A Reading from the Second Book of Genesis (17:1-7, 15-16)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
22 Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
“May your heart live for ever!”
26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27 For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.
28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
29 My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the LORD’S for ever.
30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
A Reading from the First Letter of Romans (4:13-25)
The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (8:31-38)
Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH! YOU ARE OUR SALVATION!
What is your image of a church — the building itself, the sanctuary? I imagine that we each have a different imagine triggered by the pictures of our first churches, the church in which significant events in our lives took place, or the churches that we have worshipped in for a long period of time.
My mind is full of images of Trinity Church in Troy. The much of the structure, its Sunday school rooms, the office, and the parish hall are in separate buildings that surround the main building which contains the sanctuary. It looks quite a bit like a medieval cloister. Two features on the inside quickly come to mind. The first was the wall surrounding the sanctuary itself. The sanctuary had a walkway around it on all four sides, which they called the ambulatory; the wall separating the sanctuary from the ambulatory had a pierced brick wall with 3 to 4 inches between each brick, leaving lots of empty space. The idea of the pierced brick was that there was plenty of ways for that which we heard inside the sanctuary to go out into the world with us when we left. What we heard in the sanctuary on Sunday morning was of little use if it did not go out into the world with us.
The second feature that quickly comes to my mind about Trinity is the ceiling right inside the front door. As you enter the church, if you look up at the ceiling which is forty feet high, there is a wooden platform, only 15 feet above your head in the shape of a cross — ten feet wide, and 20 feet long. As you come into the church, you are immediately under the protection of the cross.
Almost all Christian churches have a cross in the sanctuary, that is a focal point for the congregants who come in to worship God. Often when I visit a church for the first time, one thing I do as I am sitting waiting for the service to begin is to count the crosses on the walls, the crosses carved into the altar, crosses carved on the choir stalls, and crosses woven into the altar hangings. Crosses are quite prevalent in most churches.
Having so many crosses in a sanctuary and having one often as the focal point is absolutely fitting for a church, for the New Testament points to the cross as the defining center of Jesus’s redeeming work. The death of Christ Jesus on that cross outside of Jerusalem bridges the wide gulf of sin and death that separates human beings from the Divine. Paul Shupe, a minister from Madison, Wisconsin, says, “…without the crucifixion, the definitive triumph of God would not have been made visible in and through the resurrection.” These crosses remind us every time that we see them of the love that God has for all of his people — his love for you and me — a love so deep that Christ died on the cross.
That cross on which our Lord died is foreshadowed by Jesus in today’s Gospel. The importance of that cross—what it will do to Jesus and his disciples — must have ripped Peter’s heart out. It is just a few verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel that Peter understands who Jesus truly is. In fact, Peter just proclaimed his understanding that Christ is the Messiah. Then just a few words later, Peter hears Jesus say that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and die — and, of course, it is the cross on which He will die. It is no wonder why Peter is so upset that he rebukes Jesus for saying that. Peter just didn’t want to hear it; Peter just found the Messiah, and now the Messiah tells Peter that Jesus will be taken from him and the other disciples. Oh, such anguish Peter must have felt!
Jesus then says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things!” Aren’t most of us guilty of that: Setting our mind on earthly things rather than on the divine? That is so easy to do in a world that is so full of distractions — in a world where we are lucky to have a few minutes a day for ourselves.
I have heard it said that if a Christian wants to follow Christ Jesus that the Christian must take up the cross of Christ and carry it. I hope I am not committing a heresy when I say that I do not believe that at all. In the first place, Christ already did that — He did it once, He did it for all. It is finished; it is done. Besides what need is there to carry Jesus’s cross again? God, though the person of Jesus, accomplished what He wanted accomplished with Christ carrying the cross to Calvary and dying on that cross. Through his death and resurrection, God destroyed death for mankind. How can a mere human accomplish more than that?
Instead of carrying the cross of Christ to Calvary again, man needs to pick up his own cross and carry it. He needs to carry that cross until it becomes so burdensome that he rids himself of it. Every man, woman, and child have a cross that they have helped form; and, man, collectively, has added to that cross. What are the contents of that cross that you bear? What have you put on your own cross? What has society through the ages added to your individual cross? Is our own cross full of animosity for family members or neighbors with whom we disagree? Is our own cross filled with concern for owning more things, for keeping up with the Joneses? Is our own cross filled with our apathy for those neighbors who live elsewhere who do not have money to buy enough food, medicine or clothing? Does our lack of concern for the sanctity of God’s creation fill our cross? Each of the crosses that we individually bear is full of many burdens. It is more than heavy — it is truly ponderous.
Lent is a perfect time for us to examine that cross of ours and for us to be aware of our actions which have made that cross more and more burdensome. If we truly want to rid ourselves of the burdens of our own crosses, the first step is to become aware of what it is that composes that cross. Then, too, we have to readily admit that our interest in some of those things on our cross is what separates us from the love of God.
Christ carried His cross to Calvary himself except for the short time that a bystander was forced by the Roman soldiers to carry it for Him. The human Christ did so willingly because it was the Father’s will. Christ’s love for all of mankind — his love for you and me — made the carrying of the cross and his death an act of supreme sacrifice that He willingly made. What we need to remember is that we do not have to carry our cross totally on our own. Christ is there to help us. He will help us to dismantle that burden and make our yoke light. Christ will journey with us to the end where he will greet us with open arms. It is when we have Christ help us dismantle our own crosses that we finally fall under the protection of that cross that He carried for us to Calvary.
Our recessional hymn today is “Lift High the Cross.” As we sing our way out of this holy place of serenity and go back into the hectic world in which we live, let us use the words of that hymn to remind us of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us; let it remind us of the love that God has for us. And, let it remind us that Christ Jesus offers us a means to caste away our own crosses and to come under the divine protection of His cross.