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Who are your People?

Lent 2 Common Lectionary Year B 

Genesis 17: 1-16, Mark 8: 27-38

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

Today, and for the coming three weeks, I shall be exploring what it means to be a Caring Community, using the lectionary texts as a conversation partner in our exploration. Beginning today we will ask the core existential question:“Why?” Why a caring community? Why us?”In the coming weeks, we’ll also get to the “What and the “How”. Before we begin, let’s pray…..

Who am I?
Why am I here? Do I matter?
Do I make a difference to the universe?
To this tiny corner of it?
Existential questions fundamental to being human.
We’ve been asking them in every generation since
hominids first looked at the stars and wondered.

Right up there with the human existential question is its twin;
in looking at those stars,
and at the fractal beauty of a snowflake or a peacock’s tail,
the grandeur of mountains and oceans,
and Hubble’s mind-boggling
lens into the history of the universe,
we humans have also asked,
“Who made this?
Is there a God?
If so, who is this Divine Being?
Does God matter?
Does God make a difference to the universe?
To my small corner of it?
and If so, How?”

If this book(Bible) is nothing else,
it a 66 book library of testimony
to the human quest for answers
to both these sets of questions:
Who am I? Do I matter?
Who is God? Does God make a difference?

But it’s a library; it doesn’t contain
one definitive answer to these questions,
but contains many, sometimes contesting responses to the questions.

For example:
Cosmic Creator of the heavens and the earth;
Powerful Lord of the armies of heaven;
God,Fearsome and mighty;
the God of Jacob intimately involved
in the parking lot decisions of a
geopolitically insignificant people;
God, the mother hen,
the shepherd,
the “Father” of all;
God whose self-giving, self-emptying love becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ,
and in the Church of his disciples.
And many, many more!

Likewise the answers to the question
“Who am I? Do I matter?”
are equally diverse/pluriform.
Are we the ‘crown of creation’
made in God’s image,
blessed to be a blessing?
Are we God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation?
Are we each fearfully wonderfully made, the hairs of our head counted?
or are we really the “miserable worm”
in whom no righteousness,
no good is to be found?
“Who are you?
Who is your God?
Who are your people?”
How you answer these questions profoundly shapes how we live in the world.

If your God is militant or pacifist,
if you are militant or peaceful;
If your God image is benign, mysterious,
If you are prone to faith that is mystical…. or political,
If you are activist or quietist,
fundamentalist- literalist or liberal-progressive,
or just plain confused,
ALL these perspectives can be supported by texts within this library we call the Bible.

Which presents us with a huge dilemma;
How is this book to be any use to us in our quest for answers to the “Who” and the “Why” questions,
if there is such divergence within it?
Is there no overarching theology of God or humanity in here?
Is it all a conflicted mess?

In company with many others,
I would argue,
and in fact stake my life on a conviction
that this diversity of vision in Scripture
is its gift, allowing us to wrestle with the choices.
But that this very diversity
overlays a deep core of a persistent, recurrent understanding of God and of ourselves.

In a nutshell it is this:

God, whose nature and whose name is Love,
creates.
And being Lover,
enters into an eternal,
covenanted relationship with creation.
God binds Godself to creation;

sticks with it when it messes up;
delights in its creativity and successes,
mourns its losses and failures.
God cares.
As we prayed with the children already:
this Holy Mystery we call God is
Creating, Loving, Mending,
Caring, Sharing, Healing,
because God is a covenant God.

We as humans experience this love and covenant
as a call to be partners with God in the covenant with and for creation.
Which means we are here to do the same:
to stick with it when we mess up, to delight in success, mourn loss…
to care.

This Genesis story;
of God, promising Abram and Sarai for the third time that the childless couple will give birth to people as numerous as the stars,
and that those descendants will be a blessing to the world,
is stunning enough; laughable.
It’s a narrative, the best of stories,
with suspense and impossibility and
tension and threat, and ultimate resolution,
told to reveal this fundamental nature of God
and the core purpose of humanity.
What’s even more stunning is this fact,
the story was written down at a time in Israel’s history
-thousands of years after the supposed life of Abram –
by those very same descendants,
who far from being blessed, were at the time,
exiled from the land of promise,
and in grave danger of complete annihilation!

The core conviction; that God keeps the promise
with God’s people so that they can bless the world;
is told when all evidence points to the contrary!
In the telling however, the Dream of God lives,
and lives now, 3000 years later.

The Gospel reading is likewise fraught with
the conflicted visions of God, God’s power and human purpose that we mentioned earlier.
When Jesus speaks of the Dream of God
in terms of willingness to suffer for the sake of compassion,
to be convicted, even to die,
for espousing a notion of human community
that is based on loving, compassion, mending, caring, sharing, helping,
rather than coercion, military prowess,
or religious stringency,
Simon Peter becomes the voice of all outraged at the thought that God’s Power and Human purpose are fulfilled in the weakness of compassion
and the defeat of life at an executioner’s death.

But again, Scripture offers this amazing twist.
Jesus did die on a cross.
But Mark’s Gospel was written 40 years after that event,
an inked testimony to the defeat of death and Empire by resurrection life, a community living as blessing in the dire circumstances of defeat.

We read it 2000 years later as living testimony that the Gospel of a Caring, Covenantal God still lives on in us.

Who are you? Who is your God?
Who are your people?

The UCC Song of Faith puts it this way:
We sing of the Creator,
who made humans to live and move
and have their being in God.
In and with God,
we can direct our lives toward right relationship
with each other and with God.
We discover our place as one strand in the web of life.
We grow in wisdom and compassion.
We recognize all people as kin.
We accept our mortality…..as a challenge to make our lives and choices matter.[1]

We care, because we are God’s people.
We care, because God cares,
and made us to care.
That’s why.

_________________

[1] Song of Faith  (UCC, 2006) available on UCC Website.

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