a covenant between individuals is to “cut” a covenant. Ancient covenantal ceremonies either involved a “blood brotherhood” ceremony in which each of the individuals cut themselves and then shared the blood between them. They were then “Brothers of the Covenant. In other ceremonies sacrificial animals were cut in two, with the initiators of the covenant walking between the pieces and participating in the blood of the sacrifice. Jeremiah 34:18, describes such a ceremony. In the First Reading for this morning we have a symbolic representation of this practice, in the covenant made between YHWH and Abraham. 

First Reading: 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."

In this reading we meet Abraham in a different role and distinction. In Genesis 20, we read that Abraham is known by God as a prophet. Indeed, the pericope begins with an indication of Abrahams prophetic status, “The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision.” The vision that he sees is of a particularly prophetic style. Abraham’s concern is a common one of the times – the future of the family, since he is childless. In this situation, Abraham petitions God, almost whining. In Genesis 12we have a record of a previous promise to Abraham about his and his family’s future. So, this seems to be a repeat performance, or a distrust of the promise that God had originally given to Abraham. So, the promise is said again, “Look toward the heavens, and count the stars.” This Abraham trusts, but a second scene is to play out, this time at sunset. In the first God promises and Abraham trusts the promise that he and Sarah will have a child, in the second, at sunset, the two, YHWH and Abraham, enter into an agreement and God promises land. The second ceremony is introduced by a formula that we will hear often, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur.” Later we will hear it as “the Lord who brought you out of Egypt”, as the covenant and promise unfold in varied and different ways.

The ceremony involving the various animals is discussed in the background above. When the sacrifice is threatened by vultures, Abraham protects the sacrifice. There is both mystery and beauty in the scene as the smoking fire pot and torch pass between the pieces, the fire elements representing both God and Abraham. What follows then is the gift of land.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. Can you identify with Abraham’s concern? Why?
  2. Can you identify with Abraham’s need to have the promise repeated? Why?
  3. What do you see in the stars at night?


Psalm 27 Dominus illuminatio

1      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?
2      When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.
3      Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;
4      And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.
5      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;
6      To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7      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.
8      Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.
9      Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10    Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.
11    You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12    Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13    You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.
14    Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the Lord will sustain me.
15    Show me your way, O Lord; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.
16    Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.
17    What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the Lord *
in the land of the living!
18    O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the Lord.

In this psalm we have a supplication formed in extremes – see especially verse 14, “Though my father and my mother forsake me.” If the first reading gives us a sense of the need and value of family and children, the deep-seated need expressed in that is seen here in the opposite. It is rejection by that family – the ultimate enemy. Whoever is besieging the psalmist is not using the violence of war or assault but rather is using the courts to undercut the author, “for false witnesses have risen up against me.” All, however, is not drear. The psalmist wants nothing other than to spend all of his time in God’s house (verse 5). Is it sanctuary that he desires, or is it continued prayer in light of his cause?

Breaking open Psalm 27:
  1. Who are your enemies?
  2. Are there enemies in your family?
  3. How might God protect you from such enemies?


Second Reading: 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.

As is usual for Paul, the contrasts he makes are vivid. Here there are those who “live according to the example you have in us,” and “(the) enemies of the cross of Christ.” Here are the two parties of the argument: those who have lost the Christian pursuit and those who continue with it. The former is distinguished by their passion for earthly things – a description and condition well attuned to our own time. The opposite is a different citizenship and belonging. As the hymn says, “Heaven is my home.” Here Paul speaks of it as not so much a destination as a place from which various attitudes emanate expectation, transformation, and being conformed. Paul’s wish is that the Philippians stand firm in their participation with and alliance to Jesus, the Savior.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. What are the earthly things that you find so attractive?
  2. What heavenly things you desire?
  3. What keeps you from attaining them?

The Gospel: St. 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.'"

If Abraham was a prophet speaking to the difficulty of his own situation, here we see Jesus speaking to the troubles of his own time. Having been warned about the dangerous situation in which he finds himself, Jesus quickly casts that trouble as the situation of the prophet. The one who speaks God’s word to a time and place (Jesus describes this as a ministry of casting out demons and curing the ill) is in danger from the authorities that determine the status quo.But this is more than that. It is an ancient pattern, especially seen in the life and passion of Jeremiah. Jesus looks out over Jerusalem and sees only one thing – the city that kills the prophets. God’s intent is clear, to protect and to save, but the city will not have it. None-the-less, Jesus still intends to come, to be present, to speak God’s word. It will be a convincing presence for the people will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Where is your vulnerable place?
  2. Where is your safe place?
  3. In which place do you pray?

Central Idea:               Trusting the Promise

Scene One:                  God renews the promise (First Reading)

Scene Two:                  The promise in the midst of difficulty (Psalm)

Scene Three:               How the people of the promise are different (Second Reading)

Scene Four:                 The Prophet will come in spite of difficulty (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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