TV commercials bombard us with quick and simple answers to success in life. One can make millions in real estate without having to work very hard. Sign up for an online course and you can quickly find a job. Weight loss plans and newest cosmetics solve all the problems of life. Promises, Promises!
The promise of an effortless way to get things done with amazing result catches our attention.
Paul is talking to the church at Philippi about a similar issue. He cautions them not to be seduced by promises of an easy way to live the Christian life. He warns them about taking the easy way. He encourages the church “to stand firm in the Lord”.
In the Hebrew scriptures Abram is challenged to trust that God’s promises are true, that the covenant God offers is trustworthy. He’s traveled a long way from home at God’s direction yet the promises have yet to be fulfilled. He has no child, no heir. Yet once again he is asked to trust and to believe. This time God repeats the promise and formally establishes the covenant with a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.
Jesus speaks to us of the narrow way as the need for discipline and faithfulness. Some followers are looking for answers, some are legitimate seekers, and others look for easy answers. Jesus grows impatient, frustrated by their inability to understand. Then love gives way to compassion, causing him to weep over Jerusalem and the people.
All these readings have to do with faithfulness and trust. They acknowledge the difficulty and challenge of holding true, staying faithful. We all want the security of connections and relationships. But connections require something of us, relationships are not one-sided—not even with God. Both parties are involved. Sometimes we get distracted or we’re just tired or a dozen other things draw our attention away from where it needs to be. Sometimes it’s easier to let ourselves be distracted though ultimately the relationship nurtures us.
Being disciplined, trusting, faithful and attentive all take time, yet there is nothing we need more than the depth and richness of our relationships with each other—families, friends, loved ones, community, and especially with God.
When we cheat ourselves out of these essentials those who love us suffer, but we are the ones who suffer most of all. We lose the most. And then it is Paul who calls us to task, it is us Jesus weeps over. He longs to gather all people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, protected and safe.
The narrow way Jesus often speaks of is about unconditional loving and giving about opening our hearts, stepping out with love and trust.
Even though we know God loves unconditionally we too often believe we are not worthy. So we might try to bargain for God’s love. After all, even Abram asks what he will get out of the deal.
It is us Jesus weeps over, for we do not always live into the fullness of his promise that he would be with us always, even to the end of time. Are we afraid? Do we believe in scarcity rather than abundance? We’d rather have a get rich quick scheme because it demands less of us? But we are called to abandon fear and mistrust, to walk fully in God’s love.
That’s what Abram finally does, even though he seems to be tested over and over.
It’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven and yet our minds are set on earthly things”. It is what Jesus weeps for—tears meant to soften our hearts, to wash away our doubts, making room for love to grow.
Here we are on this second Sunday in Lent, walking with Jesus as he sets his face toward Jerusalem. This is the most somber season of our church year and wouldn’t we all rather be singing songs of alleluia?
Keeping Lent is not about wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the words of Marcus Borg, “The Christian life is about the “hatching of the heart”, opening of the self to the spirit of God by spending time in those places and practices through which we are nourished by the presence of God”.
Our Lenten booklets this year are titled, “Love life, Love Lent”. We can all do that.