The Second Sunday in Lent (Year C), 17 March 2019

March 17, 2019 | by Nathan Mattox

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17— 4:1 Luke 13: 31-35

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

The commentary of Walter Bruggmann in Interpretation on the general theme of this text should be considered through our Process lens:

The entire passage is one of sharp exchange in which Abraham stands face to face with God and seeks to refute the promise and resist the assurance. Clearly, the faith to which Abraham is called is not a peaceful, pious acceptance. It is a hard-fought and deeply argued conviction. Abraham will not be a passive recipient of the promise. He is prepared to hold his own. His freedom in the face of God is not unlike the freedom of the creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. The Lord invites and permits but will not coerce. Abraham is forced to faith no more than the creation is forced to obedienace. (italics mine, Interpretation, 141)

We process preachers can give a full-throated “amen” to that. The Abrahamic covenant is a sign which lures Abraham toward hope for the future.

The Abrahamic Covenant proclaims trust and faith in God’s blessing itself an aspect of “righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) This key text of the Hebrew Bible is celebrated by Paul as an example of justification by faith. As Bruggemann writes in Interpretation, “Only the new awareness that God really is God provides ground for Abraham’s safe future.” (Interpretation, 143) This new awareness is what believers are seeking during the season of lent. A “new awareness that God is God” is the enhancement of faith. As Bruggemann writes, “He has now permitted God to be not a hypothesis about the future, but the voice around which his life is organized.” (Interpretation, 144) Organizing one’s life around the voice of God in the face of difficulties is an exemplification of confidence.

Confidence is the theme of today’s readings, especially confidence in the face of difficulty. While the language of Genesis 15 soars to the stars, the promise of heirs to a childless Abram is also grounded to the sands of Egypt. Promise does not come without a clear-eyed account of what those descendents will suffer. However, on the other end of the 400 year captivity, God promises that the people will be free and blessed and inheritors of a Promised Land. A process theology perspective does not proclaim a God who promises no suffering. It proclaims a God who provides a vision and guidance and the presence that will infuse our lives with meaning. This is the case in this covenant.

Psalm 27

The familiar first verse continues the theme of confidence in the face of hardship given in the Abrahamic Covenant’s insistence that though his heirs would be numerous as the stars in the sky, they would experience much hardship. Here, like the stars in the sky, the “Lord is my light and my salvation.”

The Psalm condenses the narratives and epistle theme of confidence into song, “though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” The New Interpreter’s Bible points out that the “psalmist ‘shall not fear’ (v. 1) but ‘will be confident,’ which represents the Hebrew root that the NRSV and the NIV usually translate as ‘trust.’” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV, 786). The experience of confidence and trust inspires the psalmist to seek the face of the Lord.  For the Process preacher of this psalm, we might be drawn to the 8th verse, “’Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face.’ Your face, Lord, do I seek.” The seeking of God’s face, God’s divine Aim, is the quest of creative-responsive love. Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” In a Wesleyan view of this cycle of faith/belief/seeing, the reward is not fixed to the afterlife, but is experienced in sanctification. The final verses of the Psalm are a summation of this trustful seeking and confidence, which the Bible offers as a path for a relationship with God, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (13-14) This was the patient “belief” that God reckoned to Abram as righteousness. “Waiting for the Lord” is discerning the lure of God in the midst of the barrage of information we are surrounded by, and having the confidence that God’s lure is distinct and enticing. God’s goodness is seen “in the land of the living.”  

Philippians 3:17-4:1

My first job in the church was right out of college as a youth minister in Bartlesville, OK. There was one youth minister between me and another who had served the church for more than a decade but had grown too conservative to fit the culture at the church, and then built a faith centered skate park in the city that still attracted many of the youth. We had a friendly relationship, and one thing I’ll always remember about Ken was that he signed off on emails, “Press on, Ken.”  The salutation always caught my attention. It fits into today’s theme of confidence in the face of adversity. Philippians, as is often pointed out, is Paul’s most cheerful letter to perhaps his favorite church, and it is written from the hardship of house arrest. “Pressing on toward the goal” (3:14) resonates with our faith life in the midst of the hardships we face. It isn’t blind to the challenges; it simply acknowledges the goal as the main thing—the “prize.” It is a “heavenly call of God” that we focus on in process theology. We are to continually be present to the divine aim. We “press on to the goal.”  

