Today in the Spirit: Lent 2A

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Having established in Lent 1 that the world into which the Son of God has been revealed is inhospitable to say the least, the church assigns Bible readings in Lent 2 which highlight one critical theater of internal conflict for the believer: faith versus works as the path to fellowship with God. The Collect with its petition Keep us both outwardly and inwardly in our souls is like a soldier’s prayer of protection before entrance into combat. The Gospel reading in John 3:1-16 models in the midnight conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus the difficulty all of us have in comprehending the necessity for spiritual rebirth from above. Both the OT reading in Genesis 12:1-9 and the NT reading in Romans 4:1-17 focus our attention on the example of Abram (later Abraham) as one who receives favor from God based on his faith rather than his works. The appointed Psalm 33 affirms that human strength is a vain hope for deliverance, but the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love (NIV). 

The Collect

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Leave Your Country (Genesis 12:1-9)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan (1-5).

Clearly a whole new movement in Genesis is at Chapter 12. Here we meet Abram and Sarai (though their names appear earlier in a list). Here we are introduced to the land of Canaan and some cities there. Here we learn of the plan of God to rescue the world after the Fall, to bless the families of the earth through the nation YHWH will form out of the seed of Abram. But here also is the first account of something else of devotional importance–to leave your country (NIV) out of obedience to God. See how the narrative stretches out Abram’s departure from Haran. Abram went…Lot went with him…Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed…and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. The writer of Hebrews provides commentary on this passage this way: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). So often we want blessing or healing or provision from God to make our lives easier and happier where we are. If things are not working out that way, we do well to consider that God may want us to “leave” somehow and make a new life with him. Today, Holy Spirit, give me Abram’s willing ears to hear the command to “leave” and strength of legs to go on my way.   

Your Steadfast Love (Psalm 33:12-22)

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you (18-22).

There it is again, that phrase steadfast love. It is actually one word in Hebrew hesed which appears 244 times in every part of the OT and three times in this assigned song of praise. We need to understand that when the ancient Israelites wrote about this steadfast (or unfailing NIV) love of God, they were not guessing and hoping about a feeling God might have for them, like when a young man confesses his affection for a girl hoping but not certain she might feel the same. No. For Israel hesed is contractual language based on the covenant of love YHWH has made with his people. So Moses declares: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9; also 1 Kings 8:23, Nehemiah 1:5). As Christians we understand the contract of love pronounced from Sinai has been established, fulfilled by the flesh and blood revelation of the Son of God. Jesus Christ is living and dying and rising steadfast love for his people. Today, in Lent, with the help of the Spirit, we sing this psalm invoking the contracted steadfast love of the One God we see in the face our Savior Jesus Christ.

Life to the Dead (Romans 4:1-17)

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (13-17).

We who are Gentile Christians may be tempted to read this passage as an address to Jewish Christians and disassociate, tune out, or, worse, take the place of one cheering as in the Roman coliseum, shouting: “Yeah, you get ‘em, Paul” But, even if we concede that Paul is addressing Jewish Christians in this section of his letter, we need to read the words carefully and let the Holy Spirit speak to us with the same force of argument. For Gentiles as well as Jews, righteousness comes by faith, trusting in the undeserved gift of Jesus Christ for all. And to all of us equally new life comes only by the favor of God–he who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. So today, by the Spirit who snaps our head around and gives us a right perspective on faith over works, let us all hear this passage about grace for all to which the only right response is unceasing thanksgiving.

Born Again (John 3:1-16)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus[ by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (1-5).

Let me shoot from the hip a little more than usual here. In the Encounter Culture training course on healing prayer (see www.encounterculturene.com if you are interested), our church leaders are being exposed to a special prayer form called “conception to birth.” With its litany of petitions through each trimester of our mother’s pregnancy with us, the exercise takes seriously the idea that life begins at conception–and that the trauma of sin requiring healing from God begins in the womb. Now, along the same line in our Gospel reading this week, what if being born again for Jesus pertains to a moment of conversion which is not like birth in the world but conception in the womb? In fact, what if our entire earthly life can be understood as time in the womb before emerging into light after death? Since our time in the womb is life, eternal life in keeping with biblical teaching begins at the moment of spiritual conception (conversion, being born again). There is considerable trauma in our earthly life like trauma in the physical womb; so what if we were to understand that God’s activity of healing throughout our life as healing in the womb, both the wounds resulting from our own sin and that of others against us. Today, for consideration in the Spirit as contemplate this passage on Sunday, some food for thought on what Jesus might be trying to make Nicodemus and all of us understand.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

February 27, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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