On Sunday 28th February Revd Susan Carter explained to us what Jesus asks of us, during this time of Lent.
The readings for Lent II Year B
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Lent is not for the faint-hearted.
In today’s gospel reading in Mark, we get an edgy Jesus who:
o Has what one commentator calls a “new and different exchange with Peter” saying to him “Out of my sight, Satan.” Peter seemingly thinks Jesus is a bit crazy and needs to be reined in.
o Says any follower of his had better be ready to take up his cross. Translation: be ready to die, too.
o Proceeds to declare to the disciples that the way to save one’s life is to lose it.
o And says: if anyone is ashamed of me on Earth, guess what? The Son of Man is going to return the favor in Heaven.
Still, in a backward sort of way, today we are getting messages of hope coming at us from a couple of sides. Uplifting messages, though we have to dig a little deeply for them.
But, after all, this is Lent. Joy doesn’t come to us on a platter in this thin time between Epiphany and Easter.
Frankly, we could use some good news. Covid is still bedeviling us. The curfew continues. Questions abound about schools being fully opened. And when can we get vaccinations?
Sort of makes us wonder “who is in charge here?”
Actually, the answer to that question is given to us today in multiple versions.
God, and God incarnate – come to Earth to be with us as Jesus – is in charge.
At first glance, one might suggest that God ought to be paying a little more attention to what has been happening. But then, God always has a vision far greater than ours.
Today we are being told in the gospel that if we want to be followers, true followers of Jesus, we must be willing to lose our lives in order to save them.
The bumps and challenges we’ve experienced to date, they’re nothing compared with the sacrifice we are called to make.
Indeed, the follower must renounce self – check the ego at the door – and be even willing to die for Jesus’ sake.
“He must take up his cross and follow me.”
Those are pretty clear and unvarnished words. We can be thankful that taking up the cross doesn’t automatically bring with it physical suffering.
There are, though, places in the world where that is the case. Followers do take up the cross and face physical abuse or worse.
Wow. Why would anyone of us seriously contemplate that degree of loss, losing one’s life?
A professor in seminary once told us that priests must be prepared and willing to give the sacraments, to be pastoral, and to die.
Caught my attention.
And yet that’s precisely what we as Christians have signed up for – to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. In losing them, we save them.
We, as followers of Christ, have done so continuously, for nearly two thousand years. Saint Thècle, for whom a school in Chamalières is named, was willing to endure hardships and even face death in joining Paul to preach the gospel.
It helps to step back and acknowledge that the roots of our relationship with God go so very deep.
In Genesis, God makes a promise to Abraham and Sarah: “I shall be your God, yours and your descendants.”
We became the inheritors of an amazing, living contract, generation after generation. It is an everlasting covenant. And just as God is our God, we are God’s people.
Not in any kind of abstract way. Hardly. In a concrete and real fashion, one made even firmer with God’s gift of Jesus who came to be here, both human and divine.
God sealed the deal, the New Covenant, with the Holy Spirit – sent to be with us, to walk with us, and to feel our pain.
We are called to be proactive – to take up the cross, to lose our lives.
We are to let go of the law Paul talks about today in his letter to the Romans. We are to loosen our grip on the material things that we cling to, and cling to us.
The way we become the inheritors of the promise that the world would be given us – the promise that was talked about way back in Genesis – is by faith.
By clear, abject, unadulterated faith. The faith that yields grace.
Even when our faith is hugely tested, we can take comfort in the faith that Sarah and Abraham had, that Paul and Mary Magdalene and St. Thècle demonstrated.
It is the faith that is grounded in the promise that God will be our God, for us, and our children, and our children’s children.
How does that covenant, and how does the tough love of Jesus in Mark’s gospel get us through today, and tomorrow, and the rest of the days that stretch out in front of us?
Here is a message in Lent:
Jesus is asking us, I believe, to shift our focus. He is calling us to be spare, to realize what is worthwhile, and what is useless chaff.
Decide what can we put aside and let go - but with a plan and a purpose. You see, the other half of losing our lives for his sake – is saving them.
In saving our lives, we are not simply preparing for the eternity to come. We become the people on this Earth that Jesus asks us to be: those who love God, and those who love their neighbors as themselves. The activities of Restos de Cœur this coming Friday are an example – one of many – of things we can do here and now.
I believe that Lent offers us a time to not only deny ourselves certain items, but also give of ourselves. Take this time to look around, to identify a way to give of self, and then act.
We have all round us examples of those who tried to win the whole world, and at what cost?
It’s not the world that we need to win – it’s the love we need to share.