Lent 2a 2014 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSGHave you ever felt so discouraged, so worn out, that you just feel like giving up? I know I felt that way a few weeks back when I heard that yet another winter storm warning had been issued. You reach the point at which you feel like your “get up and go” has got up and gone! Newton’s First Law of Motion declares that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by some force; and sometimes when you are resting you need quite a bit of force to get up and get going. I know that many of us can likely testify to another scientific fact: that the gravitational force of your mattress tends to increase in inverse proportion to the earliness of the alarm going off! The earlier the alarm, the harder it is to get up. I’m sure I’m not the only one here who found last Sunday, with that lost hour of Daylight Saving Time, that my “get up” only wanted to go back to sleep!
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. I will make of you a great nation...”
So it is that people will tend to stay put unless acted upon by some force. And in our scripture readings today, on this Second Sunday in Lent, we see forces at work to get people up and going.
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The prime mover, of course, is God. As I noted last week, left to our own devices and desires we will be pulled down by original sin that lies coiled in our hearts, an inescapable gravitational force — more powerful than the most comfortable pillow-top mattress — a force that pulls us down and away from love of God and neighbor, nested in our own wishes and desires, curled up and content to let the rest of the world fend for itself.
Pulling against this force — raising us up — is the power of God, manifest in God’s call — a call that is strong enough to wake the dead, which, if you think about it, is what all of us are until we come to live in Christ, and come to life in Christ.
We see this powerful call of God at work in the Hebrew Scripture passage that we heard this morning — the call of God to Abram to get up and go; to leave his home and his father’s house and travel to a distant land that neither he nor his fathers knew.
And in that call, and by its power, Abram acts. He gets up and goes. Even in this simple act, Saint Paul assures us in that Letter to the Romans, Abraham shows his righteousness. He didn’t question God — “God, why can’t you bless me right here and now, instead of there and then? Why not here in this place I know so well, among my own people and in my father’s house? Why not here on my home turf? I’m so comfortable here, and I hate traveling! Is this trip really necessary?”
No, Abraham doesn’t make any such excuses; he answers the call, like that, trusting that God has a purpose for him, and trusting in the righteousness of God rather than in his own skills or talents — or works. If he relies on anything at all it is simply on his faith, his faith that God will fulfill all that God has promised. And a refrain will take over his life, the rest of his long life: The Lord will provide. That is his faith. He leaves his own father, his own home in the trust that God will indeed provide, and make him the father of many nations. God’s promise itself gives Abraham the greatest gift, the gift of faith, and the power to get up and go.
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Then, in our Gospel passage today we see a different kind of getting up and going. I’ve spoken before about this passage, and how easy it is for to misunderstand the language of “being born again,” or being “born from above.” What Jesus is saying here is after the fashion of an orchestra conductor, saying to the orchestra: “Let’s take it from the top!”It is a charge to return to the beginning and to start again. Being born again isn’t an emotional feeling; it’s starting over.
You know, sometimes if you get lost what you need most to do is retrace your steps and get back to where you started, to at least to find some landmark with which you are familiar, and which you can use to help you reorient yourself. Sometimes, as C.S. Lewis once said, when you find you have gone the wrong way the best thing you can do is turn around and head back!
And one thing I’ve learned when traveling, is that sometimes you need to turn around to see what the signs on the other side of the highway say, in order to realize how far you’ve gone in the wrong direction! Has that ever happened to you? Your driving along and the signs are telling you that you are heading somewhere that you don’t want to go; and so you look back and see, on the other side of the highway, a sign saying Poughkeepsie is that way. I wish they’d had a side on this side saying, Poughkeepsie is back that way; turn around! And we get that in the gospel, don’t we: you have to be born again. It’s a sign saying, Go back, you’re headed the wrong way; start over. Take it from the top!
This is really a big part of what being born again or born from above means. It isn’t that you haven’t gotten up and been going — it’s just that you’re headed in the wrong direction! And to return to Newton’s First Law, just as an object at rest tends to stay at rest, so too an object in motion tends to stay in motion — and if it is headed the wrong way, it requires some force to turn it back again.
This is literally what repentance means — not feeling sorry, but turning around, heading back the way you came, for only by doing so can you find the right path. This Lenten season is given to us all as a time to focus on repentance, on assessing where we are. We are given this time to see, by looking at where we are, perhaps how far we’ve strayed, or how far on the right path we have traveled, to listen carefully and look for the road-signs — including those on the other side of the road — to be sure we are following the call and direction of the one who gave himself for us, and gives himself to us every day.
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For there is one final “get up and go” in our Scripture readings today. It is the greatest “get up and go” that ever happened. Only the one who descended from heaven and ascended there again has made such a trip. God sent his Son, because God loved the world so much that he gave him to us. And this sending has a purpose: to the end that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
God sent his Son, told him to get up and go, to leave his heavenly throne and descend into the very heart of the world God made at the beginning of time, to be born as one of us — as God with us — so that we might behold him in his innocence and in his glory, lifted up so that he might draw the whole world to himself. That signpost is raised for us at the end of Lent a few weeks from now — on Good Friday, when we will see the greatest sign ever given, when we behold the Son of God upon the cross of shame, which is also the cross of glory. It is through the love of God and the power of God and the call of God in Christ that we are called forth from the sleep of sin, shown the way forward, and empowered to get up and go: to follow him where he has gone before, ascended into heaven, where he again sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father. So heed the call, see the sign, and get up and go: Turn to him, my sisters and brothers, saved by the one in whom all salvation rests, even Jesus Christ our Lord.