Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Jeanne Kaliszewski


The name Sarah, or its previous iteration of Sarai, appears more frequently in the Bible than that of any other woman, 55 times in the Old Testament and 4 times in the New according to the womanist Hebrew Bible scholar Wil Gafney. Granted, the list of women with names in the Bible is a pretty short one, but this points to the significance of Sarah in the story of God’s people.

Despite her importance in the narrative and her role as the matriarch of the people of Israel, I know I tend to only think of her as a supporting player in the stories of others – in the wanderings of Abraham, in the abuse and exile of Hagar and Ishmael, in the birth of Isaac.

But in today’s reading from Genesis God points to Sarah by name as being blessed by God (twice in fact, God repeats the words “I will bless her” two times) and that “she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Of course this proclamation is not spoken directly to Sarahm but to her husband Abraham, and I wonder how much he might have told her about his conversation with God. After all, Abraham does not have a good track record of treating her well or protecting her. Abraham is her husband, but also her brother, and he switches between those roles throughout the narrative depending on what best suits him and protects him. This happens most famously in the chapters before this one, as Abram and Sarai travel through Egypt and Abram travels as Sarai’s brother and gives her, traffics her in the word of one Biblical commentator, to Pharaoh in order to secure his own safety and wealth.

Interestingly, at the conclusion of that part of the story, when Pharoah realizes he has slept with Abram’s wife, it is God who is furious and punishes Pharoah (the text says that God afflicted him with ‘great plagues’)  and not Abram himself. God seems to be more aware and present to Sarai’s trauma than her husband.

Another source of Sarah’s pain, I might suggest, comes from being unable to bear children. During this time and this culture, being childless would be one of the worst shames for a woman, who was (at least in the Bible) always considered the one to blame….the metaphor being a barren field rather than unfruitful seed. But in today’s reading God announces that Sarah and Abraham, despite their very advanced age and inability thus far to have children, will indeed bear a son and this son will be the sign of God’s covenant and promise and hope.

God has articulated this covenant three times before to Abraham, but this is the first time God names Sarah in God’s promise. Right after the passage we heard this morning, Abraham suggests that God might consider Ishmael – his child with Hagar – as heir instead. Abraham sees a child being born by Sarah as a ridiculous impossibility given their age and Abraham tries to point God toward a more realistic and achievable plan.

But God names Sarah. As in their journey through Egypt, God is there for Sarah even when Abraham is not. In Egypt God saw Sarah’s pain even when her husband did not, God stays in relationship with Sarah even when her husband offers God an easier alternative, God promises life to Sarah even after she has suffered so much pain even at the hands of her own husband.

This is not just a story of the way God stays in relationship with Sarah through pain and trauma, but the story of how God stayed in relationship with the people of Judah during a violent and traumatic time in their history. (and with all of us). One scholar suggests that we might read the Book of Genesis as ‘survival literature”, written by the people of Judah in the time of the violence and trauma of the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC. Many of the stories of the Book of Genesis, including the ones of Sarah and Abraham, were likely written during this period, known as the “Babylonian Captivity”, when the center of Jewish life and worship was destroyed by the Chaldeans led by Nebuchadnezzar, the monarchy was killed, and many were deported to live in exile in Babylon.

Through these stories, through characters like Sarah, the Jewish people tried to make sense of what was happening to them and where God was in the aftermath of the unimaginable. God meets Sarah in the midst of her trauma and abuse – of being childless and married to her brother and trafficked to Pharaoh – and renames her and reiterates God’s promise to HER – that life will be created in HER body, that she will be the mother of a new nation. God does not take away her pain or her past but meets her in it and creates the possibilities of new meaning and new life from that pain and loss.

I, for one, need to hear these stories right now, in this time and in this Lent. One year ago today, this very day, the first case of Covid was announced in Oregon and recently we have passed the unimaginable number of 500,000 deaths. There has been a renewed reckoning with the violence done to black and brown bodies through the systems of white supremacy and the state. And many of us, I know, have our own stories of particular grief and loss throughout this year.

