- The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF
Lent 2 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22:24-32 Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Paul in his letter to the people of Rome explains that Abraham had pleased God, trusted God, and had faith in God’s promises. This was long before he had ever heard about the rituals and religious ceremonies that would become so important to the Jewish people.
The promise of the covenant God made with Abraham stated that Abraham would be the father of many nations. And that the entire world would be blessed through him. Abraham was one of Jesus ancestors and this promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Abraham never doubted that God would fulfil his promise. Abraham was not perfect. His life was filled with mistakes, sins, and failures as well as with wisdom and goodness, but he consistently trusted God. His faith was strengthened by the obstacles he faced, and his life was an example of faith in action. If he had looked only at his own resources for subduing Canaan and founding a nation, he would have given up in despair. But Abraham looked to God, obeyed him, and waited for God to fulfil his word. God told Abraham the covenant between them and between his offspring throughout their generations would mean, God would be their God and they would be his people. Abraham was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised, and his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.
We also need to be fully convinced that Jesus was handed over to die, conquered death and was raised to life, through love and trust of the Father so that by faith in Christ, we can trust him to forgive all our sins. When we believe, an exchange takes place. We give Christ our sins, and he gives us his righteousness and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 5: 21). There is nothing we can do to earn this. Only through faith in Christ can we receive God’s righteousness. What an incredible bargain this is for us!
We are fragile earthlings, made of the dust of the earth, the stardust of the cosmos, and to dust of the cosmos we will return after our earthly life. With the incomprehensible wonder of the mystery of our existence, we ask the questions. “We have a good and righteous God, yet suffering and evil exists?” “The violence, injustice, disease and resulting death seems to be increasingly worse in our time that ever before? “ ”So called natural disasters claim many lives and our planet, our earthly home is suffering the pangs of disease and death through climate change?”
Suffering of the innocent and helplessness in the face of pain, shakes our belief. In this period of Lent, we are metaphorically on a journey with Jesus towards the cross, but as Jesus announces his impending suffering, rejection, death and resurrection, his followers do not understand what he is telling them. In the Gospel of Mark, the truth of Jesus identity is carefully revealed three times during the journey to Jerusalem. Mark shows us Jesus clearly teaching them about the suffering and rejection, but reveals the bewilderment and incomprehension of the disciples, as Peter tries to turn Jesus from the path of suffering. The disciples were motivated by love and admiration for Jesus, but their job was not to guide and protect Jesus, but to follow him. Only after Jesus’ death and resurrection would they fully understand why he had to die. But Jesus teaches them that the way of the cross is the way of discipleship. There is meaning and significance in the way of suffering and it is found in the life of Christ whose life and death embody servanthood.
Mark’s audience, the people of Rome would have known what taking up the cross meant. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Jesus used the image of carrying a cross to illustrate the ultimate submission required of his followers and the heroic effort needed to follow him moment by moment, to do his will even when the work is difficult, and the future looks bleak. Can we be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, not because our lives are useless but because nothing, not even life itself, can compare to what we gain with Christ? Jesus wants us to choose to follow him rather than to lead a life of sin and self-satisfaction. He wants us to stop trying to control our own destiny and to let him direct us. This makes good sense because as the Creator, Christ knows better than we do what real life is about. He asks us only to lose our self-centred determination to be in charge. When we make the decision to follow Christ, we will know what it is to live a simple and joyful life, we will live abundantly, we will have sufficient for all our needs and enough to share and will have the promise of eternal life with Christ.
Today we especially think of the Anglican Board of Mission whose faithful missionaries since 1850 have been answering God’s call to serve people in all aspects of their lives, from the spiritual to the practical. First in Melanesia and then the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and throughout the world.
This includes all the evangelistic activities of the church in its witness to the Good News, such as ministry, theological education and training, and the development of Christian worship and liturgy resources. Mission also includes providing health and education services, helping people to build capacity to improve food and water resources, and assisting in economic development initiatives. In all its work, ABM seeks to serve God through supporting Partners in mission in their local witness and service. God’s work through ABM extends to Korea, Myanmar, China, Kenya, Zambia, South Sudan and Sudan, Palestine, and the Middle East and our own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglicans.
The original mission to Melanesia began with the purchase of a boat. Small boats still travel throughout the Pacific and carry vital supplies and people to remote and otherwise inaccessible parts of the Islands and New Guinea. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to travel in a small boat called a dinghy, with an outboard motor, carrying 5 people, fuel and supplies across the open sea for several hours to the Diocese of Dogura in PNG, to experience firsthand the wonderful work of the local people caring for and educating their own people. Always with limited resources, and limited funds, making do, but achieving great things, relying on donated funding from Australian ABM supporters and prayerful dependence on God.
This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Coming of the Light to the Torres Strait Islands, so join online the Lent Study course “God was on both sides of the Beach” and donate to fund small grants towards projects which support the marks of mission with people so close to our shores. Amen
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF