The Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, February 28, 2021
Text: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38; Psalm 22:22-30
The Rev. Anne Meredith Kyle

             From the 17th chapter of the Book of Genesis Abram fell on his face… May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

In this second part of God’s covenant with Abram and Sarai, Abram falls on his face before the Lord. In the story from Mark’s account of the good news, Peter seems to fall on his face, but these two situations are almost polar opposites.

It is always significant when God changes a person’s name. We read that the Lord made a covenant with Abram and Sarai and it reads as a sort of an update to God’s earlier promise to protect them and to give them a great reward. God appears to Abram and says walk before me and be blameless. The covenant that God made included that Abram himself would be the ancestor of many, which is what the name Abraham means. God included Sarai in this same covenant. She would be blessed with a son of her own and would join Abraham in giving rise to nations and kings. Sarai means princess but God sealed the covenant by elevating her with the name change to my princess, that is, Sarah.

Both Abraham and Sarah were partners with God in this covenant and both were named as the beginning of something big.

Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament that makes a huge shift in the portion we read today. The sorrow of the psalm is replaced here with an expression of confidence and thanksgiving for God. The psalm responds to the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, with the promise that generations to come will continue to serve God.

Paul writes to the Roman Church of the righteous faith of Abraham and of the promises of God saying that it was Abraham’s faith, and not the law that sealed the covenant with God. Paul retells the story of God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, focusing on the strength of their faith at entering into covenant with God. Abraham’s faith in God marked him as God’s righteous servant.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus continues to tell his followers, and in ever clearer terms, who he is and what is coming. Jesus said openly that he would suffer, that he would be rejected by those in power, that he would be killed, AND that he would rise again after 3 days. He really laid it all out there, but he had already been telling his friends this for some time. Peter continues on his personal rollercoaster of discipleship by rebuking Jesus for saying this. Peter’ sharp criticism of Jesus suggests that he had previously only been listening to the part of the story that was easier to bear. Even though Peter took Jesus aside for this contradiction, Jesus seems to make a very public rebuke in return. There is no mistaking the strength of Jesus’ sentiment as he says Get behind me, Satan! as a part of his rebuke of Peter.

The latter half of the passage from Mark is the second commissioning of Jesus’ disciples. The first time around, Jesus sent the disciples out telling them to imitate his message of repentance and acts of healing, and to drive out demons. This time, Jesus is deepening that commission.

If we are to become Jesus’ disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow. When we do, Jesus will know us.

This Good News both compares and contrasts with the story of Abraham and Sarah. Jesus is sealing the deal in making this covenant with his disciples. If Peter, like Abraham, has fallen on his face in this story, it is not in the way that Abram submitted himself faithfully to God; rather it is in tripping over his own need to see the story told differently. It is in his own misunderstanding that Peter falls flat. Following Jesus is challenging enough, but this taking up the cross stuff sounds dangerous, even deadly. Jesus is calling each of us into solidarity with his mission of love.

Contemporary theologian, Richard Rohr writes that, Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word ‘suffer’—to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings… Jesus promises us something much deeper, if we’re willing to give ourselves to it. That’s what Jesus is asking of his disciples. Jesus is inviting them into covenant with him and that means feeling his suffering, and his rejection, and his death as if it is their own. If they accept the invitation to follow, this is exactly what they will be doing, but it is not all they will be doing. They will also join Jesus in rising to new life. And as they do, they will lead others into that same, renewed life!

So, what does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? What does joining Jesus in the suffering of others look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?

Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we offer the twin biddings your kingdom come, your will be done and when we do, we are not telling God what to bring or what to do… we are praying for the strength to be the ones who bring the kingdom of God closer and to live our lives as God intends. We are asking God to bring us into solidarity with the world around us.

Living our lives as God intends brings the kingdom of God closer, for ourselves and for everyone else, in a circle of life and love. Recently, when talking about the Lord’s prayer and breaking it down a bit, a group of 7th and 8th graders related beautifully to what it means when we pray your kingdom come, your will be done. They said that we can help bring the kingdom of God closer for everyone when we help others, treat others fairly, teach others something we know, and by treating others the way we want to be treated. And, they were right!

Both through the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah and in the covenant renewed for all of us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are, each one, called by God as a part of covenant life.  We are, each one, called to live out our prayer your kingdom come, your will be done. And we are, each one, called by God to join in the loving, liberating, and life-giving work of Jesus Christ. Amen.