Yet, just as God was with Sarah, God is with us, offering a horizon of hope. These stories were written millenia ago to help our ancestors of the faith make sense of a hard time. I think they invite us to similarly tell our stories, to share our pain, with each other and with God, so that we too might see how God is with us and is calling to us by name. Last Wednesday, I had the privilege to help lead the first in our Lenten series from grief to joy, 28 people came together to learn about lament and to name their own particular laments in this time. It was a holy time and a holy space

I think by telling our stories of pain and grief, by listening to the stories of others, we meet God in a powerful way. God met Sarah in the most painful part of her story, in her childness and in her marriage to Abraham, and offered a relationship and the possibility of new life. God did not take away the pain of her past but rather offered a new way to make sense of it through relationship with God.

The first hymn we heard this morning was “The God of Abraham Praise” and it is one of my favorite hymns, but I do think we have too long given short shrift to Sarah….a complicated and brave and really human character. God named Sarah, God was with Sarah in her pain and trauma, God made an impossible promise to her and God was with her when that promise was fulfilled. So yes, let us praise the God of Abraham, but let us also praise the God of Leah, the God of Rebekah, the God of, Hagar and the God of Sarah and the God of all those whose stories of survival and hope speak to us still. Let us praise the God who was there with them and is here with us now and will always be with us forever.

Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Corbet Clark

Feb. 25, 2018


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

Psalm 22:22-30


Is suffering necessary?

Is suffering redemptive?

The human experience is that suffering is inevitable. We have all experienced pain and suffering, from illness or injury, or the indignities of aging, from failure and setbacks in school or in work, from community disasters, from losses of family and friends. Our suffering is not all the same, but we all experience at least the everyday suffering of things gone wrong.

Human beings are remarkably resilient. Resiliency is that ability to cope with failures and disasters large and small, to confront them, to move through them and emerge from them, often in positive ways. We know that resiliency is an essential skill for navigating adult life, and most of us learn the skills, usually through bitter experience.

Resiliency has become a hot topic among educators. We know that it’s essential for young people, as they grow up, to develop these skills, and most young people are able to do that. But in recent years there has been an increasing number of young people, from adolescents to young adults, who don’t seem to be able to cope with even modest personal challenges, who seem overwhelmed by setbacks and disappointments. In my work with high school students at school we have seen an increasing number of young people experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, or depression that prevents them from functioning in daily life. Why is this? And how do young people develop the ability to bounce back from personal challenges?

Resiliency seems to be like a muscle – it needs to be constantly exercised in order to gain strength. We all want to protect our children from terrible things happening to them, but the paradox is that when we as adults intervene too frequently or forcefully in their lives, we may be preventing them from developing the resiliency they need. When kids get into trouble and parents step in to fix the problem for them, when students fail at school and parents intercede with teachers or principals on their behalf, when young people experience disastrous social relationships, and adults try to manage that, we are probably doing our children no favors and may actually be keeping them from learning the hard lessons and gaining the confidence in themselves that they need to be mature, resilient adults.

What does resiliency look like? What are the skills we need to learn? Resilient people are able to draw on people around them to provide support and encouragement – not people who will solve their problems, but who will stand beside them and encourage them to solve their own problems. Resilient people are flexible and are able to adapt to changed circumstances, to alter their course when they face a dead end. “My major didn’t work out, so I switched to a different one.” “This relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so I re-thought my priorities and made a change.” “I lost my job, so I decided to pursue a completely different career.”

And resilient people are able to re-write their life narratives in ways that give them a sense of meaning and purpose. We all have a life narrative, a story about our own lives that gives our lives a sense of coherence and ideally a sense of meaning. So that our story is not just “This happened and then this happened and then this happened,” but more like “this happened, and it was hard, but it set me on a new path that has been very fulfilling.” For example, “I had a hard time my freshman year in college and decided to drop out. I spent a year working in the wilderness and came back from that with a new sense of what I wanted to do with my life.” We are constantly revising our life stories, as new things happen to us and as we make new life choices, and resilient people are able to find meaning even in the sharpest setbacks and failures, giving them strength to move forward in life.

This, I think, is exactly what Jesus is doing with his disciples – trying to instill in them the skills to cope with failure. The disciples are going up to Jerusalem with Jesus full of the expectation that this will be a moment of triumph. God’s reign is going to be established and Jesus will make it happen. When Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer and die,” he’s telling them it’s not going to be like that. He is going to suffer and die because he is human, and it is the lot of all humans to suffer and die – there’s no escape from that for any of them. When he tells them to pick up their cross, he’s telling them that by confronting the suffering that is to come, they will find the purpose that God has for them – if they accept it and deal with it, they will find meaning in it. God will show them the way.

