Second Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Keeping my eyes, and hopes, lifted up

I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalms 121: 1 – 4)

My life has seen a lot of changes over the past few weeks. The changes have not been easy to take or manage. At times I felt like I was being stretched and tested. It was only after emerging from each interlude of being stretched and tested that I could see and realize always I was safe in God’s hands. It is a human reality, I believe, that we cannot always see that when we are in the midst of trials. It is at those times we simply have to have faith that God is with us.

“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I did not lose hope or faith; I just could not see how it would all work out. I could not find my way through what I saw was before me. All I could do was to hold on, and trust that a way would be made. And it was. And based on that experience, I will hold to the same hope and faith was events move forward. It is a little exciting and more than a little scary to not know how the events in the future will unfold and resolve themselves. All I can do is keep lifting my eyes up to the place where I know my help and strength will come. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus and Nicodemus talk; let’s listen

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:1 – 2)

If one went back to the Greek, as I did, one would see the connection between verse 2 and verse 3 . . .

“Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Verse 3)

I was not sure what the connection was between the two verses; over the years of biblical and exegetical study this passage had garnered much discussion. But how, I thought, does the passage connect from one statement to the next? Jesus is actually telling Nicodemus (at least this is my interpretation) that it is significant that he recognizes that Jesus is from God. But Nicodemus does not understand the way Jesus is phrasing the transformation that Jesus states Nicodemus under went.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Verses 4 – 6)

We (meaning us modern Christian folk) that the Spirit of God informs us and transforms us so we can understand belief, faith, spirituality and the other components of Christianity – each person being given/gifted with their own insight.

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ “ (Verse 7)

Then comes the next verse, that is not as often given spot light and consideration.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Verse 8)

While many people share a common belief and a common faith, allowing them to gather together to worship, study, praise & honor God – each person has their own relationship to/with God, and that relationship forms their understanding and distinct faith system. That is why it is so important to recognize and respect authentic faith, even though it may not conform to what we understand authentic faith to be.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (Verse 9)

This is the question of many good intentioned (and not so good intentioned) people – how can another Christian’s faith (or other believer in/of the Divine) look so different than my faith?

“Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (Verses 10)

That is the answer that I think Jesus and our Lord God gives us – you are believers in me, the Diverse, Divine, and Almighty God, and you cannot understand this and take it on faith?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Verses 10 – 13)

Again, only my supposition, but I think what the writer of John is trying to convey is that Jesus is really the only one who has full knowledge of the things in heaven. Then, the passage goes in a different direction and starts to speak about what Jesus’ ultimate destiny is. That Jesus, who knows all the things of heaven, will need to be made to atone for all the ways humanity has gone the wrong direction.

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Verse 15)

Here comes the famous verse, often quoted and used . . .

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Verse 16)

Even though Jesus Christ knew all, all that is on earth and in heaven, he sacrificed himself for us. And God and Christ does not hold our lack of knowledge and understanding against us.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Verses 17)

We may not know all that there is to know, or understand all that there is to understand. But we have been found worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Epistles Passage – Paul encourages going out with God

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” (Romans 4:1)

It felt only right that after reading about Abraham we look at what Paul said, since it is part of the lectionary readings for this Second Sunday of Lent. Not that I would avoid reading what Paul said otherwise, but it makes a nice flow.

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Verses 2 – 3)

But Abraham did not just believe God, or believe in God. Abraham stepped out in faith that God had called him to something new, and something that was large in scope and design. And as I am learning in these days, that can be a very hard thing to do. Paul was called out too, and perhaps for that reason he can speak well to Abraham’s belief and righteousness.

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Verses 4 – 5)

I would like to believe, as Paul explains it, that grace from God cannot be earned as one would earn a paycheck but that God grants that grace to those who believe. In fact, in these days I am counting on God’s grace to get me through some hard times. And that as was true for Abraham, that God will show me the plans that the Divine had for me.

“For 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.” (Verses 13 – 15)

So, I am trying to follow along with Paul, and being aware how it pertains to my own situation – without, beloved reader, setting out my tale of woe. As far as I can figure, Paul is contrasting the law (meaning Jewish law) with believe that leads to righteous. The law cannot bring righteous or God’s grace. But belief in God can. But again, not just passive belief but belief that is active and acted on. Paul uses the term faith, and perhaps his meaning of the what incorporates action that reflects following the direction and guidance of God – I think. What Paul emphasizes is that if the law is what is important, then faith has not power or foundation. And that, Paul says, is not true.

“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.” (Verses 16 – 17)

By now I am feeling that Paul is so far into his theology that he sets forth here that it has to be true or everything that Paul asserts falls apart. And quite frankly, beloved reader, that is a little scary. Maybe Paul is scared, in that he has set forth his whole life since his conversion on belief in God. Just as Abraham set forth his whole life when he was called out of Ur. And just as I am setting out in faith that things will work out for me.

Maybe choosing this passage was not a good choice. But you know beloved reader, by the time you read this some days will have passed. And what was before me know as I write this will be in the past. It is my fervent prayer that events will have resolved themselves in such a way that will be evident that God’s grace and blessing was with me the whole time but I could not yet see it. And that perhaps, just maybe, my faith in this will be counted as a small sliver of righteous to me. Shalom!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Going out with God

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.” (Genesis 12:1-4a)

Almost twelve years (this summer) ago we moved to Eugene. Not because the Lord called us to the west coast (at least not directly) but because a good job beckoned. But we did leave family behind as we journeyed west. That was hard. We did not expect to become “a great nation”; not sure I would have wanted that anyway. But what I did hope is that we would become a blessing to those we met and befriended. And I think that we have done.

As we enter this second week of Lent, I have to think about Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus was called from his family, called to call disciples, and to spend the next years spreading the gospel. We read in the gospels that Jesus’ family did not always understand what Jesus was doing, and why. Some of the gospel writers almost make is seem like his family was against him, and he had isolated himself from his family.

And for Jesus, this verse did come true, in the fullest. Jesus was the beginning of a “great nation” – a Christian nation. And his name was made great, and became a blessing. Those who believe in Jesus are blessed; and those who curse Jesus will find themselves outside of God’s consideration.

Jesus and our Lord God call us out; maybe not to a different land or a different state. But we are called. And so we duly go forth, hoping for the best; but ready for the worst, secure in the knowledge that God is with us each step of the way. Selah!