Transfiguration, Temptation, and Trust, 2 Lent (A) – 2008

February 17, 2008

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17 

One could summarize the past two Sundays and today with a three-word theme: Transfiguration, Temptation, and Trust. On the last Sunday of Epiphany we went to the mountaintop with Jesus and witnessed the Transfiguration. On the first Sunday in Lent we reflected on his temptation in the wilderness at the start of his public ministry, and today we have the subject of trust embodied in the patriarch, Abraham, the writing of St. Paul, and in a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Abraham is the ultimate “trust in the Lord” kind of person. He’s asked to leave everything behind and go to a new place, unknown to him, and begin a new life with God. For a person whose identity was grounded in land, ancestry, and family, this was a risky endeavor. Yet he leaves country, kindred, and his father’s house to go to a new land with the promise that he will found a great nation. If somebody announced God had called them to do that today, we’d put them on tranquilizers!

The point, of course, is not that Abraham is deluded or demented. His developing relationship with God has led him to this trustful action. The Abraham cycle in Genesis has to be read as a whole to understand how this relationship grew from one of doubt into trust.

St. Paul, in Romans, recalls Abraham as our ancestor and as one “who without works trusts him”. There is, in Paul’s mind, a great reward for those who trust in God without evidence, or in the face of doubt. Trust comes out of a relationship that grows and flourishes amidst hardship and suffering. Abraham is not rewarded for being good, but for being faithful, trusting that God knows what God is doing, and God knows how to use him as an agent for the plan of salvation. For Paul that is enough. Is it enough for us?

Nicodemus, a righteous man, comes to Jesus deeply troubled. Something in him is stirred by what Jesus is teaching, but the little voice behind his ear keeps saying, “Be careful now; don’t get taken in.” You can feel the tension in their conversation. John, the Evangelist, uses this conversation as a platform for his famous phrase, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” And after hearing that, Nicodemus is treated to a revelation: God is not interested in condemnation, but salvation. People who trust in God are saved. Life in the Spirit is living in trust, even in the midst of despair. And the Spirit blows the breath of trust into us at the times we most need it.

A middle-aged man, afflicted with aggressive cancer, continues to pray regularly for whatever God will do. His treatments have left him weakened and uncertain; but surrounded by his family, his trust that God will deliver him in some way keeps him faithful, even to the point of asking for prayers for a fellow patient who has been given only a few weeks to live.

A woman sits shattered as her husband tells her he wants their marriage to end. What will happen to her? But she tells her pastor she knows God has something in mind for her future, that there will be life after the death of this relationship.

Experiences like these are faced by people every day – job loss, sickness, being a victim of crime, losing loved ones – all these events confront us with the question: Can we trust in a God who allows these things to happen? No easy answers here. There is, however, the journey of Lent to teach us about trust. If we make the journey that ends at the foot of the cross on Good Friday with Jesus’ cry of despair, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” then we are ready to discover that God always keeps promises, whether we trust God or not.

The empty tomb at Easter is the powerful affirmation, but it does not make sense unless we first make that Lenten journey with Abraham and Jesus. Make the journey of Lent. Come to the liturgies – all of them – and you will experience a growing trust in God through the ministry and passion of our Savior. As Abraham discovered, trust comes from a growing relationship with God. We can experience that same relationship in our Lenten journey with Jesus.

 

— The Rev. Ben Helmer is currently serving as archdeacon to the Episcopal Church in Micronesia with four churches on Guam and Saipan in the Western Pacific. 

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