Christianity is a very resilient religion. Think about it: Jesus’s followers expected imminent triumph and instead Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed, and his followers were scattered. That should have destroyed the Jesus movement, but somehow they managed to carry on. The found strength in their community and in supporting one another, they were able to re-frame their mission – how and why they were going to move forward. And most importantly, they rewrote their narrative. They took the cross – a symbol of defeat and death – and they made it into a symbol of hope and new life. And Christians have been doing the same ever since.

I came to my school, OES, thirty years ago. Just before I arrived the school had experienced a catastrophic disaster, when nine members of the school, both students and faculty, were killed in a mountaineering accident on Mount Hood. It could have meant the end of the school, but somehow it survived. People found strength and comfort in one another, not to make the pain and loss disappear, but to bear the pain together. And the school rewrote its own narrative, to incorporate that terrible loss and to reshape the school’s mission to one of care for the whole student and service to the larger community, which had offered the school care in a time of crisis.

I think the same kind of thing is happening now in South Florida. In the midst of the incredible pain and grief of this human catastrophe, the community is finding ways to be resilient. They are drawing together to support one another. They are bearing one another’s pain. And they are rewriting their narrative by taking on a new mission: working together with others to make change in our society to stop the violence associated with guns. In the process they are giving themselves hope in the midst of despair and a sense of meaning and purpose, so that the loss of those children will not have been in vain. We don’t know how that will come out, but it’s a sign of great hope.

How do we cope with suffering? How do we develop those skills of resiliency, as individuals and as a community? We commit to supporting one another when we are in pain. We practice compassion, whose root meaning is to “suffer with,” for those in crisis. When we confront failure, we adapt to new circumstances. If our mission is failing, we don’t dwell on that failure but seek out new ways to move forward. And we continue to rewrite our life narratives, as individuals and as a community, to find new meaning and purpose in the midst of defeat and failure. We take up our own cross, confronting hardship and pain directly and finding in it God’s purpose for us, so that the cross of defeat and death becomes the cross of hope and new life.




Second Sunday in Lent by Robb Beck


Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13:31-35

Psalm 27



Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit… Amen.

Every year during Lent, the lectionary reading provides us with the foundational stories of Faith: the story of God’s promise to Abraham and to what having faith in God’s promise meant for the very first Christian communities.  I want to suggest to you that the readings from Genesis and Philippians tell us that having faith goes beyond how we commonly understand the term today, as say, mere believing in something, someone, or even God as an abstract deity. Rather, today’s bible readings prompt us to see that faith means following in the way of the cross, to take the path of Jesus in our own, literal, material bodies. The Lenten season provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be cross-bearers in today’s world.



Beginning with today’s Genesis reading, we’re presented what looks like a rich, pastoral scene. We can easily imagine Abraham taking a nice leisurely walk at dusk, pensively gazing up at the stars. Suddenly and with a start, he hears the assuring voice of Yahweh, and all seems well with the world. Abraham then turns and strolls back home to Sarai, eager to share with her God’s message of hope. “Our offspring shall be as many as the stars in the sky,” he tells his wife. I often think to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could hear the word of God so clearly.

But to read the passage in this manner, to read the foundational story of faith in this way, is to sanitize it, to rob it of its message of hope. In what seems like our never ending attempt to clean up the Bible, to make it appropriate for Sunday School, I think we tend to glide over the rougher bits. We know Abraham is credited as the father of faith, but let’s look at Abraham’s actual life to see if faith is really, so easy.

First, we recall call that this is the third time that God has given his promise to Abraham. One would hope that one time was enough. In the preceding chapter, we’ll told about a devastating famine that was so terrible that Abraham had to pawn Sarai into Pharaoh’s harem – and let’s not have any illusions about what an Ancient Near East harem was. We’re also told that Abraham bickered with his relative Lot and the land had to be divided so as to forestall a civil war of sorts. As the story continues, Lot and his tribe are captured. Abraham is then forced to gather his army and after a slaughter, eventually frees Lot. And a few chapters after today’s reading, Sarai, in an act of desperation to preserve the family lineage, convinces Abraham to father a son from her slave girl, which only foments more strife.

The story of Abraham makes it plain that living by faith doesn’t really assuage fear or doubt (Source). God appears to Abraham, withdraws, appears, only to withdraw yet again. We begin to see that faith or belief in this case is less about believing in an abstract deity or holding to some mental idea, and more about learning to trust, hear, and follow Yahweh’s call amidst our deepest failures.



