LENT II

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Sunday – March 16, 2014

Bring yourself out of your birthplace, “Yahweh said to Abraham,” our of your father’s house, your homeland – to a land I will bring you to see. I will make of you greatness, a nation and a blessing; of your name, fame – bliss brought out of you. Genesis 12:1-3   Abraham: The First Historical Biography – David Rosenberg. pg. 6

 We don’t know exactly how God communicated with Abram (as he was known in those days). We do know where he was. Ur, more or less at Basra near the Persian Gulf in Iraq, was something to behold in those days.

abramurTradition has it that Abram was an up and coming young man with a future; the sort of young fellow that older men consult at the club and introduce to their daughters. One Day, Terah,  Abram’s Father, moved to Haran, 500 miles away supposedly to start a new  business.

To the amazement of the Guys at the Water Cooler, Abram went with him; why he walked away from such a future no one ever really knew.  They didn’t speculate for long, they were too busy taking advantage of the golden boy’s disappearance, calling his contacts and asking out his old girl friends.


 “Speech Act: Any utterance considered in terms of the content of the message, the intention of the speaker, and the effect on the listener.” Dictionary.Com
 “I pronounce that this (man and woman) are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder,” BCP. Pg. 428

A  wedding pronouncement is a speech act.  The status of the man and women changes, and even the State of Tennessee acknowledges the new entity.  Words have power.

God told Abram to leave his country and family and head out into the unknown. God promised That it would be a Great deal for the Abrams family.  Abram   figured God’s promise WAS A SPEECH Act.

So Abram went. Just like that, he left the future in Haran and the family business and without an address, a map or even a GPS, Abram Went. You see what Abram believed that when God makes a speech act, there is no need for a letter of intent.   because God’s word is enough; it is not God’s nature to deceive so God’s WORDS MADE GOD’S promise iron-clad.

While God’s promises are always fulfilled, our faithful response often has the quality of slogging, one foot in front of the other with the mud sucking at our boots.  It is those days, I believe, that please God the most.

“A comparable rhythm of divine word and faithful human response“ Abraham: Trails of Family and Faith – Terance E. Fretheim page 30f
“Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as Righteousness.”  Saint Paul, Letter to the Romans 4:3b

It is prudent always to consider carefully where we put our confidence.  Promises are only worth the worthiness of the “promiser”.  Abram made a wager that the God who called him had “worth-ship” and believed God.  God considered such faithful response as righteousness.  Notice the truth that we can never get through our silly heads; it was never perfection God wanted from humanity! What God wanted then and wants now is a faithful response to his grace.

For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Saint Paul  – Romans 4:3
The word “reckoned” is a bookkeeping metaphor, indicating either the placing of something in a column of figures to be added up or the result of the addition itself.  N.T. Wright Romans (New Interpreter’s Bible)

Works often follow but as gratitude not investment.  Our belief in Jesus adds up to a balance every time it is “reckoned” to our account.  The books always balance.

Christ and Nicodemus on the roof top - Henry Ossawa Turner

Christ and Nicodemus on the roof top – Henry Ossawa Turner

Nicodemus was an important man in Jerusalem,   but not so powerful that he could act with impunity, so he came to see Jesus after dark one night.  Taking no chances, he slipped through the back door with a ball cap pulled over his eyes. I sort of think Jesus was a little amused by the sight of the equivalent of a supreme court justice and archbishop skulking through alleys.

“Rabbi,” Demus (his friends called him Demus) said, “clearly you are a teacher come from god or you could not do the signs you perform.”  Jesus, didn’t pause long enough to be flattered, launching into the heart of the matter, “you must be born again.’”

[Hit the PAUSE BUTTON:  The word translated born again is also equally translated Born from Above.  It has both the sense of time: born again and space: born from above at the same time. there is no such English word so take your choice. Hit the continue button]

Demus was confused and got a little snarky, “My momma is going to be shocked when I show up at the nursing home and tell her we have to start my birth all over again!”   Jesus further confused him by saying, “you have to be born of water and the spirit.”  chuckling at his guests expression, Jesus suggested they retreat to the roof garden.

They got drinks and settled into the cushions in the wicker chairs.  the late evening breeze stirred the bougainvillea; JESUS pointed to the swaying pink flowers, “the wind blows where it chooses, and you do not know where it comes from or WHERE IT goes.  So it is with everyone born of the spirit.”

Why does Nicodemus keep missing the point?  Nicodemus is speaking LITERALLY while Jesus speaks MYSTICALLY.  Fr. Richard Rohr puts his finger on it when he wrote,

Don’t let the word “mystic” scare you off. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. Richard Rohr adapted from the naked now: learning to see as the mystics see, pp. 29-30

Jesus is telling Nicodemus (while we eavesdrop) what matters is not what we know or what group we belong ,  what matters is that we actually experience God’s loving presence in our innermost being.

Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” [John 3:14-15].

 Jesus took a familiar story, reframed it, and gave it, not a new meaning, but a fuller/richer one; the Bible is filled with such mirrors.

[TOP OF PAGE 109 IN PEW BIBLE]   In Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites became impatient and began to mummer against God and against Moses.  Like children on a road-trip, impatient and having asked once too often, “Daddy, are we there yet,” retreat to the recesses of the back seat and begin to mummer.  I define murmuring as speaking loud enough to be clearly heard but not so loud that you have to take responsibility.

Rome - After Raphael

Rome – After Raphael

The Children of Israel (note they are never referred to as even the Adolescents of Israel)  whine the same old line about how put upon they are having been pulled out of  Egypt only to die in the wilderness; followed by the second verse, namely bitter complaints about the quality of the food. Nothing changes much over the millennia.

Then poisonous serpents with their name on them infested the camp and people died left and right. Now feeling metaphorically and literally snake bit, they decide that things were not as bad as they had thought before the serpents slithered into their sleeping bag.   They were right pitiful begging Moses to save them (again).

 So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7b-9 (NRSV)

 I heard Bishop of Durham,  Tom Wright on a pod-cast  say,  A sacrament is an acted speech that does more than words can say!  A sacrament is enacted speech.   Remember the Word became flesh.   We are here today to eat the body of Christ –  The bread of Heaven in order that the word can go on becoming flesh.

God’s Promise: Speech Act –> Faithful Response –>   Adds up to Righteousness –> Sacrament IS ENACTED Speech –>   Eating the Bread of heaven is a Faithful Response –> God gives us grace  (Market Place of Monday) Speech Act –> Having been Fed Be Bread.   There is not end to it – It is the very life of the Triune God where there is perpetually in perpetuity love  given and love received

 O Holy Triune God,   Jesus was lifted up on the cross to die for the whole snake-bit world.  The instrument of death becomes the means of life. To God the Creator and God the Redeemer and God the Sustainer be glory and grant that we find grace such  for a faithful response to your promises  and grace to know that what matters is that we follow you (not how good we look doing it). Amen

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