Feb. 25, 2018: Lent 2B (English)

Lent 2B: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Zion Lutheran Church, February 25th, 2-18
Pastor Anke Deibler

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Yogi Berra once famously said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Well, the disciples are at a fork in the road today. What kind of messiah are they looking for? What kind of disciple are they going to be? Two possibilities lie ahead of them.

Option one is the glorious, powerful messiah who would liberate his people. Immediately before our gospel reading comes in, Peter was the first person ever to confess Jesus as the messiah. Everyone was excited, because the title “messiah” brought to mind the vision of a strong leader who would unite his people, throw out the Roman occupiers, and establish a new Israel in the glory it had known under King David.

Option two is introduced by Jesus in our gospel reading: The Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and be killed and after three days rise again. This is a very different kind of messiah; a suffering, serving, humble messiah. This type was not unknown in the scriptures, but had been completely overlooked and neglected by Jesus’ contemporaries. Times were tough, and what people wanted was not the suffering messiah, but the gloriously strong one.

A fork in the road. Two versions of messiah are laid out before the disciples. What will they choose?

Their decision will have important implications for their own lives, because these two kinds of messiahs will require two very different kinds of disciples. The strong leader of the nation will need obedient soldiers who, after victory, will be rewarded, maybe with a cushy government position.

The suffering messiah calls his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him, to be willing to die for the gospel, to be servants their whole life long, and all that with no earthly rewards. What Jesus promises instead is gaining their soul and life everlasting.

What’s it gonna be?

Abraham and Sarah are at a similar fork in the road. God offers them a covenant. God will be their God and they will be God’s people. They will become a people. They will be a blessing to the nations. They will have a land and be the ancestors of a holy nation. This is an amazing offer. What do Abraham and Sarah do with it?

They could decide to stay where they are, with their familiar lives. They know it will be tough; desert travel is hard and fraught with danger. They also know that they are old and that having children at this advanced age has a very low probability rate indeed. They could say, “Thanks, God, but we kind of like it here, and we are getting old, and our traveling days are over. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Or they could trust God and the covenant promises offered to them, and on the basis of these promises, venture into an unknown future. They could let their trust in God overpower their fears and embark on the journey.

That is what they do. They believe and they trust and they go. Upheld by the promises of God, they set out into a future with God. They don’t know what the journey will be like, but they know that God is in charge of it, and God will walk it with them, and God will bless them and others along the way. Upheld by nothing by faith in God’s promises, they go.

This is the kind of faith Paul commends in our Epistle reading. He contrasts this faith with the kind of faith fostered by the law. This is what Paul writes: When you engage in a law-based relationship, all you get in the end is wrath, because law leads to a quid-pro-quo attitude: If I do this for God, then I can expect God to do that for me. There is no love in this; it is just a business deal.

The problem with this kind of faith relationship surfaces when something goes wrong. Say you gave all the prescribed sacrifices, and then your child gets sick and dies – Where does that lead you? It leads you to anger and despair and a crisis of faith; to, as Paul writes, wrath.

Abraham and Sarah had a different kind of relationship with God. It was based not on laws, but on love and faith and promises. God promised to bless Abraham and Sarah. They didn’t have to do anything but accept the offer.

There are no guarantees here. There are no laws or legal clauses to fall back on when things don’t turn out well. All that upholds them and guides them and strengthens them is their faith in God’s promises.

At the moment, the disciples are facing that fork in the road, and they are confused and timid. But after Easter they will develop the kind of faith Paul is writing about, the kind of faith modeled by Abraham and Sarah. After Easter, they know exactly what kind of messiah to follow and what kind of discipleship to live. For on Easter morning they have seen God’s promises fulfilled. They saw the Son of Man suffer and die, and they saw him risen after three days. From this experience they receive the faith to pick up their cross and deny themselves and follow Jesus.

They enter this road of discipleship based on Christ’s promises: the promise that Jesus is the way to the Father; the promise that life everlasting is waiting for the faithful; the promise that Jesus will be with them until the end of the earth; the promise that by carrying their crosses, they will find that really is life; they will gain their souls.

The season of lent places us at a fork in the road. What do we believe? What kind of disciples does Jesus call us to be? What must we deny and let die in our lives so that we can carry our cross faithfully and gain our souls?

And underneath all these questions is the basic one: Do we trust the promise? Do we dare set out on the journey of discipleship upheld by nothing except the promises of our savior?

All in all, we aren’t doing so well with trusting promises in this day and age. We have gotten suspicious. We want back-ups and guarantees. We want binding contracts and legal clauses that provide for all kinds of eventualities. Living on promises alone is hard.

And yet, with regard to our faith journey, that’s what we got: promises.

On the day of our baptism, God came to us just like he came to Abraham and Sarah. Out of the blue, without us doing anything to earn or deserve the grace of the covenant, God comes to us and promises us to be our God forever. God invites us onto a covenant journey, promises us blessings along the way, a people to surround and support us, a glorious land at the end of the journey and God’s presence with us every single day until we get there.

On the basis of that promise, we live. And really, what else could possibly hold us up in the challenges of this life?

When we get sick and suffer in body and soul, it is God’s promise of ultimate healing that carries us through.

When a loved one dies, especially a child or teenager, what could possibly give us comfort but the promise that our beloved have arrived at their heavenly home in God’s kingdom?

When the economy goes south we lose what we have worked for so hard and we worry about the future, what else is there but the promise of God to go with us through the darkest valley?

When people betray us and let us down, what else can we hang on to for support but the promise that God will be faithful to us until the end of the earth?

And in the end, when we face our own death, the only thing that can calm our fears and give us peace is the promise that Jesus will be waiting for us, ready to take us by the hand and guide us into the place prepared for us in God’s mansion.

Promises. Our whole life’s journey is based on promises. God loves us and promises us grace, support, forgiveness, community, salvation, and life everlasting. That is the foundation we stand on.

Lent asks us to ponder these promises. Lent asks us to stand at the fork in the road and decide what kind of messiah we want to follow.

Do we want the powerful glorious leader who will fight our wars and create a world with winners and losers? Or do we want the servant king who loves and heals and saves all people?

Do we want the political hero who will do his thing until the day he dies? Or do we want the Lord of peace who will be with us forever, until the end of the world?

Do we want to live for short-term rewards, or do we live towards blessings promised us without any timeline given?

Do we want to gain the world and forfeit our soul? Or do we want to pick up our cross and deny ourselves and gain our soul? We are at the fork. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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