From Abraham we travel to the time of Paul, around 40 or 50 AD, a few years before the first Gospels were written. Today’s reading brings us to the Roman military city of Philippi. Now, we’re not quite drawn into the Epistles in the same way are with the familiar stories of Genesis: Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah. But in Paul’s letters we continue to see the drama of salvation history played out before us yet again.

So let’s step back into this Roman world and into the minds’ of the Philippian community to understand just what it is Paul is trying to say.

Philippi was originally established a veteran colony, with its citizens enjoying the rights and privileges of Rome itself – no small thing in the ancient world. The Philippian community would have taken great pride in their lineage and military heritage. In the ancient world, citizenship defined one’s ethics, defined one’s behavior in the world. Clearly, this far different from how we understand citizenship in modern times, which is marked by a passport.

It’s important that we don’t underestimate the role that Rome plays in Paul’s letters. For in the ancient world, Rome stood for the rule of might over right. The fact that the Roman powers had conquered the world and subjugated the peoples, including the Jews, clearly meant that Rome was simply fated to rule the world, at least from Rome’s perspective. Most importantly, it was Rome that crucified the Messiah.

We know that at the time of writing his letter, Paul is under military arrest and likely facing execution, and not for religious reasons. In the book of Acts we’re told that Paul was accused of  high treason. He was charged with professing another Caesar, one who happened to be named, Jesus Christ. Paul’s Philippian friends were also facing hardships, blowback it seems, from abandoning Roman gods for a Jewish god.

We also know that in Paul’s day the fastest growing religion in the Empire was the religion of Caesar (N.T. Wright). So, for instance, various Roman emperors commonly claimed the mantle, “Son of God.” Other well known “Christian” words that we take for granted we’re actually common Roman terms. For example, “Gospel” was a familiar word, with Roman acolytes proclaiming the  ‘good news of Caesar.’ The “savior” of the world was Caesar who brought “salvation” to the peoples. And, most importantly in light of today’s Epistle, any Roman citizen worth his or her salt, would place their “pistis” – what the New Testament translates as “faith” – in their “Kurious” or “Lord,” the emperor.

In the ancient world, pisits / faith meant more than mere believing in something or someone. The Greek word carries the sense of that which gives confidence, that which one can place their trust or allegiance in, or that which confirms, ‘yes, this is the story for which I will stake my life.’ In fact, for the everyday Roman citizen, pistis / faith would have evoked political allusions, as the term was frequently used in military legends (Morgan). A much more helpful translation of pistis, then, is fidelity.

With this understanding of faith / fidelity in mind, we can begin to see the numerous contrast Paul draws between having fidelity in Rome – what the Philippians would have understood – or fidelity in the way of the cross – what Paul was calling them to become: cross-bearers.

When Paul tells his Philippian friends that their “citizenship is in heaven,” he is aiming to realign their current allegiance and moral outlook (Oakes). He is not, by the way, giving them a “pie in the sky” theology.

So, rather than placing fidelity in the emperor, newly baptized Christians are to place their fidelity in the crucified enemy of the state.

Rather than lording over inferiors, cross-bearers are to ‘let the mind’ of Jesus be in them, to live the life of a suffering servant (2.5). No easy task for a proud Roman.

Rather than seeking the upward mobility of Roman privilege, cross-bearers are called to share in Christ’s downward sufferings, “to become like him in his death,” (3.10) as Paul says, and therefore to share in his glory.

Rather than feeling pride in their great city of Philippi, cross-bearers are to claim the citizenship of heaven, suffering for the sake of love, giving oneself for another.

This contrast between placing fidelity in Rome or the way of the cross couldn’t be greater for Paul. As an analogy, you might recall the old folk song made famous by Pete Seeger in 1967, “Which side are you on?”


They say in Harlan County

There are no neutrals there;

You’ll either be a union man

Or a thug for J. H. Blair


Roman citizenship and all the privileges thereof, or the citizenship of heaven. Victory achieved through war, leaving a trail of crucified bodies behind, or victory achieved by the crucified body of Christ. We can easily imagine Paul saying, “You’ll either be a cross-bearer, or a thug for J.H. Caesar.”