The goal here is contrasted with the “earthly things” that pull us away from the Divine Aim. Though the text seems to affirm a dualism between body and spirit, it need not be interpreted that way. Paul is casting a vision above the din of humanity. In order to “press on” through difficulties, one’s gaze must transcend the “belly, shame, and earthly things.” The phrase “Their god is their belly,” is quite descriptive in naming the desire driven moral compass that still characterizes much of the modern world. John Cobb and David Ray Griffin describe Paul’s underlying conceptualization of life “in Christ” as being “a life in a field of force generated by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” (Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, 103) As people whose “citizenship is in heaven,” (3:20) we are living “forward” in a way, into the kingdom of God. As Cobb and Griffin write, “Every event pervades its future….The life of Jesus was an important event, and its repeated reenactment and remembrance has strengthened its field of force. To be in a field of force is to conform in some measure with the event that generates that field. Thus to be in Paul’s sense, “in Christ” is to conform in some measure to Jesus.” (Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, 103) The notion in the text of our bodies being “transformed from bodies of humiliation [to] being conformed to the body of his glory” (is the assurance that the present troubles are no match for the joy and awakening of the Kingdom into which we are leaning.

Luke 13: 31-35

Once again, the text brims with confidence displayed. It would be fair to call this “Confidence Sunday” if we were lifting up single word themes to typify each day like some of us do during the season of Advent. The confidence at the outset of the text is matched by disappointment and yearning at the end. I have often pointed to the text about the hen to show that Jesus as the Divine voice makes self reference in the feminine as well as masculine or non gendered in the Bible.  Other Divine self references in the feminine include Deuteronomy 32:11, in which God is described as a mother eagle, hovering over her young (much like the less fierce hen that Jesus describes) and catching them on her wings as they learn to fly out of the nest. It is interesting that Jesus describes himself as a hen as well because he has colorfully described Herod as “that fox.” (13:32) What a contrast between the figurative “fox in the henhouse” that describes Herod’s personality. A hen is typically no match for a fox. About all a hen can do is get in between the fox and the chicks and hope she satisfies the fox’s appetite. The self-giving nature of the Divine in Jesus Christ is part of the “field of force generated by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.” (Process Theology: An Introductory Expostion. 103).

Another interesting aspect of this scripture is the imperative in which Jesus speaks. “I must be on my way.” (13:33) The New Interpreter’s Bible draws attention to this.

Luke’s series of Jesus’ declarations of divine necessity sketch a profile of God’s redemptive purposes:

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?  [2:49]
“I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” [4:43]
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering….” [9:22; cf. 17:25, 24:7, 26]
“Zaccheus, hurry and come down; for a must stay at your house today.” [19:5]
“For I tell you, this scripture  must be fulfilled in me…” [22:37]

Both Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his death there will be controlled by (italics mine) his faithfulness to God’s redemptive purposes, not by Herod.” (New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume IX, 281)

Though we process preachers may prefer some other words substituted for “controlled by”, such as “persuaded by,” or “lured by,” we can appreciate the sentiment. Throughout the Gospel story, Jesus responds with unique authority and unique responsiveness to creative-responsive love. He understands this intense responsiveness as compulsion.

The lectionary offers Luke 9: 28-43, the transfiguration narrative, as an alternative gospel lectionary for the day, it seems to be a good continuation of the “confidence” theme I’ve found throughout today’s scriptures too. The transfiguration also has some interesting relevance to the process orientation as well, with a vision of a Christ fully transformed before his disciples. Transformation is a big theme in Process Theology after all.

Rev. M. Nathan Mattox graduated with an MDiv from Claremont School of Theology in 2005, and has since served United Methodist congregations in Arkansas and Oklahoma, most recently University United Methodist Church in Tulsa since 2011. A fellow of the Fund for Theological Education, National Council of Churches Ecological Justice Young Adult fellowship, Collegeville Writer’s Workshop, and the Hendix Institute for Clergy Civic Engagement, he also started the University Church Network, a collaborative resource for churches on or adjacent to university campuses. Nathan has been blending a family since July of 2017 with his wife Myranda, and enjoys the company of four children, a dog and a cat.