Second Sunday of Lent (Year B)
February 28, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10 https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/022821.cfm
Forty days & forty nights — the length of time Jesus spent in the desert to prepare himself to begin his ministry; 40 days and 40 nights — the length of Lent, our time of renewing ourselves to be, once again, a people of Hope, of Resurrection, to be wholehearted co-workers with Jesus building up the Kingdom of God — where all are welcome, and all are made One.
In the desert Jesus listened — and he heard, the voice of Satan tempting him. He also heard the voice of the Father. He knew which voice to trust. We sometimes have a hard time listeningfor the voice of God, or discerning what is God’s voice and what is rather the voice of the enemy. Today’s readings are going to help us be better listeners to and discerners of God’s voice. May we have the grace to listen and to follow.
Lord Jesus, you came to call us into friendship with you. Lord have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to listen and hear your tender voice amidst the other voices. Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, imperfect though we are, you invite us to be your coworkers in bringing about God’s kingdom. Lord have mercy.
One of you last week told me that during the pandemic, working from home, schooling from home, cooking at home, everything at home, a lot of the time everyone feels like BLEH…you know, the monotony, lack of motivation, uninterested, every day runs into the next as if all the same.
Well, for the disciples of Jesus who went up the mountain with him to pray in today’s gospel, their day was certainly NOT bleh! It is not every day that flashes like lightening produce an image of the prophets and patriarchs of old — Elijah and Moses — and voices boom from heaven! No wonder Peter eagerly said, OMG Jesus, let’s build tents here for you and Moses and Elijah. We could stay on this holy mountain forever!!!
Maybe in non-pandemic times you’ve felt that way?
- A ride on a roller coaster, where as soon as you get off you line up for another round?
- Or you beg your parents to let you take just one last jump into a lake in the summer as the sunlight fades to darkness?
It’s not bad. Transfigurations don’t come every day! Flashes of lightning and exciting times delight you, imprint on your memory, even change the way you see the world. So you want to savor it. So did Peter when Jesus was transfigured before him. He knew it was important and he didn’t want to let it end.
But all these things do have to end. And normal life — even the bleh days — have to come back. But hopefully we come back to them changed, improved, more wise and grounded.
Remember what the voice from heaven said on the mount of transfiguration?
“This is my beloved Son, Listen to him!” That was the take-away.
That was the message the disciples got that day:
Affirmation, Confirmation – that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.
And with every truth that we receive, there is also an implication, even an injunction: (in this case) “Listen to Him”.
Listen to Jesus! Why? Because he’s the Son of God. Listen. Listen.
Perhaps this was hardest for Peter as he reflected on it… for he was a character who tended to talk more and listen less; it was just his personality. Of course listening is not only hearing, but also taking to heart the truth one hears. Letting the truth make a home inside us. Letting God, who is ultimate truth, live in us.
It’s hard to LISTEN for God’s voice isn’t it? Even when we really want to. Probably it’s NOT because we hear nothing. On the contrary, it’s probably because there are a lot of voices all calling our attention, saying ‘listen to me!’. It can get noisy! Even in our bleh pandemic lives!
Lots of those voices are not from God. Some of them may even be dangerous to listen to — like the voices of discouragement, or vanity, or illusory quick fixes like substance abuse.
But God always speaks. And Christ always is with us.
We’ve got to go up the mountain with him and together LISTEN: Pray regularly, my friends. Take 15 minutes and have coffee with the Lord. No agenda, just be together. Turn off the noise — inside or outside — and take a walk, or sink into a meditative prayer for a little bit.
Someone told me after Taize prayer on Thursday night that they weren’t sure what to do when, between songs or scriptures sometimes there was a gap of silence. Well it’s meant to be there…so that even in the silence the Spirit may speak to our hearts. We aren’t used to it though.
We are used to filling up those spaces, but if we want to LISTEN for God’s voice — which we know from scripture, tradition and even our own experience, is full of mercy and love for us — then let’s embrace the space to listen, those silences can be full of God.
Abraham, our ancestor in the faith, was a listener.
Maybe it’s because he and Sarah wanted children and yet were childless for years and years, that they tuned in and listened to God. Their appeal to God in their anguish was, perhaps, why they heard God’s unique call:
- Abraham and Sarah were to be the parents of a great nation despite their old age.
- They were to worship the One God, rather than the many gods of the tribes in their homeland of Arabia–many of them bloodthirsty, being worshiped even with human sacrifice.
- So they were listeners, for God called them to a very different path.
In time God gave them a child — Isaac — an answer to the prayer and longing of their hearts.
But one day Abraham was listening for God’s voice… Who knows the context, the inner thoughts, maybe anxieties of life, worries about the future. And in that he heard, seemingly the voice of God asking him to make a sacrifice of his child, Isaac. Could this be true? Could God be demanding a human sacrifice? And the child he had graciously given to Abraham and Sarah after their years of waiting?
It’s a horrible thought. Abraham must have shuddered in shock. Had he heard God aright? Apparently he thought he had…he took his knife and wood for a fire and got his son Isaac and they went out to the place of sacrifice.
Now the line is excluded from our lectionary for brevity sake but, the child Isaac asks his father “but where is the ram to be sacrificed?” Abraham replied “God will provide”. This kept Isaac quiet for a while as they made their way to the place of sacrifice.
Had Abraham heard wrong? Had he mistaken God’s voice?
He kept listening all the while — as he built the fire, and took out his knife. Thank God he did. For finally at the last moment God said “DO NOT PUT A HAND ON THE BOY”
- Had Abraham finally heard the true voice of God echoing in his heart and mind? Did he finally realize that No, this could not possibly be God’s will that his son die. No, Yahweh does not demand human sacrifice. No, for the God I know is gracious and loving, not one of blood lust.
- Was Abraham’s second listening the true discernment, the accurate hearing of what God had to say to him? Some scripture scholars think so — reading this story as an unfolding of a discernment of the authentic voice of God.
- Stopping the evil he would have done, Abraham spots a ram stuck in the bushes, and so indeed — God did indeed provide the ram of sacrifice — just as Abraham had told Isaac.
- He and Isaac offered that ram as a sacrifice to God, all the more full of gratitude that God does not demand human life be sacrificed, but that it be preserved. For God is a God of life. “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful” our psalm (116) states… meaning, NO, God does not will our death, ever. He wills our life here and now and forever with him.
How do we listen and hear God’s voice speaking to us?
- We’ve got to pray sincerely. Get close to Jesus and listen. Remember the injunction: “This is my beloved son, listen to him” (gospel)
- We’ve got to check out what we hear against what we know of God to be true — unconditional love, peace, self-giving, forgiving. Does the voice we hear have the ring of God’s truth to it?
- Don’t feel too certain that you’re right! Had Abraham been too self-assured he would not have heard God saying “Stop! Do not lay a hand on the child!”. He kept listening. You know what it’s like to make a decision hastily…sometimes you don’t really want to hear anyone try to persuade you of something different or introduce new information that could change your mind. Thank God Abraham wasn’t ultimately like that. He did keep listening to God.
- Yet I do wonder if he ever consulted his wife Sarah… “do you know what I think I heard God asking me to do?” he might have said to her. I wonder ifshe would have slowed him down, if he would NOT have gone to the brink, if he had asked her what she thought. At least she could have said, “Really?! Let’s pray about this some more to be sure it’s God’s voice.”
- So maybe the test of Abraham, and the test for us is to LISTEN FOR GOD’S Voice. The test is to discern before we act. To be humble enough to keep listening.