Imagine how startling this message would have been for a typical Roman citizen. Messiah’s are not born in stables, they are born in kingly glory. Messiahs do not spend their time with the dregs of society, lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes; they spend their time courting important persons: senators, business leaders, and generals. Above all else, Messiahs are not crucified; Messiahs crucify.


Fidelity Not Belief

We might then contrast Abraham’s ragtag faith and Paul’s fidelity with how faith is commonly understood today. As the great literary critic Terry Eagleton observes, many of us still hold to the Yeti view of belief in God. That is, do you believe in a certain type of mysterious creature, or type of Supreme Being, or don’t you? Now, it’s wonderful to speculate on Yetis and Sasquatches, but this is not how Abraham or Paul understood faith. One important reason being that believing in God in biblical times was really no big deal.

Biblical faith is not about abstract or cerebral ideas floating around in our heads. Faith-as-fidelity for Abraham and Paul, is “performative rather than propositional” (Eagleton). It is that for which we give our very bodies for the sole purpose, as Paul says in today’s reading, that we “may conformed to the body” of Christ’s suffering glory (3.21).

Why is the examination of the word “faith” / fidelity important? Because I often wonder if mere belief in God is enough. We’re not likely to be executed by Romans, but when the time comes for us to bear our cross, in whatever form, will a set of abstract propositions bouncing around in our heads be enough? Don’t we need something more, something embodied?

Here in the Pacific Northwest we often hear the phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I even admit to having used the phrase from time to time when talking with my atheist friends. Now, we understand what people are really saying, “oh, I’m not like those crazy Christians I see on TV with the big hair, makeup, and southern accents.” But it needs to be pointed out to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd: “yes, but you’re also corporeal, you also have a body” (Source).

Some of you might be familiar with Graham Greene’s deeply religious and grace-filled novel, The End of the Affair. Green’s book tells the story of Sarah and the extreme guilt she feels after committing adultery. After falling in love with another man and betraying her husband, Sarah’s guilt runs so deep that it extends down to the very core of her body. One day, after a long walk, she stumbles into a Catholic church and begins to finally notice the statues of saints, Mary, and of course Jesus, lining the church walls. She wonders to herself why all this emphasis on the material body in Christianity? Why the blood stained statues? ‘If I were to invent a religion,’ she says, “it would be that the body was never born again, that it rotted with last year’s vermin.” I want to believe in something “vague,” something “cosmic” she thinks. I just want to float into a spiritual ether one day and be rid of this guilt ridden body.

But as she continues to reflect on the all the bodies around her, she experiences a conversion, she begins to see that “we can love with our minds, but can we love only with our minds?”

“Love extends itself all the time,” says Greene, “so that we can even love with our senseless [finger] nails: we love even with our clothes, so that a sleeve can feel a sleeve” (110). This is an observation that St. Paul would have wholeheartedly endorsed, as he was sitting in his jail awaiting execution.

We are not spiritual beings floating 3 feet above the ground, but beings who are to take up the path of Christ in our own bodies, bodies that are falling, bodies that have been broken, bodies that will one day, as Paul says, be joined with Christ’s body. As Nadia Boltz Weber once said to the “spiritual but not religious crowd:” “Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s material.  You can’t even get started without a loaf of bread some wine and a river.”

It’s also important to point out that Paul or indeed any of the biblical writers are not interested in bodily suffering for suffering’s sake alone. What we are called to do is to enter into the suffering of the world, to help bear its burdens through the grace of the Spirit.



More than ever, we need to be a people who can face the world’s nightmares head on. Sadly, such nightmares are not hard to find: the Flint water crisis, ISIS, the Zika virus, extremist groups, an economic system that puts profits before people, and on it goes.

If only our vocation as Christians was as easy as mere belief, as believing in God the same way we might the Yeti or Sasquatch. To quote Terry Eagleton once more, he provocatively ads that “the New Testament is the brutal destroyer of human illusion [and easygoing optimism]. If you follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do.”

As we make our way to the cosmic events of Holy Week, my prayer is that we will continue to be a community of cross-bearers. As those who not only gaze at Christ’s work of redemption on the cross from a safe distance, or from some 2,000 years later, but who respond to the summons and grace to participate in the reconciliation of all things, here and now, and in our own bodies, to the glory of the God the Father.  Amen.


