Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38
Good morning and grace and peace to you as we travel along at the beginning of the Second Week of Lent. Over us the invitation from Ash Wednesday continuing, to the observance of a holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
Certainly we would pray that we will cultivate in ourselves an openness, a sense of availability, and that in whatever practice and discipline we have committed ourselves to in this Lent of 2012 God will accomplish in each of us the work that needs to be done in us, that we will arrive this year at Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter morning renewed and refreshed in our life in Christ.
Certainly as we continue to focus on this personally, we would as well pray for one another, for the life and ministry of this congregation, asking God’s guidance and discipline, and blessing and care.
Yesterday afternoon we celebrated a baptism here with a newer family in the parish. Declan McMurtrie, his mom Natalie and his dad Chris and a great gathering of family and friends. And in the anointing and chrismation I was reminded again of the Old Testament story in First Samuel of how the Prophet Samuel came out by God’s direction to Jesse’s home in Bethlehem in order to anoint the one who was chosen and who would be the King of Israel. The parade of Jesse’s sons—and none of them the one. Until the youngest is called in from the fields. And when David walks into the room, Samuel sees him and knows, right away. And then he pours on the young man the sacred oil. “Young man, God has a great plan for your life.” A turning point in the Biblical story. Something true for Declan and for each of us in our baptism too and our life in Christ.
This past week as well thinking as we’ve noted in our biddings this morning about the life of Dottie Welsh, long-time member of St. Andrew’s and friend, who died on Monday night. Thinking about how though her last years have been marked by increasing weakness and disability, the true story for her was the story of strength and triumph. A life of compassion, tenderness, service to others, good humor, patience, and deep faith. Jesus very much a close companion, day by day. I know an inspiration, to her friends, family, those who loved her and worked with her over so many years.
Beginnings, endings, new beginnings. Birth and rebirth. Through it all: God has a great plan for your life.
There’s a fun German word I learned when I began a more academic study of the Bible, either in college or in seminary. Heilsgeschichte. Literally, “the holy story.” Sometimes, “salvation history.”
The idea that for all the books and all the stories and characters in their particularity of time and place, for all the forms of expression and concerns of context, history and poetry, letters and devotions, in all the inspired pages of God’s holy Word, there was and is to be found one great story, one overarching plot, one theme, one intention, one author, one hope, one promise, one meaning, one golden thread.
Abram was ninety-nine years old. Which I would think would be a moment mostly about reflection of the past. How you’ve lived your life. What you’ve accomplished. Things left undone. Maybe time for a little fishing. Rocking in the rocking chair. But God turns that over, pulls it inside-out. “Abram, this is just the beginning. We’re just getting started. You’ve got a new name now, Abraham, and a new life just beginning. Put your hand in mine and step out in faith, and generations yet unborn will be blessed through you. Multitudes and nations. Don’t look back. Look forward. I have a great plan for your life.
And Paul in this pivotal passage of Romans about Abraham. “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.”
“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 . . . 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.”
And so, Lent. It’s not about working harder and harder and becoming a better person. Fixing ourselves or fixing the world. It is about coming into relationship with him, and becoming a new person. It’s about putting the old name down, and taking the name he gives.
Ask Abraham. Ask Moses. Ask the young boy David. Ask the young girl Mary in her Nazareth Garden, when the angel came to her.
Jesus opens it all to his disciples in the eighth chapter of Mark, as we heard this morning. “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.”
To lose life is to find life. The end and the beginning. The whole heilsgeschichte. A wandering Aramaean patriarch out there in the desert of the ancient Near East. A shepherd boy. A young girl from Nazareth in the Galilee. The disciples. The crowds. Paul on the Road to Damascus. Declan Thomas McMurtrie. Dottie Welsh.
The water poured over the font. The bread and wine on the Holy Table. You and me. All connected by this golden thread to the one story of God’s love in Jesus, the Cross, Good Friday, and Easter morning.
All to be stirred up for us in this Lent. By self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, self-denial, by reading and meditating upon God’s holy Word. Perhaps like Abraham to hear the word for the first time, breaking in on our lives just when we thought our story had pretty much been told. Giving us a new name. A new identity. A new hope. Life and life eternal in him.
The story that all the stories tell. God knows who you are. He loves you, in Jesus Christ our Lord. And he has a great plan for your life.