Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent Year A

Second Sunday in Lent A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 12: 1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5.13-17; John 3:1-17

Crisp, blunt phrases convey a story of profound beginnings: one man's personal response has consequences for human history. The Lord said to Abram, "Go!" And on a promise of future blessing for himself and all humankind, "So Abram went...."

The direct, beautiful simplicity of the language of this psalm and the repetition of the word "guard" as a noun and a verb declare an uncomplicated trust in the Lord.

Paul's convoluted language interprets the story of Abraham as an example of unequivocal obedience.

In this well-worn passage from John's gospel, the emphasis is on personal decision in response to a direct declaration. This time the one to be trusted is Jesus.

Most memorably, biblical texts are injunctions embedded in stories that show the consequences for various individuals and groups who followed or failed to follow-- such as Abram who followed straight away. Go! Go and do! Multiply! Feed! Hear! See! Behold! Remember! Eat! Drink! Preach! Heal! Baptize! Call! Pray! Weep! Laugh! Proclaim! Keep silent! Sing!  Biblical texts are full of injunctions to start something!

Biblical texts are not problems to be solved or principles to be applied. The stories of others who encountered these injunctions and then followed or did not and the consequences of their personal decisions engage us: What would we do? What will we do in response -- here, today? "In other words we cannot stand back as uninvolved spectators and simply work out the allegorical or ethical implications. Reading these [biblical] narratives ... means learning how to continue the series (or discovering that we do not know how to continue it). This is something every reader of the Bible grasps immediately and intuitively, but errors tend to creep in when we try to conceptualize our intuitions." (Gabriel Josipovici, The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, 1988, p. 229)

After a very rough start in God's relationship with humankind in the beginning of the Genesis narrative, God takes a fresh stab at forming a partnership with humankind.  God tells Abram to leave home, birthplace and family.  With no further explanation, at this point, God then tells Abram that "all the clans of the earth through you will be blessed."  At this point in the biblical narrative, there is no Law, no Temple, no liturgical cycle, no interpreters, just a simple offer of partnership based solely on trust.  In Jesus' encounter with someone trained and credentialed in religion, Nicodeamus, Jesus asks how can he not grasp what God is doing through Jesus.  Jesus speaks with the authority of one "who descended from heaven" and will be "lifted up," as Moses lifted up that earlier sign of God's redemption in the wilderness, to announce and live out in public God's message for the world: anyone who follows him "will not perish but have eternal life."  God's motive and message, for which Jesus is the bearer, is clear: "For God so loved the world...."  Abram is an example of faith, one who got up and "went."  Nicodeamus is a reminder that we can over complicate, over conceptualize the simple message of the biblical narratives:  God seeks a partnership with each and every person and, it seems, will go to any extreme to reach us with that offer out of a single motive.  God has clearly announced the motive for this offer-- love!  This is something we are more likely to grasp and act on "intuitively" or just continue struggling with.  But  sometimes, as we know in life, acting on a hunch precedes understanding or even eventually allows understanding.