The Name of Faith + Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Esme J. R. Culver


Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm 22:22-30

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

The Ella Brown Room is filled with crosses. And there are crosses in the glass case in the hall outside the chapel. Each is treasured enough to be shared and each carries a story that partly defines the one who lives with it… and defines a particular perception of what it means to walk with Christ……what it means to be a Christian. We brought our crosses for all to see and in the doing so, we had to ponder if we should… we gently took them off our own walls or shelves and carefully brought them to another sacred place for about 40 days. During the period of those 40 days, they represent to the world our faithfulness and our obedience to God and our trust in God’s promise to love us unconditionally, a covenant made to us through our forefather Abraham and brought to fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They bring us to a poiint of our walk through Lent in a way that is difficult to explain to the uninitiated….. ……the mainstream secular culture of our times. They bring us a reminder of our own burdens to be carried…..our personal crosses made far too heavy to hang on a wall, almost too heavy to bear. At this time of Lent we come to the moment where our work becomes harder and more profound as we are called to lift our own cross and carry it just as did Jesus. It is the time for our own heavy lifting….of our self-denial and our self-disclosure. And in the carrying, we come to a time when we decide what part of us must die and what part of ourselves will will rise from the ashes left behind.

After all is said and done, when the time comes for us to look back at the 40 days of Lent and how we spent them, it would be good to know that we have done the best we could with this important work. We can begin by asking ourselves “What does it mean to me to be a Christian?” Did my vow to give up chocolate, or wine, or some other desired fruit that tempts, inform an answer? Did my decision to take on a particularly challenging task inform an answer? If so, then indeed we enjoy some measure of success. However, it might be helpful to take time to be sure we have the right task and thus, the right answer.   There, God. I gave up chocolate for Lent and didn’t enjoy one single nibble. There, God. Am I not the better person for it? Am I not a good Christian?

As we ask the question, we ask it in relation to the times in which we live. We are surrounded by deep sin…war and cruelty….neglect ….abuse to the highest degree…here in Portland and all over the world. When we compare ourselves to these extremes, we come off looking pretty good. At least to us. We don’t murder or create mayhem, so how could God possibly think of us as sinful? The price of giving up chocolate seems appropriate to the degree of our perceived sins. Yet, the reverse also often seems true….. we are prone to cast ourselves into a pit of guilt over the slightest perception of personal sin. The way we raised our voice, the way we felt slighted, the way we judged, silently and aloud…..we add them up and feel hopelessly lost in our sins and feel defeated by them…..feel a sense of failure.

Yet……as Paul reminds us…… through the grace of God, our sins are already forgiven. And Cornel West reminded us, too, in his speech we heard on Wednesday evening….we are to “fail better!” We only fail when we try…..and the harder we try, the more opportunity we have to fail, and we are to be unafraid of our own failure……we are to fail better in our work toward true discipleship. God is far less interested in totaling up our failures and more interested in our desire to be more than we thought we could be……. Faithful and trusting in God’s love and forgiveness. Like Abraham, we stumble on our doubts, like rocks stumbled over in the desert, but… Christians…… we are to stumble on in faith, obedient to God’s call to us. It is with faith and with trust in God’s faithfulness to us that we will come to sacred understanding of who we are and where we are called to go.

And as we make our way, we other questions occur to us…… “What does it mean to be faithful?” “What does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?” How do I define myself as a Christian? How am I defined by others? How am I defined by God?

If God were to rename you today, how would you be named….how would you be defined? In what newly defined direction would that name lead?

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness asking himself similar questions. The answers came clearer for him through his faithful obedience to God and he began to understand the direction he was to take and where it would take him… great suffering and rejection and ultimately to death and to resurrection. So clear was he in his direction that he wanted to let his disciples know so that they could set their own. However, the direction he was describing did not ring true for those listening. Peter tried to set him right, rebuking him for how Jesus was describing his destiny. The others there were probably equally perplexed by Jesus’ words.   If Jesus was the Messiah, then surely his direction would gather power, money, privilege and prestige…..would oust the Romans, would give presence to the underdogs and triumph to the working poor, Isn’t that what Messiah’s do? What’s all this about a cross? Death….resurrection. Did we really hear that?

Peter is listening to Jesus from his own pre-conception of what a Messiah should be and what a Messiah should be out to accomplish. Jesus’ words were so outrageous, that he simply didn’t acknowledge them. And in his haste to bring things back into perspective on human terms rather than those of the divine……Peter missed the most important part of the story…..the story of the cross.   It was the cross which was at the heart of everything. It was the cross that would turn the world upside down, and not the sword. It would be the humility and obedience offered on the cross that would ultimately triumph…… not judgment and punishment of others. It would be ultimate faithfulness to God, above all else that would define Jesus’ life.

