St. John's Getty Square
2 Lent rcl year b
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
My college used to have a motto: Bonum inimicum semper optimo. Which literally translated means "The good is always the enemy of the best."
It was meant to cause us young college students recently released from the constant supervision of home, and who had come from schools where we were the top students, to pay attention to our work with our newfound freedom of the college dormitory, and to not be complacent because all of our fellow students used to be the cream of their crop also. Do not assume that on your coasting effort you will rise to the top.
Of course, if one is a perfectionist this advice might be dangerous. I had a friend who used to say "done is better than excellent", meaning it was better to do the best you could now rather than delay until later pursuing the ever allusive perfection. Pefectionist have another struggle.
But today, I think our lessons ask us to pay attention to the reality that we often aim our sights at a goal far below that which God desires to give us. In fact, I think these days we often do not think at all about what we are aiming at all. If we neglect spiritual study, if we neglect self-emptying prayer, if we neglect practicing the presence of God, we might forget that we are on a spiritual endeavor at all. Lent is meant to awaken our reality to the truth we are on a spiritual quest.
Giving up chocolate. Giving up smoking. Whatever. If giving it up does not remind us that God is at work in our lives and we need God more than anything else, we might as well not give anything up at all.
We often think God is up to far less than God really is.
That is what Abraham thought in our first story. Abraham was a wandering cattle owner who God had promised to bless. Abraham thought God was going to just give him a peaceful life, a successful business, a happy family, and some land he could call his own. Now he was very happy with this idea. He really felt he needed all these things. I guess he felt he needed them for the same reason we often feel we need them. When we have all these things, peaceful, healthy life, enough money -- ignoring of course the question, what is enough -- a little house with the mortgage paid off, and people in our lives, we too will be happy.
But God has more in store for Abraham. God announces that Abraham will be the father of many nations. We as Christians believe God already knew that Abraham would be the father of Jesus, and through Jesus the spiritual father of billions of people, of the new humanity.
Abraham wanted the spiritual good, but God knew what he wanted for Abraham was the spiritual best.
Peter falls into the same trap. In the passage just preceding the one today, Peter announces that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and Jesus tells Peter that this was an inspired utterance. Then Jesus announces for the first time that he must suffer, be rejected and die in order to rise again. What God intends for humanity means Jesus must walk down a very hard path. Peter take Jesus aside and admonishes him, that this is not true. No, no, Jesus, what you will do is be a king. You will cast out the Romans, give peace to our kingdom, make our nation prosperous, and the people will be healthy, happy and successful. You are not going to die, Jesus, you are going to fulfill MY expectations.
Then Jesus shocks us. He says to Peter, "Get behind me Satan. You have set your mind on earthly things, not heavenly things."
We are surprised that Jesus speaks thus. We even feel a little sorry for Peter. I often in the past pondered this behavior, and then I realized something recently which cracked it open for me.
Peter had become Satan because Peter actually said things to Jesus that tempted him. Jesus did not want to suffer. Jesus did not want to be rejected. Jesus did not want to die. Jesus would rather have lived his life in peace, healthy, happy, content and successful. Jesus was truly vulnerable on the subject. Peter truly spoke the words of Satan, the temptor. Peter suggested to Jesus that we could do what we desire, rather than what God desires for us. Jesus, said I can be content with so just a successful life in this world.
The reality is when we became Christians we adopted a vision of humanity greater than one ever imagined before. We no longer see our goal as a successful life. We see our goal as the ability to live out the very qualities of God. We can love with passion and all we have. We can be creative and do beautiful great things. We can know a peace and a joy in self-giving that those who pursue wealth, if they only understood one little bit how wonderful it is, would give up everything they have to attain it.
Satan desires to hide this from us. Maybe you do not believe in a personal being named Satan, I am not sure that I do myself. But I do believe that there is a constant force in this world which tries to distract us by hook and by crook from the vision God has for our life.
We can be humble creatures, honest to ourselves and others about who we really are, faults and talents, blemishes and fine features. We can desire the good for others, not judging them, yet also finding the occasions to say what needs to be said in love and kindness. We can see when others desiring our good admonish us, and we can open our hearts to it. We can organize our lives to take care of the poor and the needy, we can organize our actions to pursue justice and fairness for people. We can do this when we open our hearts to a vision of life that is focused on God, not earth.
This path is not an easy one. It does involve taking up our cross. It will involve times of hardship, perhaps suffering. However, in choosing Christ over the world, we open ourselves to more. To what God desires for us.
My prayer for myself and all of us, is that God will open our hearts to glimpse a vision of the life desired for us, and give us steadfast trust in the divine grace to accomplish it..