I have a confession—I don’t mind knowing the end of a story before I’ve finished it. Sometimes, knowing how a book will turn out allows me to better enjoy the plot’s twists and turns and character development. But on the Second Sunday of Lent, that wasn’t true at all.
The Genesis reading from Chapter 15 is a familiar text, full of beautiful words. God reassures Abram that not only will God give him the land but descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And scripture says, “Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
So why did I want to scream “Pay attention! Don’t forget this, Abram!” every time I read or heard this text proclaimed? Because no matter how much Abram believed God at the time, that belief would falter, and problems would ensue. If only Abram could have firmly held on to his belief in God’s word—if only he had truly trusted in God’s covenant with him—Abram’s life would have gone so much more smoothly.
Maybe I react so strongly to this story because it reminds me of all the times that I haven’t trusted God. Too many times, I let anxiety and fear replace trust. Sometimes, this lack of trust leads me to dark places of despair. Sometimes, I twist myself into knots trying to figure out how to control a seemingly out-of-control situation (see Abram’s later misguided attempt to get himself a son with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, in Genesis 16). But most often, my lack of trust in God leads me to berate myself with hateful words. Despite the fact that I know that God loves me just as I am, I am too often the first person to call myself names like “stupid” and “dumb” and “idiot” and other names not fit to print.
Thank goodness my daughter has latched on the perfect response to make me stop and think about what I am saying. “Don’t talk that way about my mother,” she’ll say to me.
Another way to recenter myself and regain my trust in God’s promises is to turn to the Psalms, and the Psalm chosen for the Second Sunday of Lent—Psalm 27—is a good one for difficult times. It begins with a strong affirmation of faith and trust:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
But this is not blind trust because the psalmist goes on to admit to fears and the challenges one might face. There are evildoers who desire to devour one’s flesh, armies threatening war, false witnesses breathing violence, even the possibility of complete abandonment (“though my father and mother forsake me”). Yet through it all, the psalmist clings to God and continually proclaims trust in God’s promise.
For in the day of trouble, God will give me shelter, hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary, and raise me high upon a rock. (Ps 27:5)
This I believe—that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living!
Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:13-14)
Sometimes, just praying these psalms that admit fear and yet cling to God’s promises can carry me through difficult times. Abram could have used a similar way to pray when his faith faltered.
So the lesson I will cling to from the readings of the Second Sunday of Lent is to trust God’s Word because words matter. I’ve added the “cherish them” to remind me of a delightful image contained in the Gospel. (Note to my Catholic readers: the Lutherans don’t use the reading about the Transfiguration as the Catholics do on the Second Sunday of Lent—they’ve already listened to this reading the week before Lent begins.)
In the reading from Luke 13, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He says,
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. . . . (Luke 13:34)
Even though I’ve read through Luke’s Gospel many times, this verse surprised me. I admit, I’m a city/suburb girl through and through, and I have no experience with hens, so perhaps I’ve just skimmed by this verse in the past. But we discussed this verse in Bible study last week, and the Children’s sermon focused on the image of a mother hen protecting her chicks (complete with enthusiastic child participation of animal sounds!). Now, I cherish this image of Jesus as a mother hen, desiring to protect us all under the shadow of her wings.
The image reminded me of other images of God that were clearly feminine, for example when God is described as a mother (Hosea 11:3-4, 13:8, Deuteronomy 32:11-12, 32:18, Isaiah 49:15 and 66:13, and Ps 131:2) or as a woman looking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). Too often, these feminine images of God are lost (just as the feminine aspect of God as Spirit or Wisdom is overlooked or even denied). But if we are all made in the image of God, then we cannot overlook the female characteristics/being of God.
This is becoming even clearer to me because my church is piloting a new liturgy during Lent, entitled “With Sighs Too Deep for Words.” Inspired by the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women, the 40thanniversary of the ordination of women of color and the 10th anniversary of the ordination of LGBTQIA+ leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as well as the ELCA’s social statement entitled “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call for Action,” this liturgy aims to provide “more expansive images in worship,” giving “special attention to women’s experiences in scripture and in everyday life” and inviting “embodied prayer.”
Sometimes, the images are bold and refreshing, for example after the time of confession when the pastor proclaims,
Friends, hear this good news:
Our God is like a woman who having ten coins and losing one lit the lamps, swept the house and searched everywhere until she found the one coin that had gone missing.
Our God, in Christ, has turned the world upside-down to seek the lost and claim us as her own.
Similarly, the Kyrie is sung, inspired by the story of the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter in Matthew 15:21-28. And it is followed by a “Canticle of Praise: Mary’s Song,” which draws from Mary’s Magnificat.
But sometimes the images appear in brief phrases, references to God as a fine craftswoman who “wove our bodies from the depths of the earth, hems us in . . . and will knit us back together” or God as a “quilter of the cosmos.”
As a woman hungry for a closer connection with God, these images speak to my soul. A God who is like me in these ways reminds me that, made in the image of God, I am loveable just as I am. And even though I do not know the entirety of my life story, I can trust God to be with me at all times. God has promised this, and God’s Word is trustworthy. Plus, I know how the story ends—life everlasting with God.
Questions I’d love you to answer: Are there promises from God’s Word that you trust, cherish or cling to? What images of God surprise you or speak to your soul?