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Receiving our name and calling…

March 9, 2009

March 8, 2009
SMC—Lent 2B: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38

Our OT lesson continues the story of call to Abram and Sarai. It is the story of God’s initiative to form a covenant people. It is a tribal story that ripples outward to all peoples. In Genesis 17 Abram again receives a call and a promise. “I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” Missio dei is expressed in the formation of a covenant people who will be a marked and blessed people, called to be a blessing.

Abraham receives his new name as he believes in what God is doing (faith) and acts. He begins to interpret his own life, the identity of his tribe through the lens of God’s story of redemption. From the beginning God invites human participation in his creative…saving work in the world. God invites Adam to name the animals, to tend to creation along with his partner, Eve. Now God calls Abram and Sarai to enter the story.

This is not a journey of independence and doing our own thing. It is a submission to covenant. We see this in the Abraham story as well. Our reading from Genesis 17 indicates that receiving our name and calling is contingent on being willing to be a part of God’s covenant people. Submission/participation in covenant is marked by circumcision, which is again an expression of embodiment. Embodied participation in missio dei requires us to situate our personal stories and meaning within a communal narrative.

We see that this call is in many ways scandalously irrational. Abram and Sara are in their nineties—well past child-bearing years. For Abram it is a call to leave home—a call to live as a sojourning people. “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land I will show you.”

It is a call that does not ask them to deny who they are and where they are from. Yet, they are invited to a journey which will require opening their lives to others beyond their tribe. Perhaps this is the hallmark of God’s call to each of us as well. God’s call always frees us from oppressive self-interest. We are freed to see our life’s work, our existence, as being about more than just ourselves. God’s purposes in history are not just to bless me and my tribe. God is not just a tribal God.

What about your name and calling? How has God’s call come to you in the particular places where you are from? I have invited a number of people to share where they are from as a way of helping us connect with the idea that we are named and called from particular places. “Where I’m from.” (Kaylene, Jean, Lisa)

Just like Abram and Sara, we all come from somewhere. Our openness to hearing how God might name and call us requires a willingness to leave these places—if not physically, we are called to hold them loosely.

When we don’t leave home, our names and callings become tightly controlled and defined by our tribal identity—our family of origin, our social set, our nation-state, our ideology. What does it mean to be from Sunnyside? What does it mean to be a good Lancaster County middle-class Christian? What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to be an Iraqi? A Palestinian? An Israeli?

Whatever that tribal identity is for us, God’s call will inevitably require a name change. This will require a willingness to let Jesus deconstruct that which is false in our identity. It will involve a willingness to die—to embrace the way of the cross which is our hope for transformation in ourselves and in the world. We see this pattern expressed in our gospel lesson.

We are told that Jesus leaves the familiar confines of his Galilean ministry context and takes a bit of a field trip some miles north to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. It is here where the gospels of Mark and Matthew locate the story of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Anointed—the Messiah…Christos.

Caesarea Philippi is a place that was from ancient times a site of worship of pagan nature gods—first Ba’al and then Pan. In the historical period closer to Jesus, Herod built a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor Augustus there. It is a city steeped with symbols of Roman power. It is a region without Jewish settlements.

Perhaps we can understand the significance of this location from which Jesus asks the important question—“Who do people say I am?” if we imagine a bit of a contemporary spin on this narrative. Perhaps it is a bit like Jesus taking a field trip from his familiar ministry context in Lancaster County (can anything good come out of Sunnyside?) and heading south to Washington D.C.. Jesus and his disciples are walking on the mall, they head past the reflecting pool, the Vietnam memorial, the Lincoln Memorial. They continue their stroll past the Jefferson memorial and then come back past the White House, the capital building and the Supreme Court. As they are walking past these symbols honoring power and greatness, Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say I am?”

There might be a range of answers. Some say you are restoring a righteous nation to greatness. Some say you are restoring morality to a fallen nation. Others say you are leading the charge to rid the world of terror by violent engagement with the axis of evil powers.

“Who do you say I am?”

Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.”

Then Jesus strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. This was not going to be a populist campaign, or a treasonous revolution. Why the secrecy? Why was Jesus not ready for the disciples to bear witness. The timing was not right. The victory was yet to be accomplished. It would not involve a transfer of political power in the civic order—peaceful or otherwise. No, it would involve a cross. Resurrection. And even then the disciples would be instructed to wait in Jerusalem until the gift of the Holy Spirit comes, before they would be released to be witnesses.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. He begins to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This does not fit the vision that Peter has for Messiah. Perhaps he envisioned some other strategy for transforming the world, for restoring proper order, for the re-establishment of power and privilege for God’s people. I can just see the troubled look in Peter’s eyes as he pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. No doubt he lays out all the reasons why Jesus should consider a different strategy for bringing his kingdom on earth. Peter embodies a tendency that is in all of us. It is the impulse toward control. We confess Jesus as Messiah and believe in his kingdom, but we want to be able to enforce its coming on society from positions of privilege and power. It is a strategy that makes sense from a human viewpoint. But Jesus turns to Peter and rebukes him in front of the disciples, saying, “Get away from me Satan!”

Then the text indicates that he called the people around himself. He begins to speak to the strategy of how the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven—from God’s point of view. He says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

This is not going to be a Noah Project. Dealing with sin in the world through destruction. Preservation of the righteous within Ark. Judgment for those outside. This is going to be the reversal of that in many ways. Instead of an inward movement—containment. Jesus embodies and calls his followers to an outward movement—being broken and poured out for the life of the world. In a new way the Abrahamic covenant is being fulfilled and expanded through a new center—the cross.

Like Peter, we receive our name and calling as we confess Jesus as Messiah. And like Peter, there will be times on the journey when our false notions of what Jesus is about in history will need to be named and deconstructed. Lent is a time of allowing ourselves to be sifted. To allow Jesus to look into our eyes and see our hearts and to ask the question,

“Who do you say I am?”

Sending Words:
As you go…

May you continue to live into your name and calling…

A name and calling that emerges from the places you are from, but will call you to leave home in order to give yourself fully to missio dei which is a blessing to all the families of the earth.

May you be given courage and strength to look into the face of Jesus, to hear his words to you as he leads you through the wilderness of purification on the way of the cross.

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