Monday, February 15, 2016

Piecing Things Together

This coming Sunday, it will be difficult for me to preach on anything except the OT lesson (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18). Quoted by Paul in his treatise on justification known as Romans, this passage recalls God's promise to Abram of many ancestors, Abram's acceptance of that promise, and God's reckoning of that belief to Abram as righteousness. To make things even better, there's a "smoking firepot and a flaming torch" to spice things up. There's drama in these words. There's theological significance. This is Abram's vision of the enacting of the covenant between himself and the Almighty. It doesn't get much bigger than this.

When I study the lessons for the upcoming Sunday, I start at the top of the page with the collect and first lesson and work my way down, eventually reading the gospel. Some weeks I'm guilty of getting stuck at the bottom of the page and never really returning to the other lessons in my sermon preparation. (I know this when I hear the lector on Sunday read something I didn't remember reading myself that week.) But this week is different. Not only is the first lesson particularly weighty and inviting, but, at first glance, the gospel lesson (Luke 13:31-35) seems to lack the substance for a sermon.

I'm sure that's not right, of course. I could preach three different sermons on the hen gathering her brood under her wings--a central passage for those who look for feminist, non-violent images of Jesus the savior. But, after reading the passage about Abram and the covenantal sacrifice, it's hard to get excited about Jesus saying, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!" It's a good thing I have all week to read what others write.

At another level, I find the gospel lesson out of sync with the first lesson. Sure, the reading from Philippians is lovely and joyful and encouraging, and it stands alone as such, but I kind of expected the OT reading to have some resonance in the gospel. But it doesn't. It's so out of step, that I went to the old BCP lectionary to see whether the readings for Lent 2C are any different, and there I found an answer.

Although all of the readings are essentially the same, there is one significant difference worth noting: the gospel lesson in the BCP lectionary gives the option of expanding the gospel to include vv. 22-30. Of course, in the Episcopal Church, one is allowed to expand the lesson regardless of the lectionary options, but finding this connection between the OT lesson and the gospel gave me new insights into how I might preach this week. Here are those verses missing from the RCL citation:
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
There's possibility there! Not only is there an explicit reference to Abraham and his descendants in the kingdom of heaven, but there is tension between Abram's belief-based righteousness in the OT lesson and Jesus' exhortation to "strive to enter through the narrow door." This is where a sermon comes from!

At this point, I don't know what it will be, but I feel new excitement for the whole set of readings. For me, tension leads to insight. There's a dialogue already happening between Luke 13 and Genesis 15. Even if that doesn't find its way into Sunday's sermon, it will shape the work that does.

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