Sunday, February 28, 2021

2 Lent, 2021: New life - Guaranteed


Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38 

En el nombre de Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad... In the name of God who is Trinity in unity. Amen.

Our Scriptures today hold up for us the concept of righteousness. So, what is righteousness?

The dictionary defines righteousness as something that is morally right or justifiable. It says a righteous person is virtuous, having high moral standards.

By comparison, our Judeo-Christian tradition takes a radically different approach. For us, righteousness is right relationship – with God, one another, and all creation. The temporal fruit of righteousness is wholeness, harmony, peace, joy, and love. The eternal fruit of righteousness is life – on earth and for eternity – as we can see in our story from Genesis.

In this story, God invites Abram into relationship by inviting him into a covenant, that is, a formal agreement saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful…” By this time Abram is 99 years old and Sarai is in her 80s, and they have no son, yet God promises to make a multitude of nations from them.

Then God changes their names to Abraham and Sarah, which in Jewish tradition connects them to their redemption and signifies the new life God is bringing them. Abraham means “father of multitudes” and Sarah means “joy and delight.”

Their part in the covenant was to make a choice: to accept God’s blessing and abide in the covenant, despite what earthly barriers seemed to be in the way – or not. They chose to trust God and live as if the promises of God were true. That is what righteousness is.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the path of righteousness. Jesus tells them that he is about to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leadership, and be killed, after which he will rise again.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him privately. His love for Jesus, his respect and admiration for him, and his wisdom about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah are barriers for Peter, who is unable to look beyond the earthly circumstances to the fulfillment of God’s plan in Jesus – even in the devastating circumstances by which Jesus says that plan will be fulfilled.

Jesus makes his response to Peter publicly - indicating that this is an important lesson for all of his followers. Looking at the disciples, Jesus says these biting words: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” How are we to understand this?

Theologian and religious historian, Elaine Pagels, teaches that the Hebrew term “the satan” describes an adversarial role, not a particular character. “Along about the 6th century Hebrew commentary introduced the idea of the supernatural nature of “the satan.” The word “satan” literally means “one who throws something across one’s path.” If the path is bad, the obstruction is good, thus “the satan” may have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from worse harm. If the path is righteous, however, “the satan” is blocking the path of the will of God. (The Origin of Satan, Vintage, 1996, pp 39, 40) This is what Peter was doing.

According to our early tradition, then, Satan is not a red demon guy with a tail and pitchfork who is nearly equal in power to God and spends his time trying to trick believers away from God. Besides, we don’t need Satan to trick us out of our right relationship with God. We’re perfectly capable of going astray ourselves.

When we go astray, which we all will at times, we also know that we have been baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever. Therefore, we can always choose to repent – to return to right relationship with God who is always faithful, steadfast in mercy, and waiting to forgive and be reconciled with us once more.

God does not give up on us but continually gives us the time, support, and resources we need to grow into our divine purpose. So, when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” he was teaching Peter, the other disciples, and us this important lesson: ‘You can’t be my follower if you are in front of me telling me how it ought to go. Get behind me and follow me. I will lead. Remember, you can only see from an earthly perspective. I see with divine sight. Trust me. Get behind me and follow me.”

As our Lenten journey continues to bring us deeper into that wilderness where the wild beasts of temptation lead us to dare to tell God how to proceed according to our plan, Jesus reminds us to follow him. Sometimes the lesson stings at first, but the mercy of God is always there for us – guaranteed - and the love of God is ready to heal whatever wounds our naiveté causes in us, in others, and in the world.

The covenant in which we now choose to abide is the New Covenant: redemption in Jesus Christ. In this covenant, God promises new life to us – resurrection life – through Jesus. Our part in this covenant is to choose to live as if that promise is true. Notice I said “live” because the promise of God in the New Covenant isn’t fulfilled after we die but as we live, now, in the eternal presence of the God of love.

As we mature in our faith and righteousness, we will die little deaths like Peter did in today’s gospel - the death of an expectation, idea, habit, or prejudice - and God will lead us to new life after each of those deaths.

Our life as baptized Christians is one great ongoing resurrection reality because new life always follows death in the kingdom of God. Guaranteed. Amen.

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