13th March 2022
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;
4 And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe
in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.
8 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.
9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.
11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12 Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13 You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.
14 Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the Lord will sustain me.
15 Show me your way, O Lord; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.
16 Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.
17 What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the Lord *
in the land of the living!
18 O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
In the reading from Genesis, Abram is feeling disconsolate about the future. He has no offspring that his house may continue. House here is used not in the sense of the building in which one lives, but of the family line: the line of continuity from forebears to offspring and future generations. Even today we talk of the House of Windsor in reference to the royal family. Abram has no offspring and fears he never will. His house, his inheritance, will pass to someone outside his family. God takes Abram outside (outside the tent where he lives) and showing him all the stars, promises that Abram’s descendants will be as numerous: his house, his line, is assured! And Abram believed and it counted to him as righteousness.
I wonder if there is also something here about what is outside? Abram’s family is not going to be limited to what inside but is to encompass the greater number of all who are in the outside: a most inclusive family!
Then another worry surfaces for Abram. Will his line have secure possession of the land where they are living? Will they have a safe place to call ‘home’? Now God makes a covenant with Abram, conferring on his descendants possession of the land. In Hebrew the phrase to make a covenant has two words. The first ‘karat’ means to cut; the second ‘beriyt’ to select or choose the best. Abram takes the prescribed animals and cuts them in half, laying them so as to speak either side of a path. From Jeremiah 34:18-20 we hear of this as a means of affirming an agreement: the undertaker of the agreement walks between the animal cut in two, to signify that, should they default, that same fate will be their due. Here it is God who walks between the two halves of the animals: God is taking on the burden of forfeiture in this covenant!
Abram could certainly have agreed with the psalmist: with the Lord on one’s side, one has nothing to fear! The psalmist asserts that the Lord is the light, salvation and strength of those who put their trust in God. Thus assured, the psalmist has only one further request, to dwell in the house of the Lord. Here house is used in terms of a place, and specifically in this case, the temple – a place of safety and a place where one praises God.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians wants to make it quite clear that there is the wrong way of living and the right way. The wrong way has its focus on worldly gain whilst the right way is that of a citizen of heaven. The word used in the Greek is ‘politeuma’, has the meaning of behaving as a citizen, of conducting oneself appropriately, of undertaking one’s due responsibilities. Paul is appealing to us to live in this way, to stand firm in Jesus because, through him, we are citizens of heaven. This is both a privilege and responsibility. What we have as citizens is, in essence, what Abram sought: an identity and a home.
Talk of citizenship and responsibility seems very topical when we look across to Ukraine and the commitment and strength being shown by the citizens of that land. Do we have the same fervour and commitment to the kingdom of heaven?
In the Gospel reading, we meet Jesus lamenting over the fate of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city consecrated to God, the site of the temple – the place of sacrifice – and the focal point for all who understood themselves to be the descendants of Abraham. Jesus knows that it will be the place where he will finally be killed by the authorities. He also knows the vulnerability of the place, that is going to be a place of desolation, a house whose line has died out, whose occupants have been taken away, a place whose inhabitants spurn all help. Yet there will be a happy resolution. The day will come when the people will say ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ – a quote from psalm 118 entitled a ‘Song of Victory’!
On this the second Sunday in Lent we are being reminded of the importance of belonging. We are, as it were, of the line of Abraham, we are of the house of God co heirs with Jesus, we are citizens of heaven, and our safety is secured by the promises of God. In this we are privileged.
For those of us in East Sheen, we are also privileged that we can live securely in our homes, with ample supplies of food, energy and clean water. As citizens of heaven we have a responsibility to ensure that others too have equal access to such essentials. Whether that is for other people who even in Britain do not have secure accommodation, or the assurance of affordable food and heating. Whether that is for those who are refugees, or those still trapped behind battle lines. Or whether it is for those who are being dispossessed by the climate crisis.
Each year Southwark Diocese raises money via a Lent Call. This year’s is focused on the need to provide people with homes, both here in south London, in Beirut and in our link dioceses in Zimbabwe.
Our home – our place with God – is desolate until we receive the one who comes in the name of the Lord, until we welcome Jesus.