Just as Jesus called his disciples then to understand his direction, and thus define their own……as modern day disciples, we too, are called to examine our preconceptions about how our lives should be defined.

God asked the same of Abram and Sarai and they were given new names by God…….. Abraham and Sarah. It doesn’t seem like much, we think. Just because their names have changed, how does that change them? But, they have been redefined by God and they are blessed by God for a particular destiny, even as…. in their older years….. they have been asked to do what seems impossible. In faith, they take on the new definition of themselves and do what God has asked them to do with trust and with faith.

In return, God makes a covenant with them….a covenant of hope for the future and future generations. It is a covenant that is connected to the continuation of creation, and it is through this covenant that all God’s people have been given the gift of hope and all God’s people are to define themselves through the lens of this covenant. The Covenant between Abraham and God echoes down through the ages to David to Jesus and to the disciples of Jesus….the faithful people of God. In our Magnificat we sing of “The great promise God has made to our forefathers, Abraham and his children forever.” [1] That’s us.

And, just as Abraham and Sarah set out across the great unknown, now it’s our turn to show the measure of our faith as Christians. Our turn to be redefined by God. Like Abraham and Sarah, we know it is hard and that we don’t always measure up in the way God would like.   Yet, the promise of hope in God’s covenant with us doesn’t depend on the degree of our faithfulness toward God. God will continue to be faithful to us regardless of our disregard.

Lent affords us time to contemplate our circumstances, time to sort through some important aspects of who we are…….our wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on others. We reflect on our shortcomings and seek to redefine them so that they become our strengths. Our thoughtlessness to become thoughtfulness, our neglect to become awareness, our inaction: action, our unkindness: kindness, our selfishness: unselfishness, our judgment to become loving acceptance.

It is how we have been defining ourselves and what we need to redefine…..who we really are and who it is that God wants so desperately for us to understand about ourselves and who we could become.

It’s far harder work than giving up chocolate……it’s the hard work of Lent…..repentance. It is the measure of our faith in the way of the cross.

There is no freeway through the wilderness we are to traverse during Lent, only a long, sometimes very lonely path.   Taking time for self-reflection, realigning our priorities, redefining our identities,…….., we walk with measured steps, lest we slip on a stray rock on the way.

If we fall, we get up and continue on, because that is the only way we will begin to understand how we are defined by God. As God’s people we each need to ask ourselves what God’s covenant means to us and how does it inform our faithfulness to God and our trust in God? What is it we need to do……..or not to do in order to become even more intimately involved with God and God’s promise to us.

In this Second Week of Lent, we continue to make our way to the cross, carrying our own toward the glory of Easter Day. The meaning of the cross will be meaningless for us if we don’t work to define ourselves as a reflection of God’s love and faithfulness toward us and if we don’t carry our own.

We are following in the way of Abraham and heirs of a covenant that has no end and which has been fulfilled in a real and human way through Jesus Christ. And this is the faithful strength that defines us as Christians as we make our way in joyful obedience to Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we are well informed about our relationship to God and to Jesus Christ. At our baptism we were redefined as “reborn…..and we are received into the household of God to share in Christ’s eternal priesthood.” [2]

We have “graciously been accepted as living members of God’s Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.” [3] And so, as faithful Christian disciples, we do the work in preparation for our opportunity to experience the death of one definition of ourselves so that we can rise into a new definition of all that seems impossible to accomplish and yet is possible.

As darkness falls over the dry desert wilderness, the nature of the cross we are to carry will be revealed to us, and we know full well, it will be much heavier than the crosses we brought to hang on a wall. It may become almost too heavy to bear, but we carry it joyfully, all the way to the place where we can lay ourselves down at the foot of the cross and leave the burden of all our sins to die there. Then and, only then, ….. with the love which knows no bounds……the love that forgives all sins…….He will raise us up……..and we will…. ……. with God’s help …….. be made new.

Written to the Glory of God
The Rev. Esme J. R. Culver+
March 1, 2015

[1] BCP S247 Magnificat

[2] BCP Holy Baptism. Pp 299 – 314

[3] BCP Post-Communion Prayer P. 365