I hope you enjoy these reflections about this week’s appointed stories from the revised common and narrative lectionaries, with potential insights about discipleship, mission, innovation, and stewardship.
We’re moving right along this Lenten season now. As such, the Second Sunday in Lent brings us more rich stories of discipleship and stories about God’s presence, promise, and abundant love. From the story about God’s promises of descendants to Abram, to the reminder that the Lord is our light and our salvation as the psalmist proclaims. To the words from the Apostle Paul about our citizenship being in heaven as God’s children, and the image of God as a hen who gathers her brood. These are rich reminders of who God is, whose we are, and what God’s love really means and looks like. Let’s take them in order as we do, and note what see and wonder about this week.
We start with the first story from Genesis 15. We read, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6, NRSV).
Your descendants will be as numerous and abundant as the stars in the heavens. I think we know this story pretty well. It’s a reminder early on in our faith tradition (and that of all Abrahamic faiths), that we are all descendants in some way from Abraham. God’s people. God’s beloved. Descendants and heirs of a promise God made back towards the very beginning with Abram himself before Abram’s name even changed to Abraham. We may not hear the part of the story where Sarah laughs, but we recall it because we know this story. It’s a story deep at the heart of our faith which reminds us that not only is our God a God who makes promises, our God is one who comes near and knows and loves God’s own.
But the story isn’t done. There’s more included in the lectionary this week from Genesis 15. We continue reading, “Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him…When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18, NRSV).
We are reminded here that God provides, and God delivers. God delivers God’s people to safety and provides land to live on and steward. God also provides and makes covenants or promises. And it’s a story like this that shows the beauty of life and what will come for the generations of descendants of Abraham, but also the complexity. It’s not a mystery why there are so many claims, and so much conflict too, related to the land especially between “the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.” That hasn’t changed as history has continued, but neither has the covenantal promise that God makes to be God and Lord of God’s people. So in that sense, this story reminds us too that God makes a claim on God’s people, claiming them as God’s own. This matters. This matters for relationship for each of us with God and with one another. And this matters for God too because God wants to be in relationship with God’s own (a theme that gets reiterated in the other stories in the lectionary cycle this week).
Psalm 27 is one of the more well known psalms, in part because it is a psalm that one can sing or pray or remember especially in times of uncertainty, anxiety, and concern. With the psalmist we exclaim, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27, NRSV).
I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear these words right now without thinking of the people in Ukraine. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Early on amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, faith leaders asked the people of the world to pray with the psalmist. Well, I am doing that. And this week I think I am doing that with Psalm 27. For the psalmist also says, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident…” Sometimes the lectionary feels oddly poignant, relevant and present in the world at hand. This psalm in particular feels eerily timely. I hear these words with fresh eyes, and a heart and mind and I’m crying and angry and crying and sad and fearful, and crying and fuming… The pictures, stories, videos of horror, death of innocence, refugees in the millions… None of this needed to happen.
It’s the result of pure evil. It’s the result of warring and sinful madness, led by a despot tyrant who decided he wanted more land and power and didn’t care who might get hurt in the process. I will not name him. For this caricature though fitting, is not limited to one person. It’s an age old description of what happens as power and sin corrupts. And the worst part is how the brokenness and carnage affects the innocents around the whole world as a result of the evil shown by a few. I hope and pray for a safe return and life of freedom and democracy for Ukraine.
I hope for an end to this war. I hope and pray for an end to this war, a war that is pure evil and the result of complete human brokenness. But I also cling to the words of promise that the psalmist proclaims this week. The assurance that, “I will live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” The response of stewardship and discipleship, where God’s people “will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”
Even amid bombs, and the world they knew being destroyed, God’s people in Ukraine have gathered in basements, bomb shelters, subway stations and they have gathered and huddled in hope and prayed and worshiped together as they can. These images are heart-breaking, but also inspiration. God is still being praised. For the people of God in Ukraine know even more than I know these words to be true with the psalmist, “O God of my salvation!” Our God is the God of salvation. So it is with this hope and trust and faith that we do indeed, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage…”
Times like these call us to take a stand for humanity, hope, and for what is right. Times like these call us to welcome the refugee, widow, and orphan without questions and with open arms and open hearts. Times like these remind us too of our shared humanity, the importance of truly believing there is a common good, and of our shared citizenship as Children of God and inheritors of God’s promises as descendants of Abraham.
It’s with this in mind that I am also struck by what Paul writes in this week’s second lesson. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Philippians 3:17-4:1, NRSV).
The apostle writes, “stand firm in the Lord,” virtually echoing the theme of the psalmist we just heard of waiting for the Lord and taking heart and courage. What really draws my attention here though is his writing that, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior.” This is what unifies. We share a common identity as Children of God, and descendants of Abraham. This is true for you and me, for our siblings in Ukraine and Russia, and too for our siblings in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere else around the world. It’s a beautiful thing. But it also calls us to remember that we have far more in common with each other as God’s people than what separates us. And it’s God’s goal to bring us all back together as God’s children, like a Hen and her brood.
Speaking of that image, it’s the one Jesus uses then as a sort of parable or metaphor to explain God’s desire to be in relationship with God’s own, and the depth and breadth of God’s love. We read in Luke 13, “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”’ (Luke 13:31-35, NRSV).
You have to say, it’s nice to hear that the Pharisees are showing a little concern for Jesus with their warning about Herod. Though you do wonder if they’re more worried that they might be caught in the cross-fire by being associated with Jesus? (Perhaps like good samaritans might be for helping those who are being attacked in an unjustified invasion and war?) Jesus sees right though their words though. Turning Herod into a fox, which fits well with the metaphor and image of a fox and a hen house.
Jesus can’t let the worries of the day and the fox’s presence keep him from his mission and work which God has called him to. So he won’t give in. He knows what lies ahead. He’s looking squarely at Jerusalem to come, but he’s not there yet. So his work of healing, teaching, and loving continues. He describes the people as chicks, and wants to bring them together like a hen. This is a very parental (if not motherly) image of God which I hope we can all relate to. Either way, this is what God hopes for- for bringing God’s own together in love.
Yet, Jesus knows time, at least before the events of the cross to come, is running short. He offers a passion prediction of sorts, and specifically points to his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday into Jerusalem which ends our story for this week. We’re four weeks away from the start of Holy Week. We know the stories to come. But for this week, we find ourselves here on the Lenten journey.
What might these stories show us about how we’re being invited and called to be God’s people now? I don’t know about you, but they are comforting and conflicting at the same time- especially in light of events related to Ukraine and the plight of the Ukrainian people. Let us work for peace, hope, and love. Let us care for those who are afflicted. Let us welcome those without a home now. Let us do all we can through prayer, discipleship, and stewardship as God’s people to show all that God’s love is very much real, and God is very much present now, even amid such a time as this.
May God’s love and promise be with you this week, and may you share it through all you do and say!
The Narrative Lectionary’s continued journey through John brings us to the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. It’s one we often hear on Maundy Thursday because that’s the context when this is happening, up in the upper room. It’s also a story that I hold dear to my heart because it is one of the best stories to depict word and service ministry that there is in the gospels. Jesus stoops to serve. He gets down on his knees and washes his friends’ feet. We’re called to do likewise. To share love. To serve. To walk with, and care for one another of God’s people.
We read, “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:1-17, NRSV).
Washing, cleansing, baptism… these themes and their roots can be sensed in this story. But what really draws my attention today is Jesus’ words, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” We are reminded ultimately, that it is God’s presence and work that is being done that matters. It’s not who is doing it. It’s not about you or I washing the feet, but knowing and believing that the Spirit and the Word are present and active in the acts of washing and cleaning and the ordinary elements like water.
Jesus also says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” This is far more than the golden rule. This is a call for leaders to be ones who serve. For all to be willing to get down on their knees and help another. For all of God’s people really to lean into their vocations, to live out passionate lives of inquiry, a deep response to God’s love and embodiment of it, and to serve- meeting the needs of the neighbor and world right around us, wherever we might find ourselves.
It’s interesting too that Jesus makes this lesson when he does. In the upper room, when also breaking bread and wine and instituting the sacrament we know of as communion. He teaches us to love and serve like this in a final few hours before his betrayal and being handed over in the garden and the events of the trial and cross to come very soon now. So of all the things Jesus could have taught at such an hour, why did he choose this example? I think we know the answer. But I would add to that, he does this because it matters. This is important. He’s offering one more moment of showing God’s love in action that is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple and steward of God’s love.
We read, “he loved them to the end...” and it’s because of this, that he goes to all the lengths that God in Christ does for them, for us, for you, for me, and for all of God’s beloved of all time and space. So we too are called likewise to serve and share, abundantly, hopefully, and overwhelmingly. Because that is what God’s love does. It grabs hold of us and never lets go. It enfolds and cleans us. When we mess up, God is there to help again create a clean heart and restore us to the joy of salvation we know through God in Christ.
It’s an obvious parallel to include Psalm 51:7-12 this week. The psalmist remarks, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:7-12, NRSV).
This is language of confession, of change, and of response. It’s also language common in our liturgical response to the offering time in worship leading into the sacrament of communion. We acknowledge that our joy and hope comes from God. That through it, even the most weighed down with grief and guilt can find reason to rejoice. And we acknowledge that we fall short, and it is God alone who can make us right- who can forgive, absolve, and clean us, so that we again might know the joy of the pure gift and grace of life with God and salvation. It is God alone too who sustains us for the journey with all that we need.
Jesus reminds us this week though, through the act of foot washing, we aren’t alone on this journey. We are in relationship with God and others, and so we are to care for one another. This world is hard enough as it is. We do not need to make it harder on one another, but to share love to hold, strengthen, and encourage one another. To clean and forgive each other out of signs of God’s deep and reconciling love.
To this end, I am thinking about Ukraine obviously and Russia too and all the nations of the world. But I said a lot about that above in the reflections about the revised common lectionaries for this week. So here, in thinking about the narrative lectionary, let me offer a different tact. I am thinking today too about my siblings in Christ in the LGBTQIA+ community. Know that you are my siblings. You are welcome at any and all tables I find myself at. I will get down on my knees and wash your feet. I see you. I know you. I love you. Because I know God loves you and God loves me. Just because of who we are- beloved, claimed, and created, each one of us in the very image of God.
Not to be political, but because the gospel takes us there, I see you my LGBTQIA+ siblings too- and I see the brokenness on display by those in power and certain legal arguments for creating rules and laws that only perpetuate marginalization. By trying to force people to hide their identities. My heart hurts over this. It also hurts my heart that a local advocate and member of the LGBTQIA+ community here in Nebraska died by suicide this past weekend because of the pain, pressure, injustice, and hate that had become all too overbearing in the larger community around him.
This hate, bigotry and ignorance is not the way. Yes, I see these sinful structures in other states of this country. I see the impulse to blame and divide. But that is not the way of welcome. That is the way of death and brokenness. No! Jesus offers another way this week in washing the disciples’ feet, and in breaking bread with all those around his table (including the one who ultimately who would betray him).
When we receive the bread and wine, when we are washed and cleaned in the waters of baptism- we are known, seen, named, claimed, welcomed and loved. That’s a promise. That’s what God does. That’s what is at the heart of this gospel story and act of washing feet. We’re called to this. We’re not called to divide and create rules that further marginalize. We’re called to seek to understand. To listen. To show up. To be present with. And remember, that we are each God’s beloved. Period. And if that’s good enough for God, by golly, that better be good enough for us. There’s work to do for sure, to continue to spread the love and welcome that is at the heart of this gospel story. Let us all dig in and commit ourselves to it.
Just as foot washing is a sign of God in Christ’s love and example, let us all do what we can to share God’s love through all that we say and do this week. And may we do so, because we know and sense God’s love filling us, supporting us, and holding us. Always. -TS