Hearing and Returning
  • Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Second Sunday in Lent

Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16 • Ps. 22:22-30
Rom. 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38

The trouble with Peter, and the reason he is momentarily called Satan, is that he does not “sense” the things of God. And although we believe we have a better grasp of the theological landscape with its imposing sufferings and bitter betrayals, its raging violence, and cryptic invitation to carry the cross, our sense and perception may prove no better: “When tribulations and persecutions arise on account of the Word, immediately they are scandalized” (Mark 4:17). Must Jesus stand alone forever, a man of sorrow and grief? Do we love him? Did we ever love him?

The collect for the Second Sunday in Lent mentions “all who have gone from your ways” (BCP, p. 218). Thus we call to mind instances when the summons to follow was clear and the response prompt and faithful. God calls Abram from his retirement home in Mesopotamia. Mimicking modes of Mesopotamian speech, God is El Shaddai, the God of the Mountain. And, while the Mount God is likely to demand that he be worshiped at a high and celestial place, this God requires instead ambulation and perfections. Walk before me. Be perfect. Promises ensue: You will be the father of many nations; I will give to you and your seed the land of your sojourn, the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding (Gen. 17:3-8). If we detect international turmoil as the only fruit of this promise, we yet fail to sense the things of God. Giving a new name to Abram and Sarai, calling them Abraham and Sarah, God announces newness and universal blessing to the nations. Astoundingly, Abraham sets forth, being 99 years old.

The aged may still hear the voice. On Feb. 23 in the year 156, Polycarp stood in the amphitheatre at Smyrna answering the proconsul who demanded he curse Christ. “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Others who come, though less advanced in age, come as if prematurely gray. For all hear an ancient voice of promise, the same voice that calls all things into being, pursues an errant humanity, speaks with such articulate resonance as to become in the fullness of time the Word. The Word speaks (John 1:18). The Word calls and they follow: Simon and Andrew, James and John, Levi and a whole pack of publicans. They come to the promise and font of life. St. Paul, who is by no means adverse to legitimate law, calling our vocation the “obedience of faith” and laboring for unity and order in the Church, insists, nonetheless, that the calling of Christ is not a matter of mere law or inheritance. To every generation God issues a promise which, by a prevenient prompting, is accepted ex fide. If another attending claim even slightly diminishes the profligate wonder of salvation, faith is emptied and the promise abolished.

Why have we gone astray? We fear the cost, no doubt, but we also find ourselves at times caught as if in a web of cares and worries. The liturgical source from which today’s collect takes its form says that “our souls are deceived by a diabolic fraud.” God would rescue us from this pernicious liar; God would return us to the “foundation of truth.” First, however, omni heredica perversitati depula (every heretical perversity pushed out of the way), we come again to the truth. Christ would break in, bind the strong man, and let us hear anew his voice, which, though a calling to his cross, is finally a calling to life and peace. Christ would have us “sense” that we are dying and rising with him.

Look It Up
Read the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent (BCP 1979, p. 218). Hold fast.

Think About It
The Word is addressing you.

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