The second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
Phil. 3:17 – 4:1
Luke 13: 31-end
How hard it is for human beings to accept that God is going to do something for them, for nothing, purely because He loves us.
Abraham, or Abram as he was still known – Abram means “exulted Father” but Abraham means “Father of many” had been given God’s assurance that his offspring would inherit a great nation already but Abram is still not convinced.
He needs another stronger vision to further convince him and we then have this vision of this strange ritual where animals are cut in two and then in a deep sleep Abram sees God in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the severed animals.
The origin of this vision probably lies within the Hebrew idiom that states that a covenant – an agreement - is cut between two parties with the implied threat that if either of the party’s reneges on the agreement they will be cut in two.
This is all very strange to us from a different culture and context but does serve to emphasise that for human beings; receiving things from God is not quite so easy as it seems. Two things seem to get in the way
There is of course the huge power imbalance between us and God and human pride prefers to be in the dominant position dictating proceedings. It takes a certain humility to simply receive something.
Also, nagging human doubts over things that seem just too good to be true kick in as well. In our general experience nothing is ever just given – we have to earn things, so we imagine we have to earn our salvation by God.
The re-discovery of the primacy of Grace – unmerited love – over law is what underpinned the great protestant revolution – a re-discovery that was eventually also accepted by the Roman church but not until so much blood was spilled.
Pride and doubt are the twin poles that affect us all today when we talk about accepting God’s grace, and eternal life just given to us because God loves us seems sometimes just too good to be true. Many Christians today still instinctively feel that they have to work to earn their salvation by being good or doing great service to others or whatever by the greatest gift of the reformation is that we are simply saved by God’s Grace made effective in our lives by faith.
It was too good to be true for many people obviously in and around the church in Philippi to whom Paul was writing.
Most people, then as now were just intent on fulfilling their own worldly interests and desires but Christians are different.
The people Paul is writing to might be living in Phillipi, and be Roman citizens but their real citizenship, as Paul reminds them is in heaven.
Likewise for us, we might be living in London or Paris or consider ourselves British or European or whatever, but actually our primary real citizenship is in heaven. We are children in the Kingdom of God.
We play by a different set of rules and values. Not only that but we live with a certain expectancy that what we have now is not all.
We can look forward to being changed into the likeness of Jesus’ resurrection body – again, a gift just given because God can just give it by divine Grace.
Are we convinced or does our pride, lack of humility, and belief that it sounds too good to be true stop the power of that truth being truly effective in our lives.
Do we, like Abram need a grander, more definite jolt to convince us to truly believe?
That great event, sign or symbol that was given to us is the cross and resurrection.
In the gospel story Jesus is warned to keep away from Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill him.
Reflecting on the fact that his citizenship is also in heaven and despite what worldly torments He must endure He knows He must go to Jerusalem to fulfil God’s will.
In a beautiful allusion to God’s people He refers to us as a brood of chicks being sheltered under a hen’s wings, and Jesus is the hen using a striking piece of female imagery.
But the people of Jerusalem would not be willing to be gathered in that way and would be baying for his death before the story reaches its climax.
Living as we do, post cross and resurrection, we have that huge jolt that Abram would have been looking for, a vision of divine love and sacrifice that encourages us to come to Jesus as the way the truth and the life. It is the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday that seeks to puncture our pride and unwillingness to believe that God loves us so much that he gave his only son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. No strings attached.